With all due respect to what came before, the arrival of Lo-Fi Resistance signaled a complete rebirth for me, leading me to connect and explore winding paths ever since.
Throughout my teens, I played guitar in a bevy of Blues and Classic Rock cover bands. A shift to original music was logical, and without possession of vocal capabilities, I nestled into the Instrumental Rock realm. A period from age twelve to seventeen produced three albums in this style, while I was nudged to try and discover what my singing voice might sound like.
A shift from writing instrumentals to incorporating vocals occurred around the age of fifteen, and song by song, I began to chip away at the past. This resulted in several EPs on burned discs, but no official collection. My band had a regular monthly slot at The Bitter End in NYC for about four years, before disbanding in 2006, shortly after my eighteenth birthday.
Skipping ahead to 2009, I set aside some money from acoustic cover gigs and odd jobs to start building a home studio. Not much, just a few essential pieces to capture some quality sounds. With the generosity of some good friends with better gear (you always want to make those friends), I borrowed some extra tools to get to work. The plan was unclear, but I was writing and recording songs that explored areas that were fresh for me.
All of the instrumentation was performed alone, until I reached a dead end with some drum tracks. In my head, I felt like Nick D'Virgilio would be perfect for what I was working on, so I nervously contacted him through his website. He responded positively, and we collaborated virtually a song at a time. As it snowballed, he contributed drums to all but two songs (in which I kept my drum tracks), sang a few lines, and mixed the record.
What do you want to do with this? Nick asked. Good question! I hadn't really thought about it, but it was clear based on the time and money I had put into it so far, that I should consider releasing it. I had a few other guests on the record, including Doug Pinnick (King's X) and Dave Meros (Spock's Beard), so I thought perhaps I could build a little bit of interest with it. Lo-Fi Resistance was the name I decided on, and I set out to make things happen from there.
A Deep Breath was self-released in April 2010. In June, Nick was in Montreal performing with a Cirque Du Soliel show called Totem. He booked a solo gig for himself at a little pub there, and when I mentioned that I was interested in seeing Totem and his gig, he asked if I wanted to play a few Spock's Beard tunes with him at the pub. Of course! We rehearsed the songs a few hours ahead of the gig, and off we went. This was to be the first time we would physically jam together, but thankfully not the last...
Before, during, and after A Deep Breath, I was simultaneously contributing to a Jazz-Rock band called Meridian Voice. Their keyboardist and principle songwriter, Lloyd Landesman, had seen me play at The Bitter End several years prior, and sent me a message towards the end of 2008 to play guitar on an album project. In similar fashion to my work with Nick, I was first brought in to just play on one song, but as the relationship grew, I ended up on the entire record. All of my guitar tracks were recorded and produced at Lloyd's apartment, just the two of us. I learned a ton in working with him, and the material pushed the limits of my technical abilities. Atypical Symmetry was released towards the end of 2010. Soon after the album release, I joined the live group, performing a handful of times between 2011 and 2012.
Ideas for the next Lo-Fi Resistance record, Chalk Lines, started with a bare-bones demo of the title track. The piece was a bit more physically demanding than most of what I had written prior, and I wanted to place it in the care of others who could bring it to life. I didn't know who that might be yet, so it sat for a little bit...
January 2011. I traveled to California for the first time. As I was walking on Hollywood Blvd one afternoon, a man walking towards me looked very familiar. Gavin? He stopped and turned around. He was indeed Gavin Harrison, the fab drummer of Porcupine Tree. I had nothing to say really, aside from the quick and casual fan talk, and we continued on in opposite directions. I thought if I had been prepared for this moment, it could have been a deeper conversation. It also dawned on me that he would be absolutely perfect for the new song I had sitting at home.
A missed opportunity was granted a rare second chance a couple of days later, when I ran into him again, tapping on snare drums amidst the chaos of The NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. We exchanged a few words about Lo-Fi Resistance, and I was excited to send him the track in question when I got home. After a few brief messages back and forth, I left it up to him to get around to it when he was able.
I think it's come out great...I went a bit nuts in the second verse, were the words I read before listening to Gavin's take on Chalk Lines for the first time. From the opening drum riff to the very end, I was both astounded and confused. Extreme musicianship. Each listen unveiled more details, and the textures contained within took the song to places I couldn't have imagined. It was recorded without any bass lines (another testament to Gavin's musicality), so Gavin sent it to John Giblin (Kate Bush, Phil Collins) to round it out. Gavin and I continued our correspondence at a leisurely pace, as I knew that I wanted his presence to be stamped on this new record taking shape. Towards the end of the year, I met two more people who changed my life moving forward...
