the hero next door

The rock camp experience has really put me in a reflective state. Why do I listen to complex, dark music? Why do I spend my free time taking pictures of bands for little to no money? And as I reflect on some of my life decisions, I read these articles about adolescence. Then some things start to make sense.

Our self-image from those years, in other words, is especially adhesive. So, too, are our preferences. “There’s no reason why, at the age of 60, I should still be listening to the Allman Brothers,” Steinberg says. “Yet no matter how old you are, the music you listen to for the rest of your life is probably what you listened to when you were an adolescent.”

NY Mag

If the music that you listen to the rest of your life you learned of when you were an adolescent, then the music you will listen to for the rest of your life will probably come via your peers’ advice. And in the case for most of us who grew up in metal and hardcore scenes, then the music that may most affect us will probably be made by our peers.

I started thinking about this a couple months back, while watching my friends in Gyre play. Ian of Gyre was in a band called Junta that dramatically changed the lives of me and my friends. Most of my friends in the metal scene outside of Jersey don’t know that band and probably wouldn’t immediately understand why they were our idols. It’s about a time and a place that is significant to me and the people I grew up with. To us, though, they were special (cue the fireworks and confetti) outside of being a solid band.

I realize it’s pretty obvious to say that I was most influenced by music that was created at the most dramatic time in my life and made by people in my region. Yet, I didn’t understand that until now. I didn’t understand how something that was so tangible, so convenient could be so powerful. I think many people grow up idolizing superstars and they don’t realize that the real superstars are sitting right next to them at the bus stop.

I grew up with hip hop and then somewhere along the way starting liking what my family and friends called “white people music”. I discovered Pantera, Korn and Limp Bizkit, then by the way of friends and a lot of WSOU I discovered bands that I’m not so embarrassed to say I love.

These are the records that I carried with me through my transition from high school to college, or from living like a teenager in la-la land to commuting daily in my pre-adulthood. I was most affected by these albums from ages 17 – 19. They shaped me at a time when I really needed shaping. I’m writing this as a note: the people who may change your lives may be your neighbors. Your lifelong favorite bands might be living a couple miles away. In my case, two of these bands were just blocks away.

Musicians often produce some of their best songs early in their career – songs they wrote in their youth that were fueled by the emotional intensity of their adolescent brain.


‘Calculating Infinity’

released september ’99

dillinger at the studio 2009

I had heard of the band. I had heard the name of the album, maybe in a magazine or on the radio. But, I was clueless. “Can I borrow this?” I asked Chirag as I clutched it from the passenger door and into my purse. He was confused, “Are you sure?” He was dropping me off after a show, or a trip to the mall, or one of his bands’ practices. I don’t exactly remember what the circumstances were but I clearly remember him giving me a look of warning, like: that shit will fuck you up.

I didn’t know what I was in for. I don’t think anyone did (before the album came out). Calculating changed lives all over the world. It became the foundation for new tech metal bands to build on. It changed metal and hardcore. And in area code 07047, it changed mine.

I figured, if music can be that aggressive, sharp and dissonant, then so can I. And if there is music this wacky being made in Jersey, than there must be even wackier metal music being made all over the world. It really purged my interest in wanting to know more about metal. It sparked my curiosity so much, that I eventually devoted most of my time to metal.


released January ’03

junta at adoro’s in union city, 2008

When I discovered junta, I felt like I found something really sacred. For the first time since ‘Ready to Die’, I found something I could relate to. “This World’s Deception” was a breakthrough for me and my hometown buds. With a chorus that sings, “I’ve seen enough with my back to the sky to know that I want it to fall.”

We all felt that way. I just didn’t know how to express it yet.

Pete, Chirag and Jean Carlo know exactly how deep this runs.

This band forever remains the saving grace of growing up in Hudson County. The shows they played and the shows they didn’t play (long story) remain some of the funnest shows I’ve ever gone to. Their shows made me want to become a photographer. I wanted to document the transformation that happened during a Junta show. I wanted to show the glowing faces and intense energy that took over the Elks Lodge.

The band was totally solid with two really great guitar players. The songs were complete. They weren’t just the average local band, they made mature music. And by making mature music, they taught the musicians in my area how to flourish.

The time from when I heard their self-titled to the time when they released this really great 4-song EP was a really long time. Even though it was only a couple years, maybe even less, a lot had happened in everyone’s lives. In my life, there was a major death in the family, a horrible break up and a lot of different life decisions. I was on my third major and at a third college by the time it was released and making heavy rotation on my ipod. It was a very fast-changing part of my life and I know it definitely was for the band members even though their lives were totally separate from mine.

Sometimes the changes in your life can help other people through the changes in their lives. It doesn’t have to be said in a lyric or in a liner note. Sometimes its just there, in the feeling of the music and how hard you are playing. With music people make psychic connections. And when you make music when you’re young, your music can make really strong and dramatic connections with other people.

‘War All The Time’

released September ’03

thursday at montclair state university, 2008

The album starts with a song called “For the Workforce and Drowning”. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of commuting to Port Authority as the 8am rush pours in, you will understand why this was my anthem. It was a song that helped me deal with traffic, because every moment i was on a bus or train meant a moment less i was trapped in a cubicle. It was a song that proved that everyone busts their ass doing the same thing everyday. It was both humbling and empowering.

There’s a song for Matthew Shepard.

In the title track, Rickly sings “In the shadow of the New York skyline / We grew up too fast, falling apart”. That was my town. That was North Bergen, Union City, Hoboken, Cliffside Park, Fort Lee, etc. That’s how Most teens from Hudson county feel. we are so close to the center of the earth, but we might as well be invisible.

Some years later, after changing my major 3 times and settling in Montclair for a bit, I interviewed Geoff Rickly for the school paper. I learned that he took the same bus to practice that I took to get to get home from high school. The band’s rehearsal space was about a dozen blocks away from my high school. They wrote/recorded this record when I was a junior in high school. It was released as I was applying to schools and trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up.

He knew how to articulate my life better than I did. My confusion, frustration and my anger were all packaged up and pressed onto millions of CDs.