This story is an multi-chapter non-fiction short story that I originally posted as a series of separate chapters, presented here in it’s entirety based on my own personal musical journey. It’s not intended to disrespect anyone, but I feel it presents a pretty fair account of events that happened across the few years I developed the idea for, and eventually the band named, The Mobius Project. It was written mostly in one sitting, and finished in a short second, based on a personal desire to reflect, and is presented here with few edits and revisions. I’m open to all comments, no matter what you have to say.
Thanks for reading.
Prologue: Like a song stuck in your head…
“Note first that reason, speech and self-awareness are what separate us from other, nobler animals. In that way, we are and always have been the stories we tell…we unspool ourselves and these human stories as warnings or reminders or to strike in one another the spark of occasional inspiration. To do so, we make heroes, and we make villains.”
There are few things more compelling than a true, human, story. Some are more compelling than others because they’re sad, or more universal, or really gritty. You know, the “it’s like a train wreck” kind? All of us want to think that, for whatever reason, our story will end up compelling in the end. Maybe it has to do with the desire to leave a legacy, or the need most of us have to have mattered in the end.
This isn’t actually one of those stories.
But to the few of us that it impacted, it continues to be a part of us. Sure, there are a million similar stories out there. Some, like this one, are of little consequence to most, and it’s entirely possible that it only feels like anything important because I’m one of those that lived it. To that I say I knew that before I started writing this. But to me it is a room of open doors. There are things that happened in the period of time that this all takes place that are larger explorations beyond the simple events that took place. Almost everything has a meaning in retrospect, and may have had a meaning then…or maybe it’s just me. But either way I’m the one writing it, so I guess telling all this might just be my own therapy.
Or something like that. Everything seems deeper in retrospect, I guess.
Ch 1: The sound of one hand clapping
It’s true what they say about bands: they really are like a family. There are ups and downs, and you drive each other nuts. But when it’s in process, there are few things that can stop it from happening…like a dysfunctional relationship.
I’ve never been one to be especially connected to family. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents as much as I can given the awkwardness of the relationships that have developed with them. My father left me with my mom and my younger sister, and a few unresolved issues that wouldn’t come up till later in life, when I was a pre-teen, and my mom eventually remarried a good guy that just had a different way of going about things than I did. We didn’t get along real well because of my budding teenage rebellion, but we made peace by the time I went off to college. As close as my mom and I are, my leaving for school and essentially never really coming back, followed by a series of decisions (read: mistakes) that drove me further away, left a hole in our relationship that has never really patched. It’s the same hole that’s there in my relationship with my sister, and my step-father, which is exacerbated from all the struggles he and I had growing up. Combined with the relationship I have with my dad that’s based on completely not understanding one another, and I’d say that family was never really my thing. So I guess it’s appropriate that when I first got the idea for this band it was a solo project of sorts.
I did though have numerous friends that I considered to be “close” although I can admit now that I was on the periphery of their lives, as I’ve always been with those that I considered in that same way. Many of them were very talented musicians and great people who gave of their creative energies when our paths crossed. I found myself writing songs alone, as I was a self-taught and self-conscious guitar player who didn’t start until well after most people who pursue music with any kind of serious furvor. I would tentatively seek opinions from these friends when I had something I considered enough of a finished product and felt I couldn’t personally carry it much further. Feedback was generally positive, if a little feeling-sparingly so, but it was encouraging enough. What I always wanted, though, was to be part of a band. I never really wanted the rock-and-roll lifestyle so to speak, I just wanted to make and play music with people who would help me flush out ideas and who would allow me to pursue creating music that was as full as it sounded in my head…music that I alone did not have the talent to make. But I had no such opportunities.
I was in a very strange situation. I was a musician who was not extremely technically talented, but who had the drive and desire, and a wealth of ideas that I wanted to explore, that most people of my same level did not have. I was enthusiasm-driven. I had even conceived of just the kind of band I wanted to be in. I knew the type of music, had an artistic vision, I even had a name…The Mobius Project. It was big and meaning-filled. I even wrote up a whole statement about what it meant, which would be edited, revised, used, and re-written over and over again. I was emulating those bands, musicians, and artists that I admired, while trying to make it my own artistic safe haven. The problem was that I didn’t have the mates necessary to actually make it happen. I was just a guy sitting down with my own guitar every day to play the same songs I had written over and over again and hoping inspiration would strike me again so I could make more.
And it wasn’t for lack of trying. Over this time I played with anyone that would carve out some time and played an instrument. Guitarists, drummers, DJs, bass players, anyone who played anything had my respect and admiration. But the people who matched my enthusiasm were too far beyond my skill level, and the people who I gelled with talent-wise didn’t match my enthusiasm. And even as my skill level grew, I was at a place in life where the vast majority of my time was given over to what was the more responsible track in life…pursuing a career and being an adult. I found those musicians that I actually had regular contact with, as most of the musicians I knew were hours away in the city, had a similar arrangement with life’s oncoming responsibility, but a more pessimistic view of it. Enthusiasm is not a universal trait, it seems.
