I can’t even….can’t even describe it. It’s like one of those things only the people who have experienced it can understand. Kind of like an astronaut on a mission to the moon except band practice is the NASA training, a packed amphitheatre: the galaxy. And don’t even get me started on the nerves, man those nerves. You know that feeling of nausea experienced right before you lean in for that first, life altering kiss? Should I do it, should I not? What if my breath smells? What if I’m the worst kisser on the planet? Well magnify that by about a billion, then remind yourself all of those strangers who are sitting out there, screaming your name, they paid to sit in those seats, spent their hard earned cash to hear your voice. They drove, flew, and boarded trains and subways to hear the melodies you and your band brothers created. You and your three best friends on stage, you’re the reason they’re here. You’re it.
This is all just backstage anticipation I’m referring to. Once I step out into the blazing lights and the thousands of spectators scream and whoop and shriek and clap, all I can pay attention to is how heavy my own heart is beating and how loud it all sounds. Even with ear plugs in it’s always so damn loud. The equipment is all set up. One of the stagehands tosses me my custom made, electric blue, Gibson Les Paul and I always catch it. I have no idea how I always catch it, but I always do. Time after time my eyes squint from the thousands of lighters and cell phones. They burn from the cigarette smoke and remnants of pyrotechnics from the sound checks. Then, right before we’re ready to start, I do this kind of ritual thing where I stare at the crowd without blinking for as long as my eyes can take it. Then I close my lids, rub em’ out, take a deep breath, touch my third eye, give all of the guys a we’re ready nod, and proceed to rocking the fuck out.
Though the craziest part about all this insanity is although I can often recall the set lists and broken guitar strings, once I’m off stage, I can never remember what the actual sensation of being on it felt like. It’s like my mind’s eye will only grant me so much. I feel it’s this intangibility factor which prompts me to pack my bags time and again and live on tour buses for what has become the majority of my adult life.
If you want to know where the music comes from, I take very little credit. It’s hard for me to claim the songs I’ve written. It may sound kind of loco, but the truth is, I feel I’m just an outlet for a higher energy source which pulls me along. When I try and control my music, I get lost and feel stuck. Yet, when I stop trying so hard and act as the carrier for this artistically spiritual entity, my music sounds like it was crafted in some construct of what most people would consider to be heaven. And you know what? Call me nuts for saying so, but I believe it just may be. Now, I’m not sure where this said “heaven” is, or who rules the kingdom there, but I do know my music is beyond my control and for that, I am faithful.
I like to believe each human on this and every earth has the key to discover what life is for themselves and within themselves. This philosophy is the bona fide backbone for all of the music I and the other members of SoulJunk write. These songs are our life stories told in the most abstract and musical of ways. For instance, not many fans realize when they are listening to the song Trade Me, they are learning about a humbling experience of isolation I had during a weekend long church camp up in the Catskill Mountains. The excursion revolved around an assortment of different games and strength building activities, all for which Jesus was the ultimate power source. I remember having a fun weekend and even being kind of grateful my mother signed me up until the mandatory campfire on the last night of camp. Sure this good natured gathering started off with s’mores and She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, but inevitably turned into a full blown Christian conversion ceremony. Clusters of children and adolescents cried in praise and opened their hearts because they felt what they had come there to feel. They had become enlightened, saved, and born, while I sat there praying fervently in a cocoon of self-deprivation, willing to do anything in the realm of possibility to hear Jesus whisper in my ear.
After I had given it my last deep sigh and inward plea, I decided to change my approach. Instead of praying to Jesus, asking to be found, I decided to beckon the universe and asked to be traded. I prayed some other boy who was able to be saved would trade places with me and find this amazing light which others felt blessed to bask in. I couldn’t find it, but that didn’t mean I thought it was impossible for somebody else to and it’s still the way I feel about life today. Although I’ve had my moments of deviation, my core solution to getting along is the whole hearted acceptance of myself and others.
People always ask me when I decided I wanted to play music for a career and the truth is, there was never one particular moment when I realized. It’s what I’ve always wanted. I was singing from the time I could speak and it wasn’t just sweet nursery rhymes like most kids. I had a deep rock voice from before I hit puberty and I used to scream and sing during all hours of the day. When the ever elusive puberty did rear itself, my voice became that much stronger and this new found confidence motivated me to get my first guitar. I got it from the pawn shop down the road with no inclination of how to even play a chord, yet I practiced my ass off and learned everything I could. I made love to this instrument like it was the last woman on earth. I was obsessive and compulsive, furious when it betrayed me, elated when the notes came out smooth and seductive. After a year or two of this musical affair, I could play everything from Zeppelin to Hendrix and began writing my own songs. The surreal nature of creating a melody made me even more infatuated. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Back in high school when our band Corn Nugget rehearsed in a storage space to play bowling alleys that didn’t pay us, I knew no matter what would happen in my life, it was the only action which would ever keep me fulfilled. I didn’t dream about what it would be like to be a rock star, more just woke up every single day needing to play. Even before Corn Nugget and the rehearsal space, there was playing until my skin fell off, writing until my fingers cramped up and singing until my throat felt like it was engulfed in flames. I knew this was and forever would be my plight as a musician. If I wanted to be great, I would have to push through the pain and find peace in the artistic struggle.
