THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Six

In the days following the Earcandy review, I found a very interesting email in the inbox. A small independent film company in Brooklyn was asking to use a Piercing song in a short being directed by a young director in their stable. Marc Gentilowski, the producer of the film, sent me some initial contact information for Tabitha Williams. A link to her website, a Tumblr address;  basic representation of her work that we could peruse, to see if we were a fit within her artistic vision. At the time, I wasn’t worried at all about deciding whether or not to let her use the song, in my mind it was a done deal unless the film was about some unspeakable intention.  As someone who always trusted  intuition, I felt that this was simply another step forward in the accelerated world of Piercing. After sending a copy of the email to Thomas (who was working in the legal department of a NYC book publisher) asking him to see if we would still be holding the song rights once we became involved with the film, I settled in to do my research on Tabitha.

Her website was extremely minimal, which I thought was  a great sign. Text riding down the left column, a single color image of a young woman against a suburban chain link fence centered on the front page. The model looked familiar, but I dismissed that as an internal error. I clicked  on the first video link, and up came a forty second micro-movie featuring the model from the front page. Now that she was a moving image, I could not curtail the thought that this was someone I actually knew. But how, exactly?  Certainly Tabitha was a Brooklyn resident, and this must be a model from the city. Slick cuts of close ups of her model and some hotel architecture spliced together created an immediate story of a girl lost, amongst none of her own kind- forging a possible danger. And that’s when it struck me- the hotel steps that she was sitting on, they were from a lodging in downtown Mystic- The Seafarer, a once raggedy tourist trap restored to its 19thcentury splendor a decade earlier. But how could Tabitha have filmed in downtown Mystic? How could she have known where we were, filmed here, and then “stumbled” across the band. The short ended with the model stretching out on one of the hotel beds. I hit pause on the film and took a good look at the screen. I did know who the model was- she graced the header picture of the Dance Party Facebook page. She was the best friend of a friend of mine’s niece, and the pair- draped in glowsticks and sweat- inspired arms raised which formed  a circle between them, was the image we used to define the party and its online presence. My heart began to speed up, as the paranoia shrouded the research. I thought to myself, “You are being set up… “

It was too perfect. I had a deep sensation that some of the local musicians had conjured this entire episode, in an effort to embarrass Piercing, mocking the middling modicum of our success. As I thought more about the possible plot, it seemed to be a generous dissertation- that a fake video company, a fake director, and a fake model who just happened to be a Mysticite, were all pulled seamlessly into place to give us our comeuppance. There was no possible way any of the locals could have pulled off such a clever stunt. Or could they? My mind was racing, and it was being put into overdrive. Months later, I would realize that these events would charge my thought process  so that I could keep up with our ever evolving public relations agenda.  A paranoid conspiracy theory surrounding our first contact with the film world would pale in comparison to what was awaiting Piercing. I watched the short a few more times, telling myself that this was all legit. It had to be. The rest of her website revealed no contact with Mystic, but was saturated with a modern, distinctly feminine take on sexuality. The more I looked into Tabitha’s work, the more dangerous it felt. Not that the images she concocted were threatening, but I had always believed that in music, you wait until the third album to use sex as a selling point, unless you were Blondie. As much as I was intrigued to take this possible massive leap, I was concerned that Piercing would try to articulate a perception that did not necessarily reflect where we actually were.

The next morning, I emailed Tabitha from the address listed on her Tumblr. I expressed how I was confused at seeming to know the model in some of her work; I wanted to displace my internal conspiracy as soon as possible. Her response absolutely stunned me.

“I grew up in Mystic, but went to a private high school in Sussex County. I’m roughly the same age as Jocelyn.”

“So, you don’t know any of us? You don’t know who we are?”

“No, I’ve never met any of you. I stumbled across “Massive” from the Earcandy review and I really love it. I knew immediately it would work in my short.”

“Have you ever been to the Palace?”

“Oh yeah. Not a ton, because I don’t collect vinyl, but yeah, I’ve been there.”

“I’ve worked there every Friday for the past sixteen years. Have we ever met?”

“No, I don’t think so. I was away at school for eight years, and then I got a job in Manhattan. Why do you ask?”

“The model in your short film, she’s sitting on the steps of the Seafarer Hotel, isn’t she?”

“Oh, you caught that. Very sharp.”