And so I made a very conscious decision one day to just move forward, whatever that meant, with this project idea of mine anyway. I wasn’t going to wait for a band to make my songs happen. I was perfectly content to sit in a room alone and record. If I could get someone to help me out with one song, that was enough for me. No one had to commit anything more to me and my musical desires than they themselves wanted to. Of course, making this decision didn’t really mean much else started to happen. It’s not like I had access to a whole lot of recording capability in those days anyway. And when I did set up some recording time and gear, and managed to have someone other than myself there, I discovered that true collaboration really takes time. I’d get hours of recorded stuff that had numerous great ideas (in my mind) but that hadn’t actually captured anything finished. And skill level again played a part. One of my friends at the time actually did recording, mixing, and mastering right in his apartment, and he invited me over to lay down some of my songs that he liked just for fun and the experience. But after over an hour, and numerous takes, of trying to play along with a click track, I realized I had no rhythm and left frustrated and sure that he was no longer impressed with me as a musician.
And this is how it continued for a while. I was developing songs because I loved to play guitar and they just seemed to keep coming (quality is always debatable), but never felt like playing on my own was really ever a finished product. But I clung to the idea that this was a collaborative project and tried to stay open to collaborators, even though the reality of those thoughts were more depressing than I cared to admit.
Ch 2: It’s not the tango, but it’ll do
It was almost two years after I made that decision that my “responsible” life pursuit (teaching) took me to Maryland. I was hired by a school in the D.C. beltway area to teach math and science. It wasn’t my first real career-type job, but it was certainly a step up from my internship and master’s classes I’d been completing the year before. And this school was special in the stress aspect as well. This was a school for students with learning disabilities who were college-bound. The paperwork alone was monumental, and the accountability was that much higher. This, combined with some personal struggles, made me retreat into music all the more. I started bringing my guitar to school and playing in the basement at lunch periods. There was a little lounge/music room set up down there and eventually some of the kids started coming in to watch me jam with other students on the water-damaged instruments that just happened to be set up in that concrete room with one carpet, too many storage items, and an old couch.
There wasn’t much of a music program at Chelsea, but what little existed was a direct result of Dan. Dan was the Video and Music Production (I think that was his official title) teacher, and was also an extremely enthusiastic musician. He was personally the driving force behind the Chelsea Band, which was a band unlike most high school bands. Instead of a collection of horn and percussion instruments that came out of formal music classes, Chelsea Band was a collection of students that played whatever instrument (or didn’t) and had an interest in music. I think the idea was that it would evolve and morph over time as students got better, graduated, and new instruments and interests came into the band through new students. It was hard to keep kids coming after school and to find time to volunteer amidst the heavy requirements of working at Chelsea, but Dan threw everything he could into helping those kids pursue any interest they might have in music.
At some point in time we just realized that we were musically compatible. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I think those jam sessions I started with the students at lunch had something to do with it. He would come in from down the hall and play along on the drums or encourage other students to participate. Eventually it was he and I jamming at lunchtime. I remember sitting in his classroom one day after school with another teacher, holding an acoustic guitar, just noodling and talking. The other teacher encouraged me to play something, and I chose to play an original. The response was positive and was one of the first times that I was receiving feedback from someone other than those who had known me before I started writing songs. It felt just like the kind of honest enthusiasm I’d been hoping for. After that Dan and I started tinkering around with some of my other songs. He was a drummer who came from a metal background, and we both fell into a similar skill and enthusiasm range when it came to our instruments and our love of music. We took advantage of the gear the school had to offer, as well as whatever gear we already owned, to play around with song writing and some very basic amateur recording. It wasn’t amazing stuff, but it felt like a step in the right direction.
After a couple months of messing around with some of my material Dan invited me to come jam with him and a few of his friends. They’d been trying to start a band for a while. They had been friends since high school and had played in a metal band called Minion back then, and I guess were giving it another go now that they were a little older. They had been looking specifically for a singer, something I was really uncertain about but I trusted Dan’s encouragement enough to come give it a try. After two sessions with them I was sort of formally asked to join, and we began learning covers and even writing some material. It wasn’t the band I’d been looking for, but as with before, it was another step in the right direction.
Before that school year had even ended, however, I accepted a job at a Montessori school on the island of Maui. I was pursuing the furthering of my real-life job, and knew this was something I was interested in. Unfortunately Maui is 5000 miles away from D.C. and that band, which we called Invisible No More, ended before it even really got started.
But my job in Maui opened up another step forward in my musical pursuits. In order to take the job I got sent to a Montessori summer training in Houston, TX. While I was there I was thrust into an intensive program with 20+ other teachers learning how the Montessori Method applies to adolescence. Fortunately for me, people from all over the country came to this particular training center, including Tennessee, which is where guitarist and singer/songwriter Clint was from.
Clint was an entirely self-taught musician, and it one of the most unpretentious people I’ve ever met. Musically he was far more intuitive than I was, but I had more base knowledge of formal structures than he did. He was also a little more open stylistically than me, whereas I was more driving rock and roll than he was. His country and blues influences and my grungy distorted preferences played off of each other nicely. While we were at the training together we would shut ourselves in a room for hours and just play guitar, write, and record. What came out of the time working with Clint, and a session later on at a follow up conference in Houston, was two complete, and one full but not fully recorded, songs that were some of the best I’d had the chance to work on. I also had the chance to see an experienced song writer at work, to work in a truly collaborative partnership, and to experiment with recording in a way that I’d not yet experienced. It was a very fruitful partnership from the personal growth aspect.