In the New Jersey suburb where I was raised, people wore their tough mentality like a badge of honor on their clothing. This made me that much more dedicated to fostering my music. My main goal was always to enlighten others and make them happy, permeate these rigid exteriors and grab at their souls. My dad was a Police Officer and my mom an art teacher. It was a good balance of structure and creativity, but didn’t stop me from pushing boundaries during those oh so formative high school years.
If you listen to my lyrics, you will realize these are the words in my diary, the secret thoughts and philosophies I seldom speak aloud. This is my way to express what I cannot annunciate, to explain the way in which I see the world. I know I sound all Zen and righteous now, but that doesn’t mean the story of my life is without its stumbles. I try and look at each instance of poor judgment as a step towards the inner security it takes to expose oneself to millions they don’t know. Without failure, would any of us really know ourselves?
Growing up, Derek, Davis, Chase and I were badass little punk rockers. We used to steal from those we felt represented the system. We used to have a friend film us shitting on the lawns of the most expensive houses and then put the footage in their porcelain mail boxes just because we could. The truth is, we were young and ignorant. We were just so happy to be a part of the underground rock family of the East Coast, we would do just about anything to prove ourselves. We strived to be perceived as the tough punk grunge youth of the 90’s. In reality we were just bored kids who were addicted to rock music and this life style of rebellion.
The boys in the band and I spent most of the weekends of our teens at Riot, this basement punk venue right in the center of Manhattan. I would tell my parents we were writing music at Chase’s and practicing for our bowling alley gigs. In reality, we were meeting at the train station with joints in our pockets and whatever we could scrounge from our parents’ liquor cabinets camouflaged in paper bags. The train was always the pregame and once we got to New York, we would find a back alley, take a toke and chill for a moment before rocking our brains out.
Riot was a cesspool of nineties grunge rockers of all souls and identities. Me and my group of young band brothers would do anything we could to push our way to the front and be as punk as possible. By as punk as possible I mean: crowd surfing, mosh pitting, head banging, free for alling, getting on the stage and jumping right off the front, rolling on the floor, punching, kicking, bloody noses, and gyrating to the music in every which way that would free our minds. Compared to the Disco generation of our parents, the grunge generation wasn’t about how good your moves were or how stylin’ your outfit was, it was about pure insurgence and upheaval, kicking ass and taking names all for the greater good of the movement.
We also had this habit of trying to chill with the bands after every show we saw. We would seek out where each after party was, find a way to sneak in and pour our hearts to the musicians, telling them how much we aspired to make musical brilliance. Even if it was the first time we heard of a band, which it often times was, we told them how much we loved and respected them. We were hungry to one day share our art with the world like they had done with us. We dreamed it, manifested it and practiced for hours and hours and days and nights and in betweens until our instruments broke, until we played every single song twenty times in a row without one mistake. We all knew we wanted to commit our lives to music, so that’s what we did. Music came first, second and third. Girls came fourth and school was at the bottom of the list.
I love women. I love them a lot not only for their wondrous shapes and curves, but also for their infinite wisdom and intuition. My career allows me to pretty much have sex wherever I want it, however I want, and whenever I want it, yet the blatant accessibility tends to stifle my appetite altogether. At the core of my being, I am a hopeless romantic, intrigued by mystery and smitten by what I haven’t yet experienced. Once we changed our name from Corn Nugget to SoulJunk and began to make it big, I realized I could either use this sexual power for good or evil. I could prey on women who were ill conceived of who I was because of the band’s social image or I could hold out for the ones who challenged me. The ones who didn’t give a shit about my band or how many records we’d sold. That’s what I do now, but it did take some years of maturing to get there.
There was a time early in my career where I used my sexual prowess for evil. During these moments of extreme loneliness and pure exultation I leaned on women the most. I experienced all types of beautiful women from tattooed punk passionate women, to bleach blonde beach babes, not to mention the groupies waiting backstage boasting the best blowjobs in the universe. I mean, I was a seventeen-year-old punk who got fortunate enough drop out of high school and get paid to play music. I had a lot of growing up to do and seized most opportunities for better or worse.
