Monday, September 24, 2012

David DiDonato

Welcome to the final installment of my blog.  It's been mostly rewarding, but I'm relieved to be finished.  Over the past year, I've enjoyed thinking about which band I was going to write about, hunting down the recordings in stacks of CDR's or crates of cassette tapes (or googling for the files when I was feeling lazy), listening to them again, and posting them online in hopes that anyone would listen.  So far, I've gotten about 20,000 page views.  Granted, Kim Kardashian could post about what she had for lunch and it'd reach 600 times that many people.  Perspective.

I figured this last entry would be about myself.  One, because the combination of blogger/guitarist practically demands some kind of long-winded egotistical wankfest; two, because I'm a sucker for rock biographies (even if they involve someone that's never played to more than a thousand people at once); three, because I've got plenty of audio to work with.  I'm going to focus primarily on recorded output; and avoid excessive information about live shows, tours, my personal life, politics, etc.  Even considering that narrow parameter, it might get long.  As this will be in chronological order, you might want to skim to a part that you might be in.  If you've read this far, there's a decent chance you are.

The sad thing that I discovered when going through all of these tapes, compact discs, and mp3's is just how many recordings no longer exist.  Moments in time captured, then lost forever.  Like a photo album with missing Polaroids.  What's worse is that if I don't have them, surely nobody else will.  Granted, there will still be more than any sane human being will listen to, so let's begin.


1983
In late 1983, my parents bought me a toy drum set.  I don't think I ever managed to play a beat on it.  A few months later, my friend Warren Proulx and I started a band called The Reptiles.  We only had two songs - a rocker penned by Warren called "Reptile Rock", and an introspective ballad by me entitled "Heartbroken People."  These songs were definitely recorded, but these tapes are missing.  REALLY missing.  Jimmy Hoffa missing.

1984
I moved from Simsbury, CT to Farmington Hills, MI, breaking up the Reptiles.  Swearing off rock and roll forever, I started collecting comic books.

1985
Christmas, 1985.  My parents bought me a Radio Shack brand toy keyboard.  It was tiny and could only play one note at a time, but I treasured it.  Still have it.


When they saw that I was at least somewhat serious about music, mom and dad upgraded me to a Yamaha PSR-something a year later.  I took lessons, and got to be okay, but my teacher wasn't great - and neither was the student.

1987
In 1987 I discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and my dad's old Gibson student semi-hollowbody guitar from the 50's.  I tried and tried to get a tune out of it, but the neck was so bowed that it might have been better suited for the Hunger Games or something.

1988
So on Christmas 1988, they bought me a Squier Stratocaster.  That was a few months after we moved to Virginia, so I didn't have things like "friends" to keep me from practicing.

1989
And practice I did.  School, home, practice, dinner, practice on the weekdays.  Practice, lunch, practice, dinner, practice on the weekends.  I'd do my homework at lunch on weekdays so I could practice.  No responsibilities, no friends, no distractions.  Practice.

My two biggest fans.

Some time in the summer, I recorded a couple of terrible Led Zeppelin covers.
The Crunge
Rock and Roll

These were definitely not recorded with a 4-track - equipment of that sophistication was years beyond my reach.  Maybe it was the old "Record something and then plug it into another tape deck and record again" trick.  That's definitely what was done while slaughtering this innocent Beatles chestnut:
Tomorrow Never Knows

We moved from an apartment in Newport News to a house in Williamsburg, and as a sophomore in High School, I met Chris Dean.  Chris Dean was a drummer and I was a guitarist, so what do you think happened?  We somehow suckered the talented keyboardist Tim Schiavelli into "jamming" with us at Chris's house.  I'll never forget how excited I was - Peavey Bandit practice amp in the backseat of my mom's Pontiac Firebird - on the way to my first ever band practice.  I may have even drove the speed limit.  Tim was one year and a thousand miles ahead of us in school and musical ability, respectively.  He was also a huge Gary Numan fan - and I don't mean just The Pleasure Principle.  He even had the later period albums.  For some reason, there was a bunch of sheet music around ("Top Hits of 1989!" or whatever).
Here we are butchering "Hangin' Tough" by New Kids on the Block and... INVENTING IRONY.
You're welcome, 1990's.
Hangin' Tough

If memory serves, this guy named Phillip Spencer was there, and he "sang" on some of the tracks.

1990
There was some sort of High School talent show coming up, so Chris and I were excited about it.  Tim, on the other hand, was not.  He quit our "band" - much to my shock and dismay.  To this day, I don't really know why.  Chris, Phillip and I soldiered on though - we played our HEAVY version of the New Kids song for the judges, who were not impressed.  We did not pass the audition.

Phillip was out of the band (I'm not sure he was ever really in the band {nor am I sure you could even call what was going on a "band"}), and later that school year I met Chris Dovi.

Chris Dovi was a Senior (a Senior!).  He had his own 1970 mustard yellow Volvo Station Wagon and an afro that wouldn't quit - no matter how hard he tried to tame it with various Mike Nesmith-style wool hats.  He played guitar also, and he was a hell of a singer.  Here's us doing a Troggs cover.
Wild Thing

That summer, we kicked Chris Dean out of the band and replaced him with David Abbott, who was a year older than even Chris Dovi.  Hell, David might have been 19 years old!  We got a surfer-looking blonde-haired recent High School graduate named Bob Pegg to play bass, and we kind of sounded like a real band.  The problem with Bob was that he often seemed more interested in making out with his girlfriend Mary Ann Kerr than he was in having band practice.  This seemed insane to me at the time, but now it makes perfect sense - she was really hot.  Here's us trying to write a song while Bob was in his car in my driveway putting the moves on Mary Ann.
First Attempt

Chris Dovi.  The mic stand was a broomstick with a mic taped to it.

