Written by Michael Del Pizzo (Sunflower Dead)
Let’s Start A Death Metal Band! What Do We Know? We’re Gonna Learn…Quick!
What’s up rock fans? Here I am, back for another installment of “My Rock and Roll Journey.” So far, we have discussed key moments that led me to my path, unknowingly rocked out to Metallica in front of disapproving Catholic school girls, and even realized that I could scream like the guy in Death rather easily at a young age. What we haven’t discussed yet is the actual moment playing in a band started.
And thus…We begin…Making mistakes…
When I was around 14, I went to lunch with my mother and her friend who noticed I was wearing a Metallica T-shirt. She asked if I played in a band. My mom immediately said “NO!” I said that I didn’t, but quietly thought…“I am GONNA!” Problem was, I didn’t play anything except the piano (not exactly a heavy metal instrument). Worse than that, there was only one kid in my neighborhood to start a band with.
Some things are just meant to be in life, even if it’s just for a moment to set you on the right path. This is one of those moments. The kid in my neighborhood and I were getting into heavy metal at the same time. Better than that, his father played guitar and was giving him lessons. I figured…here we go! He could teach me what he learns and we will both play guitar and start our band. That lasted all of 20 seconds.
From the first time I picked up a guitar, I felt one thing… this instrument BLOWS! I hated it. The guitar still remains way too singular to keep me occupied. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I see all the things that can be done on it. It’s just not for me. That also meant (at the time) that the bass would not be for me. I figured a bass would be just like a guitar. Of course, I grew to learn the differences between the two. The bass (had I picked one up) would have been great for me, but it wasn’t meant to be. This left drums and vocals. I thought…let me be a drummer. Problem was, who had drums? Who had the money for drums? Who was gonna teach me to play drums? And damn, they are loud! So yeah, that was out too.
Just like that, within moments, I became a vocalist, who couldn’t sing…AT ALL! What I could do was scream like the guy in Death. I firmly believe limitations create opportunity (remember that my friends). I figured that if I all I could do was scream, and all my friend could do was play basic power chords on guitar, since we both loved this super heavy death metal…LET’S START A DEATH METAL BAND!
We began immediately. I specifically remember it being a cold Friday night. My friend had this thing called a reel-to-reel recorder. He said that he was going to record himself playing guitar and I could scream over it. So, he started playing all these riffs that had nothing to do with each other, but sounded really heavy coming through his white Ibanez guitar and Peavey combo guitar amp.
When he was done he said…“It’s your turn.” I was like…“What am I going to scream?” He handed me a cassette j-card from the band Possessed and said…“Just scream their lyrics into the microphone over the guitar parts I just played.” So, I did, and I’ll tell you what, it sounded really cool to hear myself recorded. Man, I would love to have those reels today. I’m sure it’s total dog shit, but what fun it would be to listen back.
We played like this for a little while but realized we weren’t getting anywhere. I believe we were missing some key components to being in a band (like songs – haha). This motivated me to go home and start writing lyrics and songs titles on my own like “Consuming Devastation” and “Monstrosity.” I had no music of my own, and since my friend never really wrote songs, we were going to need members, specifically ones who could write songs with us. And then…BOOM! Destiny reared its head once again.
At the exact time my neighborhood friend and I were death metaling out, my other friend (Jim) was going through his own musical journey. I hadn’t seen Jim all winter long, but when I did see him in the summer time, he had long hair, and started telling me he was into rock and heavy metal. I was like… “No shit, me too!” (BTW, Jim is affectionately known as “Jaboo”…you know, the lead guitarist in Sunflower Dead).
I’ve known Jim since we were about 5 years old. What I didn’t know, was that while I was trying to start a band with my neighborhood friend, Jim had been taking guitar lessons from a guy who had played some guitar solos on Cinderella’s first album. He told me he was learning to play songs by Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen. I thought that was interesting…very interesting.
I said to him… “Why don’t you come over to my friend’s house this weekend? We’re starting a death metal band.”
He said…“What’s death metal?”
I said…“Don’t worry about it, just come over and play a few guitar solos over my friend’s riffs and I’ll scream.” Jim agreed, but he still tells me to this day that it was the second biggest mistake of his life (the first being listening to his Mom when she suggested taking guitar lessons – haha).
When that weekend came around, Jim (Jaboo) came over with his red G&L Invader guitar and little combo amp. He plugged in and started ripping it up. I was like…“DAMN! This dude can play!” Within minutes, we recorded a demo with my neighborhood friend playing rhythm guitar and Jim playing a ripping solo. I mean it was awesome, and I know it’s awesome because I still have it on cassette. We asked Jim to be in the band right there and said… “You help us write songs and play those solos. We’ll get a drummer and bassist and come up with a name.”
Later that night, Jim and I wrote our first song in my parent’s basement (the first of many songs together). The song was called “Questions.” It was a death metal ballad (haha). I still have the piece of paper that we wrote the lyrics and the actual music notes on. Truth is, it wasn’t really a ballad, but it was slow and grindy instead of lightning fast. We realized then and there that groove would always be an important part of our songwriting.
I believe (within a few weeks) that we had a few songs written and a band name. We started with Eliminator (because I was a huge Overkill fan). That didn’t work, so we moved on to Nemesis (only to find out it was taken). We then settled on Thanatos and thought it was so cool. Of course, that was taken too, but what did we know? That is the main thing…WHAT DID WE KNOW?!
The answer to that question is…NOT MUCH! I learned that very quickly, as Thanatos would only last like 5 months. All major problems in bands seem to happen when you start adding people into the fold. Why? Because people suck ass! Seriously though, it’s because we were very young and stupid.
The first major mistake we made was choosing a “cool” guy who wanted to play drums instead of choosing a trained drummer who was into the vision of the band. The truth was, the drummer we chose was very early on in his drumming, and he wasn’t up to par. Not that I was any good either, but all I was doing was screaming. You HAVE TO have a good drummer…ALWAYS! Anyways, that drummer wasn’t into death metal (and neither was Jim to be honest). At first, this wasn’t an issue, but it very quickly became one.
Remember, chose people who are capable and down with your vision or it won’t work. The second major mistake was allowing someone to join the band who really knew nothing, but acted as if he did, and we listened to him. In our case, we added a bassist who had a good “look,” but not much else (except bad vibes). His bad vibes created a division in the band.
The third major mistake we made was choosing sides because of the division that was created. The result was us deciding to kick out my neighborhood friend that I started the band with. Think about that, my friend and I were the two guys in the band who actually liked death metal. Once we kicked him out, it was only a matter of weeks before I was told that we needed to change the musical style of the band or I was out. Guess what…I was kicked out! (haha)
Just like that, what had begun with a conversation with my mother’s friend, came to fruition and ended in a matter of a year. Would this be the end? Obviously not… there are many, many, many more mistakes to make in bands before I could do music at an only 50% retardation rate in SFD (haha). Till the next chapter…Stay Weird!!!
MORE “MY ROCK AND ROLL JOURNEY” STORIES