Now that I’ve hit a quarter century, I’ve decided to look back and pick a few turning points in my life that helped shape where I am today. Rather than go year-by-year (because I can’t remember anything before 1990), I just picked 25 things that stand out in my mind. Here you go!
1. 100 Warsaw Street: My Childhood
You can’t make a list of influential things without parents, and without mine drilling things like education and success into my brain, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Since my mom was a teacher, school was always at the forefront of my life. I was forced to do homework and wouldn’t settle for anything less than an A in every class. They pushed me to start reading at an early age, and before Kindergarten I was able to read a few books cover to cover without any help. They love family vacations to the beach, theme parks, and cruises, and I was able to see a lot of different places when I was very young. My dad volunteered to coach my baseball and soccer team when I was young, and also showed me how to use tools when I was young. I remember working on a club house in my backyard when I was around 7 years old with a set of mini tools. Because of their motivation and high expectations, I excelled in high school and finished in the top of my class. They also didn’t mind having the band practice in their basement, which says a lot for their level of patience compared to most people. Now with an empty nest, they just got a puppy to keep them company. You’d think they’d want to relax a little bit now.
2. Super Nintendo
Okay, I admit, I was a huge video game geek when I was a kid and it started around age 8 when the Super NES was released. Street Fighter, Zelda, Mario Bros, I played them all. I eventually graduated to a Nintendo 64 and a Playstation, and it wasn’t until recently that I shut out video games to try and be a little bit more productive. Of course, now and then something will creep up and pull me back to those good old days when I just played Zelda all day long and didn’t care about the world. There’s a reason we have a Wii set up in the living room. Every so often, you just need some Mario Kart.
3. Matt Pinfield and 120 Minutes
Every weekend before soccer practice or whatever my 11-year-old self had planned, I would wake up and watch the episode of 120 Minutes that I had taped the night before. I was so obsessed with music videos in those days that I would make lists of my top 20 songs for the week and hope that they’d make it on to MTV’s top 20 list. Through this show, I was introduced to Radiohead, Green Day, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and most of the other mid-90’s alt-rock bands that I loved. Unfortunately, music videos would soon cease to exist on the Music Television channel, and the end of 120 Minutes signaled the end of my relationship with MTV.
4. Learning to Play the Saxophone
My first musical instrument stuck with me to the present day. At age 25 now, I’ve been playing the saxophone on and off for about ten years. The most indispensable aspect of this was learning to read sheet music and understanding music theory behind scales, major and minor keys, and tempo. I played one-on-one until I was in the 7th grade, and also took private lessons on the side. Then I joined the marching band where I lasted for 3 years until the parades and football games almost drove me crazy. Concert band was a different story, and was much more relaxed, and when the jazz band was created in my junior year, I learned to appreciate the instrument all over again, as well as explore the genre of jazz, something I had never really listened to before. After high school, I didn’t play the saxophone for a while, until my last semester of college when I started writing sax parts for a friend’s band. Though it was short lived, I learned how much I loved the horn, and wish I could get back to the level I was at in high school.
5. Mrs. Bullions and the WA Drama Club
The most time-intensive extra curricular activity in high school had to be the Drama Club. I had roles in the school play from 8th grade to 11th grade, and also had an active role in set building. Our high school had some of the biggest productions in the Wyoming Valley, and musicals like Bye Bye Birdie and South Pacific had giant casts of over 50 people, as well as elaborate sets that all rotated on moving platforms. I learned a lot about carpentry in those days, and often spent my weekends building, painting, or just helping with whatever needed to be done at the school. As an actor, my favorite roles were in Rumors by Neil Simon and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I still keep in touch with many of the people I met in the Drama Club, and they came to be my closest friends throughout high school. Mrs. Bullions, the former director, was a great teacher, and I still see her time to time when I visit my parents.
6. My First Show at Cafe Metropolis
Almost every day of my high school life was spent at Cafe Metropolis, Homebase, the Church, the Zoo, or any of the other live music venues that popped up around Wilkes-Barre, PA. When I was younger, local bands like Bedford, Wonderdog, True Identity, and 8 oz. Joe were some of my favorites, and I remember carpooling to go see their shows in minivans. When I got older, these venues provided places for us to play shows, and supported the local musicians immensely. I watched Homebase and the Zoo shut their doors as the Murry Complex was bought out. I remember when Mike had to stop hosting shows at the Church. Finally, Cafe Metro shut its doors on September 18th, 2010 after 14 years of live music. It was by far the most important place in my adolescent life, and I hope someone else opens a venue to keep live music alive in that destitute town.
