Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Band Story

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where after a short faze in junior high of listening to Vanilla Ice and wearing Zubaz from a variety of NHL teams, I got heavily into a band called Nirvana. They were like nothing I had ever heard and from then on I was hooked on rock music and determined to learn how to play guitar. From there I got into a new band at the time called Green Day which lead to my discovery of Chicago band Screeching Weasel which I heard of for the first time on a Sunday night music talk show called Sound Opinions hosted by Chicago rock journalist, Jim Derogatis.

Listening to their records was the first time I was able to convince myself that I was actually capable of starting a band. The lead singer and guitar player Ben Weasel had done a short stint at my high school back in the early 80's which kind of inspired me, but most of all their albums were full of simple catchy three chord songs played in a way that made it seem obtainable.

Ben was also a very prolific writer with his own fanzine called "Panic Button." I had ordered every copy I could get my hands on from some mail order catalog and read them cover to cover over and over again. I was fascinated with his writings discussing the local Chicago punk rock scene from years before, his journey starting out in a band, and ridiculous stories about working different crappy summer jobs at places near my town.

From then on I was determined to start my own punk band. My parents bought me an amp and an electric guitar and I rallied kids from around my town to start up our own band in my parent's basement. We began playing Screeching Weasel, Green Day and Ramones covers and after a few months or so I started writing my own songs.

That lead to playing shows with other groups from the around the area at local Knights of Columbus halls and VFW halls. As I began to become a better songwriter, I started playing with other musicians from around the area and talking about music and bouncing ideas off of each other.

Some kids from a nearby high school that I knew through mutual friends were playing in a band that I really liked and over time we learned that we were into a lot of the same bands and starting hanging out more. They were a little older and knew about all these really good bands that I had never heard of and eventually introduced me to ska punk music. It was brilliant! punk rock with a horn section, I loved every minute of it. They got me into bands like Slapstick and Less than Jake and I was immediately hooked.

From then on it was my mission to round up horn players from my high school and get them to play in my band. It was kind of difficult to find high school band kids interested in punk rock, but eventually I befriended a trumpet player who I convinced to come in and practice with my band.

Around the same time my other friend’s band started incorporating ska into their music as well and I immediately soaked up everything they were doing. They were a little more organized and started playing more shows around town. My band had good songs but was a disaster with a revolving door of different musicians, and me the only constant member.

After a few months, my band had broken up and I was asked to join their group as singer/guitar player. They switched their lineup around a bit, I brought the trumpet player along with me and next thing I know we had put together a powerhouse punk rock ska band. We had a lead singer two guitar players/singers, a bass player, drummer, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone players.

Right around this time The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish had brought “SKA” to mainstream radio. As Ska hit big on the radio, we started playing shows at any All Ages venue we could find around Chicago.

At the same time we also recorded a 5 song demo cassette tape in the basement of a 60 year old guy who was really into punk music and used to do the sound for all of the local shows in the area. He didn’t charge us a penny to record, and next thing we know our demo tape is getting passed around like wildfire. We were getting play on all of the late night punk rock radio shows, and our concerts began getting more and more packed with people.

We continued aggressively playing around the Chicagoland area and as SKA became to pick up steam on mainstream radio we became a popular group around the area.

Soon enough we were asked to open up for Eve 6 at the metro in Chicago. I was 16 years old and playing at a major rock venue, opening up for a top 40 act. It still is pretty amazing when I look back on it.

From there were kept regularly playing at the Metro and the Fireside Bowl and went back to the studio to record a full length album strung together from our repertoire of songs we had built up and played shows with a lot of “big” punk/ska bands at the time. By this time I had become the primary singer for the band. We self released a full length tape and continued playing around the Chicago and Indiana area and continued to fill all ages venues.

Toward the end of high school our lineup changed a few times, but we were still riding on the “SKA wave.” A combination of internal disagreements within the band, the declining popularity of ska and the fact that we were all going off to college in a few months, the band decided that it was best to break up.

Months later I left the state for college.