David and Bob quit later that summer, and we talked Chris Dean back into the band.  My Junior year started, and we got John Swart to play bass.  I either didn't know or care, but John was in a punk/noise band called Joyful Stress with this guy Erik Sugg.  Stealing him from that band was kind of a dick move, but then he probably could have done both bands.  For some reason that seemed taboo.  Years later I heard a Joyful Stress tape and it was kind of great - I wondered if John had made the right decision.  Chris and I were big Yardbirds fans.  BIG Yardbirds fans.  There was another band I was a big fan of - see if you can spot a kind of running theme.
Train Kept a Rollin'
Heartbreaker solo

John knew a guy named Sean Sutphin that played drums, and was into punk rock and such.  I said I'd be willing to give him a try, even though that would mean that getting him into the band would mean kicking poor Chris Dean out AGAIN.  Sean had longish in the front straight black hair and piercing brown eyes.  He was very... mysterious.  (Note: when attractive people don't talk much, they're called "mysterious" - when normal-looking people don't talk much, they're called "shy" - and when unattractive people don't talk much, they're called "weird")  Sean had a light touch (this would DEFINITELY change as time progressed), but he had really nice Yamaha drums and an instinctive sense of time.  Chris Dean was out, and Sean was in.  This was when Chris Dovi named the band Jolly Mortals.
The first Jolly Mortals show was at a party on New Years Eve, 1991.  I think.

1991
The next gig was at a Rec Center on a CIA training base.  The third was a High School Talent show called Stockwood.  Bob Gorski might have been hired to do sound.  Our set was all classic rock covers and a quiet finger-picked original named "One Skittle" after what I would often pack for my lunch.  This is not its story, as the tape cuts off early.

Back in the day before wimps used computers to make flyers.

She Said, She Said
I'm a Man


That summer, Chris Dovi quit the band for some reason, so we continued as a 3-piece.  Against everyone's better judgement, I took over vocal duties.  In the fall, we played a show outside at a Rec Center, with our friends Erik Sugg and Ian Kruske singing a song or two each.  This was recorded, and the recording is gone.





1992
For some reason, Chris Dovi rejoined the band, and we played our High School talent show in the spring.  A recording was made of that also, which no longer exists.  Soon after, the Jolly Mortals broke up.  John, Sean, and Erik started a band called Nottle.  Our friend Mike Chapman, Sean, and I started a band called Shaftwagon Thunderbech.  We had more of a... modern sound.  Here we are covering 24-7 Spyz.
Jungle Boogie
And Black Sabbath:
Wicked World

When the school year ended, we broke up for some reason.
While "in between bands", Erik Sugg and I started an all acoustic band called either Killer Bananas or the Christmas Mice.  We weren't that great!
The Christmas Mice story

A few weeks after that, the Jolly Mortals reunited and started practicing in anticipation for our move to the big city.

In the fall, we moved to Richmond, VA and started playing out.  While other bands in the area were either pushing the boundaries of space and time with math-metal, or crying out songs of political protest, we.... ummm... did a bunch of covers, including Smashing Pumpkins.  We decided we needed to change things up quick, and we did.  A month or two later, we recorded with Mark Morton and some guy named John.

This was one of our first songs.  It was about a little plastic Waldo figure that our drummer's girlfriend used to abuse for some reason.
Waldo

We started playing more shows at Richmond clubs.  We no longer played any covers, but we did have a song called "White People Can't Dance" that had snippets of a bunch of songs in it - "Stop" by Jane's Addiction, "Peter Piper" by Run DMC, "Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer, "Unbelievable" by EMF.  We only played it a couple of times to fill up time in our set, but the die was cast.  The Jolly Mortals were henceforth known as a Joke Band.  Comparisons to the Dead Milkmen kept coming up.  This was absolutely devastating to me at the time.  I couldn't understand why people couldn't grasp the concept of taking music seriously, while not taking oneself seriously.  Most of the other bands at that time definitely had the opposite of that down cold.

1993
Our first (?) out of town show was at the Iroquois in Roanoke in February or so.  If you wanted to round down, we played in front of roughly zero people.  This performance was recorded, and still exists to this day.
This song was about a girl in my High School named Teisha.  Everything in the song happened in real life.  I kind of liked her and to this day have no idea why we only went out once.  I don't know if she knows that this song was written about her, but if she's reading this she does now.
Got a Date with a Death Chick

John and I both wrote the lyrics to this one:
Red


Here we are flying the flannel in John Swart's garage.

Summer.  John, Sean, and I moved from the dorms to 1528 Floyd Avenue in Richmond.  We all lived in the basement.  I was 19, and free from my parents, but the actual living conditions were abysmal.  The floors were concrete; and the air was musty - no matter how much Lysol, incense smoke, or marijuana fumes went into the air.  It was infested with camel-back crickets that were as big as your thumb and could jump at least 3 feet into the air.  We didn't seem to care that much though.  We used to practice like every day.  This recording is (I think) from that summer.
The Cloud Song

That fall, we drove up to Occuquan in Northern Virginia to record 3 songs.  Here's one of them:
Los Chistes

Los Chistes was partially written when Chris Dovi was in the band.  During the bass/drums break, Chris's plan was to tell a bunch of jokes - thus the song title.  This never ended up happening because Chris had quit the band prior to the song's completion, but I don't think it'd have helped counteract our "Joke Band" tag.

Another one of the songs was on a 4-way split record with our friend's band Whirly*Bird, Harrisonburg pre-superstars Herschel, and Roanoke funk stalwarts Swank.  The song we used was named Judy, after some girl we went to the dorms with.  A year or so later, I gave Judy a copy of this record.  Not surprisingly, she got super weirded out and sent her fundamentalist Christian boyfriend Joe to fight me.  I somehow avoided a physical confrontation and half-convinced him that I didn't mean any harm.  I certainly wasn't obsessed with his girlfriend, but the evidence definitely was not in my favor.  He made me promise to never contact her or him again, which was probably the easiest promise I've ever kept.
Judy

The third song was called "If I Can't Have You, No One Will".  I'm not including it because (1) my vocals are absolutely awful and (2) the riff was unintentionally stolen practically note for note from a Circus of Power song.  Our friends band Killing Cycle used to cover it, and I guess the influence crept in.