A Mystic kid had found us. What were the chances that the very first person interested in working with the band on that level would be from town? I, of course, took that as a sign that we were heading in the right direction, and that our motivation was resonating in the proper manner. I held in high regard that the actions the band took in our day to day would manifest itself in tangible outcomes; we were working incredibly hard and this was a reward. Once I knew that Tabitha was one of us, even remotely, my fear of her milieu taking over our image levelled out. We were working with professionals, and there was no reason to doubt their intentions or abilities. We literally were all in this together; Tabitha, Michael, Richard, Jimmy, Paul, Whitney- everyone depended on each other in some capacity. I needed to find a way to channel this realization to each of the band members.

Tabitha and I exchanged emails for the next few days, discussing ideas for the shoot. She had become possessed with  a “Cult of Piercing” being the central theme.

“I want to dress the cult in all white, have them slowly materialize out of a wooded area and become the audience for the band.”

I loved the idea, somewhat of an inversion of our first video. I was imagining possible locations, when a distressing thought entered my mind- how much is this going to cost?

“How much do you normally charge for a video shoot and edit?”

“My starting rate is $2000.”

I almost blurted out “nice to meet you!” followed by dramatically hanging up the phone. There was no way we could justify spending that amount of money on a video. We could return to Michael at Stormy Harbour for two complete singles for that kind of money.

“Well, I guess you are a professional!” I replied, adding a hint of a compliment while carving a way out of working with her, without jeopardizing her interest in the group- she was a fan of the band first and foremost. We were trying to see if a professional integration could work as well.

“Is that out of your price range?” she quietly replied

“Not necessarily, but it would take quite a bit of time to raise that kind of money. The kids are broke, I’m spending every available dollar of my own trying to keep us solvent, $2000 is just beyond our capability right now. And in 3 months, when we have the money, it will be too late.”

“I’ll tell you what, I really like you guys, I think you are onto something. Let’s block out a weekend as soon as possible, and I’ll come into town and we’ll piece it together. I can do that, plus the editing, for $500.”

I dropped the receiver and caught it with my left hand before it hit the floor.

Piercing was the second of four bands on the bill that Thursday night at Cabinets. The opener was a trio backed by a clean drum machine, with female vocals and a guitar / bass duo rounding out the lineup. Their pop stylings were easy to digest, but I couldn’t help noticing that the flat, two dimensional drum machine took away any possible depth. And then it dawned on me- these three were my age or older, and they would rather sacrifice dimension for a perfect beat that was always on time to every gig and practice. They had downsized. They were tired of telling the drummer to “sit down, shut up, and play the drums….”

I was secretly happy that such a band opened, as the room was anticipating a sonic explosion that we would hopefully create. The lights and sound were always spot on at Cabinets, and that element certainly helped drive our show. We played a tight set, that was punctuated by Rudy’s rock edge and a very fine night vocally from both Jocelyn and Todd. They were beginning to realize the way each could occupy the space where the other was not. And Adrian and I were really becoming the tight rhythm section found in every good band, only we were now upending the traditional drum & bass foundation for our drum & guitar bedrock. We had a decent crowd that responded to each song accordingly, but the aftereffect which meant the most to me was how much more we still had to do. And yet, we were elevating in incremental steps, a positive outcome of an 18 hour day which included 300 highway miles.

After we finished our set and were taking gear off the stage, I tried to start up a conversation with the next band. They were from Ireland and were doing a small tour of the states, and this was their first gig following an appearance at SXSW.

“Hey, did you guys have a good time in Austin?”

Their bass player stuttered a bit, and then came out with a “Yeah, it was alright.”

But this wasn’t some foreign cool, he seemed genuinely uncomfortable talking about his experience- at least with a total stranger (although we shared a stage). I replied “well, have a good show here” and wandered off to load the van. I couldn’t help thinking about our very brief conversation. Had he already had his fill of talking about it? Perhaps. But it reminded me more of getting invited to parties during the early success of Thames, where we would encounter a much older crowd than we were used to. And at times we could articulate ourselves astonishingly clear, other times more muddled. It was the distance between ages. There were no other 40 year old musicians in these clubs, and the people over forty that an emerging band came across more than likely want to exploit them for some kind of cheap profit. I had come of age in this world, grown up listening to and playing music in clubs; I became an adult with the backdrop of neon and cheap beer. This was the moment when I realized I could not be the face of the band in any capacity. Not that I looked as if I didn’t belong, but relationships to help build our audience were going to have to be the responsibility of Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian. They were of this generation in a way I was only culturally a part. When I joked about seeing the moon landing to younger musicians, it was always met with a confused indifference. But it was now obvious that I would have to become anonymous at gigs, and in the public setting. I could establish and maintain all of our business relationships with no setbacks, continue getting our pay at the end of a night, and continue driving the van. But the kids now had to be the actual presence of Piercing.

