I never feared being kicked out of the band, but I did have a crushing feeling of letting everyone down with every note I played. Even improvising and taking some sort of sonic journey together became weighed down by my feeling that I was playing poorly and falling apart, all while trying to be creative, focused, and free. What was once my passion became fraught with dread and anxiety. I would actually make a case for songs to have a longer introduction so I didn’t have to come in with my bass as soon. The longer I sit out, I thought, the better the song will sound.
I got into drinking quite a bit. I feel like I drank from the end of 2015 until May of 2017 steadily. I slowed down a bit when I quit the band, but not as quickly as one would hope. I drank so much whiskey, so much tequila, and so much red wine over that time that it became what I looked forward to. It wasn’t to drown my sorrows, it was so I and everyone else would be loose, and playing music could follow suit. A drunken jam was different, there was less pressure. Being in the studio while drinking just felt more artistic and free-spirited. I loved it. I always had a cocktail in my hand. One particularly raucous drunken jam live on stage resulted in me trashing one of my favorite guitars, an all-black ES-355 with a Bigsby. I smashed that poor guitar every which way, and I loved it – the guitar was irredeemably damaged.
I began to experiment more with my look. I had already lost approximately sixty pounds during my second summer tour with the band. I’m six feet tall, and when I joined the band I weighed 200+ pounds. I wasn’t that overweight, but I wasn’t in good shape either. My eating habits – White Castle and Taco Bell in bed – were atrocious. But once I lost weight, arguably too much because I had family concerned that I was on heroin or had AIDS, I set my sights on my look. At the suggestion of a bandmate, I began to mess around with eyeliner, eye shadow, glitter, and girl’s clothes. It wasn’t drag, it was just tighter jeans and shirts. By the time I left the band in 2017, I wore eyeliner and glittery eye shadow every day. My fingernails and toenails were coated in various polishes. I didn’t even know why anymore. I was keeping up a version of myself that I had manufactured for the band. There’s nothing wrong with a man doing any of those things, but I had lost the thread of why I even started.
I’m naturally effeminate already, but I had a drag-lite thing going for me. I stuck with it because it was something I was doing for the band, and a bandmate had a thing for more feminine boys. This was all a huge mistake. I had changed who I was completely.
I rarely saw my family because I felt to spend too much time away from the band would invite my loyalty into question. To make up for my sloppy playing, I wanted to at least be an indispensable creative asset and team member. And so, all the while missing my family, I was immersed in a world that was swallowing me whole.
I had been toying with the idea of leaving for a while, but could never make the first move. I had manufactured a situation in my mind where the band couldn’t stand to be around me. And so, one Friday night while drunk and feeling low, I texted some of my bandmates to apologize for being annoying or overbearing, and said that I would make amends. For my band, these texts were totally unbidden. They had no idea what I was talking about, but I was struggling to keep all my plates spinning. I couldn’t be this character I created, I couldn’t stand playing, I couldn’t stand the disappointed looks – I was crushed under my own rubble. The morning after I sent that text, a Saturday, I began getting dressed. Once ready, I went down into the studio where Jimmy was working on a song that we had been agonizing over for months. The song had been rearranged so many times that it was hard to remember where we started, its quality had become dubious. I sat on the couch and watched him, feeling completely overwrought. I hated the music and myself, I couldn’t see the light anymore. Everything was slipping through my fingers, and I had to get out before the darkness swallowed me whole. And so, I quietly went upstairs, packed up my clothes, grabbed my guitar, and loaded it all in my car. I passed the guitarist, Static, who continues to be a beacon of love and support to this day, on his way in and my (literal and figurative) way out. I greeted him pleasantly, chatted a bit, waited for him to become settled inside the building, and drove away. About a block down the road, I pulled over and burst into tears. I had finally done it. I texted Jimmy a frantic series of nervous utterances that sounded like the ravings of a broken man, which they were. What follows is the actual text which I drafted and saved in my phone’s notes where it remains to this day:
“Hey. I’ve got to go. I’m not well and I can’t really handle this at the present time. I’m not going to get musically better until I’m okay – and frankly I’m a train wreck right now. I’m only hurting the band. I can’t do it anymore. I’ll call you in a couple of days when I’m able to actually articulate this to you. You’ve changed my life, but right now I’m fucking lost and I need to go. This is killing me, but I know for my own wellbeing that I need to go. I love all of you so god damn much – this kills me. This has been the greatest thing I’ve done in my life, but I’m a kid and you need someone experienced and on their shit. I’ll talk to you in a few days. I owe you an explanation (and so much more).”