Maximum Rock and Roll magazine managed to sum the Jolly Mortals up with one word in their not-so-great review of the split record - "non-descript."

1994
In January, we went back to Occuquan to record for a 7" of our own, to be released by the newly formed Whirled Records.
225 (video version by Chris Wade)
Gladiator
Horse Lover
4-Ever
Bedsores

These recordings represent the time that we had finally hit our stride.  225 was about how much the new Hose Got Cable 7" cost, and how I envied their genius.  4-Ever was a jam mostly written by Sean and John, with me playing an annoying guitar part over top to get them to stop.  Horse Lover was stolen from one of my solo albums and maybe should have been left there, if we were trying to be taken seriously at all.  Gladiator was inspired by our friend Brian Campas, and was about mixing a bunch of different types of malt liquor in a lobster pot.  Bedsores was about my first girlfriend, who I seriously regretted breaking up with - but in listening back it sounds like there were some other things going on.  I was heading towards a fairly major depression.  This depression was exacerbated by (for one) Maximum Rock and Roll's review of the record - parts of which I still remember.  "Junior-league goof noise" - "a cross between King Missile and Jane's Addiction" - "annoying, high-pitched vocals" - etc.

That spring, Tony Brown joined us on rhythm guitar.  We then went on a tour of the Southeastern United States, but Tony couldn't go because I think he was still a Junior in High School.  Let's not forget, the rest of us were barely 20.  Anyway, the songs we wrote (possibly influenced by my worsening depression) were far darker than anything we'd done before.  We'd gone from playing with pop-punk bands like Whirly*bird to more metal bands like Nudibranch.  The next tracks were recorded in Richmond, with Mark Miley at Glass Hand Studios.

Jolly Mortals - UB2B Vs. The Earth
Society's Fool Part II was a nod to the band Poser, who had a song called Society's Fool.  It was about struggling through self-loathing ("Turn to myself when I get lonely - turned myself away - turned myself into someone different - someone who doesn't feel this way").  Diminished was indirectly about my first girlfriend, taken from her imagined perspective to add a degree of old-fashioned 1990's self-hatred ("I bleed for you - clear water from my eyes, and the things I said to you - you turned them into lies").  Frandiclone was about an obsessed mad scientist.  Grudgematch '94 was about a pathetic loser who trolled High School parties in an attempt to find someone young and willing.  Shortlong was another second-person narrative about how I thought I was fooling everyone, but in reality I was just middle-class white trash.  "Shortlong, you've got it all wrong but you can't realize.  Shortlong, your image has changed, I see through your disguise.  Shortlong, you'll never know what Heaven can bring.  Shortlong, you'll never know for whom this song I sing."

A few weeks later, Tony Brown and I held an impromptu "concert" in my basement bedroom.  I don't remember exactly who was there, but I thought I heard the voices of Elana Effrat, John Swart, and Hugh Wallace.
Judy (acoustic)
Cloud Song (acoustic)

As the summer wore on, I lost my desire to be in the band.  Things were changing internally and externally.  I realized that I'd bottomed out, and it was time for some kind of new direction.  Also, the drugs at my house started getting harder, and the scene we were associated with was also.  It started to become more of a homemade tattoo/pit bull/Neurosis crust-punk thing.  This was definitely not my direction.  The "Joke Band" tag wasn't bandied about any more, but I almost missed it.  Things just weren't.... Jolly any more.  I quit the band and moved out.

A year or so later, the original 3-piece lineup spontaneously reconvened, solely to record a couple of our songs that we never got around to recording when we were a band.  We pretended it was at our last show by dubbing in fake crowd noise.
Hydrophobia
The Drunker You Get...

While vacationing in Williamsburg, my friend Joel Lindelof and I started a band called Star Trap, inventing the kind of lo-fi doom pop that would become all the rage over a decade later.  You're welcome, Pitchfork.


Not long after, I started a heavy metal band called Scrötuculöus with Tony Brown on bass, Joel Lindelof on drums, and Mike Chapman on vocals.  Mike had the stage name Megathor and wore chains instead of a shirt.  The demo that we recorded is lost, but somehow a live boombox recording remains.  This was recorded at the Chronos Cafe (aka Strange Matter aka Nancy Raygun aka Twisters) in Richmond, opening up for Fulflej.

"El Scroto" - 124 pounds of raw fury.
Scrotuculous live

A month or so later, I was asked to join one of my favorite local bands, Ipecac.  We had studio time booked, so I had to learn their songs really quickly.  On the song Hysterical, I kept on messing up the ending, but we kept it anyway.

Tommy Anthony, drummer for Ipecac.

Hysterical
The Ditcher

On New Year's Eve 1994/1995 we played our last show at the Dick Street House in North Carolina.  The day before, our friend Trevor Thomas recorded our practice - 2 microphones into a 4-track.
I'll Be Deemed a Genius

1995
In January, I got a letter from TVT Records asking about the Jolly Mortals.  Thinking that maybe I had pulled the plug too soon, I tried to get the band back together.  Sean said yes, but John (wisely) said no.  Instead, we got Nathan from Ipecac to play bass.  On paper, the band should have worked, but the spirit of the band was gone.  We recorded 3 songs - two of which are lost forever - and then quietly dissolved.
Only one song exists from this session, just barely.  Download at your peril.
Meow Mix

Nathan and I started a surf rock band called the Freshomatics with Marty Key on drums.  We did some recordings on an old 4-track.
The Tenth Plan

Not long after, we recorded a 7" record.
Freshomatics 7"

4 years later or so, we recorded a couple more songs on 4-track.
Death on I-85
Untitled

Freshomatics reunion show, 1999.

I'd be guilty of some serious historical revisionism if I didn't include the group 15 on the 15.  While in the dorms a few years previously, my friend JT and I were bored and did some terrible Jane's Addiction covers in his dorm room - him on an old Yamaha DX-7, me on an acoustic guitar.  His roommate Pat Cavanagh started playing this disturbing homemade instrument made out of a Slurpee Straw called a "nanceophone" or something, and 15 on the 15 was born.  "15 on the 15" was a term coined by my friend Brian Campas about how often he was going to call this one girl he was after - every 15 minutes on the 15 minutes.  A local paper said that if our goal was to annoy and frustrate people, then we had succeeded.  When I moved out of the Jolly Mortals house, I moved in with JT and Pat, so whenever we got bored (which was often) we would lay down some tracks.


