1994 – 1996
I was tired of drumming in metal bands. Despite my attempts to remain interested by way of programming background percussion tracks, I found the “formula” boring and dull. I wondered why every song required a guitar solo and annoyed with the presumption of the intro, verse, and and all-important catchy chorus. I was listening to incredible music from The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death, and Fields of The Nephilim but I was stuck in a musical limbo that seemed to fear anything outside established norms. Musical interests aside, a lifetime of horrors, abuse, and betrayal had filled me with a need to express things far beyond what felt possible within the “Rock and roll all night, party every day” or even “Angel of Death” confines I was so familiar with. I needed to find a new musical arena that would permit, even invite, something more honest and personal.
Time to quit playing drums.
It was Phil Swanson, with whom I had the honor of working with in Damnation, who inspired me to sit my ass down with a computer, a MIDI sequencer, and the MIDI controller he sold to a local pawn shop (I still have it!). It was confusing and intimidating, yet just within reach given the previously mentioned experience with electronic percussion. I have fond memories of cracking open the 486 PC and installing the Roland SCC1 soundcard I picked up with the MIDI controller. After getting Cakewalk 3.0 installed and fiddling around for a bit, I struck a single key on the controller and heard a (probably quite cheesy) piano note! I was hooked.
I am not a musician. I am simply someone who hears, sees, and feels the music I want to express. I don’t know a C flat from a G sharp and I most certainly couldn’t discuss anything with you about a chord or anything else related to music theory. I do however, have a background in rhythm. We can talk about time signatures, 8th note triplets, and the like.
The idea was simple; scrap just enough together to present to anyone who would listen. Use the “conceptual” material to recruit musicians who could see and hear the vision. If they couldn’t see the forest beyond the trees (more like shrubs), they wouldn’t be the ones I’d be looking for anyway. Like all ideas born from passion, things spiraled into a substantial period of time defined by endless days and nights, obsessive behavior, chain smoking (cigs), isolation, and occasional delight when sounds came together as intended.
As it turns out, the early material was only shared with a very small number of people. Given the enormous amount of emotional investment, I no longer saw the music as a mere recruiting tool. I grew to accept the need to give the it more attention, shaping, and development. During this phase, I recall feeling like an instrument myself; a thing being used by the music. I understood the material already existed. My primary job was to listen… to hear what it wanted.
Songs written during this period include:
- The Thicking Smoke
- Fate Takes a Bow
- Beyond The Gates
- Into The Garden – (Later renamed to “The Garden”)
- End (Later renamed to “Drowning in Flames”)
1996 – 1997
This was a special period; both personally and for the project. I had moved to Queens, NY in order to change my surroundings. I had always detested the phrase “Wherever you go, there you are”. Sure, I understand the theme, but I reject the subtle implication that we alone, are solely responsible for all the horrors in our lives. Surroundings can play a significant role in how we see ourselves. There exists a level of emotional torture requiring so many years of rehabilitation to ascend from; survival instinct commands us to create distance (if only in physical form) as a first step.
“Again I’m in circles, surrounded and burning on candles of time, gone like thoughts in the wind” – Drowning in Flames
I have the fondest memories of those endless sessions working in my basement studio apartment. At this point, I had decided I’d sing the songs myself. Of course, I knew I was not a real vocalist but I also knew it would be impossible to get anyone else to do the job. I’d mix version after version down to tape and listen on my walkman during countless walks through Astoria. I didn’t know it at the time but I was healing. Being able to “speak” through tracks like “Scars” and “Fade Away” was desperately needed.
“Dreams in Piano” was written during this period. It was my way of dealing with a friend I had left behind who had sadly become a serious drug addict. As anyone who has dealt with this issue knows, there is nothing one can say or do for a person who chooses this path. Lyrically, I chose to focus on the feelings rather than spell out the particular details. Vocally, it was way outside of my comfort zone. Some of those tapes contain embarrassing attempts to hit notes I had no business performing. However, those attempts would translate into something of value years later as they clearly represented a journey taken in terms of finding my own voice. Overall, this song holds a special place in my heart as it seems to represent a moment of musical growth within my own sense of conviction.
Work continued on “Into The Garden” (later renamed to “The Garden”), a landscape of intense percussion and soaring melodies on top of a haunting bass line. The song represented a journey I couldn’t quite put into words regardless of my attempts to add something vocally. Rather than ruin the piece, I subconsciously took inspiration from one of the most influential albums I had obsessed over as a child; The Jazz Singer. On the album, there were 2 versions of “America”. In fact, there are so many things about that album that clearly shaped my convictions and “style” or “taste” in terms of how I gradually defined this project. In the film, Neil Diamond’s character uses a stage name of “Jess Robin” as a means to compartmentalize that portion of himself. The record contains a number of audio samples that break the mold of what you would expect on a (obvious) commercial project. Some examples include the intro to “You Baby” and “”Kol Nidre/My Name Is Yussel”. Even the musical versatility between tracks meant the album didn’t fit neatly into a box labeled “rock”, “R&B, “soul”, or anything else. It was it’s own thing.
So again, I’ll blame the subconscious values that album had instilled in me for my decision to “fork” the track into a spoken word piece built on top of a musical hint of “Into The Garden”. The lyrics were very real. They were written back around 1991 and speak to my memories of a place I was torn from; a place I once called home. Looking back, I now see that decision as marking another period of musical growth and progress in terms of my own understanding of what mtf8 was to become. It was a real break from the typical band format I knew so well having been a drummer for years. A young metal band tends to pump out song after song in the hopes of striking gold. Working in isolation, there was nothing preventing me from taking the pause needed to find the song within the song.
2000 – 2007 – ?
These years represent a blur given the fact my personal life had taken such a turn. I had stumbled into a very gratifying career which took up the bulk of my time. The mtf8 project was not front & center the way it was during those early years. However, there were certainly periods of inspiration and intense work that would come and go. Along with continued refinement of the existing material, I do have fond memories of composing the following songs:
- Trying to Remember
- The Secret
Gradually, the need to express was felt less and less. Sure, there was certainly a “sonic vision” of this project that I knew I had not achieved but it was never written for the listener. It was written for me and when I listened close enough, through the shortcomings, I could hear it. Toward the end, around 2007, there was simply nothing left to write about. The body of work that had been created up to this point contained every honesty and confession I had in me. The idea of “stepping into” the role of mtf8 in order to produce more material just felt dishonest. What was born out of something so therapeutic in nature had fulfilled (enough of) its purpose. It was also around this time that I had fallen in love with Alicia. I remember tearing down and packing up “the studio” in order to prepare for the move. She and I got a place together and gave it our best shot. Of course, it didn’t work and a few years later we decided to part as we just couldn’t bear to hurt each other anymore. I really don’t remember listening to the material during this time. Even though I had the songs rendered to mp3 files, it was as if the project itself had been tucked away in storage; deeply nested in the boxes and bins along with all those cables and other devices. I do recall the overwhelming fear that would wash over me every time I thought about that packed up gear. Any time the idea of cracking them open would enter my mind, I’d freeze a bit as the thought of stitching it all back together again was just too daunting; too overwhelming.
The boxes sat in the storage room collecting dust. The room’s door remained closed and in the way they’ve done since the beginning, the years passed by…