7. Getting a Drum Set
When the time came for me to take on a second instrument, I realized it had to be the drums. I found myself to be more rhythmic than melodic, and after learning on Jeff Brown’s backup kit for a few months, I went to pick out a kit of my own. In 2001, I settled on a Tama Swingstar, and I’ve been playing it ever since. It played in my first two bands, Subject to Change and Courage is for Cowards. It somehow survived the destruction of Kill The Lights! even after a guitar burst through the bass drum at the last show. Making it to State College, my drums looked like they’d been through a war zone. Finally, when I got to New York, I stripped the shells, clear coated the natural wood finish, and tuned them with new heads and hardware. After 8 years, they sound better than they ever have before. The drum kit is still my favorite instrument, and I look forward to playing with groups well into the future.
8. The Of All Days DVD: Learning to Edit Video
It came as a surprise to everyone that I would be doing my senior high school project in video editing. I had never really owned a video camera before, but I started bringing one with me almost everywhere I went and taping my friend’s band Of All Days at all of their shows. I spent a majority of my senior year learning Adobe Premiere, and I owe a lot of thanks to Mark Favata and Jerry Zezza for showing me the ropes. Subsequently, I kept that camera when I played in Kill The Lights! and taped every one of our shows as well. I still have boxes and boxes of Mini DV tapes with all of my footage from high school, but that camera (and the Mini DV technology) died a few years back. Judging from the fidelity of the video compared to what’s out there today, that’s probably a good thing. I recently acquired Adobe Premiere again, as well as a decent Sony camcorder, and have been planning to get back into some video work. It’s a fun, but expensive hobby.
9. The Vista
Taking a 45 minute drive on Suscon Road and turning down an unlabeled dirt road, then parking and walking another two miles down a path leads to one of the most beautiful locations in northeast Pennsylvania. What we called “The Vista” in high school was the end of a trail in the Lackawanna State Park. The place we discovered was a raised platform at the top of a clearing that overlooked the mountains and suburbia of the Wyoming Valley. Underneath the structure was a fire pit, and the whole area was basically unmonitored. There were countless nights we would carpool to Wendy’s, park, and just hike that trail for the hell of it. Some nights we would camp up there, or just have a fire pit. One night, we had a few bands play by dragging some generators to the top and powering the amps from a car battery. The notion that my high school life was filled with random exploratory journeys, whether through nature or abandoned industrial wasteland, and not filled with parties, alcohol, and drugs, is a unique experience that can only be fulfilled by a dead city like Wilkes-Barre. I came to regard my adolescence with a sort of nostalgia that I may never experience again, now that I’ve been absorbed into the free-flowing bar scene of urban nightlife.
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Though I wanted to exclude any type of media from this list like music, books, and films, the implications of this specific film resonated with recent events in my high school life. The relationship between the two characters in Eternal Sunshine were almost identical to my first relationship, and to say this didn’t have an impact on my life is just ignorant. Without getting into details, I’ll simply say that I’m glad I learned what I did, and it changed the course of my life drastically. This film, on the other hand, has been one of my favorite films ever since, and every time I watch it, it brings back a wave of nostalgia that brings me back to 2004.
11. Playing in Kill The Lights!
I’d been playing in bands long before Kill The Lights! was conceived in 2003. However, nothing could match the insanity, the destruction, and mayhem that this band would incur. Playing this renegade show out of our van was the most memorable show, as we were escorted away by security. Also selling sno-cones at Ted Leo, flipping tables at Club HP, and going to the hospital because I punched my cymbal too hard were other pretty notable events. We were punk kids, and we just wanted to play loud music and break shit. So we did.
12. Exploring the Abandoned Hotel Sterling
Every night I drove into center city Wilkes-Barre, the Hotel Sterling loomed on the other side of the bridge. It was a dark, abandoned edifice that embodied the former prosperity of the old coal mining city. For a group of underage high school kids without any place to go at night, it was just asking to be explored. Climbing into a second story window, we entered the hotel from the backside and into the huge lobby, complete with all of the abandoned furniture, television sets, and mattresses that couldn’t be hauled out when everyone was evicted. Every floor was covered with graffiti, and REDRUM was written all over the creepy walls of the kitchen. The roof was one of the best vantage points in the city, and I remember sitting inside the “O” on the sign and looking out over Wilkes-Barre. It was truly one of the best memories I have of the city, which is why I’m making screen-printed shirts as a memorial of this landmark.
13. Roustabout, The Bullet Parade, and the Hookah Lounge
I was a punk kid when I started college. I wasn’t playing music, and I was pretty much convinced that bands weren’t good unless they threw drums off the stage and punched bouncers in the face. When I met Jeff Van Fossan and Eric Myers and was absorbed into the local Roustabout scene in State College, I matured quickly. Playing music with more seasoned musicians helped me to expand my taste and stop being so narrow-minded. Drumming in the Bullet Parade offered the opportunity to play shows all over the northeast, from Baltimore, to DC, to Pittsburgh. I met a lot of great people, and it’s the closest thing to a touring band that I’ve ever had. In addition, having the Hookah Lounge nearby gave me a place to hangout that was quiet, full of friends, and was one of the few places in State College that wasn’t a bar. Jeff was also an indirect influence on the following few points in my life, and was a great mentor to have around during my college life.