After Houston I completed my move out to Maui, and immediately picked up where I had previously left off with writing and recording on my own, but now armed with a new energy from having worked with Dan and Clint in the past year, and a wealth of new knowledge of music and technology from the two of them as well. Songs got rewritten, new songs added, and my enthusiasm doubled as my skills developed. I stayed in contact by email with the two of them across the distances, even sending tracks back and forth to be worked on some by the two of them, but despite the advances it still felt like a step back.
I began to conspire just a little bit.
Ch 3: “Velocity makes balance possible”
I spoke to the people at my school about bringing Dan on to work there and I watched the newspapers for job openings that he might be interested in. Bringing Clint out was out of the question because he had a family in TN and had just built a house, but Dan was younger and mobile. He visited over the winter break and we even rented a drum kit from a local music shop, pretty much the only local music shop, and took over a classroom at my school for a couple days to jam…loudly. Eventually we found him a job, although sadly not at my school, and a year almost to the day after I arrived, Dan landed in Maui.
The plan was to spend several months practicing and then start performing. We took an old workshop that was attached to our house and turned it into our practice space, lovingly referring to it as “The Shop”. With all of our instruments and gear set up in there, blankets and cardboard put on the walls and carpets on the floors, we set immediately to work practicing and arranging my material to put together a set. I’d been doing my leg work getting to know the scene, the venues, the people, and although it wasn’t encouraging for two would-be rockers amongst all the Jawaiian, Reggae, cover bands, and the fact that almost all music was played in bars, there were signs of hope in musicians like Erin Smith, her later band The Throwdowns, bands like The Cities Love You and Lava, and some of the venues that hosted a variety of music like Mulligan’s. We weren’t going to even bother gathering other musicians before we got started. We’d both been jaded by the process of waiting on chance to deliver the right artistic collaborator into your lap, and we decided we were going to just plow ahead as a two-piece. I would sing and play guitar, Dan would play drums. We were determined to make it work, and if it attracted other people to the project, then so much the better. The initial months of practice dragged on however, as my song writing isn’t really conducive to just drums and guitar without a lot of complication, and I was a very hesitant singer. When I’d been singing with Invisible No More I hadn’t been playing guitar at the same time. And when I’d been doing the two simultaneously before INM it had just been an acoustic guitar. There was a whole level of emotion that I hadn’t tapped into that was necessary for this set up that I was struggling to reach, and the more we practiced, the more I simply sank back into playing guitar and told myself I had to get one thing right before I could begin the other. We stagnated a little bit and our march towards playing shows slowed down. Eventually the “few months” we discussed became an open-ended goal of “when we’re ready”.
Eventually, at Dan’s urging, I agreed to take on a singer. At least with someone else handling the singing duties I could concentrate on playing guitar and really try to make that special rather than having divided attention, I figured. But Alison, who was also a teacher at the Montessori school I worked at, and I didn’t see eye to eye about the musical direction of the band right from the start. Dan was enthusiastic about having a female singer because he was into girl-fronted bands and because he thought it offered something different. Personally I did prefer a male voice, but was willing to give it a shot if it could get us out of the rut we were in. But there were arguments about her having to sing my songs, about me feeling like she was too hesitant and not actually singing out, the two of them wanted to be a little pop-ier than I did, I got picky, she got defensive, Dan would stay out of it, and practices blew up into arguments.
Eventually there came a point where I told the both of them that I was willing to drop all the rest of my songs. We agreed we’d continue to play the ones we’d already learned, and that seemed to quiet things for a while. When we started writing from scratch together there were still arguments about lyrics and musical direction, but some of those tensions resulted in what I felt were some amazing songs. I still wrote all the music, and just kept my nose out of lyrics, and Dan and I would do arrangements together, and things kinda clicked along for a while. I didn’t agree with all the decisions that were made, but several songs in particular came out of this period that I consider to be some of the finest music I’ve ever written. “Worth” and “Jane” are two of the songs the three of us wrote together that, although there might be things I’d personally change about them, I happily claim my hand in them.
We tried to exploit social media as much as possible. Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, ReverbNation, anything we felt we could use to put ourselves out there we used. Dan and I created a website that I was damn proud of. The Mobius Project became an outlet for my writing, visual art, video making, and music…and we hadn’t even played a show yet!
But this was still a bit of a sticking point. We didn’t know how to go about getting our name out or booking shows, but Dan and I especially both felt the pull to do just that. We wanted to be a rallying point for a rock scene, especially for young kids who were mostly excluded from the music scenes in Maui because of the bars-as-venues norm around the island. We wanted to change that. But how to even start?
The idea came up to begin doing acoustic gigs in the park as a way of introducing ourselves. We made up some fliers, announced it through social media, and began every couple of weeks going into a park in the late afternoon to play. The first time we did it two people came. That was fine with us. We were doing it for the passers-by as much as those that knew about us already. We video taped the performance and released a few videos through our website and YouTube. Then we switched to a busier park. That landed us in the middle of some regulars, as well as some groundswell enthusiasm, and some of my favorite evenings of the park performances. People would stop and listen, and recommend places for us to play or people to talk to. But mostly they just liked to listen. We were only doing acoustic stuff, sometimes with hand drums, sometimes with a tiny drum kit that was pretty much just a snare and a cymbal or a tambourine (or both), but it got people into our songs that wouldn’t have otherwise stopped to listen to us play a full-on rock show. I felt connected to people through my music. When we played a song I had written, or music that was mine, and people responded, I felt tremendous.
