What are all of the bands you have been in and which is your favorite?
Harlequin’s Voice, Zhopa Mira, and The Automatons. Those are the main three. Although I really enjoyed Harlequin’s Voice in the time frame it existed, The Automatons is definitely my favorite overall. I’ve never played with so many great musicians in one band before, there’s not one weak link in the chain. As human beings they are amazing too. I enjoy the long conversations after practice just as much as playing the music. They are a creative and intelligent bunch I tell ya.
You have been playing music in Youngstown for a long time. How have you seen things change? I know it’s rough because the bigger cities surrounded the city are Pittsburgh and Cleveland but even bands from those places sometimes move to New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.
The downtown scene has vastly changed. When I first started out in Harlequin’s Voice we played in Texas more then we ever played downtown Youngstown. Nobody went downtown; everybody played DIY halls and skate parks outside of downtown. At least in the hardcore/progressive metal scene I was participating in they did. Downtown was a ghost town back then with only two venues you could go to, Barley’s and Cedars. The Nyabinghi was popular back then, but once again it was outside of downtown. To me Cedars was essentially the only reason to go downtown for a show back then. It’s ironic now that downtown has been revitalized and people are going down there again, Cedars isn’t a part of it anymore.
Who have been some of your favorite bands or musical artists in Youngstown over the years?
For the last couple of years I’ve really enjoyed what I guess you could call the “indie” scene. Bands like Third Class, Braille, and The Zou. You can even go back to Posture Coach and Gil Mantera’s Party Dream. I love Greenlander and not even because he’s an old bandmate. JT Whitfield’s electronic music is amazing and fascinating to me. Cereal Banter was awesome, although they’ve moved to Cleveland. I despise the banal so I’m attractive to bands who are trying to be weird, new, and different. Pete Drivere has to be mentioned here. He’s essentially the definition of Youngstown rock to me. From his numerous bands he’s played in, to the amazing studio and running sound at Cedars, the man has had his hands in every facet of Youngstown music. He is Youngstown rock.
What would it take to make Youngstown music rise up to be a powerful force? It happened with Akron in the late 70s so I don’t see it as impossible to accomplish in Youngstown. I know there have been some festivals like Vex Fest which always includes some talented bands but also some pretty terrible stuff, at least in my opinion.
My answer is cooperation. There’s too much division amongst bands and scenes. We are the city with the highest depopulation rate in the country for goodness sake. Collectively we have great musicians in all types of genres though. We need to show how this is a great area for mid-level and upcoming bands to stop on tour. I had this no wave, avant-garde, electronic band from Brooklyn called Yvette play with one of my bands downtown. I told them they could crash at my place and all they could talk about was they had no idea about Youngstown and how nice it was. They had nothing to do before the show, so they visited the Butler Art museum and hung out downtown. We are a small city, but a culturally vibrant one. I don’t see any reason why a band who is playing places like the Grog Shop in Cleveland or Mr. Roboto in Pittsburgh couldn’t make Youngstown a good destination to hit up on their tour.
Was Harlequin’s Voice approached by some labels? Pretty sure I heard that through the rumor mill but never got confirmation.
Actually we were on small indie label out of New Jersey for a little while. But it was a totally different band at that point. We went from being a 5 piece to a 3 piece band. Our first national tour attempt was a disaster. We literally came home with broken bones and egos. Our singer’s heroin problem became just too much to handle so he was let go. Then our drummer didn’t want to play drums anymore, and started programming the drums and playing guitar instead. I had already pressed about 2,000 copies of our album Déjà Vu Told Us To on my own and the label picked it up and started distributing it. But they were also paying us to record a new album. It was strange because here I am finally at that point every musician dreams of and I wasn’t happy at all. They were starting to put all this money into a band that wasn’t even the same band anymore. I quit right after we recorded the new record. The new album wasn’t as good as it could have been. If we recorded it as the 5 piece original lineup, I think it could of been an amazing album. Changing up your singer and becoming an industrial band with programmed drums was just too big of a change.
What caused the demise of that band? I know Diggy is incredibly talented from playing with him briefly in John Revolta.
Oh yeah, talent and creativity was never the issue in that band. Our biggest problem was how to keep all these eccentric, crazy, and creative minds from wanting to kill each other! The rumors of what went on within that band rarely came close to how bad things actually were. Seeing my singer get smashed over the head with a full unopened 40 ounce bottle of Colt 45 was one of the tamer moments. It’s amazing we kept it together for 5 years. I think we managed to do that by diverting our energy onto others instead of our selves. Like we got the opportunity to play this festival up in Bowling Green University and leading up to it we heard they were trying to decide between The Mars Volta or Marcy’s Playground as a headliner. Unfortunately they chose the latter. We really loved The Mars Volta so it was quite disappointing to us. But on top of that when we get there, we had to sign these forms where we agreed we wouldn’t bring up the song “Sexy and Candy” around the band. Needless to say we not only brought it up around them back stage, but we sang it every time we saw them. We also threw our empty beer bottles at their van (which ironically was the same as ours) accompanied with chants of “your van sucks!” What can I say, we’re early twenty-somethings playing abrasive and experimental music with a gigantic chip on our shoulders.
Tell me about your new band, the Automatons.
The Automatons came about when my old friend Kyle Donahue, who sang and played in local acts The Idyll, If Looks Could Kill, and Lady Fantastic, approached me with a new project he had. I heard the songs once and immediately said yes. We’re sort of indie rock with dreamy dance pop and electronic influences. To be honest the boundaries are endless for this band. To me it’s the perfect band for the times we live in. What I mean by that is the DIY ethics we picked up in our early bands matched with how technology has caught up with home studios has enabled us to really mold our songs the way we want. Instead of relying on just one performance in a big name studio, we work on our songs for weeks in Kyle’s home studio. All these preconceived notions of how a band operates have to be thrown out the window at this point. The game has changed. It’s worked for us too, we’ve only played 3 shows so far and every one has been bigger than the last. We even got an offer in the summer to play this corporate event for the opening of this new Burke Decor store where the owner was out of Los Angeles. We’re older now, we can careless about proving how “punk” we are. We just want to entertain people and have fun. It’s a blessing we’ve been able to play music this long.
Do you have any plans for upcoming shows or releases?
We’ll probably do another local show in a couple months, but right now I’ve been sending out e-mails like crazy to try and get some out of town shows at places like the Grog Shop, Beachland Ballroom, and Now That’s Class in Cleveland. We’ve been releasing songs individually online for the last couple months whenever they get completed but we understand the appeal of having something concrete for people to have and to hold. So we’re working on some artwork currently for what I guess you could call our first album.
I have to ask you one ridiculous question as I do for all of my interviews. So, here it goes. If Justin Beiber called you up and wanted to collaborate on a song, what would you do?
You know at first I thought there might be a generational gap between us but when I heard he had cookie jars full of weed and that he was egging his neighbor’s house, I thought maybe there’s a chance of a friendship. Sure, I would have preferred if he said, “Fuck Ronald Reagan” instead of “Fuck Bill Clinton” while he urinated in that janitor’s mop bucket. But to answer your question, yes I would totally act like I was playing my unplugged guitar with him at the Super Bowl halftime show. Yes, I guess you could say I am a Belieber, just like Anne Frank was.
Any final statements or shout-outs?
I’d like to give a shout-out to MC Homless for throwing the mic stand at the Lemon Grove a couple years back and all those there in the crowd who just didn’t get it *laughs*. Also, Abdullah The Butcher! Thanks for the interview sir! Take care!
-INTERVIEW BY MATT GREENFIELD
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