14. Turning Vegetarian
Halting the intake of meat didn’t shape my life as much as the new awareness caused by my limited diet. I decided to stop eating meat after I read an article in Rolling Stone about the ecological problems caused by industrial pig farms, including groundwater and air pollution. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the food industry from books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and documentaries like Super Size Me. I started cooking a lot, and developed a sort of affinity for the kitchen. I started gardening (something I had to abandon recently) and buying from farmer’s markets instead of supermarkets. Next season, I plan to enroll in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and getting my produce from local farmers outside of NYC. While my diet is still less than ideal, and I still enjoy indulging time to time, I’ve made great improvements from where I was five years ago.
15. Changing Majors to Electrical Engineering
Coming into college as a Chemical Engineering major had mostly to do with my grades in high school and what I thought I’d be successful with. While I loved chemistry on paper, I found myself discontent with lab work. Combined with my acquisition of an old analog Moog synthesizer, meeting Sean Byrne, and opening myself up to the world of DIY circuit design and Maker culture, I decided Electrical Engineering was where I belonged. I concentrated in Digital Signal Processing and focused mainly on audio, a recurring theme of my life. I figured, why not be a professional in the field I love the most? Now I find myself looking into a graduate program at NYU that combines electronic design with art and new media technologies. It’s the perfect combination of art and science that I’ve been looking for my whole life.
16. ALT Magazine
When I looked for a writing outlet at Penn State, I didn’t expect to inherit the Editor-in-Chief position after one semester. That is exactly what happened at ALT Magazine, a zine about politics, culture, art, and music. With only Jen, the graphic designer, left from the previous year, we attempted to rebuild the staff in time to put out an issue for the next year. This proved to be more difficult than I imagined, and it was more work that I ever thought it would be. After putting out two issues, I felt relieved to hand over my position, and proud of the work we had done. I had always toyed with the idea of releasing a zine, and after this trial run in college, I now know how much time, money, and work is involved. It was a great experience, and I’m glad the magazine is still running to this day.
17. Kleeb Parties: How I Became a DJ
Throwing parties in college went from being a fun weekend activity to a refined art. I remember looking up to some of the other State College DJs that played good music and following them around as a freshman. When I got my own place, I started hosting parties of my own. They became more and more elaborate, the sound systems got bigger, we got lighting and fog machines, and eventually I started offering my DJ services out to other people, and throwing parties all over town. Though I never got into DJing using anything more than an iPod, it made my setup quite compact and easy to setup and break down. Halloween 2008 signaled the end of my DJ career as my Macbook and iPod were both ripped off after the party. However, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting up again in New York. I wonder where I put that 2 channel iPod mixer…
18. Getting a Road Bike and Freeze/Thaw Cycle Clinics
Before 2007, I was not a bike rider. I knew how to ride a bike, and a shitty Huffy mountain bike collected dust in my parents’ garage, but the prospect of a bike as transportation hadn’t yet crossed my mind. When Alex Katos called me and asked if I wanted his old Panasonic road bike because he wasn’t using it, it opened up a world that I hardly knew existed: bike commuting. I rode that bike to class every day, and over the next two years, visited Freeze/Thaw cycles to modify the bike and upgrade the brakes, gears, wheels, and pedals. From their clinics, I learned to true a wheel, replace brake cables, pack the bearings in a hub, remove a crank, and the basics of a bike tune up. As my NYC beater bike, the Panasonic still rides to this day, and I continue to tune it up often, because I have a certain attachment to my first road bike.
19. Working at the Music Mart
In my junior year of college, I landed my first job that didn’t involve the food industry. The Music Mart was a small musical instrument shop on the main drag of downtown State College. When I first started working, I knew about drums and sheet music, but had little knowledge about the inner workings of guitars or amplifiers, let alone sound systems. Combined with my major, my weekend stints DJing, and a young guitar phenom named Taylor, I learned everything there is to know about guitars, microphones, speakers, cables, mixers, tubes, strings, recording interfaces, and even lighting to an extent. A few times, Tom even hired me to work with him running sound at large concert events, and I learned how to run a sound board and EQ a mix. At the time I was building my own home recording studio, and got a lot of my gear from the Music Mart. When I left, Tom had just hired a new manager to whip the store into shape, and now they have a pretty great web presence that didn’t exist when I was there.