When we had a big enough following to go on our first tour we couldn’t believe it. We were stunned it was all happening. We started out playing little punk basement parties and ending up getting booked to open for the Smashers on a standing venue tour of the West Coast. The deal I made with my parents was if I terminated my high school education, I would have to get my GED before we left for our tour. I studied non-stop for two weeks, took the test and passed without a problem. Nothing was going to stop me from touring the country and playing music with my best friends.
That tour holds some of the best moments of my life. No one knew who we were at any venue, but it didn’t matter. Our first show was booked at this dive bar on the beach in La Jolla, California. None of us had ever been to Cali and La Jolla didn’t disappoint. We had a short 45-minute set and the bitch spot in the line-up, but couldn’t care less. We were just grateful to have the opportunity to play. When people started filling the room and it was time for us to start our tour, we were all a little buzzed, but ready enough to give it our all. Derek began slapping the bass and right from the first note we had the crowd hanging on our every beat. I opened my mouth and my voice felt more controlled and powerful than ever. I still remember we began the set with Nobody’s Pet and by the end of the song the crowd was one huge mosh pit. Now, even our earliest stuff isn’t metal enough to inspire this kind of behavior. People were going crazy pushing, punching and dancing. The crowd looked beyond happy to be there and I was digging every minute of it.
After the show these two young girls, they looked about 18, but I’m guessing they were around 16, invited us to go swimming in the Ocean. We were used to the New Jersey water, which is still freezing in the spring, but they just laughed and told us to follow them. We got to the beach and one of the girls pulled out a handle of Bacardi from her backpack. She untwisted the lid, took a huge chug, and then passed it to her friend who did the same.
“You guys want a hit?” The first girl reached into her backpack again. I smiled and nodded expecting her to take out a pint sized smoking device. Instead, she pulled out a tiny Altoids tin, walked up to me, and placed a hit of acid on my tongue. I had never tripped before and just kind of went along with the whole event. The girl then went up to the other guys in the band and placed a tab of acid on each of their tongues. We had all talked about wanting to try it and all I remember thinking about on the come up was how thankful I was to be at the beach with my band mates, embarking on this journey of mind enhancement together.
I did my on stage ritual, but this time with the moon instead of the crowd and then looked to my right as girl number one was sliding off her t-shirt. Instead of revealing a string bikini top, she stood in the glimmering California moonlight exposing her bare breasts. Once again, her friend followed suit and before any of us realized, we were all naked in the ocean, touching and playing and splashing until the next morning. That night I thought about my childhood for hours and about women and the sky, the international space station and nipples, about how crazy and wonderful they all are. After this spiritual awakening which will forever connect us to those girls whose names I don’t know, we sat in our tour van and wrote dozens of songs until the sun came up. A lot of the songs on Naked Swim were written that night. I like to think of it as some of our most inspired work.
One of the hardest things about being this supposed “rock star” is that you can’t really trust a lot of people. My mother always told me growing up: “be kind to many trust only few,” and this was before she knew I would be touring the world, having seedy managers and gold digging groupies pawing us at every stop. I have been fooled and swindled more times than I would like to admit. On Shadow, our fourth full studio album, a lot of the songs are inspired by a girl whom I dated for two years and was loyal to on two separate world tours. I did my best to not even glance at other woman because I was so transfixed by this one awe worthy girl, by her legs, her smile, and the way she loved origami and long boarding. For the first time in my music career I felt I had found a woman who loved me for my soul and not just my public title. I was blinded by love in the worst way and much to my band mates’ dismay even decided to bring her on our third world tour.
In Budapest, one of the last stops on the tour, I walked in on her doing the reverse cow girl with the drummer of the opening act. I had invited this band to tour with us because of their positive reputation and humble vibe. When I saw the love of my life naked with this dirt bag, I punched him in the face until my hand was swollen and kicked them off of the tour. I bought my ex a plane ticket home and wrote dozens of angst ridden songs about the experience. It’s interesting how upbeat some of the most painful songs on the album are. The whole time I was beating the guy, I couldn’t get Sublime’s Right Back out of my head and I think that funky base line and Island melody has a lot to do with it. It took a while to recover from that betrayal, but some great music was produced from it, so in a way I am thankful.
This is the first time the band has decided to take a hiatus and I can’t say I’m not fearful. There are a lot of sides of myself which don’t involve music and I’ve been scared to explore them for a long time. We are by no means breaking up. Chase, Davis, and Derek are still and forever will be my brothers. Kristy, Davis’s wife, is expecting and Derek is working on a solo album. I don’t know where my life will lead, but if there’s one thing I have left to accomplish, it’s to help bring life into this world. I’m not sure how it’s going to happen, but to love someone more than myself is something I can’t live without experiencing.
So now, as I stand backstage at our last show before the big question mark, my stomach is churning and the pit won’t go away. I know though, once I step out there, catch my guitar and perform my ritual, everything will be all right, just as it’s always been.