Our first “break” if you will came through a friend. Pete, who had been the guitarist for Lava (pronounced “La-wa”) before they split, had a new band, Fish Tank. I knew him because he was a diving instructor for my students. He offered us an opening spot for Fish Tank on a Friday at a bar that had not too long before been renovated and who was trying to get more live music into their weekly rotation. It wasn’t the perfect venue for us, but it was a gig…a foot in the door to the scene. And boy, did we land on Diamonds like a ton of bricks.
Diamonds was not a huge place, but Dan is a huge drummer. Not physically mind you, but he’s a loud man behind the kit. When Dan lays into a snare, they know it for miles around. I’m no slouch myself, but I kept turning up to hear myself over him in the small space and crowded stage, and the sound guy kept wanting me to turn down so that he could run me through the house speakers instead. It was a constant back and forth, with dirty looks and all. Regardless of the internal struggle taking place, there was a small but full house there to see us and we went over well. Some people who’d just been there for the usual Friday drinking were a little confused by the appearance of this alternative/alt-metal influenced/existential rock band, but the majority of people responded really well to us. It was the highest point so far, and that’s what I’d really hoped to get out of the night. Of course I was shaking like anything because I already have stage nerves, and I’d begun drinking energy drinks early in the day so that I was sure to be awake, and all I’d had to eat that day was some eggs an hour or so before the show, but I got out of it alive and well, and inspired.
After the Diamonds gig, we put out more videos (in the form of a series vidcast), pictures, artwork, tweets, and website updates while we figured out our next move. It was great having an ongoing project that brought the artistic creativity into my daily life that I seemed to need the direction the band offered in order to draw out of me.
Gigs, however, were hard to come by on the island for all the reasons previously mentioned, but one of our best happened to come to us. I received a phone call from a guy who owned a coffee stand in Kahului. It was situated in the parking lot of one of the strip malls in the main commercial district area. He was looking to do an open mic style evening that included us, but was a little hazy on the details. In the end we decided that what we really wanted to do was to create a rock show that was based around an open venue so that younger kids could come, and that featured musicians we knew and respected, including younger acts that couldn’t play in the bars. We’d seen young bands leave the island specifically for this reason (The Cities Love You) and wanted to help the scene. For Dan and I this had been one of our original goals. This was a way to make that happen.
So we advertised it as a fundraiser for the local libraries, who were struggling in the down economy, invited a singer/songwriter named David Kaye to open for us, and called it the “Rock In The Lot”. We had a great turn out at the first one, and we did this same gig several times, inviting other artists to open including a couple of kids we’d seen play at Hot Topic who called themselves Pretty Going Fast. They weren’t my style of music, but they were good kids and they were trying to do something interesting. They were exactly the kind of act we wanted to promote and give a place to play with the Rock In The Lot.
Eventually the park evenings and some of our connections yielded a gig playing the main stage in Wailuku at a First Friday event. The main stage was sponsored by a local clothing company and happened to be right across the street from the only locally owned record shop on the island, Requests. It was a great opportunity.
Between the first Rock on the Lot and the First Friday gig we made the decision that we needed a bass player. We were a three-piece, but one of those pieces wasn’t the bass. We made an attempt with a friend of ours who played guitar and volunteered to switch over to bass, but inconsistency and weed eventually did in that relationship. He would show up at a session with me to learn parts and be very creative and a quick learner, and then cancel for two weeks, only to show up at a band practice reeking of pot and unable to follow anything. He was a good guy, but he just wasn’t right for us.
There was another option, but it wasn’t so straightforward. One of the friends I’d made since arriving on the island was a guy named Ryan. I’d met him at a regular Sunday evening dinner that was open to friends and family of one of my students. A different collection of people, some regulars, some now-and-again-s, would show up each week to have dinner and chat at one family’s house. Ryan and his wife were regulars. Sometimes after dinner the guitars would come out, and from the first time I went Ryan and I hit it off. Apparently Ryan was a drummer by trade from his younger days, but he was so musically gifted that he was accomplished on drums, bass, guitar, piano, and I’m sure other instruments that I don’t know about. He’d seen us play at the first Rock In The Lot and he’d come to jam with us a couple times after that, sitting behind the drum kit while Dan noodled on guitar, or playing guitar or bass or whatever, and his wife would come along just to hang out. The two of them are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. But Ryan was a pretty busy guy, and his life had recently gotten even busier as he and his wife had their first child. But, as before, enthusiasm ruled the day. We decided to ask Ryan if he’d play with us at the First Friday gig to help us fill out our sound for the bigger stage. He missed making music so much that he agreed to make the time. Before the gig even arrived however we’d asked him to join the band permanently, and again he agreed.
Ryan’s addition to the band was a huge jump forward musically for us not only for his technical ability, but his experience, his creativity, and his general demeanor. Ryan’s addition to the band was when we became a serious band.
Ch 4: Rising at one end, unraveling at the other
The First Friday gig was more exposure and another chance to feel the high that comes with feeding off the crowd’s energy while they feed off your music. I could feel the changes in myself as a musician both creatively and technically. I was playing multiple hours a day and seeing songs and music in a way that I’d never known before. I wrote on my own and with Ryan, and would essentially bring pieces of music to the band laid out as a song and work the drum parts out with Dan in practice while Alison wrote lyrics. I missed that part of the completion of song writing, but the tension there had lead me to pursue some music on the side that I didn’t bring to the band. I had done a coffee house on my own the week after we’d performed as a band right before Ryan’s inclusion, and one of those songs that I had written did eventually leak into the set on Ryan and Dan’s urging. “Way of the Gun” became my song in the set. I sang and played lead on it for that one moment. It was freeing, and in a way was a glimpse of what I’d always hoped The Mobius Project would become. I was enjoying sitting back and being the lone guitar player, being the music writer, and having my freedom to sculpt the sound of the band at the roots, but it wasn’t what I’d envisioned from the start, and “Way of the Gun” was a moment when I got to see that vision through.