20. Living Above the Army/Navy
Most of my collegiate career was spent living in bland, cookie-cutter dorms or apartments. It wasn’t until I ventured out to a party in a decrepit old place above an Army/Navy surplus store that I discovered my appreciation for urban decay and a rustic living atmosphere. No, my apartment above the Army/Navy was not glamorous, but I discovered that it had a personality and a history, and many of the former tenants would come back and share their stories and experiences about living there. Climb through one of the bedroom windows, and you find yourself on a vast rooftop, as big as the apartment itself. Over the winter, I built my first home recording studio. I bought a Macbook, learned Logic Pro, and started recording music for film students. In the summer, I would DJ late nights after the bar closed in the same living room. I was sure after I moved out, the slumlord that owned the building would have some incentive to enforce a set of rules to encourage people to be quiet and stay off the roof. However, one night I wandered past and noticed a few people peering over the edge of my old apartment rooftop. I called up to them and they invited me up to share the stories of what life was like when I lived in that place. There aren’t many living spaces that invite that kind of history with the tenants.
21. The Sorority House
Little did I know my last 4 months in State College would be one of the greatest and weirdest times of my life. Looking for a fall sublet, my good friend Rich and I stumbled upon a large house with three floors, a basement, a back yard, and a porch. When we went to look at it, we were surprised to find that many of the tenants were part of the same sorority, and we’d be living in, pretty much, a female frat house. When I first entered the dingy basement, I was sold. I spent most of my time down there, cleaning up and making it into my recording/practice space. I first started giving drum lessons in the basement, and hosting house shows with a few local State College and Scranton bands. Living with 14 other people also took some getting used to, but it was a great experience and brought me close to people I probably would not have otherwise known. Of course, the craziness didn’t stop after I left. When I returned, I found a chicken farm in the backyard, and a ritualistic slaughter was conducted that night – something I never thought I’d experience. At this point in my life, I was ready to leave that town and get on with my life, but I’m glad my last semester was spent in the company of such a diverse group.
22. Bent Festival
In April 2009, I attended the Bent Festival in New York City for the first time. In a tiny Midtown performance space called The Tank, circuit-benders, tweakers, musicians, and electronic artists crammed together to show off their work. I saw noise-making robots, infrared hand sensors wired to speakers, sequencers that used various doorbells, and musicians that played on switchboxes and motion sensors. I purchased the book Handmade Electronic Music and started playing around with sequencer chips, piezo sensors, and small handmade amps. This single book would launch me on a fascination with handmade amps and guitar pedals that was only accelerated by the event that happened to me one month later…
23. Moving Into Death By Audio
Trying to figure out my post-college life in a jobless world and wondering why the hell I moved to New York City in the first place brought me a world of confusion in 2009. With my best friends moving home, I was hopelessly alone in the big city. With a stroke of luck, I found the artists’ collective I’ve always dreamed of building for myself. They were into diy electronics, had a live music venue, and a huge warehouse space where almost anything could be built, from almost any material, and then subsequently destroyed if it suited your fancy. After almost two years living here, I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself and my ambitions, and it’s time to take the next step.
24. Sample Pads and Electronic Drums
Something I had dreamed of doing, long before moving into DBA, was an electric drum sample triggered by hitting the bass drum. Had I known that these had existed for decades, I may have acted on it sooner. I learned how to install a Piezo transducer in my bass drum, and was soon playing with trigger inputs on synths and guitar pedals. When I learned about the Roland SPD-S sample pad, and found one on eBay, my world of drumming was turned upside down. I could record samples, download samples, alter them on my computer, and load them on to a memory card to be used live. I could also wire my bass drum to hit these samples as well. The possibilities were now endless. I downloaded Ableton Live and started building drum kits out of Battery. Next stop: Max For Live and light triggers
25. Broken Ankle Summer: Cutting Out the Pipe
One event that is still in process is one that began at the beginning of June, 2010. After my west coast adventure in San Francisco, I came home and promptly stepped in a pothole, breaking my ankle and rendering me pretty much immobile for the entire summer. With lots of time on my hands, and lots of help from my roommate Alex, I decided to remove the ventilation pipe from my bedroom, something that had been in my way since I moved into Death By Audio and represented a huge obstacle against my comfortable living environment, as well as my indecisiveness about staying in the warehouse space. Removing the pipe cemented my stay in New York, and prompted me to apply for grad school. It also sparked a summer of building, which involved making a closet out of the remaining pipe, building a bed, building a large workspace and soldering station, learning to wire electrical outlets, dry wall, and insulate a room, and transform my door into a hidden bookcase. With one last obstacle in my path – installing a window in the hole where the pipe had been – my room will be completely finished. It’s been a really motivating experience, and I’ve been stimulated both creatively and emotionally from the whole ordeal.