In November 2011, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise some funding for the record. Gavin had contributed to three songs at this point, but the rest of the album was very skeletal. John Wesley (Porcupine Tree) and Dave Kerzner (Kevin Gilbert) enter the story here, unbeknownst to each other, at almost exactly at the same time.
The video I made for Kickstarter was making the rounds in certain circles, and Dave Kerzner sent me a message as a result. His interests at the time were to involve me as a vocalist on a series of tribute album projects he was working on (one of which also included John Wesley). I sang on a few songs, and then we started to chat about original music. He was sitting on a new project with Simon Collins (son of Phil Collins) called Sound Of Contact, and I sent him A Deep Breath and some Chalk Lines demos I was working on. Dave really took to those demos, and after talking it through for a while, we planned a week in the beginning of the new year for me to go to his studio in Miami and work together.
A very short time after making acquaintances with Dave, I attended a Steven Wilson concert in NYC. After the performance, I ran into a friend of mine who had an after-show pass. He insisted that although I didn't have one, that I should just stick with him and it might work out. I waited in line, expecting to be bounced out by security any moment. Adam Holzman (Miles Davis) was playing keyboards in Steven's band, and a good friend of the guy I was with. Adam had no idea who I was, nor did we meet that night, but he was just waved me through security.
So, there I was in this after-show green room with nobody to really talk to. I saw John Wesley standing there, and decided to approach him. After I told him my name, he said, I know who you are! You do?! I thought. He had also seen the Kickstarter video, through Gavin's association with the project. We really hit it off, and he encouraged me to come to his studio in Tampa to record all of my guitar tracks for the record.
The initial plan was to roughly spend a week at Dave's studio, and then move on to Wes' place right after. It should've worked on paper, but there was a creative vibe taking shape with Dave in Miami, and in the moment I had to decide what was best for the record. I called Wes to let him know of my dilemma, and he graciously understood and said that I could reschedule with him another time. As a result, some of the main pillars of sonic direction for the album were built that week. Layer by layer, Dave and I deconstructed and reconstructed my demos. Some changes were drastic, while others stayed very close to the source material.
June 2012. A friend and myself went on a road trip from New York to Tampa. Arriving at Red Room Recorders, Wes and I dove into recording my guitar tracks. Once again, just two people in the studio, listening, reacting, learning. He would listen to my demo guitar sounds and know exactly what guitars and amps I should use to make it better. It was guitar heaven for a week, and although I was supposed to work Miami into the trip, I was forced to basically turn the tables, this time calling Dave to reschedule. Wes cleared some extra hours at the studio, and we sprinted to the finish line, exhausted, on the night of my twenty-fourth birthday.
Dave and I got together for another block of time in Miami, and the end of the album was in sight. Gavin was now on the entire record, along with another Porcupine Tree alum, Colin Edwin, playing bass on a few songs. A mutual friend of Nick D'Virgilio, producer/engineer Mark Hornsby, called me around this time with interest in mixing the record. I finished up the tracks at home, and the two of us mixed it (Mark doing the actual mixing) at Sweetwater Studios in Ft Wayne, Indiana. Released at the very end of 2012, Chalk Lines became a key that began to unlock more doors for me, and to this day, it is usually the suggested starting point to my body of work from others. I haven't listened to it in quite a while, but I remain very proud of it.
A few months after Chalk Lines came out, I was touring with a live show called PFX-The Pink Floyd Experience. Dave Kerzner called me to chat about a potential opportunity. Sound Of Contact was set to release their debut album, Dimensionaut, and some European tour plans were falling into place. I was being considered for the live guitar role, along with, wait for it...John Wesley. Wes had first dibs on the gig, and he took it. In the meantime, I finished the PFX tour, and prepared for a new phase of my life. Marriage! Nick D'Virgilio was still on tour with Cirque Du Soliel, and in reasonable proximity, so he and his family were able to make the wedding. It was great to reconnect with him, and we jammed on a few tunes that night.
The next day, as I was boarding a plane for my honeymoon, I had messages from Wes and Dave in regards to Sound Of Contact. It was looking like Wes was unable to continue with the band, so my name re-entered the picture. It just so happened that I was heading to Bath, England, where SOC were currently stationed somewhat nearby. What timing! We met up at a quaint English pub, and I was offered the gig moving forward. During the same week, an email came in from Nick with an offer to put together a trio for a drum festival in Poland later in the year. Nick on drums and vocals, myself on guitar and vocals, and Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Karmakanic) on bass. It was an incredibly exciting time to be me if I'm allowed to say so.