Once we had decided to work with Tabitha on a new video, we had to book a recording session with Michael. Fortunately for Piercing, late March wasn’t an in demand month, and we were able to schedule a ten hour block on Sunday the 24th, four days after meeting Tabitha. Todd had an early morning class on Friday, and I thought it would be good to get him out of New Haven that night, with a full two nights and a Saturday to recharge before we headed back to Brooklyn that Sunday. I arrived at his apartment at 7pm. We talked casually about the upcoming recordings, how the press was responding to our early work, and the method of writing the next batch of songs. Not once did he betray a hidden agenda- it seemed as if Jocelyn’s handling of Todd’s crossing of the border had taken effect with minimal damage. These kids were so aware of what was being said about them, talked about them, written about them, it was more often than not hard to get them to expose the depth of their own individual struggle. This was not an easy task we had set out for ourselves, and everyone had an acute awareness of the implications- the other four people in Piercing depended on you as much as you depended on yourself. Adrian’s first song “Decisive” would be one of the new singles, and Todd’s “High Tide” would be the second. We began looking at the recordings in a manner similar to The Smiths- that each song was precious, and had its own identity and worth. These were not A sides and B sides. Todd agreed, and his confidence convinced me that the worst was behind us. A detail had been dealt with.

Richard and Michael had relocated from their cramped headquarters on Broadway to a three story walk up on Mesarole Ave. They had converted the top two floors into apartments that they each occupied, and the street level was turned into a world class recording studio. As I walked in lugging a very heavy cymbal stand bag, I had the sense of being all the way back.

Thames had gone through a similar gestation as This Infectious Reality. Thames were an ‘80’s version of the popular, local high school band. We had sold homemade cassettes in the hallways to help fund the early operation and to spread the word. But there were no Centraal Studios in the pre-Digital age. Recordings at that time were done on rather expensive four track machines using cassette tape as a source medium, or a fully-fledged 12 or 24 track analog studio. There was no middle ground. Thames were fortunate enough to get our parents to chip in a few thousand dollars as an offset to the bands earnings to record with Russell Johnson. Piercing were spending $850 ($500 of which the Folk Mass had fronted us) to record in basically a Brooklyn relocation of Russ’ Connecticut studio from the ’80’s. The detailed wood, staggered to create more surface space, the slanted control room window, the perfect execution of wiring inside the walls. Effects were plugged in and out from central panels located on the east and west walls. Perfect.  Simple.  Efficient.  Richard and Michael never ceased to amaze me with their organization and genius.

We recorded all of the basic tracks for each song in two hours. It was as I anticipated from the effect of our first experience with Stormy Harbour. That was the driving reason behind returning; in that we were establishing a relationship with the studio while minimizing risk.  The process played itself out for “Decisive/High Tide” as it had for “Massive/Spirit”, and we were completely prepared. As the recording gave way to mixing, I noticed that Rudy was enraptured by a game on his cell phone. While Michael was tuning effects to the correct frequency, dialing in the sounds that would define us, Rudy was staring blankly into a miniscule screen with nary a smile or a frown; his face didn’t even reflect contentment- simply a solitary glare. I began to wonder if he actually understood the magnitude of the afternoon that we were experiencing. I imagined that Rudy possessed an inherent trust that I did not, which afforded him the distance between focusing on the evolving mixes or chasing digital trophies. That was not to be the case.

We set out from Brooklyn at midnight, and proceeded to cede the CD player to Rudy for our drive out of the borough, over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the FDR, to the Willis Ave bridge and then onto the Bruckner with a quick sidestep onto the Hutchinson Parkway where I would merge with I-95 North at the Bronx city limits. A quick sprint to the tollbooth just before the Connecticut border was the next zone to traverse. Once in our home state, the drive was divided into six stages- the first leg was from the border to New Haven, where Todd was attending  his senior year at school. The trek from the highway was always fraught with tension, as we were usually driving through town at 2am, with very little traffic accompanying us. It’s hard to drive a conversion van around any city after 2am without arousing suspicion.  Once we dropped Todd off and made our way back to I-95, we would have to get off in New London to drop off Adrian a friend’s house. This required another streetscape trip back to I-95, where we would cross the bridge at the Thames River and immediately take the first exit to drop Jocelyn off where she was staying with her mother. One more trip through the back streets of Groton City put Rudy and I back on the north corridor, where two exits down we would descend the valley side in Mystic to my own home at the base of the river. Rudy would then have to drive himself another 20 miles to his rural home near the Rhode Island border. These recording sessions and gigs in NYC, which were absolutely essential to our career, were a test we would have to master. There was no way around it.

