Written by Michael Del Pizzo (Sunflower Dead)
Let’s Get The Band Back Together, Build it Correctly and Record Our First Horrible Demo…!!!!
OOOOOOOHHHH MAN, here we are again. Chapter 4 of My Rock and Roll Journey! So far, in chapters 1 – 3, I have covered some pretty cool stuff…my first band, my inability to get anything right initially, my early motivation to do music, Twisted Sister, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Death, etc. It’s important to me to look back on everything because it reminds me that I am a man of destiny when it comes to music. Then I started thinking…“what people really want to hear is the seedy stuff. You know, the sex, the drugs, but least of all, the rock and roll.” Me though, I ain’t gonna tell you any of that shit. You wanna know why? Probably not, but I am gonna tell you anyway…
I NEVER got into music for girls! It might be my ego talking, but I always felt if you were that lame of a person that you needed to walk on stage to get a girl, then you are a bitch, straight up! Seriously, is your self-esteem that low that you need someone to see a false representation of who you are to get laid?
Me, I figured, I don’t want someone to dig me for the person they see on stage. My stage persona is only one small facet of who I am. I mean, if that is all you are then maybe you aren’t that much. Secondly, I don’t do drugs or even drink much alcohol. If that’s your thing, good for you, but I don’t need it. Music is my drug! That is why all I am ever going to talk about is the MUSIC. Rock and roll is the only phrase that I care about from that holy trinity of rock sayings. Now that we cleared that up, let’s get down to it…
In Chapter 3, we left off where my first band (that only lasted a whopping few months) had just ended. I spoke about what I had learned from that experience with some really good lessons (you should probably take notes – haha). The thing about bands is, a lot of the time when they break up, they get back together rather quickly. Most true artists, even at an early age, will do anything to keep playing. Yeah, bands break up because of many frustrations, but given some time, those frustrations dissipate and the desire play takes over once again. In this chapter, I am going to get a little more detailed about the process that I went through to build our second band because it was a very important growing experience for me. If it is too long…SUCK IT! This is how I need to get this section of my journey across.
After months of sitting there listening to music and seeing myself performing the songs that I was loving (remember that concept from chapter 1?), I got a call from Jaboo asking what I was doing. We were always friends first before band mates so, you know, we have always been cool even though we still fight over vanilla or chocolate daily.
Anyways, I told Jaboo that I was bored and wanted to be in a band and had stopped listening to so much death metal. In fact, I was obsessed with the band Overkill. They were dark and aggressive, but the guy kinda sang more than death metal bands. Jaboo started telling me that he and our drummer from our first band had been jamming a lot, and they wrote a song called “Black Dreams.” It was dark, but needed some kind of vocals. He didn’t know who Overkill was, but said that I should try singing like that guy over this song. I thought…“why not?” Duh, I was WRONG! You’ll find out later in this chapter how wrong I was. But, as most true artists do, he asked me to try, and I was 100% down.
I met up with Jaboo and our drummer and they played me “Black Dreams.” They told me it was inspired by Black Sabbath, specifically Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio. That is a pretty good insight as to where we were musically at that time. When most were into hip-hop and going to the club to do the running man, we were into Black Sabbath with Dio and wearing tight jeans, haha.
Back to the song, it was rad. I mean, really rad. We probably could use the riffs today. It was evil, and had this thing that most bands back then didn’t have…GROOVE. Our drummer was like…“forget about all that fast stuff, I wanna play like John Bonham and make the songs groove.”
I looked at them and said…“let’s do this! I think I can sing like the guy in Overkill over this stuff.” NOPE…I sure couldn’t! Subsequently, I found out rather quickly that one should never try to emulate other artists. By all means, learn their material to understand it, but always be yourself when creating art.
Fast forward a few weeks to our first official rehearsal at our freshly joined bassist’s house in South Philly. This is the day that it became very apparent how much singing like the dude in Overkill wouldn’t be my vocal style.
