the music career that wasn’t (part one)

In 1999 I joined my first band, Fromandafly. There was a lot of things that led up to that moment and a lot that has happened in the twenty years since. These are the stories of the music career that wasn’t:

I always thought of myself as a performer. I liked crowds. I liked telling bad jokes and doing dumb things for a laugh. I liked it so much, my brother told me I enjoyed getting into trouble because it meant I got attention. So, it seemed natural that I would sing for a band, right? My first tryout happened at a friend of a friend’s house when I was, I think, fifteen. There were three of us set up in a basement; guitar, drums, and me. The guys, Ben and Andy, started right up, playing Metallica and other 80’s thrash. This must’ve been like ’94. I didn’t have a metal background at all. I was deep into Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Mr. Bungle, and, I dunno, Beck.

Beam me up the microphone, I’m too lazy to grab it myself.

Anyway, the point is, when they started playing “Sanitarium” and I didn’t know the words, that was basically the end of the try out. I had come thinking we would jam out new things together, but I get it…you need some common ground. We played more and I tried to sing, but I wanted to write down lyrics mid-tryout and they weren’t looking to wait around. I tucked my tail between my legs, got on my bike, and pedaled home. I questioned all my dreams and plans of performing live and went back to writing stories for a while.

My brother, Craig, joined a hardcore band called, Skipline, at some point in ’95. Watching him face his fear of crowds with reckless abandon got the juices flowing again. He owned the stage and the crowd. He was a force. He was T’n’T up there because he would say or do anything even if it hurt him. I was proud and jealous and itching to get a chance for myself.

One day Craig came home after spending the day in the studio. He popped in a cassette to play an unfinished version of a song called, “Can’t Deal With It.” Whoa, they had the ability to record multiple vocals tracks, so Craig and Mark, their guitarist, could do a call and response chorus. The guitars shredded and the drums thundered. I loved it.

They released a tape and started playing out of town and out of Ohio. I started to see their name in zines (this was before the internet came to my house, folks) and people wore their shirts around town. My friends started telling me how cool my brother was and other band’s started talking shit about Skipline, the surest proof that they were catching attention.

I shopped at Perry’s Rockpile, a local music store run by a unique dude. He had Skipline shirts hanging up and cassette tapes for sale right next to Ringworm and Integrity seven-inches. Skipline played a bill at the Odeon with a dozen other bands, and they had a song called, “You Can’t Win”, included on a compilation called, Industry. The comp was organized and released by Jason Popson (Mushroomhead, The Alter Boys, Unified Culture, State of Conviction, CrossFader, Integrity 2000, (216), Pitchblack Forecast, and others) under his Dog Collar label. Here, give the song a listen:

Skipline played a lot of shows until their van got stolen in the northeast of the USA while on tour. They hitchhiked home. They lost their van, the merch, their luggage, and a full head of steam. The band fractured due to this and to issues with my brother’s work ethic and his ability to help pay for stuff. Mark, Ben, and Jim were all serious about where music could take them, but my brother saw it more as a fun time with friends. By the time their 1996 Demo cassette and bio was ready to send to labels and radio, the band had split from my brother and Mark had taken over vocal duties.

The only song I recall them releasing from that time was called, “Refuse To See”, on the Uprise comp. They had originally played the song live with my brother on vocals, but the recorded version took the band in a vastly different direction. They sharpened their edge, favoring metal screams over hardcore yells. Ultimately the band split and the members moved on to new projects.

I met a bassist who was in a band looking for a singer. He liked Faith No More. In fact, we met at Ozzfest when I stopped to listen to “Last Cup of Sorrow” being played by a rock station that had set up a tent. It was June 3rd, 1997 the day Faith No More released Album of the Year in the USA. Their drummer, Mike Bordin, was in Cleveland that night drumming for Ozzy. At the time I was interning at a competing radio station so I had a media badge. I bullshitted my way backstage by telling everyone who asked that I had gotten sent to the show by my station to interview Mike Bordin. Anyway, the bassist gave me his card and we set up a tryout. After two years of self-doubt from failing my first audition, I felt poised to kill it.