We were to return to New Haven for a show two days after recording, and I was asked to do a radio interview on one of the regional college radio stations on the Monday between. Following the cold winter in which we survived the blizzard, seeing the trees in first budding on the wooded back roads felt like a victory. We were in the midst of a three day, 500 mile trip, but I always found it relaxing to be driving the van. Perhaps it’s because driving is the one thing my father actually taught me, telling me as a young driver to “just go get lost, and try to find your way back. That’s how you’ll learn to navigate.” In some senses, that was his entire world view, but he never really got back from being lost in his own life.

The interview was at 5pm, and I was the only member of Piercing who could make it. It was a disappointment for me, because I had come to the realization that I must be an invisible member of the band, the silent one. And this was a missed opportunity for Joss, Todd, and Adrian to get used to the encroaching environment and to be able to speak clearly about themselves and the group in a low key setting.  Then I realized that I hadn’t exactly been actively interviewed in quite some time. There was plenty of work to go around.

After months of trying, we finally were able to secure a booking with the biggest live promoter in the state, Myopic Insights.  I had targeted them early on as the best people to work with outside of New London, and they completely lived up to my expectations. MI was essential a company of two- William Burr, and his intern Michael Silva. We had first been added to a bill they were booking in late January, but the headliner declined their offer of Piercing opening that particular show. At first, I had assumed that once William had booked the band, it was a done deal. But we were to find out that the regional touring headliners more than likely wanted last say in who opened their shows. It was surprising to see the power shift, where the touring bands held at least that much sway over the business machinations. I was hoping that wouldn’t become a serious issue for us, because William and Michael seemed to be totally behind what we were doing.  Finally, it was our debut night with them; at a small café in New Haven that was an institution in the city. We were opening for a national headliner from the west coast, who had been touring in support of their debut album, which was released that January. In between Piercing and Scare Tactic were our friends from New London- Blow Up. This was the perfect recipe for us to engage in the totality of the moment, working with national players with support socially and professionally from peers who were on the same path as us. The best booking agent in the state, in the best live music town in Connecticut. The only drawback was it was on a Tuesday night, but that should be of little consequence to our commitment. Hopefully, we will find ourselves in Richmond, Virginia on some Tuesday night.

In my experience over the years, I always felt New Haven was the best town to play in. You could almost cook to the timer that was the arrival of a New Haven audience: show at 10pm? Room littered with eight people at 9.45? No worries, they will all be here in 15 minutes. That wasn’t to be the case on this night. We took the stage in front of 12 people; fortunately a few Mystic kids going to school near the city made it out, otherwise it would be a room full of musicians and bar workers- a trepidation of the highest order while at the club. The five of us were crammed onto the tight stage, and I had to hold my left arm at a funky angle to not drag it across the back wall while playing on the hi hat. Blow Up were complete professionals as always- noticing the near empty room, they stood three deep right in front of the stage to offer us encouragement, loudly clapping at the conclusion of each song. After finishing up a thirty minute set, we packed the gear away in the van, and I drove it down a block from the club into a small parking lot off the street. This would give all of us a modicum of privacy for the remainder of the night. I went back in, and engaged in light conversation with Chris Curtis as he set up his guitar effects for the Blow Up set.

“I’m surprised there are so few people here, usually New Haven gigs are always a late arriving mob. But they arrive! Have you guys been playing down here much?” it had been seven years since my last Bold Schwa show in the Elm city.

“We play here about once every six months, and yeah, this is a new quiet for us. Could be… Tuesday?  Could be break is over and the college kids have work to catch up on…. Could be this show should have been booked in New London.” He chuckled after a pause, and then continued his train of thought.

“You know, we’ve been doing this a long time, and I just don’t care about how many people show up anymore. I just want to get up there and do what I do.”

It was refreshing to hear his back to basics attitude. We had found ourselves in the same position with Thames after the CMJ press yielded no record deal. Let’s just play. Sort of an athlete’s mindset, within a musical context. I had to remember what Chris was preaching, as our initial success was somewhat intoxicating.

And yet, there were certain parameters that had to be held to a most stringent manner of discipline.

Blow Up had watched every note of our set, and they were friends and contemporaries. But after four songs of their show, I noticed that I was the only member of Piercing in the room. I briskly stood up and walked out the back door when they began their next song with sturm und drang. I passed Adrian, who was on the phone with his girlfriend back in Brooklyn. As he had to board a train in New Haven to Grand Central by 11pm, he was more than likely discussing his return to their tiny apartment. I continued across the street, into the small lot where I had parked the van, where inside Jocelyn, Rudy, and Todd were participating in one of the rituals a rock band. But this was no time for selfish isolation.