We were getting very positive responses from the Rock In The Lot performances, which was our staple gig for a little while, and lots of positive feedback from all of our social media efforts. But there was a problem brewing amongst the members. In-fighting has killed many bands, and we dealt with our own share.
Alison resented a lot of the pressure that being in the band put on her. The practice schedule, the constant list of things to do, and the tension that was caused by the battling over creative control, and the resentment that resulted, caused her to bring up quitting numerous times.
This had been a regular discussion for a while, but it was an off and on topic that usually only came up when there was the most going on, which usually meant that she always brought up quitting when we were preparing for something big and she didn’t like all the time she was being requested to put in. Her quitting at any of the points she brought it up would have left us in the lurch, so Dan and I always convinced her to stay.
And I have to admit, I was not the easiest band mate to work with at times. As I said, I was driven by enthusiasm, and that could be off putting or (I felt) misunderstood. This came to light earliest on in two specific incidents that both had undertones as to what would happen later.
The first was a band meeting we had not long after the first RITL, but before Ryan joined us. For each gig we practiced for days leading up, and I created original artwork for flyers, Dan and I spent time putting them up around town, and I pumped it on social media like crazy. I was meticulous about details and demanding about the music. The two of them basically sat me down one time to tell me that I was too demanding, that it wasn’t any fun, and that I expected everyone to be putting in the same effort as I put in. They told me I needed to lay off of them. Dan was telling me he was worried about how hard I was pushing myself, but Alison said it was too much and she wanted to quit. Dan and I both felt like we’d come to far to start again, which her leaving at this point would have been, and convinced her to stay with me agreeing to back off. We had obligations and momentum, and had begun recording, and it would have been a disaster to have to figure out what to do at that point to replace a singer. But that conversation had a lasting impact on the band. We didn’t practice for three weeks after that. I played every day by myself, but the other two went on with their lives. Dan was the first to come back to practice with me, and after three weeks we were all back practicing.
But we had been in the process of recording a three-song demo when we took the break, and this lead to the second time my drive put a strain on the band. I had spent the time off tweaking my guitar recording process and getting my parts laid out, as well as fixing some of the drum parts in the computer, putting cymbal crashes in one at a time to cover for the fact that the electric drum kit we had used to record the tracks had very weak cymbal sounds, and looking at what the songs needed. I had the tracks almost complete for “Worth” and “Jane” when we started practicing again. They got put to the side for a few weeks while we got caught back up, and this is when Ryan joined us. His coming took time to catch him up too and to prepare for the First Friday gig. When we picked recording back up Dan and I spent time finishing and fixing his parts, I finished the guitars alone on all three tracks, and Ryan recorded bass on “I Wanna Live” and re-recorded the bass on “Jane”. But none of the tracks had vocals. Alison kept ducking time to record her parts. I was intense about getting these tracks done. I had layered guitars on, created all the instrument effects in the computer after parts had been recorded, fixed drum parts beat for beat in some places, listened to these songs second for second a thousand times, but wasn’t able to finish them. What I felt meant a lot to us, she and I butted heads on her doing her part. Eventually she did all her parts in one night to all three songs, and we just went with the best of what we had, making no overdubs or corrections later, and we never recorded again.
These tensions, which eased a bit for a short time with the inclusion of another member, especially one as positive as Ryan, but eventually they lead to us agreeing to her leaving the band. This took place during the build up to the biggest event we had yet played: The Mulligan’s Battle of the Bands.
Ch 5: Johnny get your gun…there’s a battle a’brewin’
Despite our capitulation to her leaving the band, she agreed to stay on till the summer while we looked for a new singer. We were right in the middle of preparations for what was shaping up to be the biggest even on Maui since budding local heroes The Throwdowns had released their EP over a year before.
While cruising Facebook one day I found an invitation for Maui rock bands to apply for a Battle of the Bands to be held at one of the biggest scene venues on the island: Mulligan’s. I’d seen several shows at Mulligan’s and, apart from the Hard Rock Café and the much larger venues reserved for when national acts came through, which was very rarely, Mulligan’s was the place to have a rock show. The ad stipulated that you had to be performing originals, and that they were taking from various genres. As soon as I got approval from the other three members, I crafted our entry response and sent our demo in. We waited weeks and went through numerous practices (and fights) while we hoped they’d accept us. I personally was looking at this as a culmination of the reason I’d started this band. Everyone else looked at all of the duties of being in a band as the unfortunate work of the experience, but I looked at it as setting up being able to do what I wanted to do in the first place. Practice, web sites, social networking, person to person networking, making and posting flyers, making the artwork, it was all part of it for me. Even the gigs we took that we didn’t want to do, like a disastrous gig at a dump called Life’s A Beach for a roller derby team function in which we took a break and came back to find our amps moved and a DJ playing instead which made me vow I’d never play a straight bar-set gig again, were part of setting up things just like this. You do the dirty work and you get enough recognition and respect to be noticed for shows just like this. It was going to be a showcase of Maui’s best-known underground rock and reggae talent. There was recording time, money, and a sweet opening slot for The Throwdowns on the block for first prize. It was exactly the kinds of things I wanted to be doing with a band, and we were starting to become the band I wanted us to be. Agreeing to let our singer go not withstanding, I felt like we were moving in the right direction.
