This past May marks three years since I left professional music: the only life I had known, in one way or another, since high school. I’m no celebrity, but a musician is certainly what I had been known as for roughly a decade. The decision to leave was a labored one. Music, being such a visceral endeavor, gives and takes a lot from a person. We’re led to believe that musicians live a carefree life of artistry, sex, drugs, and not much else. There’s some of those things, but the professional musician’s life is far from the free-love dreamscape that it’s made out to be in popular culture; it’s also far from financially stable. I’ve told this story orally in one form or another, but I’ve never gone into much detail. My leaving was a rather heavy ordeal for me. But, it’s high time I got this story down.
As I said, I had been performing music semi-professionally since high school. I was turned onto the School of Rock, the real one, by a friend in my junior year. The School of Rock’s program is such that students get a weekly 45-minute lesson and three-hour ensemble with other kids, working towards some sort of stage show. That was my first taste of playing live, and in blissful ignorance I fell in love with it. Shortly thereafter I had my own band, Captain Chris and the Manta Rays, a classic rock cover band named after myself and Ray, my friend, bandmate, and fellow School of Rock student. Despite having the best band name in the world, the decision came through to change the name to simply Manta.We had some relatively interesting albeit anachronistic and derivative original songs. That band eventually changed drummers and took the name of our new drummer’s previous band, Hart Attack. That band went through lineup changes, I tried my hand at songwriting, and once again the band name changed to its final form, Me Overseas.
That band enjoyed a small amount of local success and a (very) modest local following, but nothing meaty enough to get a big head about – at least not for me. Me Overseas had a show on the books for August 2010: a support slot opening for I Am the Avalanche, a Long Island punk band with a cult following, for whom our producer, Brett Romnes, played the drums. As we continued to write songs for our debut album and rehearse for the show, we found ourselves in a bit of a slump. Some dark, sucking force at the center of our little group of artists had begun to swallow us whole. And so, the decision to bring someone in to speak to us came down from the band’s manager and financier: our drummer’s dad. That’s not a recipe for disaster or a conflict of interest, right?
Pardon a short digression, but at the time I joined the band Hart Attack (cute spelling, huh?), the drummer was one of the most ill-behaved children I’ve ever met – screaming at his mother, calling her “cunt,” hitting people, all kinds of delightful performances of that nature. I was already shocked by his behavior, but there was one particular instance that I still think about to this very day. My other bandmates and I arrived at our drummer’s house one evening for practice to find the house deeply entrenched in a hostage situation. Our drummer’s mother was screaming upstairs for her son to give something back, and we newcomers stood in horror. The drummer’s dad approached the band deliberately and said, “Your drummer is going to jail.” Well then, is that so? He returned shortly thereafter with a printed itemized accounting of what we, his son’s teenage bandmates, would owe him. Apparently, our drummer had stolen his father’s hidden stash of cash from his bedroom and was refusing to give it back. This was hilarious to us and remains so. It’s not funny to steal from your parents, but it’s funny that he had the gall to do it. It’s worth noting that our drummer’s father told us we each owed him thousands of dollars, of which we had none. At some point during the negotiations, our drummer’s mother snuck into her son’s room and recovered the cash, things deescalated shockingly quick, and we practiced. The situation was never brought up again – end of digression.
So, Me Overseas needed a pep talk, and so our manager daddy brought in Jimmy Gnecco, singer/songwriter and leader of the band Ours. We already knew of and respected Jimmy, and little did I know I would join his band some years later. After Jimmy’s rousing talk, the band decided to break up, with the I Am the Avalanche show being our last. We as individuals had such divergent styles and visions, it was best to go our separate ways. We played our last show in August 2010, and I didn’t play in a band again until 2012 when I joined Ours.
Joining Ours felt like a dream come true. My playing style has always been quite dark, and so joining a band like Ours couldn’t have been a better match. At the time, I was teaching at the School of Rock, but was feeling a bit sad and useless without a band. That changed quickly. A drunken jam at an office holiday party led Jimmy to formally invite me to join a few months later. I joined the band, we played some out of state shows right away, shot a music video in Toronto within the first month or so, and toured for all of June and July that summer. I couldn’t have been happier, I was doing exactly what I knew I should be doing. Though a guitar player by nature, I was asked to play bass primarily.
We recorded an album the following winter, I played bass on half of it, with Jimmy playing the rest of it. I have/had creativity out the ass, but my playing was rather inconsistent and so getting me to play a full song entailed a great deal of studio magic and editing to get it in time. I was ashamed, I felt like a fraud, but my ideas were solid and made it to the record. We toured the following summer as well for two months, and when we returned we set about writing the follow up record which was to be a sequel of sorts. We started writing that record in 2013, and a record came out in 2018, a year after I left the band. That entire time was spent writing and working the songs to death every morning until late in the evening. I loved that part of it all, dreaming things up – it was the playing part that would expose me for the sloppy fraud of a musician that I was.
My issue is quite common, you’d be surprised how many records are pieced together to accommodate a sub-par musician. In the 60’s and 70’s, you simply had to be great to play on a record – now, anyone can do it. Hell, even Lil Wayne clawed spasmodically at the guitar on his records. But, at some point we began recording again. We recorded dozens of songs, some which would be on one record, the rest would fit onto the next. It was a monumental but exciting endeavor.
Somewhere in there, probably around 2015 or so, I quit teaching at the School of Rock and moved into a studio Jimmy owned on the day after Christmas. It was there that I lived until I left the band in May of 2017. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I know, famous last words. We were making two massive records and we needed to work around the clock. We worked constantly, and as it went on, I began to dread playing. In rehearsals, I knew my playing wasn’t what it should’ve been, and our bandleader’s face said as much. Then there was the recording, for which my part was an uphill struggle with atrophied legs. It no longer felt like art, it felt like torture. I can honestly say that not a single note I played was where it should’ve been; they all needed correction. I would be way ahead for one note, then way behind for the next – a mess, not what you want for your bass, one of the most solid instruments in the band. Jimmy brought me in for the life I brought to playing, which I certainly do. I put my whole being into it, and that really shows. I have passion, of that there can be no doubt. But passion and consistency are different, and I think Jimmy realized that rather quickly.