“GUYS! What are you doing? The Blow Up watched our whole show, and they are four songs in and you are still in the van? Come on, you don’t want to be that band……”

I tried to voice a sign of resignation toward the end of my statement, as I was trying not to give in to the impulse of screaming at them. It was a generally understood dynamic that the kids did not want to be in a band with Dad, and I could understand that. I had no ambitions to even have children. But I couldn’t help but scold them.  Every interaction and moment defined who you were as people, and therefore, who the collective was as a creative unit. If you were not willing to support those who supported you, the greatest songs ever written might mitigate such behaviour. Might.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Three

Following the somewhat triumphant debut of our live show, I sensed it was time to head into an actual studio and give Whitney something to hear. There was no way I was going to be able to capture the true sound of this band at Centraal, so I got in touch with my friend Jimmy Fiero, who operated a small studio in Middletown where Greenmanville, Bold Schwa, and Borealis had recorded or done some mastering .

Jimmy was the perfect producer for a band at our level- finding out what the group was capable of within the context of their development. The first of two scheduled nights was exceptional, the band getting tracks down in record time, and the direction from Fiero being implemented immediately. We ended the four hour session with all of the instruments recorded and dialed in- in addition, scratch vocals from Todd and Jocelyn were recorded on both tracks. We all agreed that the next session would be to finalize the vocals, and to possibly get the entire mixing slate done, bringing us in at budget and accomplishing the goal of having a three song demo to begin showcasing the Piercing sound.

When I arrived at Jocelyn’s Mom’s house to pick her up for the second session, she wasn’t waiting for us in the yard. That wasn’t particularly uncommon, but with so much riding on the night, I thought she might be agitated to the point of uncomfort; anticipating singing her first final vocal session in a real studio.  Jimmy had an old fashioned light in the studio with “RECORDING” written on it that she had taken a photo of the night before, and posted online. I thought that was encouraging, as we would more than likely need to boost the social media aspect of our existence in shrift time.  I hated to honk the van horn to get someone’s attention- it has always felt so rude in a residential neighborhood, so Rudy volunteered to call Jocelyn on his phone.

“Hello…?” Rudy drawled into the cell.

We could hear through the static of loud voices that something strange was going down, something that we shouldn’t be privy to, and that this was a backward moment for Jocelyn. Rudy turned off his phone.

“She’s not coming tonight…..”

“What?!??!” I replied. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Something bad man, I don’t really know…..”

I had an overwhelming urge to turn the van around, drive back to Mystic, and say “Thanks, but no thanks……” How do you cancel a studio session at the actual last minute? Jocelyn was living in her Mother’s house, with her boyfriend Marcus, which I was sure created its own inherent hazards. But Jimmy was running a business, not some demo studio or home recording nirvana, like Steven. We were going to have to pay Jimmy for the session whether we showed up or not, so I put the van in drive and headed up the rural highway toward Middletown, without her. Little did I know at the time, it was the first glimpse of how the band would almost always exist in a fragmented form.

Upon arrival, Jimmy immediately noticed that Jocelyn wasn’t with us. I could sense a slight pang of disappointment in his voice, as if he may have been waiting all day to record her singular sound.

“What’s up with Jocelyn?” said Jimmy

“A domestic issue. She won’t be here tonight. Which means, we will probably have to book a third night to finish everything….  perhaps we can get the bulk of the mixes programmed in, and when we come back… she can add final vocals and we can mix accordingly.” I replied, trying to mitigate anger and opportunity.

“That sounds like a plan.” Jimmy responded with his usual delicate nature- which kept everyone focused on the task at hand. Jimmy was right, let’s not get sidetracked by inconvenience or interruption. Keep moving forward. It was a lesson we were lucky to learn at such an early stage.

The night went by in a blur without incident, as Jimmy rolled through the three songs with, professional ease. We had the bulk of the mixes set, and we had a burn of the tracks to listen to on the hour long ride home. Salvaging the session was paramount, and fortunately Jimmy had an opening two days later so we could bring Jocelyn in for final vocals and to clinch the mixes.  I had to come up with $200 of my own money to cover the third session, which I was confident we would be able to recoup, having made $220 at our very first show. I had rarely let myself think within a band situation that there would be enough income to offset the expenses, and yet with  this group that detail seemed completely different. Perhaps it was the absence of the street gang mentality- we were all together to be professional, and not simply a sequential hobby that might sprout wings. Ours was a singular determination, even at this early stage, that we all seemed to share. It made Jocelyn’s cancellation all the more puzzling.  I asked her about it when I called to schedule the third session.

“You don’t want to know anything about it.”