And with that, I drove home. Over the next few weeks, I was raw – an open wound, a husk. I had removed my own keystone and fallen to pieces. It took months and years to put those pieces back together and find out who I really was. I knew myself as this over-the-top character I cooked up for the band. It was me, but it was so far from who I really was.
In the months leading up to my departure, I started getting into more unconventional music. While Jimmy was very much inspired by Michael Jackson and other classic dance music, I wasn’t that way. Michael Jackson was never really something I was all that into. Sure, I enjoyed it on occasion, but I thought it was all so silly. The music was silly to me, and the words were even sillier. Strangely, to finally admit that I don’t enjoy Michael Jackson’s music all that much is a relief. I also thought a lot of 80’s dance music, which Jimmy and company loved, sounded hilarious – fun, but hilarious. In fact, when such a song was referenced in writing one of our own songs, I had to pretend to like it and that the instruments didn’t sound like toys.
When I discovered both Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and a band called Swans, my world expanded. Music could be such a journey, it doesn’t have to pander to traditional formulas. Nick Cave writes such brilliant lyrics and is relatively unbound by the confines of a rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme, to me, is biggest reason why so many songs are pseudo-meaningful bits of nothing. Rock lyrics, dance lyrics – so much nonsense. Jimmy was/is a unique writer, but the stuff I liked was going a new direction. Trying to cull a following and make songs that’ll catch on is one thing, but it’s certainly not the best way to make art. Nick Cave drove me back towards writing: my own writing, and the writing of others – as did Josh Tillman, otherwise known as Father John Misty. I couldn’t believe such brilliant and inventive language could fit into songs. And Swans, they showed me what sound could do. An experimental band by label, Swans make conventional music look like a child’s coloring book. Their cacophonous sound takes its time to develop and gives a terrifying cathartic payoff after some twenty minutes of building tension. In short, music was more than I had known it to be. A veil had been lifted and I found myself in a band that wasn’t making music I liked anymore. Perhaps this was due to the constant reworking of songs to the point of obscurity, but I couldn’t find the thread anymore.
And so, at the time of leaving the band, there were many things in play: my tastes changed, I hated playing, I felt inadequate, and I lost myself. My supports had fallen, and I lay on the floor a mess of parts.
It wasn’t until I decided to finish college that I began to find who I was without all the smoke and mirrors, all the glitter and eyeliner. I was smart, I am smart. I love writing, I love stories. I have things to say, I’m a skeptic, I’m a thinker – not much gets past me. I have a mean wit and a mind that’s always going. All of those things were obscured by the character I created in the band. I enrolled at Rutgers Newark and began working towards a degree in journalism in January 2018. There, it felt like home. My thoughts were appreciated, my work ethic was celebrated, and my writing was rewarded and praised. I had forgotten what it was like to make something and have people enjoy it without having to chop it to pieces. I don’t fault Jimmy, I was a mess of a musician – that’s not the ideal bandmate. I’m a great creative partner, willing to brave new directions, but as a solid musician, I’m on shaky ground.
In May 2020, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Rutgers Newark and won, by unanimous decision, the university’s Journalism Excellence Award. Albeit, I did all of this from my laptop while in quarantine, but damn it all to hell, I did it. I graduated. The irony isn’t lost on me though: I fell apart, quit music, soul searched, went back to school, and graduated only to be confined indoors by a pandemic. The hilarity is overwhelming; I get my shit together and the world falls apart.
I’ve never explained all of this to anyone. Here and there I’ve explained bits of it, but never pulled back the curtain entirely. Roughly two years after quitting, I started to actually enjoy playing music again. I wanted to play guitar again, to wanted to be creative and make sounds. It was rewarding at last, and untainted by bitter disappointment. I loved music again – talking about it, listening, and playing. I dusted off my record player and began to get back into the appreciation of music without any of the weight it used to carry. I don’t expect to ever play music again professionally. That, to me, would ruin a good thing. And though some people don’t understand it when I say it, I truly don’t miss being in Ours. I miss the people, but not the band. Touring was fun, but the shows were not. I’ve played such remarkable places – Webster Hall, The Fonda in Los Angeles, and The Roxy – but I don’t have any fond memories of being on those stages. How could I enjoy it when I was so busy failing?
I found a way to reconcile it all, a way to be writer and keep my passion for music without it being my life. Being a musician is not an easy life; there’s virtually no money in it, you do it because you love it, and if you’re lucky, it won’t swallow the light behind your eyes.
It swallowed my light, but I got it back, and now it’s all mine.