Monday 23 February 2015

Behind The Music: Stolen Was My Life

I've been watching some of the old VH1 Behind The Music episodes lately and I thought it would be cool to tell the story behind my music. I jump way back in time and then bring you up to speed as to how Stolen Was My Life came to be a my musical project. I often refer to it as a "project", as it's not a band. I have had numerous musicians and friends join me to create music over the years. I have recently reinvented Stolen Was My Life as a web-based musical experiment. But I digress, let's get to the story...

I started playing guitar when I was twelve. My parents bought me an acoustic guitar from Sears and signed me up for lessons. I began to read music and learned "hits" like "Camptown Races" and "Tom Dooley". Needless to say I hated it. I used to record myself on an old tape deck and then sit in my room while it replayed my so-called practicing. After two long, boring years my parents let me quit. I really knew nothing more than when I had started other than learning guitar was a terrible past-time.

Fast-forward about five years and I'm nineteen. I'm just finishing high school, cooking full-time nights at a bar & grill and my skin has betrayed me. I developed acne in my very late teens which was perfect timing to turn me into a recluse. Other than work and skateboarding I rarely left my house. I had found a savior (as had most teens) in the band Nirvana. Kurt's anguished vocals and lyrics spoke to me like nothing else ever had. The best part was that is was mostly 3 chord grungy punk and his vocals were easy to screech to. A friend that I worked with had a guitar magazine at work one evening and as I perused through it I stumbled across tablature or "tab" as we guitarists know it. I asked my buddy and what he explained to me changed my life forever. Tab is basically music reading for dummies. It simply assigns each finger a number and places these numbers on a representation of the guitar neck so you can see exactly where your fingers should go. It has other ways of notating techniques like bends, pull-off, etc. Instantly you can "read" music. I went out the next day and bought every guitar rag I could get my hands on. Outside of gear reviews and articles they all came with 5-6 popular songs in tab form. Within days I was butchering my way through Danzigs' "Twist of Cain" and Pantera's "Walk". Next I bought all of the Nirvana song books. What could be better for a depressed, angst ridden teenager than hiding in my room learning Nirvana covers on my shitty Sears guitar. 

What I didn't realize at the time was that singing and playing simultaneously wasn't something that just came naturally to everyone. Perhaps it's that most people are afraid to try and sing that is a component. For me, as soon as I could figure out the cords I was strumming and singing. Suddenly, I was a guitar player and next to skateboarding it was the only thing I wanted to do. I also began writing awful songs. A lot of chorus/verse/chorus/verse in the beginning, but as time went on, I learned more covers and with that more about song writing. My guitar playing was getting better and my vocals more confident. I was put on Acutane (a seriously expense dose of acne killing medication that lasts 4 months!) and my skin cleared up. By my early twenties I was confident again and ready to play for the masses. My best friend Dave and I bought some beat up PA equipment and would hold weekly Saturday night blowouts of drunken musical debauchery. Often offering up free booze to bring in our unsuspecting audience. We rocked covers from Nirvana, Green Day, The Offspring and punk inspired originals. It was heaven. I played weekly open mics at a few local bars getting up to strum acoustic versions of current hits. I was a musician. A rough around the edges one, but a musician none the less. 

Yep my amazing graphic design skills at work!
Sean, a friend from the kitchen hell-hole I worked in, joined me to form a band called "Geike". We were both guitar players and singers so we came to an agreement that we would both pick 5 songs, covers or originals, and the other person would hammer out the baselines. We found a drummer through a friend and after less than enough practices hit the local open mic circuit. We landed a gig with Brock radio opening for a well-known local punk band that used power tools during their show to play their guitars. It was awesome and we played our hearts out. Lots of mistakes, but hey it was punk rock so who cares! It was all part of the act. That was to be our last show. Our drummer disappeared and Sean and I grew apart. I later found out our drummer had a little problem with chasing the "white dragon"  and had been in rehab. Such a rock n' roll way for a band to disintegrate.

Guitar took the back burner in my life for a while after that. Skateboarding had taken over and I was then travelling North America performing in shows. In the late 90's skateboard touring died off, I began working regular jobs and had free time. Once again the guitar found it's way back into my hands. I picked up where I left off and began to write again. This time the songs took more shape and were more serious in nature. I was in a bad relationship, working a job I hated and felt I had made every bad decision possible at the time. I had "stolen" my own life away through poor choices. So I named what I was doing (which I clearly couldn't define then and better than I can know!), Stolen Was My Life. The songs were about heartbreak and anger. I would often cry through some renditions as the meanings behind my lyrics were so powerful to me. It wasn't until around 2003 when I had moved to Toronto that fate brought me back to performing. An old friend Jeremy, now Jag from the band WTCHS, called me up out of the blue. His band at that time, Low Frequency Pilot were playing new music night at the Tranzac Club in Toronto and asked me to open. I nervously said yes. The night went off without a hitch for me. I played a 5 song set and was well received by the audience. Jeremy did not have the same fortune. After pounding back one too many, he stumbled off stage mid set and collapsed in a back room. The band freaked out on their semi-conscious leader and promptly quick. I wouldn't see Jeremy again until just this year.

After this I moved to Niagara Falls and found yet another great group of music lovers. I even taught guitar to my friend Jorj who became my closest musical partner ever. We had an amazing music connection and wrote some solid songs, one of which is still a favorite in my rotation,  In "E". I scrounged my meager cooks wages and bought a new guitar and recording equipment. Weekly drunken recording debauchery with my friends soon followed. I would busk down at the Falls tourist area on my days off and played open mics again. I even used my winter layoffs from the restaurant I worked at to record two albums. It was heaven again until social pressures prompted me to accept a career as a chef in Burlington, ON. Sixty to eighty hour work weeks left music to hibernate again.

So where am I know? In 2012 I attempted to make a comeback as a professional skater. After a fateful contest taught me I was not the skater I used to be I retired and looked for something else to satisfy my athletic urges. I found it in running and poured myself into that until May 2014, when a tendon tear sidelined me. Again I sought solace in music and again my guitar was there waiting. Hello old friend. Unfortunately it wasn't a smooth transition back, which you can read about in my previous blog Music Is A Heartbreaker

So this is my Behind The Music. As for what in front of me now as a musician only time will tell. I have once again reinvented Stolen Was My Life, now as a web-based musical project. I'll be recording and posting live content weekly and continue to create new music. You can listen here on my website: I know this much, I'll never let go of this amazing artistic en-devour I began so many years ago. The ability to express yourself through any artistic discipline is a gift. Thanks music for being there when I needed you and waiting for me when I didn't. I won't let you down again.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, read bits and pieces of your story and find it unique and inspiring. I hope you'll not give running up for good; especially not trail running and ultras. I'm not sure where you live now, but if you happen to be around Toronto, there's a group of us that gets up early to run (trails in the spring/summer/fall) in the Don Valley and the streets during the winter. You'd be welcome to join us.