There was a certain totality to her vacuous answer. For a moment, I was absolutely petrified- was she hinting that something in my own personal life had leaked over to her own personal life? I had to come to terms that the possibilities of that were remote, and that we were also not quite as transparent with each other as I had previously thought. I was fine with that development; as long as the music and the band her primary focus.

The third session with Jimmy went as well as I had imagined the second session would have gone. Jocelyn was fully prepared to sing, and get her ideas across in a moment’s notice. That night reaffirmed to me that the entire foundation I had built with Jocelyn, and Todd to a certain degree, was strong enough to get us through the momentary distractions, which I well knew would be voluminous. With Jimmy, we had captured a raw version of our sound, and we could now begin to imagine what it should be, at least musically. There was not a conversation to be had as the five of us put the burned disc into the stereo and hit repeat. Four passages of our first EP culminated as Adrian, Todd, Rudy, and I crossed the drawbridge in the center of town; it’s grid platform ringing out under the weight of the van.

We had decided as a group that Jocelyn would dictate the image of Piercing, not necessarily what people would wear onstage, but the cover image for the EP was the first test of her acumen, visually.

We exchanged a few days of emails, when she came to her conclusion:

“What I envision is something like a Lichtenstein comic panel- “a woman in distress”.

“Somewhat Lynchian?” was my reply.

“Not directly, but an image that conveys there is so much more going on. I think it’s fitting for where we’re coming from.”

That night, I began to pour over back catalog work from Anne’s portfolio; thinking there must be a singular image within that would catapult our cover to completion. The very first picture I pulled out of the twelve archival storage boxes was a shot of June Geneva, one of Anne’s longtime models. For that particular shoot, Anne had a concept loosely based around “What Price Fame?”  Since she had hundreds of test prints of June over the years, she was able to cheaply set up a photo shoot where June was in a room plastered with photos of herself, trapped within her own fame. This particular picture had each element Jocelyn was looking for; June with hands clasped over her face, showing a weave of fingers, her bowed head, and nothing else but beautiful photos of herself. I immediately felt this was the perfect image- “A Woman in Distress”. Black and White. Stark. Produced by our circle of artists. A Mystic thing. But I insisted to myself that I must look through each of the twelve boxes, the chances that my initial intuition was correct seemed to be too confident for the work at hand. Three days later, that very first photo I pulled would be chosen by Jocelyn as the cover of our first recording.

We released the EP on a website designed and run by Malthus, and printed a small batch of 200 CDR’s to send out to whatever media outlets we could approach, and mostly to give away for free to the people who made it out to our shows. “Be prepared to give your music away for free” was something I remembered empirically from an early internet diatribe about where the business of selling music was going. That was in 2002. This was ten years later. Malthus took the Anne photo and put it through his machines; getting an incredible crop that only added more tension to the concept. He also found the font that would help define the Piercing image, a singular grace sitting between the future and the near past, which we would use on every subsequent show flier, cover design, and PR kit. In some senses, we were enacting the next stage of The Infectious Reality, where I would have joined Todd, Jocelyn, and Jeremy- as the drummer for their third EP. That never materialized in the wake of their splintering. I asked Jocelyn about it one night after a Piercing practice.

“What really caused you guys to break up? I never was really able to put it together…. ”

“I just didn’t like the direction the music was heading, especially Jeremy’s newest songs. I felt that TIR was being pulled in three separate directions, and none of them really appealed to me as a long term, viable option. And I am so happy with Piercing, it’s exactly as I imagined when I approached you”

Some local reviews started to trickle in, and that was when I realized what a slough this was going to be; creating a media groundswell for a band that was simply one of thousands of groups using the same channels to gain some traction in the indie music world. The landscape was dominated by a few major music blogs- similar to the era when Thames were going through the same PR machinations. But instead of Rolling Stone and Spin as the polar opposite directives, today it was web based giants Hellhound and EarCandy. And yet, every review noticed the presence of Jocelyn on the recordings, a trait that would continue with each subsequent release. As good as the band was musically, as much prowess as the musicians brought to the table, it was her voice that made all of the difference. We collectively knew this, and it seemed in this early moment that people we didn’t know could sense the same thing. I decided then to make sure that getting Jocelyn in the proper place to achieve maximum effort was paramount. Managing the band as well as being in the band was starting to fall into place. I found the perfect Gemini situation for me to exist in- as I began to think of myself as two different people within the context of the group- the drummer, and the manager.

I decided to send the songs to Whitney after a few weeks of debating when would be the right time. The more I pondered it, the more I literally didn’t know when the right time was, so I may as well take that chance- she had asked to hear us after all- yes?