I met the band at a bowling alley parking lot in Parma Heights, Ohio. I followed them to their practice space, a warehouse on the near west side. The band started playing me stuff, but a friend of theirs took the mic and began singing along. He sounded okay. I mean, he at least had heard the tunes and knew when changes happened. His style varied sharply from what I was hearing in my head, so I started to second-guess singing. The guys pushed me forward a few times, but I offered lame excuses. The drummer, Sean, peered at me from his kit, annoyance clear in his disappointed gaze. I knew if I didn’t try something, I would lose my chance…possibly my last. I went to the bathroom. When I returned, I strode to the mic and took charge…by telling the guys I had gotten a page (yes, a page) from work and that I had to go in early. The bassist asked if I could just spare another few minutes to at least try one song so they could hear what I sounded like. I could not. I tucked my tail between my legs (again) and sped off.

If memory serves me, I drove to Chris’ Warped Records in Lakewood, Ohio for a Mushroomhead in store appearance. I think it was the release of their remix album or maybe it was that live video they put out, maybe both…I remember going to the Grog Shop for a release around the same time, so I can’t recall. I think the Grog Shop was the vinyl release and Chris’ was the cd and video release. I drove out east, getting lost as always when trying to find Coventry, and was relieved when I wasn’t carded for entrance. The band was passing a nasty flu around to each other. It was the only time I remember seeing them at the old Grog Shop. The stage was way too small for their show. Anyway, I never tried calling the band to ask for a second chance.

Though my brother’s band only had a short shelf life, people had connected with it. Skipline set up a reunion show, requiring my brother to make a rare visit home from college. It happened on February 14th, 1998 and is now known as the Valentine’s Day Massacre… to be honest I’m not sure anyone actually called it that until right now, but I like the name.

The band, full of nerds, had recorded a Star Wars themed song as a joke/hidden/bonus track on their tape and it always got a big response from the crowds. During the song’s breakdown, Mark had a death metal growl verse that proved difficult to pull off live while also playing, so they asked me to come up and fill in. I don’t know if there was any logic behind the decision other than, “oh, you’re here and clearly have nothing more important to do.” Which was totally legit.

Skipline had a flare for the dramatic, so they cooked up an intro including KISS drums loops, smoke machines, ambient/heavily effected bass and guitar, and they wore KISS make up that night. The guitar intro was played by my buddy Pooch, while I “handled” the bass. The two of us fumbled across the pitch black stage to find out instruments. I kneeled in front of the bass, having never played one, and scraped my fingernails up and down the strings, plucking random notes from time to time. Jim, the bassist, had engaged pedals that gave the thick strings a haunting, echoey sound. The band started to play. Pooch and I ran to the front of the stage and as the song kicked in the lights flipped on and we went airborne. I have only stage dove once, and this was it. Why? Well, I am not skinny or small. I leaped over friends and strangers in the crowd and saw the panic in their eyes.

Skipline 1998

The last song in the set was called, “Louie”, the secret Star Wars song. It had a gang vocal chorus, so the band gathered a few other friends to join them, including Brian, who actually wrote the lyrics and sang the verses in the studio. It would be my first time onstage…and the band asked me to wear a Yoda mask. For reasons unremembered, took my shirt off before I went onstage. This also was the one and only time this should ever happen without people holding singles up for me.

My first duty in the song was to imitate R2-D2 when…well, here have a listen to a recording of the event:

As we are playing, I am singing and holding the microphone out to crowd members to add their two cents as hardcore singers do. Someone reached out to grab the mic, but they latched onto my belt instead and as the crowd pushed and pulled them, my shorts got yanked down. No shirt, no pants, nowhere to hide. Of course my parents had attended to see their two boys sharing a stage. From their point of view, all they could see was one second shorts…the next second…no.

The song ended before I got my bearings, leaving me buzzing with excitement. I was hooked. I wanted more.

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