As we were playing the song, and I was trying to sing all high-pitched, his Mom looked at me and asked me (in a very unkind way)…“What is your ailment?” I thought…“wow, ok then, excuse me for breathing!” Oh yes, I learned early on, positive reinforcement for my musical dreams would be slim to none. In fact, I realized very quickly that my desire to play music had to override everyone’s negativity towards my output. A good lesson that has helped me to this day get through the toughest of adversities and to just keep working hard.
So, that vocal style wasn’t going to work. What did work was the song. It was really cool, and being the amateurs we were, we figured let’s just write a bunch of songs that were dark and groove-oriented and figure out the vocals later. I will give us a pass on the figuring out the vocals later part ‘cause we were still little kids. You know what though? We now had four members that were excited and a song idea. We were a band, and it was where I wanted to be.
What do all bands need to be legit? A practice spot. Ours would end up being at Jaboo’s house in West Philly. He had a third floor with an extra room that became our music room. We put all the instruments in there and were able to turn everything up…LOUD!
I remember the first day of writing in the music room. Jaboo started playing this riff, which by the end of the day, would become a song called “The Point of Decision.” Yes, the same song that appeared as the closer on SFD’s debut album that we play every night on tour to this day. I swear to God, we wrote the song when we were 15!
What is important about that day is that it was the day I realized that (even though I couldn’t sing yet) I had a knack for arrangement. I could hear where all the instruments should be and what should be happening. I didn’t know how I was going to sing over these songs, and since we didn’t really have a PA system, no one could hear what I was doing anyway, but I could arrange things so that they made sense.
More importantly than being heard was the fact that I actually had stuff to say. I heard vocal patterns over the songs the guys were playing, and was able to start spitting lyrics out right away. Man, if I only I was able to sing back then. Oh well, can’t have it all I guess.
After only a few weeks of writing, we had four songs – “The Point Of Decision,” “Black Dreams,” “And The Sun Goes Black” (our Dio-inspired power ballad) and “The Pain It Stays.” Oh yes, it all was very uplifting – haha.
Now is where things start getting real. We had excited band members with their own instruments (seems like common sense, but to this day, I know so-called musicians who don’t have proper gear), a direction, a rehearsal spot and songs. What is the next step? A band name!
Oh Jesus, the band name is probably the worst part of being in a band (besides photos and videos). I mean, what band name is really cool when all is said and done? Not many. It’s the music in the end that makes a band name cool (in my opinion). So the process began…
The band name had to be dark, deep and have the vibe of Black Sabbath. It couldn’t be overtly metal, but still had to be real. I don’t remember all of the choices, but Southern Cross was an early idea from the Sabbath song “Sign Of The Southern Cross.” The guys felt it was too satanic (or something). I believe it was Jaboo’s girlfriend at the time (note – keep all girlfriends and wives out of band business) who suggested we call ourselves Eyes of Darkness. I don’t know why we liked it because it’s hokey as fuck, but we picked it. Eventually, we just called ourselves EOD because Eyes of Darkness is seriously lame. We went with it though, and started telling our friends about the songs and that we were a real “band.”
Uh oh, once you tell someone that you’re in a band, they are gonna ask one thing…“When can I hear it?” I remember the conversation with the band…
“Umm, uh, umm, uh, I don’t know… guys? People want to hear this stuff.”
“Oh, that’s an easy fix Mike. We should just record our songs and put out a demo tape like all other bands.”
I thought to myself… “oh yeah, great idea, except, I don’t know how to sing…SHIT!”
Just like that though, Jaboo set up a weekend to record our first official demo in a real studio in Philadelphia. He explained what the engineer said about the recording process. It seemed really foreign to me, so I just went along with it all. We rehearsed the songs the best we could, and I got all my lyrics and vocal patterns ready. We went in on a Friday night in some old building that had a really creepy old window, and rats running around outside of it.
I only know about the rats because, as my parents dropped my off in front of the studio, they saw they rats running behind me as I walked towards the studio doorway. I remember showing up late in my black tight jeans and black t-shirt. You have to look the part, right? Being the dummy that I am, I figured the guys would set up, record their parts, and by the time I got there, it would be my turn. Boy, was I wrong!