“hey! im listening right now, so cool! v dino jr SY etc, but if kim sang like gwen stefani, right?! these demos are rly solid but you guys should maybe get someone to produce for you in a studio. Massive is really really cool. i love jocelyn’s voice! if you guys feel like going to new york, you should record with my dear friend michael. he’s done every all in the family recording, and has been doing a bunch of other great stuff – get on a cool label! Go on tour! Etc etc! michael is expensive but amazing… I’ll get you in touch if you want. very cool stuff, send me more when you have it.”

I was a bit taken aback by Whitney’s response. I knew we were onto something good, but to head into Brooklyn and record a debut single within six months of the band’s inception was an acceleration I had not anticipated. I found Michael and his studio online, and sent them a simple email request, referencing Whitney in proportion. They got back to me promptly- the very first evidence of how professional they were.

“Whitney is a great friend of ours, and if she recommends a band, we always look into it. We have a basic schedule for a single ten hour session at $750. Normally, we can record and mix one song in that time frame, but sometimes, if the band is prepared, we can get two in during the same ten hours. It all depends on how well the band can execute in the studio.”

I was thrilled they actually responded to our inquiry, but coming up with $750 was going to be pretty tough. The kids in the band had no money, except for Rudy, who seemed unlikely to part with any for a “frivolous” recording project. I was confident his response would be that we could do the same thing locally, for much less. But this was a real chance to solidify the group once Adrian left for Brooklyn- he would be living there as we began to craft an identity within the New York indie scene. We could become bilateral- if everything worked out efficiently. We would have the connections from the studio, and some instant credibility, in the sense that our PR could be bolstered by the fact that we recorded with Michael, and not some home studio which was the ubiquitous reality of the modern age.  It was too much for me to pass up. I sent an email to one of my very best friends- a regular at the Palace for over 15 years.

Robert Spargo’s nickname was “Folk Mass” at the Palace. Many of the regulars at the shop had similar nicknames, based around their collecting obsession. There was “Bobby Byrd”, who was not a funk fan, but a Byrds collector- Blues Dave sought out first pressings of early blues. Beatle Bob, GaryU2, REMCharles- this list was endless after thirty years of being in business. Robert had always been kind toward my drive for musical aptitude. More than once over the years he offered to help financially, within the context of a current musical ambition. I had always refused, as his friendship meant far more to me than money. But Piercing was different; perhaps that was why I had waited all of this time to ask for his assistance. If the Folk Mass could loan us $500, the remaining five of us should surely be able to come up with $50 dollars apiece to make up the difference. Even if the band imploded after recording with Michael, the experience would be worth much more than $50. I knew this for a fact, as during the Thames days, Brent’s parents fronted us thousands of dollars to afford to record with Russell Johnson. Those were some of the very best days and nights of my life, so if borrowing $500 from Robert could facilitate that for Jocelyn, Rudy, Todd, and Adrian, it was well worth the risk. Even if I had to repay all of that money myself.

After procuring the investment from the Folk Mass, and getting everyone in the band to contribute their $50, I emailed Richard at Stormy Harbour, the business side of the operation. He and Michael were partners in the studio, and while Richard was an exceptional producer/engineer in his own right, Michael handled the bulk of the day to day recording and Richard handled their finances.  He offered us Saturday the 22nd of September- two weeks away. Following several phones calls, emails, and Facebook messages, I was finally, after full day of communication, able to get the members of Piercing committed, so I could confirm the date with Stormy Harbour. It was the beginning of a routine that would dominate each day of the week for me during the next year and a half. The dynamic had totally shifted.

The attempts to get in touch with the four of them illustrated that. Previously, if I didn’t hear back from one of then about a practice night, there was little at stake other than our forward momentum. But Michael and Richard at Stormy Harbour were professionals, and fortunately, I had plenty of experience dealing with people in the recording field. Once we agreed to borrow capital, and follow through for our connected friends efforts on our behalf, everything was at stake.

Jocelyn, Todd, Rudy, and I left Mystic at 10.30 am for a scheduled 2pm session in Brooklyn. Adrian had already moved to the city three weeks earlier, and had the luxury of a morning that was not delineated by a commute. I had done my time in NYC when Thames reformed as Greenmanville; so the drive in and out of the city was no big deal to me. I had driven there and back hundreds of times, and even learned a secret “no toll” route to any of the five boroughs. As I drove down the Hutchinson Parkway making our way in, I thought of Adrian grabbing his guitar case, opening the door on Montrose, and taking a left down the street toward Broadway. The kid had been in Brooklyn for three weeks and yet, there he was, just as so many others were, plying their dream on the street. As much as I wanted Adrian to stay in Mystic, this was the best scenario for him as a writer, which would certainly benefit the band. I admired him for it. The longest time I spent in the LES was four days, exiting up the 95 corridor to work and make some money while playing with Greenmanville.  This slender reed was just twenty years old, and had a drive that was pure determination. Adrian and I had been friends for years, with him telling me stories of teenage pranks that had landed him in jail from the moment I met him. We were always open and convivial with each other, and I instinctively knew I had to make a greater effort to enhance our relationship while he was living 177 miles away.