The Final Countdown
Reign in Blood

Our answering machine was an adaptation of one of our songs called Mosquito.  Chris Dovi had actually written the "riff" to it years ago, and I stole it.
15 on the 15 House Answering Machine Message

JT, Ben White, and I started a parody emo band.  We had a couple of songs, but only one still seems to exist.  The only words to any of our songs were "no" and "please".
No Please No

Similarly, Marty Key, Bob from Maximillian Colby, and I started a band making fun of the band Buzz*oven.  We called our band nevo*zzub, and the only words to any of our songs were "I feel" and "I'm down".  We had a show at Twisters, but Bob said he wouldn't do it for fear of getting beaten up.  Fortunately, Rob Kelshian from Avail filled in.  Supposedly, the drummer of Buzz*oven was there and thought it was hilarious.

Bob, me, Marty

I Feel

All of these side projects were fun, but I was eager to start an actual band again.  I still had a bunch of songs and fragments of songs that I'd written for Ipecac that we never had time to work on, so I asked the second drummer of Ipecac (Erik Josephson) to help me record them and maybe start a band.  Trevor Thomas joined on the 5-string fretless bass, and we called the band Herm - short for the god Hermes (or Hermaphrodite, depending on when you ask me).  It later got shortened further to HRM.  We started practicing in the late summer of 1995, and within a few weeks we were ready to start playing out.  It was a very fun and creative time period.

HRM Live at Dick Street in North Carolina.

1996 
On Superbowl Sunday, HRM recorded with Mark Smoot in Silver Spring, Maryland.  I'll never forget the pause on the phone when I told Smoot we wanted to record 17 songs in one weekend.  It ended up turning into a 2-weekend recording marathon.  Up until this point, I had never spent more than a day on any recording.
HRM youtube playlist
HRM video by Chris Wade

A month or two after recording, I quit HRM.  It was not a wise decision.  While I got along with Erik and Trevor, and loved the material; I was eager to start a less noisy/aggressive band.  While working at Christie's Cafe and Bakery, I met Dave Choi.  We started a band with Ian from Damn Near Red, and Keith Saunders from Nudibranch.  We recorded with Dave Seaman in early summer, 1996.
01
02 One in Thirty-Six
03 Where Everybody Dwells
04
05 Voices in the Sky
06 Loose Tooth Dream
07 Every Day I Die
08 Behind Every Silver Lining/Every Day is Like Friday
09 Not All Vampires Drink Blood

In August, Keith quit the band for some reason (maybe to join the band Gingwin?), and Ian soon followed suit.  Dave and I still wanted to keep it going, so we got John Swart to play bass, and my friend Nora Robinson to sing.  We played a couple of shows, but I think John either quit or got kicked out.  He was replaced by Tony Brown.  We called the band Secret Girlfriends.  In October, we recorded a couple of songs from the previous line-up, and a couple of new ones.
Hazel
Loose Tooth Dream

In December, we recorded an album's worth of material at Mark Smoot's studio in Maryland.

This is how we ended every one of our songs.
The legendary Mark Smoot at the helm.
Nora sleeping between vocal takes.

Secret Girlfriends Side A
Secret Girlfriends Side B

In August, Trivett Wingo moved to Richmond.  I'd seen him play in a band called Equity that HRM had played with earlier that year.  John Swart, Ben White, and I had been talking about forming a faux-hardcore band called Typecast, and with Trivett in town, we had a drummer.  John and Ben sang, I played guitar, our friend Eric Allen played bass, and Boober played second guitar.  We all wore gold hockey masks and played fast, barely comprehensible punk rock.  I would end up being in bands with Trivett on and off for the next 15 years.
http colon backslash backslash w w w dot altkids dot com
Beatdown in Monroe
The Only Good Tow Truck Driver...
Long Distance Dedication/Educational Programming

A few years later, John, Trivett, Eric and I recorded a couple more Typecast songs.  I thought they sounded pretty "good".  The lyrics to the first song - Livestock:

Raised for slaughter like the cow you eat
You're chickenshit and you're dead meat
Raise your hoof and say, "Fuck the police"
But there's pork on your plate, you are what you eat.
You are what you eat
Livestock, livestock
You are what you eat
Livestock, livestock
You are what you eat
Livestock, livestock
You are what you eat
Livestock.

There were a couple of levels of irony in this.  When I moved to Richmond in 1992, I hated it when bands would get all preachy and/or political.  While the song "Livestock" was making fun of that scene, it was written around the time I went vegan.
Typecast EP

To count off our first song, our singers would clank
a hammer and a sickle together four times.

1997
In the spring, Secret Girlfriends recorded 4 songs on a 4-track, including a Danzig cover.
Christie's Lament
Barbecue Brown
Reign in Spain
Evil Thing

In July, we embarked on a nationwide, month-long tour.  It could be considered a disaster, but at least we did it.
Secret Girlfriends Live
Secret Girlfriends Live Part 2

When we got back from tour, I quit the band for some reason.  I vowed to myself that I'd never quit another band for the hell of it again, a vow I've pretty much kept except for one possible exception a dozen odd years later.  I was also going through a tough time emotionally, which didn't help.  In fact, I was so depressed that I didn't even really play much music for the rest of the year.  Freshomatics were still at least marginally active, and I played bass in Jeff Winterberg's band with Marty Key called False Island.  Our only recording was done on a boombox stuffed into the chest cavity of a duck that was stuffed into the oviduct of a turkey, so I'll spare you.  This time.

1998
I finally got a semi-respectable job at the Richmond Times-Dispatch (this being back when print media was a thing).  I filed my taxes early, and in March I got an extra $400.  I got a Fostex 4-track cassette recorder and a couple Shure SM-57 microphones.  Oh, happy day.  Did you see that crate of tapes at the beginning of this post?  Conservatively, 2/3 of them spent some time cooking in that thing.

