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, I was annoyed with the idea every song required status-quo parts like an intro, verse, and 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.