When we arrived at Stormy Harbour, I was somewhat surprised that it was so far inside the building. We had to descend two flights of stairs, toward a long corridor that turned left at the end of the hall. I was feeling a bit claustrophobic, which hardly ever happened to me. When people ask how tall I actually am, I always like to say “five foot, one” in deference to the Iggy Pop song; and yet most people don’t catch on. When I then say “I’m five foot, five”, it frames my lack of ever feeling that the walls might be closing in. But as we opened the door to the actual studio, another long corridor greeted us, this one filled to near capacity with seven full drum kits, each descending tom size stacked upon the bass drum, with cymbal sets balanced precariously on the top. I began feeling as if maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, and that maybe I should have done more research. It was a brief moment of paranoia. As we entered the main studio, you could see Michael and Richard’s genius on display in the incredible Feng Shui execution that was their personal work space. Every inch was meticulously maintained, in a room no bigger than the Palace in Mystic. Amplifiers were stacked four high and three deep in the unusable bathroom. The isolation booth Rudy and I were to be mic’d up in was about four feet by eight feet with a slant on the corner facing the engineer, so those in isolation could see the control board, and the other band members. Michael believed in getting live takes of all of the instruments, then adding only the most necessary  complimentary tracks, while creating a vocal spectrum as intense as the need for getting the band in one take.

Michael greeted us with a story about his lone visit to Mystic.

“So, you guys are from Mystic. I went up there for a weekend with Whitney about two years ago.”

“Really?” I replied. “What did you think of the big town?”

“I loved it. We didn’t go out and do the social thing, but we did swim at this pond on a local farm that left a lasting impression.”

“Kittles Farm?” we all responded in unison.

“Yeah, that was it! There was this kid who was doing reverse back flips off of the diving board secured to a floating dock.”

“Brian Capuano!” the five of us shouted in misplaced harmony- our totality surprised Michael.

Yes. Even Michael had his exposure to the Mystic kids. They were unforgettable. This was the mantle we had begun to articulate with Piercing, this notion that it was now our responsibility to capitalize on all of the advantages the people before us had carved out. And one unique link was that I was there. I had been on the “Cruise to Nowhere” ferry shows in the ‘80’s, I was there for the resurgence of the local rock clubs in the early ‘90’s. I was at Station House, I was at Saturn Hall. I was at the Portersville Collective. It made sense that I would be here for the final quest for the grail, a moment if only briefly, where the efforts of our inspiration were exalted in the musical culture. Piercing was straddling an irreplaceable opportunity, as many before them had.

As I began to set up my drums in the isolation booth, Michael noticed that this was not a commonly seen drum set.

“Hey man- where’d you get these drums?” he asked with genuine inquisitiveness.

“Back in 1990, I went in to the local music shop just to pick up some sticks, or something. The drum guy, who had sold me my very first drum set- the Stewart Copeland Imperialstar, complete with 4 octobans-..”

Michael let out a hearty laugh that interrupted my statement. I was hoping he would get the reference, hoping that he would realize I didn’t take myself seriously, but that I did take the music seriously.

“Sonor had just sold their distribution license a week earlier. The previous distributor was still sitting on a bunch of stock, so they were offering these kits at incredibly low prices. If I could come up with fifteen hundred dollars before the next day at closing, I could get a Sonor kit for half price. At the time, I simply had to make it happen. The funny thing is, these drums are older than most of the kids in the band. Todd and Adrian….  Joss was a year old, I think, when I bought these. Rudy was about five years old.”

“Wow, that’s an incredible sequence of events.” replied Michael, a telling response that began to reveal his depth of what musicians were going through combining their day to day lives- making money to exist- and making the time, having the energy, and the mental acuity to actually write original rock music. And perform it in a live setting. To be able to make succinct recordings. All artists come up against the same terms of commitment, but Michael and Richard were illustrating a new breed to me. As I finished setting up the last of the cymbals, and as a Broadway Brooklyn sweat began to seep in, we had come to a moment that we had built for ourselves. It was all up to us.

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