Around that time, I started another band with Dave Choi.  I got my friend Eric Allen to play second guitar, and John Skaritza named us The Greman.  We didn't have a bass player, a la bands like the Champs or Sleater-Kinney.  I wanted the band to be kind of a platform for Eric Allen, but he didn't seem too enthused about the project.  We kind of meandered around for a few months before dissolving in August.  Our only recordings were done on my 4-track.



A few weeks later, I was asked to join the band Ultimate Dragons.  I'd been friends with Trivett, JD, and Ben for years, and it was definitely the style of music I specialized in, so it was a natural fit.  People seemed to really like us, and I felt like we were really going somewhere.  I was... maybe 50% right.

In October, False Island was booked to play with Melt Banana and Human Thurma, which was 2/3 of HRM and 1/3 of the legendary Sean Sheen.  For some reason, False Island couldn't play, so 3 days before the show I got Trivett to play drums and John Swart to play bass for a HRM cover band called Black Emmanuelle.  JD Cronise was guest vocalist for this show.

Here is Black Emmanuelle with JD Cronise singing.
This lineup never recorded.

1999
Black Emmanuelle and Ultimate Dragons were both active at this time.  This was a really fun period, as both bands were productive and drew decent crowds.  Ultimate Dragons were more popular, which suited me fine - Black Emmanuelle was more of an experimental thing.  We recorded some demos on my 4-track.

Here's Trivett and I blasting out a Bad Brains cover around that time for no good reason.
Another Damn Song

Ultimate Dragons were more career-oriented, and we recorded in a more professional fashion.  I think this was at Sound of Music in Richmond.

Ultimate Dragons demo 

In late spring, Ben quit the Ultimate Dragons to move to California.  When that happened, I figured I might try to move to Chicago.  Ben ended up coming back a few weeks later, but I'd already made arrangements to move.  I might be wrong in my history, but I think JD might have moved to Austin around then also.

Jeff Winterberg joined Black Emmanuelle, and our power and volume quickly doubled.

 (L-R) Me, Jeff Winterberg, John Swart, Trivett Wingo.
Our farewell show.  This lineup never recorded.

Mike Marunde - the drummer of RPG - started his own band where he wrote the songs and played guitar.  He got me on second guitar, Judd Prather on bass, and Bill Walker on drums.  We practiced every Wednesday and got to be pretty good, I thought.  I think Bill might have recorded us, but this was a long time ago so who knows.  The recording ended up never getting finished because the Pro-Tools files got lost or something.  A demo version of it survives.  I'm including the little narrative that Mike put at the beginning because it rules.

I bought a Boss DR-550 drum machine off of my friend Dan Evans for something like $80.  The first song it was forced to learn the drum parts to was "Little Lover" by AC/DC.  For some reason, I mentioned a girl named Molly that I was dating at the time.

JD, JT and I started a band called  Long Walks on the Beach.  It was a big departure from the usual style of music that I played, and it was also... for lack of a better word, great.

J.D. and J.T. of L.W.O.T.B.

Maybe I was overconfident given how successful the past year had been, but my fortunes definitely changed after arriving in Chicago in July.  It was a very fruitful period, and at least a dozen 4-track tapes were filled.  Unfortunately, I spent most of my time writing and recording and not networking with musicians or getting a job that paid more than $8/hour.

 My bedroom in Chicago.  No, really.  
Note the cot folded up in the corner.

Below are three songs from this period.  Many, many more were recorded.  Some of the songs ended up being on my first official solo album, and most of them were experiments that nobody really needs to hear.  The first of these is about feeling burnt out about Richmond, the second was a proposed Ultimate Dragons song that was never used, and the third is a Black Sabbath cover.

David Grant (Napi) from Action Patrol was one of my room-mates for a brief time.  In exchange for a mix tape of a bunch of DJ's scratching, I let him do the Viking wails on my cover of the Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin (did I mention anything about a running theme?).

By December, I accepted defeat and moved back to Richmond.  JD also moved back from Austin to Richmond, and we started Ultimate Dragons again.  I think our reunion show was on New Years Eve at Hole in the Wall.

Marty Key booked me to play a show where I just played a bunch of guitar solos for as long as possible.  As a joke, he called it "DiDonato From Illinois", and the name stuck.  Later, this was shortened to DFI.

2000
Things in Richmond hadn't changed much in the 5 or so months that I was gone.  Ultimate Dragons picked up where we left off, and our shows were getting bigger and better.
Eternalux live
Sir Roxelot live
Repulsor live

That summer, we went up to Mark Smoot's to record an album.  As it was JD's band, he wrote pretty much the entire album.  I only wrote the music to the song Dragstar (which was later stolen by the band Modok) and the acoustic interlude Caridad del Cobre.
Ultimate Dragons - Player's Handbook

Ben moved to Austin not long after that, followed shortly after by JD, and that was the end of the Ultimate Dragons.  OR WAS IT?

It should be noted that early in the year I was in a surf band called the Sums, based in Harrisonburg.  This is not their story.
This lineup never recorded, unless you consider photographs to be recordings.

Black Emmanuelle also started up again.  I don't remember why John Swart wasn't in it, but from the looks of this picture below, Chris Flynn was on bass now.  Also, Nora was the singer.
Me, Nora, Chris Flynn, Trivett.
This lineup recorded, but the recording is lost.

2001
Trivett (I think) quit Black Emmanuelle and was replaced by Dave Seaman, formerly of Nudibranch.  By late spring/early summer, recorded an album in his basement studio, and a bonus EP of the song "Blanco".

Dave Seaman on the fader.
Nora, awake between vocal takes.

This album took longer by far than any album I've ever been involved with - before or since.  It was also going to be the last thing I ever did before settling down and raising a family.  As you might be able to tell from the size and location of that little square over to the right that controls how far you are into this entry, this was not to be the case.
Black Emmanuelle album

One of the demo versions of a song on the album has a completely different intro.
Red Alert demo 

We also recorded a live album from around then.  The sound quality isn't great, but the performances are - due to the fact that we'd been recording and had played each of the songs about a million times.

