If I remember right, it was the fall of 2009. I was a junior in high school, and I’d just started teaching myself how to write music. I dreamed of being a rock star, like any young musician, but the reality of one day “making it” seemed a million miles away.
Growing up in the Midwestern US, especially pre-social-media, it wasn’t exactly common to find people interested in European metal acts. Let’s just say there weren’t many of us walking around with long hair and leather jackets. But like I said – I knew what I wanted.
Musicians in short supply, I turned to my childhood friend Chris (pictured on the right above). We’d both been playing guitar for a couple years, and our influences were a strange combination indeed. There was the symphonic metal side – Nightwish and Epica, mostly – and there was also the guitar-driven side: Children of Bodom, Dragonforce, Dream Theater, Symphony X, and countless other shredders.
The combination proved to be something pretty unique, and we quickly discovered we were obsessed, turning our music into something that helped us cope with the day-to-day anxieties.
Fast forward a decade, three albums, several tours, international radio play and a million other musical experiences along the way, and there’s a question that I think we’ve only just now managed to answer:
“Why are we doing this?”
What is it that drives musicians to invest thousands of hours into learning to play an instrument? To spend more money on equipment and advertising than on food? To stay up all night, blurry-eyed and dry-mouthed, in the pursuit of recording the perfect take?
It’s an instinct. A primal thing, burning in our very blood. That scent of bleach and stale beer and piss that hits you when you walk into a bar before the air conditioner’s been turned on. That rumbling thunder when you take the stage, strike a chord and you feel the vibrations in your bones. That sense of pride, the pride a parent has for a child, when you listen back to your finished album for the first time.
It’s control over the flow of time itself. I’ve played a certain solo countless times on stage, and I can remember every single face that’s ever cheered during that solo. There are inspirations in the music from videogames I haven’t played in decades, and playing those songs, it brings all the nostalgia and comfort of my childhood rushing back. There’s truly a kind of magic in this.
“What are the odds?”
Back in high school, I was staring down the prospect of repeating a whole year because I was failing chemistry. A consequence of anxiety and an autoimmune disease causing me to miss a LOT of school days.
That was when I saw a particular interview with Alexi Laiho from Children of Bodom. I’ll never forget his words: “If you want to be the best, it takes sacrifice. It might take staying home from that party. It might take breaking up with your girlfriend. It might take dropping out of school.”
I took that as a sign. Seriously, what are the odds of that video being released right when I needed to see it? So I defied my parents’ wishes, and dropped out, going all-in and committing to a career in music with everything I had.
Looking back a decade later with that career actually achieved, it was the best decision I ever made. I keep this gorgeous custom guitar of Alexi’s – an incredibly rare model with similarly unlikely odds of acquiring – as a reminder that anything is possible.
“Musicians are healers.”
Music has healed us in so many ways. It helped me come back from nearly dying of the autoimmune condition I mentioned. It helped Adrienne after she was beaten half-to-death and hospitalized. It helped Chris when he was homeless.
But the truth is, there’s no rational reason to be a musician. It’s not easy. Nor should it be! Like I said before, it’s an instinct that burns in my very blood. Why are we doing this? The thunder of the stage, the pride of creating something, the sight of smiling faces in the crowd…and YOU.
Musicians are healers. From the oldest known historical records, it’s always been the role of musicians to help people FEEL things. Music helps human beings process emotions in ways nothing else does. It’s you, the listener, that makes it all matter.
I look forward to many more sometimes-hard, sometimes-ugly, always-worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. And here’s to hoping that you’re a part of that journey from now on.
If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone on that journey, click here to listen to our most recent album, “Quietus of Autumn.”
Thank you for listening and for making it all matter.