By the time I walked in, the band was barely getting sound out of their instruments. I had no idea what that meant. I figured you just put a mic up and press “record.” After a few hours passed, the engineer said…“ok guys, let’s record a song.”
I watched the tape machine start turning and the guys had no idea what to do. We were never told about a count, a metronome or anything. We just played our songs. So, I did what I did in rehearsal and kinda conducted the guys with my hands so that they could get through the songs. Somehow, after multiple takes, strings and drum heads breaking, and (quite ambitiously) actually trying to write a new song in the studio, the guys had four songs recorded as a live band. The guitar solos were overdubbed, and even a few keyboard parts were added in. Guess what that meant? IT’S MY TURN…FUCK!!!
I remember the engineer setting up the mic and headphones and saying…“damn, you’re tall!” (which I hear every damn time we go to record). He told me to put on the headphones and tell him if I could hear the music and my voice. I said that I could and he gave me the go sign.
Here it was, the moment of truth. I sat there facing the studio window with all the guys and the engineer looking at me. I had never actually heard my voice before, so I had no idea what was going to happen. I was so damn nervous. The engineer said…“let’s start with ‘Black Dreams.’”
He pressed “record” and I remember singing the first verse and then stopping and looking at everyone scared to death. No one knew what to say, so I believe Jaboo said something through the talk-back like…“yeah, sing it like that again while looking confused.” So, I did. I sang the entire song through twice (badly). The next thing I knew, I sang all four songs and it was done. It was a blur. All I could do was just go for it on each song with no idea what the fuck was going on. The only thing that I remember after “Black Dreams” was recording a makeshift harmony part in “The Point of Decision.”
That harmony is the only time on the entire recording that I used my real voice. The rest of the time, I created some weird, fake, husky kind of singing voice that sounded like I was taking a shit, and was in the key of “OFF” the entire time. What did I know though at that point?
I remember Jaboo dropping me off in the early morning and telling me he was proud of me for doing what I did, and that he would call me when it was mixed (whatever that meant – haha). That would be the be the only kind words I would end up hearing from anyone about what I did.
After sitting patiently all weekend, the call came in on Sunday night that the demo was mixed. Jaboo said that it sounded really cool, and was talking to me about the reverb on my voice sounding like mist coming off my voice (whatever that means – haha). I was excited!
I called my bassist because he heard everything. I asked…“how do my vocals sound?” And he was like…“umm…TERRIBLE, but nice try!” I was really bummed, but kept it together.
That week, I got my copy of the demo. I remember listening to it for the first time. Yes, I was terrible, but it had something. I actually was kind of proud of myself (even though I basically sucked). I played it for my family, and they had a look of like…“ok, we didn’t think you would sing like “that!” I played it for all my friends, and they were like…“wow, you suck!” My band mates played it for all their friends and they were like…“wow, your singer sucks!”
Basically, I sucked…BAD! You know what though, people also were commenting on how the songs actually made sense, and that the lyrics were really good. I heard over and over again…“if you could learn how to sing, you guys would be pretty good.”
The thing about what I did do on my first official demo was mean every lyric that I was singing. That is an important part of music. You have to mean it when you do it. It’s why there are a lot of solid, technically-proficient musicians out there, but never a whole heap of true artists.
It’s a scary thing to be yourself, say what you need to say and really mean it. Me, I have no problem with that at all. Probably because I am slightly brain-dead, and the wires that attach to the filter that should make me have fear about speaking my mind aren’t connected. This is another concept that will rear its head for years to come in my life – haha.
If you made it to this part of the story…SWEET! I know that it was a bit long, but I had to write things this way so that you can understanding two things. One…I LOVE MUSIC! Two…nothing I have ever done has come easy. I have to work at everything, and am always willing to put in the man hours to better myself in my craft by understanding criticism correctly (even when it stings like a motherfucker).
Stay tuned for Chapter 5 of My Rock and Roll Journey….
“Holy Crap People Are Buying This Demo That Sucks” and “My First Live Show – A CATASROPHE IN ITSELF!!!!!”
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