A short live video from this era is here.

I forget what happened with Ultimate Dragons.  Trivett got kicked out for missing a show, and was temporarily replaced by this guy Brad.  JD and Ben had moved to Austin, TX, so I followed them in late July.  I also got married.  Remember when I said I wasn't going to put anything personal in here?  Too bad.

With JT, JD and I in the same city again, Long Walks on the Beach reformed.  For some reason, JD (drum programming, bass) quit and was replaced by Rand Roads (bass) and John Yacklin (live drums).  This lineup recorded, but it didn't sound great so once again, I will spare you.  JT moved and that was the end of the band.  Before he left, he and I recorded a Neil Diamond song.
Pot Smoker's Song

I also joined the band The Shirts; with Matt Houston on drums, Douglas Ferguson on first guitar, and Lisa Bruner on bass.  It was a not-great fit.  We recorded a few songs, but I can't find the disc.  If anyone is really burning to hear it, I'll ask Mr. Ferguson if he still has a copy.

2002
Douglas Ferguson introduced me to the novel concept of "recording music with a computer".  I wasn't really in a band in the early part of the year and was expecting a child, so I was home a lot.

An appropriate title for an album with nothing but guitar solos on it.
 Intro Skit

 Not long after, a concept album about scoliosis.

On some random day that spring, some guy that worked at a record store called Sound Exchange struck up a conversation with me about drum machines.  I told him that I used the Boss DR-550 and that it sounded okay and was easy to use.  Later I gave him a CDR of some songs I'd recorded.  Turns out, he was Ben White's friend Lance Hahn of the legendary pop-punk band J-Church.  Lance liked the guitar playing on those recordings, so he asked me to be second guitarist in the Austin incarnation of J-Church with Ben on bass and this guy Chris Pfeffer on drums.  Thus begins the most successful chapter of my life in music.  If I were to list 10 major accomplishments in that field, Lance Hahn would be directly responsible for easily half of them.  One of the biggest ones was my first and only solo album to ever have an official release.  Supposedly it did well in some parts of Northern Europe.

Artwork by Ben White

Given a decade of hindsight, there are definitely things I'd have changed about this album.  There's a general lack of cohesion to it.  "If Loving You Isn't Wrong, Then I Don't Want to Not Be Right" is a clever title and all, but it's just some low-register noodling with some Mel Bay jazz chords over top.  "Flight of the Bumblebee" has mistakes, which is completely unnecessary as I had all the time in the world to get it right (and digital editing to boot).  "Crystal With a 'K'" is a nice song and all, but it doesn't seem to fit.  Oh well, I was young, right?
DFI album

With Ben, JD and I all in the same city, we re-formed the Ultimate Dragons with Adam Hatley from Those Peabodys on drums.  Adam was a monster on drums.  We never recorded, but we did play out a decent amount.

2003
Adam quit the Ultimate Dragons for some reason, and was replaced by Alan, who was just as good.


We played a bunch of shows and started working on new material.  Alan moved away, and the Ultimate Dragons were put on hold.

Meanwhile, J-Church was very active.  We (Lance) wrote a bunch of songs, and put out a split record with Storm the Tower.  Here's one of the songs:
Terror or Love

We also recorded the only 12" record ever fully devoted to one of my bands, Society is a Carnivorous Flower.  This is the only J-Church song I wrote the music to.
Keep Smiling America

We toured the USA that summer for 6 weeks (I even brought my wife and 1-year old daughter!)
J-Church live in Chapel Hill

In December, we toured Japan - one of the greatest experiences of my life.

2004
In January, I convinced Trivett to move from Seattle to Austin so he could be in my band Funeralizer, with Jeff Waite from We Can Cut You on bass.  I was interested in starting up Ultimate Dragons again, but that ended up not happening.  Instead, the Sword was formed, which was all of the same members but with my friend Kyle on guitar instead of me.  Funeralizer ended up not even having our first practice until August.

DFI was active in that interim period.  Our second album was finished by March and "released" on cassette.

Side One
Side A

Sta'arbuqs and Evil Otto are about Yanqui Imperialism and the old arcade game Berzerk, respectively.  Destroying the World 5-7" at a Time is about over-population, with the consideration that the average length of the male penis is between 5 and 7 inches.  Thank You, Vancouver was a live guitar solo recorded in... Vancouver.  Ego-Tentacle is the sequel to Ego-Testicle from the last album. All One(s) is a bunch of phrases stolen from a Dr. Bronner's soap label, and ends with a solo that sounds like if Randy Rhoads took a couple muscle relaxers.  Exercise in Futility is about trying to change peoples' minds.  War Ensemble had Craig Moore on vocals. GTDS is a drum solo (Give The Drummer Some).  Made Putrid was a Secret Girlfriends song that Nora sang on.  Ase's Death is from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg.

J-Church kept writing, recording, and touring.



J-Church Live in Atlanta


Here is a song from our Japanese-only release, Seishun Zankoku Monogatari.
Aeroplane Angel

At the end of the year, we toured Europe, which was great despite the fact that I had to leave halfway through the tour so I could go back to work. 

Nothing could stop me!  Nothing, I say!


2005
In February, J-Church was gearing up for another tour of Japan.  I didn't have enough vacation time at my work, and was now supporting my wife and two kids; so I couldn't go.  For the first (and as of yet only) time in my life, I was kicked out of a band.  I didn't exactly blame them, and it was an amicable split; but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't crushing.

Funeralizer was becoming less and less active as the Sword became more and more active.  Bryan Richie from the Sword recorded us early in the year.

On July 13, we played one final show.  The first set was all Funeralizer songs, and the second set was a note for note rendition of Led Zeppelin II in its entirety.  Soon after, our bassist Jeff moved to Los Angeles to write for Crank Yankers and/or The Daily Show.