When we finally heard that we’d been accepted as one of 10 bands out of 30 island-wide that had applied, I was over the moon. You can imagine how much time I spent practicing, arranging and rearranging my pedal board, and considering what songs we could play. I even bought a new guitar. It was a brand new Epiphone Dot Studio, and it was everything I wanted (and could afford) in a guitar. Unfortunately the nut broke the first time I tried to restring it and the shop lagged for weeks in repairing it, eventually just replacing it instead (the week before the show), but I nothing could dampen my spirits.
The night of the Battle of the Bands was a good one. We were going on a little later, so some of the all-ages crowd that had turned up to see us wasn’t able to stay much longer than our set because of curfew restrictions placed on such a set up (minors in bars…no way to establish a scene), but Mulligan’s was packed, the competition felt thin and I was as eager as I’ve ever been to play. I’d even created a t-shirt for the evening. It was an 80’s theme night and you got extra points for dressing up, so the band and I had raided a local consignment shop and come out with some sweet stuff. I was wearing a pink button up with a white t-shirt underneath that said (in Sharpe) “Support local ^*original* music and musicians”. I was fired up. There were punk bands, reggae bands, some acoustic acts, some younger acts and some older acts, but I was feeling very confident. And when we took the stage all that confidence paid off. The place was rocking for our two-song intro set. You got two songs, and then they brought back the top four (I think) for another song before the judges voted. We rocked through “Worth” and “I Wanna Live”. “Jane” had been one of our original picks, but I couldn’t get my guitar to tune into drop D, so we scrapped it for “Worth”. People were singing along and jumping up and down and shouting so loud during our set that I was worried the judges couldn’t hear us. But it felt like fate was on our side. During our set Dan’s stool slipped out from under him and he just popped up and drummed standing until someone noticed and fixed it, but a local reporter tweeted during the show that he was playing with so much intensity that he’d kicked it out and pounded away. Everything was working for us.
After our set Dan and I got cornered by two of the judges who happened to be two extremely well known Hawaiian artists who first asked us if we’d written those songs (an odd question considering the night) and then proceeding to tell us that we were very impressive. We felt sure we had the second round, and we weren’t wrong.
In the second round we were up against a band called Moth that had come out of no where to wow the crowd, and who were a singer-less duo of drums and guitar who played experimental metal while dancers hula-hooped in front of them, an extremely popular local reggae/rock group named Sounds of Addiction who bussed their own crowd in from across the island, and a punk group from Lahaina named Minor Setback who had actually impressed me with their first set, but who I didn’t think were the judges flavor. We kept our last song short, sweet and rockin’, tearing through “Learning How To Scream” and leaving to the walls in the building shaking. In the end they gave Moth the grand prize and also asked Sounds of Addiction to open at The Throwdowns concert because they felt like they would balance out the bill with local flavor, but I have never felt better about being a musician. Afterwards Erin Smith of The Throwdowns, who had also been a judge, came up to Dan and I just to let us know she’d been lobbying for us and that it had been a very close vote between us and SoA for the other opener spot. That right there felt like a little prize to me, just to know that someone like her had been impressed.
Ch 6: There’s a new canvas behind all that paint
After the success of the Battle of the Bands, the response we got to our performance, the videos we put up, the artwork I created for our flyers and the artwork that had been otherwise created for our related merch, we were feeling flush with excitement. The talk of Alison leaving stopped, the search for a new singer was shelved for the moment, and we began planning what would be our next and, unbeknownst to us at the time, last gig together.
The Hot Topic in the Ka’ahumanu Mall accepted proven local acts to do in-store acoustic shows. It’s where we had met Pretty Going Fast, and it had been a venue for other growing acts, including The Throwdowns, during the whole time I’d been on the island. Dan had taken the lead on arranging a gig there before we’d played at Mulligan’s, and we were set to play two weeks after the BOTB. It was a gig that required a rearrangement of our set up as we hadn’t played acoustic in a while, and was the first time we’d played acoustic with Ryan at all. We were limited in the electrification we were allowed, so we decided to go with two guitars and a drum kit as our set up, which required a lot of time with Ryan and I arranging the songs for that set up instead of our regular straight forward four-piece set up. We also decided to use the Hot Topic show to debut a new song, which was another tension factor because not all of us were on board with that idea, but it happened, so all the time given over to writing and learning a new song in two weeks was stoking the flames.
In the end the Hot Topic show was one of our most intimate shows, with kids asking us to sign posters and shirts, selling merch, and supporting a local cause (we’d agreed to let some students sell t-shirts for the libraries at the gig) and we hung out long after talking to kids who were excited about us.
But the weight of the individual paths of the members eventually caused the collapse of the lineup within the weeks following that gig. Alison left and the band was forced to regroup. We were even forced to turn down a gig filling in for Sounds of Addiction for The Throwdowns show after all when Erin Smith called us personally to ask after SoA weren’t able to fufill the commitment because we just weren’t able to bring things together on such short notice, even after Alison offered to hang on for that one last show.