I tried to convince Trivett to continue doing the band without Jeff to no avail.  Funeralizer broke up, and I found myself again without a band.  Well... technically Funeralizer was still a band, just with one person in it.  On a side note, Funeralizer was the last band (not counting covers or various other projects) that I ever sang for, given the fact that I am clearly not a singer.  Here's an unused Funeralizer song I wrote way back in the Ipecac days.
Black Hole

Thus began what I refer to as "The Dark Times".  I kept trying to write songs for my third solo album, but was so demoralized that nothing good really came of it.  It took until June of the next year to finish, and the only real highlight was a cover of an ABBA song that I had my neighbor Alyx sing on.  Oddly, this recording is lost.  I ended up burning maybe 20 copies of it, and even I don't have a copy any more.  All that's left are a couple instrumental tracks.
Reagan (this song is about the girl, not the former President)
Cages
Egoisme a Deux
Mittelschmertz

Around Halloween, JD, Kyle, Trivett and I played Sabbath's Master of Reality album in its entirety.  It'd be almost a full year before I would play a show in a band - my longest hiatus before or since.

Photos stolen from Dan Machold

2006
For most of the year, I worked on writing a soundtrack to the film Nosferatu.  It ended up taking from January until August.  It didn't exactly burn up the charts, but I do look back on it with some pride.



Maybe Trivett felt sorry for me or something, but he and I joined up with Bryan Richie on bass and played a couple shows as Black Emmanuelle.  We didn't write any new songs or record.

2007
In 2007, things only got worse.  I think I was losing my mind, and embarked on the insane task of transposing the entire Peer Gynt symphony by Edvard Grieg into 4 separate tracks.  An admirable effort I guess, but who the hell wants to listen to that?  If you do, here they are.
Death of Ase
Anitra's Dance
Hall of the Mountain King
Arabian Dance
Solveig's Song (vocals by Marie from Rah Brahs and Damn Near Red)

I also started learning how to play drums, and started writing songs again.  I sucked/suck at drums, so the songs were very simplistic.  This ended up being a net plus, because it made the songs somewhat catchier.  I tried repeatedly to start a band with these recordings, and failed.

That summer, there was a brief HRM reunion tour.


After showing her this, one of my co-workers asked why I "don't do that any more" in reference to playing in bands.  I couldn't think of a good reason.

2008
In January, I was asked to do a solo show for a "Van Halen Hoot Night".  I recorded a practice run of the songs to hear where any trouble spots might be.  Again, this is practice so there are mistakes and such.

The recording/performance isn't great, but I was starting to get back into shape.  The show went over swimmingly and I started to get some of my mojo back.  Also, this was when I started putting a Boss DD-3 delay pedal on my guitar.  Despite my efforts, this trend never took off.


My wife's friend Devon's husband Luke used to be the drummer for Gorilla Biscuits.  He also wasn't in a band at the time, so he and I started one.  We had been practicing sporadically since late 2006, but nothing really came of it.  This time, we made a more concerted effort.  I'd bring my 4-track to the Music Lab in South Austin and we'd write and record what we'd just done.  When we got a couple of songs together, we got Jim Raffensperger on bass and continued writing.  In May, Craig Moore joined on vocals, and Joey Cortez joined on second guitar.  After 457 different suggestions, we decided to call the band Ratking.  Near the end of the year, we recorded a demo.
Ratking Demo 

Here's a song I recorded with my 4-track that for whatever reason didn't work as a Ratking song.
Ratking unused track 

2009
For some reason, Jim got kicked out of the band and was replaced with Eric Cooper.  I got along fine with him, but the band chemistry seemed to have been thrown off a little.  In June, we recorded an album with Bryan Richie.  The release date kept getting pushed back, and morale in the band suffered.  We did play out a lot, and even had some great out of town shows. 

Pictures stolen from Tyler Nutter


Here's Ratking playing at Fun Fun Fun before it was cool (i.e. like 1:45 PM)

Also this year, my friend Jason Butler asked me to play guitar in his band.  It was as different from Ratking as can be imagined.  This guy Nick played keyboards, Mike Fonseca (ex-Those Peabodys) played drums, Katie played cello, and I forget who played violin.
J.Be live at Carousel

2010
Ratking and JBe continued playing shows as the next decade began.  It was becoming difficult to juggle both bands, so I had to become less involved with JBe.  We still do stuff sometimes though.

In April, the popular Austin nightclub Red 7 had a Band Lottery.  I lucked out and got Eric Green from Riverboat Gamblers on drums, Clay Fain on bass, and Darin Girnt on sax.  The band's name was "Drugsex" but I made it a straight edge band (because those are the easiest types of lyrics to write) and changed it to DrugsXe.  We went from not knowing each other to playing a show in 24 hours.  I drank a 40 of malt liquor and wrote lyrics to about 4 songs in maybe an hour.


Last One Standing

Later that year, I made a couple of youtube videos, adapting classical pieces.
Solfegghetto
Final Fantasy Theme
Imperial March
Prelude in C Major for Cello
Caprice #16

DFI even started playing shows again.  To spice things up a little, I videotaped myself playing drums and had it projected against a screen.  Made things a little less lonely.  The first song was from my fuzz band that I had (at that point) not been able to get together.  The second was a song I wrote for Funeralizer.  Recycling material!
Magneto
Huck Fin

Things were becoming strained in Ratking.  The album that we recorded was now 6 months old, and the release date kept getting pushed back.  6 months became a year.  We were writing at a slow pace.  The shows were still great, though.

Trying to keep momentum, we recorded 4 songs with Jason Morales in November.  I thought they sounded spectacular.  But then, who knows?  Amazingly, the recordings are lost forever.




 
Due to the fact that Ratking was practicing less and less frequently, Ben White and I started the fuzz band that I'd been trying off and on to start since 2007.  Mike Fonseca was on drums, and Sabrina Ewing from the Applicators sang.  The band was named Modok, and my intention was for it to be the side project while Ratking remained the real band.  However, as the year started winding down, it started looking like it might end up being the other way around.

 2011
Here are some Ratking videos from January.

By early spring, things with Ratking were fairly dire.  We would spend months working on a new songs, only to throw them away.
Unfinished Ratking song
Crab's Fisherman

We had a difficult time getting anything done.  In the entire year of 2010, I think we wrote maybe 4 songs.  I kept writing and recording demos for future songs, but nobody seemed that interested in them.  Eventually it got to be kind of a joke, and I would start putting crazy breaks in the songs just to see if anyone was listening.
In March, I quit Ratking in the shittiest, most underhanded way imaginable.  After practice (in which only the drummer and I showed up), I wrote an email saying something like "Sorry dudes, I quit".

To this day, the album hasn't come out.  Here it is!
Ratking album Side A
Ratking album Side B

I got Katie from JBe to help me with the instrumental intro to one of the songs, but it did not make the album.
Quikening

Coincidentally (?), Modok started playing shows very soon after I quit Ratking.  The first show rocked like the Magikist, but I think a lot of the people there were there to see Sabrina and were hoping for it to be more of a punk rock band.  We went to Seattle for two shows in August, and they were amazing.  We also recorded 8 songs with Jason Morales.


Thomas Blackmagicrollercoaster started a Black Sabbath cover band with himself on bass, Veronica Ortuno from Finally Punk on drums, me on guitar, and a 10-year old kid named Eli on vocals.  Thomas named the band Children of the Grave, and we were amazing.  Here's video to prove it:

We played at a New Year's Eve party at the 29th Street Ballroom to the biggest crowd I had played in front of since 2009.  The triumph was short lived, as an attendee named Esme Barrera was murdered after the show.

2012
Modok continued writing and playing shows as the new year began.  I also got some new computer software, so I made some dorky covers.  Here's one of them (I'll spare you the others).
For Your Life

Trivett, Clarke and I also played our last show as In Dudero covering Nirvana songs.

Trivett made this poster.
I Hate Myself and I Want to Die

I also made a fake band for my blog, Tones From the Underground.  You should check it out some time!
Lovestain playlist

In May, I played a 24 hour, fifty-five minute long guitar solo at Red 7.


Here's the whole thing in two minutes.

For a week or two, I became relatively famous.  KEYE News.  KVUE News.  The Dudley and Bob Morning Show on KLBJ 93.7.  Gawker.  Time Magazine.  My facebook page almost broke.  My fingers almost broke.  Slash was not impressed.

In July, the drummer of Ratking and I started writing material again for a new band.  I also joined a surf rock band with my friend Kaleb, with Elena on drums and Max on bass.

Modok took most of the summer off, and reconvened in the early fall.  On September 15, we recorded a live album at Red 7.  I synched up part of it to a video that Ben's wife shot.  It can be found here.
About a month after this, we played a disastrous show at the Nomad.  It was on a Saturday night, and we only had about 3 days to promote it, so a facebook post had to suffice.  Nobody came to see us.  Nobody.  We'd been playing shows fairly regularly for about a year and a half, and it would appear that in that time, we somehow acquired zero fans.  Perhaps there is some alternate universe where bands that wear capes and sing catchy/heavy songs about the co-dependent relationship between Pluto and Charon or seed banks in the North Pole are raking in dough and accolades, while folky/Civil War-looking Arcade Fire retreads are loading cabinets into empty bars; but this is not the universe that we currently inhabit.  Ben quit the band in exasperation, and the rest of us seemed to quietly come to the consensus that the supply of Modok would henceforth match the demand.

2013

The Spoils

INTERMISSION

The problem with writing this blog (and I suppose, any autobiography) is knowing when to stop.  Death is a good endpoint, but few people know when that's going to happen.  3 days a week (okay - maybe 1-2), I ride my bike to work.  There's a somewhat perilous hill on Dean Keeton street, where if someone parked by the side of the road should happen to forget to look and open their door, that would end up being about it for me.  The problem with writing about things that are happening now is that Time hasn't had a chance to weigh in and determine which events will end up being meaningful, and which events won't.  
The past several months have seen me spending a good amount of time wondering whether or not it's Worth It.  Practicing once or twice a week, writing/recording songs, loading amplifiers, driving to clubs, setting up your gear, and performing for a half-dozen or so bar patrons who are waiting for you to finish can take its toll.  But, what's the alternative?  Gardening?  In one of my early entries, I wrote an essay about the band Ipecac that was apparently misconstrued by a couple of people.  The point of it was that as a youth, I saw old people trying to hold on to the Rock and Roll Dream as being kind of pathetic.  With age/experience, I either came to realize that they really were not so or that I've become pathetic myself.  I suppose the answer to that might depend on whether or not you're 20 years old.  It boils down to whether one creates because they have a genuine passion for what they're doing, or they create because they don't know what else they should be doing with their spare time (supposedly there is such thing as Star Wars Angry Birds?).

Another issue (that I suspect is common) is that of identity.  Here is a picture of a can opener.
What does it do?  It opens cans.  I think of myself as a musician, but what do I do?  I work full-time at the University of Texas, and have for the past 11 years.  I come home, make dinner for my kids, clean up, talk to them about their day, maybe watch TV with them, hang out with my wife, pack lunches, do dishes, empty cat litter, take out the trash, maybe fold some laundry.  If I have any energy left over after all of that, I work on music.  Sometimes the fear that I am creating and producing music that no one will ever hear saps me of my desire to even try.  Is that wrong?  Did it used to not bother me because it'd only been going on for 10 years instead of 20?  It's also possible that it's a byproduct of getting older.  While I was in J-Church, I was working the same amount of hours, going to school, and was also raising an infant and a toddler.
What's different?

END OF INTERMISSION

While playing a show with Gorilla Biscuits, Luke injured his arm and told me that he more or less wasn't going to play drums any more.  Prior to this, we made a lo-fi recording of about 7 or so songs, but this recording is lost forever.

The Spoils continued, practicing twice a week in my garage.  The experience taught me something that I probably should have figured out a long time ago: if you think your band is good enough for people to come out and see you, then you need to be practicing at least twice a week.  We have a monthly gig at the Nomad, which is a funny coup considering the fact that the last Modok show also happened there.