Taking a hiatus for a while from the group itself I began to write again. This time however I was writing complete songs, and conceptualizing entire albums. In a matter of weeks I had written three new songs, begun several more, and laid the groundwork for an entire album that I wanted to write with the band as a whole. It wasn’t long before Ryan, Dan and I were back in the practice space, which was now in the garage of a new house that Dan and I were living in, and making music all over again. We were electric with inspiration, but still didn’t know what to do about a singer. We had a couple people over to try out after we had put advertisements up all over town, and even found a person or two that we considered further collaborations with, but no one filled the gap in such a way that felt like us.
In order for us to be able to write lyrics and begin to fill out songs for the new album we were trying to write I began to sing parts. My voice wasn’t in any shape to be taking on singing duties, but I began squeaking through verses and the occasional chorus for functional purposes. All the playing had been good for my technical ability and Ryan’s ability to sing harmonies that helped me not have to reach so much all the time began to make it feel right. The more I realized this the more I took on the responsibility of teaching myself to sing, approaching it much the same way I did with learning to play guitar. I looked up online lessons, began drinking lemon and honey tea like it was going out of style, and doing daily exercises with my voice. Over time I became so comfortable with it that I felt a change within myself. I was emotionally venting into the microphone and clutching my guitar like a life preserver as I pounded away. I bought new gear to allow me to sonically represent some of the new ideas I was having, and we naturally moved forward as a three-piece that was tight and ready to go.
Within months we were developing an almost entirely new set and new sound that I still feel to this moment is the most creatively in touch with myself I’ve ever felt. We started off with some jam sessions based around a few riffs I’d created or ideas Dan or Ryan would develop on the spot. We laid out the concept for an album and we’d pull ideas during practices to musically play on. Songs developed and ideas expanded. We had to shelve most of our previous set because my voice couldn’t cover the same range as a lot of the previous melodies, but we reworked some of them to fit me and began to put together a small set that we could take out and do open mic/coffee house sets with. It was tough gaining ground with so much new stuff to develop and learn simply because the work schedule of a functioning adult in the work force doesn’t leave much time or energy for much else, but we planned a series of the open mic and coffee house appearances to play three or four songs and keep momentum.
Ironically our first one was also our last, and the last time we played a show.
Ch 7: The indecision of semantics and vague terms
We took three new songs, “Stuck”, “Privileges”, and “If Good Guys Win, What’s That Make Me” to an open mic at (where else?) Diamonds for what we hoped was going to be the start of the next chapter in the band and the continuation of our ascension to a band of consequence in the Maui scene. We wanted to continue to unlock the doors we’d been prying open before with playing to the underage crowd, pioneering new venues for rock shows, and generally helping to build a scene in the area that was accessible to more than bar bands and people playing Jack Johnson covers to tourists (no offense to Mr. Johnson intended). We were building our set, and these songs represented the jumping off point of new material and a new sound for us with me as the front man and an expanded role for all the instruments. Dan was not only becoming sharper with his chops but he was becoming more inventive with his parts. Stops, experimenting with the roles of cymbals and toms in building and creating presence, Dan was a hell of a drummer at this point, but he still maintained his metal influences and really drove the power of the songs we were writing. Ryan was filling in vocals and matching me step for step, using the bass as a lead instrument. I played the songs straight up the middle on the guitar. As it always really had been, but now more than ever, what defined The Mobius Project’s sound was the inventiveness of the rhythm section.
There were several other bands coming out and really making a splash in the rock scene on Maui at this time. Moth was blowing up from their Battle of the Bands win, Minor Setback had scored an opening gig for the Bad Brains at the Hard Rock Café when they’d come through, Order of the White Rose, who had been a round for a while, was playing with some of the new comers and adjusting their set up, and most interestingly Owaila was beginning to play shows.
Owaila (pronounced: O-vai-la; Hawaiian for “who?”) was a rock outfit who neatly wrapped their Hawaiian influences up in real driving music. They were popular guys and it didn’t take them long to have some great recordings and a real following. Dan and I saw them at their first show, and we knew right away that this would be a band to connect with. We also happened to know that the band had been accepted to play at the South by Southwest music festival in Texas the following year, and would be putting on some fund raising gigs. The open mic at Diamond’s that we chose for our new beginning was chosen in part because it was MC’d by the drummer from Owaila, and we’d had a few conversations with him about possibly filling opening slots at those gigs if he liked us.
Because of the venue, and our previous experience there, we chose to go a little stripped down for the gig. I bought an acoustic-electric guitar and we spent most of our time arranging and practicing the songs as acoustic songs, but with a plugged in bass and subdued, but full, drum kit. What we were counting on was the energy of the music we brought. A lot rested on me to convey that energy through the vocals and my performance.
But in the end it was all of us that brought it that night. We played our three-song set to a raucous reception, particularly from that of Mike, the Owaila drummer, who told us we were “just what they’d been looking for”. All in all it seemed like things were on their way up and couldn’t get much better.
Looking back now on what happened next I can’t help, as useless an exercise as I know it is, but ask “what if?”
After the Diamond’s open mic we practiced a couple more times, and then took what felt like a well-deserved break. Dan and I being teachers, we had time off around Christmas, and I chose to go to New York to pursue a long-lost relationship with a girl whom I’d known since I was 19, and had reconnected with recently. Dan was in a new relationship of his own, which was getting serious fast and would eventually play into the outcome every bit as much as my own situation.
While I was in New York I received a phone call from a solo female singer/songwriter, Stef, who we had known from the Battle of the Bands, and whom I had spoken to since about doing something together at some point in the spirit of collaboration. In the call she asked about following up on that request, and suggested that there was the possibility of doing something big arising through some people she knew who were promoting shows on the island. I spoke to the guys and we agreed we were interested, and that we would talk more when we reconvened on Maui after the holidays.
Vacation seemed to treat us all very well, and within a couple of weeks we were all back and ready to look into this new musical project. Our open mics went on the back burner for the moment due to pressing work schedules, as well as what was described to us as the impending nature of the potential gigs with Stef. She explained to us that people she knew in a local promotion company were putting together a series of gigs on Maui, and had invited her to play. She and they didn’t feel that her solo style was appropriate for the size of the show they wanted to put on, so she was looking for a band to help her out. If it went well there was the potential for more gigs in the future. She told us it was more than just being her backing band, however, she wanted to collaborate with us, having us infuse her songs with our sound, and possibly even do a couple of our own with her stamp on them. We agreed that this seemed like a worth-while task and, as the shows she was telling us about were a lot sooner than the potential Owaila gigs, which weren’t supposed to be till the summer, we set to work with Stef a couple days a week working on her material, although we still practiced on our own occasionally just to keep up with our own set progression and tinkering with the album idea we’d had.
What the time with Stef turned into was a far cry from anything we expected. Stef was really only comfortable playing her own material, and struggled to play anything that she hadn’t written. She wasn’t able to explain what the actual chords and music she was playing was, and she only played structures as they made sense to her, and some of her songs were difficult to discern patterns to. We had success with a couple of songs, and Ryan followed some of her other material better than I was able to, but the end result was that it was taking us a long time to get a set together. We took on a few covers just to have a common beginning point with songs we were learning, and focused on those and the few songs we were able to play together. Some of our songs that we discussed playing I was taking the lead on simply because she wasn’t able to follow our structures either.
And the show dates kept moving and becoming more vague. What was originally a February show then became a March show, and then became completely unknown. Between those frustrations, my work schedule, and a growing certainty that my time on Maui was coming to a close, I began to feel like we were wasting our time with Stef.
When I broke the news to the band that I was going to move to New York in the summer I agreed to stay on long enough to see this first show through and Stef, Ryan, and Dan discussed going on as a three-piece after my departure. But even with my reduced responsibilities and withdrawn role I still couldn’t understand the wonky nature of what we were supposed to be accomplishing. I became frustrated with the fact that it seemed like we were becoming just what I hadn’t wanted us to be: Stef’s backing band. And furthering my frustration was the fact that it felt like it was happening simply due to her lack of desire and ability to meet us half way on the material. She gave us songs and if we were able to follow them then we made them into good songs. If we couldn’t find the song in what she gave us then we struggled and she could offer no help. We were getting lost, and other than getting to play music I was coming to view band practice as something that was adding stress to my already stressed schedule. I left the band.
I didn’t feel like I had any other choice. They decided to rename themselves because it didn’t feel like the Mobius Project without me, and in truth it hadn’t felt like that for me since we started working with Stef. They carried on for a little while longer, even going so far as to follow Stef along to one of her solo gigs to add some simple backing with hand drums and bass, but they eventually called it quits too. Dan’s relationship was coming to a tipping point, and without the driving enthusiasm and direction the band had had before Ryan’s responsibilities seemed to take his time away too. Real life set in, and the band was forced to give way.
Epilogue: In a city of a thousand stories
In the end Dan and I both left Maui. The circumstances surrounding the final days, and apparently some stuff that had been building for a little while, lead to a split that was less than amicable. What once was a close friendship, the closest to having a brother I’ve ever had, instead is now a frosty divide. Ryan still lives there with his wife and son, and I assume has gotten back to his normal adventurous self minus being in a band. The Maui music scene plugged along and several of the bands we knew have grown or changed, or not, and things aren’t much different than when we were there, or so it seems from the outside.
I’m contemplating the future of the idea of The Mobius Project. I’m living in NYC and, having once been in a small pond where even being a small fish felt big, I just don’t see myself giving another go at the band set up. Who knows what the future holds, but I can’t see it coming together and meshing with life like it did before.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll be giving up on music all together, and that’s what I’m working out, I guess. I don’t know what’s going to become of the Mobius Project now, but I know that it can still be for me what it was originally intended to be: a way to bring creativity into my every day life. I tell this story because it’s the story of my musical journey so far, with respect to the people and incidents that got me making music in the first place. It’s relatively short because the time period it covers was relatively short. But I’m at a place where I’m contemplating what to do next, and as so often happens, I’m looking back to decide how to move ahead. But if there’s anyone out there that’s even read this far, I imagine you must be asking yourself why you should even care about this story, so I guess that’s what I’ve come to.
I said in the beginning that I felt like this story, as much as there are parts of it I’m more than happy to leave behind, is a room of open doors. There’s a lot of open topics here that I’m considering lately: friendship, family, accomplishment, creativity, identity, music and art, love, frustration…it’s like a room with many walls, all covered in murals, and lots of doors. Each door allows me to look backwards on the structure from a completely different perspective and to see something entirely different. And each comes with it’s own set of emotions. But I guess everyone has a story that works like that for them; everyone has their “room of doors” story. This one’s just mine…well, one of them anyway.