My adventures with Sound Of Contact began in Miami at the beginning of July 2013. We hunkered down in Dave Kerzner's studio, prepping a set for an upcoming performance in Germany. The core of the band was a trio consisting of Dave on keyboards, Simon Collins on vocals, and Matt Dorsey on bass. They brought in two extra musicians for the live band, myself on guitar, and an excellent drummer named Ronen Gordon. Like his father, Simon did all of the drum tracks on the studio record, but the band required a main drummer for live performances while Simon fronted the band. During longer instrumental passages, Simon would get behind a second drum kit and the two of them would play in tandem. Unfortunately, the gig in Germany was plagued with technical difficulties, which ultimately lead to a weak performance overall. The turmoil continued with a cancelled U.S. tour, and eventually, Dave exiting the band. I figured that Dave's departure would mean the end of my involvement, but the story didn't quite end there...
It was now the fall of 2013, and the gigs with Nick and Jonas in Poland approached quickly. It was an ambitious undertaking to construct a 90 minute song list that balanced all of our individual projects, as a trio, and with very little time to rehearse. We arrived in Poland at the beginning of October, and only had a few hours over two days to put it together for gig #1. I hadn't even met Jonas before, but that's how it goes sometimes. We did two gigs and I had an absolute blast when I wasn't sweating bullets next to those guys. The chemistry was really there, and I didn't want it to end. We left Poland all agreeing to reconnect in the new year.
Sound Of Contact was back on my radar at the end of 2013, or rather I was back on theres. In retrospect, it wasn't as though a ton of time had passed, but it was enough to make me think my tenure with them was over. However, they were looking to regroup with a new keyboardist in 2014, keep Ronen and I on, and aggressively book some live gigs. In it's prior incarnation, I hadn't spent much one-on-one time with Simon and Matt, but Ronen and I developed a strong relationship from the start. It was encouraging to know that he was going to continue on, and that some promising gigs were being booked. We started the new year together in Los Angeles, several days a week in a rehearsal room. We were rebuilding the music without the presence of keyboards, taking different approaches to the music. At times it was incredibly frustrating, but it was great when it all clicked. The audition process for a new keyboard player went smooth, and we left it alone until some gigs in April.
I completed another tour with PFX during the Winter months of 2014, and immediately jumped into rehearsals for SOC in Florida. Although the band wasn't technically based there anymore, we were booked on back-to-back cruise ship music festivals leaving from Miami; one spearheaded by the iconic Progressive Rock band, Yes, and the other by The Moody Blues. It was practically a paid vacation for me, and a gateway to a new circle of friends, colleagues, and fans. When the cruises ended, there was a gap of a couple of weeks before a short North American tour was to begin. While a couple of the guys went home, I embarked on a short, but dense promotional run with Simon and Matt across North America. We played at several local TV stations in proximity to our upcoming dates, along with a couple of national TV programs in Canada.
The SOC North American tour had its ups and downs, but the band started to lock in nicely. Phil Collins attended our gig in NYC, and hung out backstage before and after the show. I opted to not take a picture of this moment, but I cherish the fact that we had a real conversation with depth. We then flew to Europe to join on some dates with The Flower Kings. The Flower Kings were another Progressive Rock band that I listened to a lot in my teens, so it was a pleasure to hang out and watch them perform every night. Of course, my buddy Jonas Reingold was there too, so that enhanced the experience. During their encores every night, they would pick some different cover tunes to play, and early on I was invited to jam on "Echoes" by Pink Floyd. On other nights, they chose to perform "The Cinema Show" by Genesis, and I jumped at the opportunity to sing it. Simon would come out mid-way through the song and play on a second drum kit, like Phil and Chester Thompson did in the old days. That tour took us to France, England, Amsterdam, Germany, and Denmark. On the last night of the tour, the bus dropped me off at the airport incredibly early (or incredibly late depending on how you look at it), and I said my goodbyes to everyone. I haven't heard from Simon since.
To jump backwards for a moment, a week was booked at Sweetwater Studios at the top of 2014 for Nick, Jonas, and I to reconnect. With Mark Hornsby at the helm, we were looking to dust off a few of the songs we had performed in Poland, but more importantly, to see what the chemistry might bring in the form of writing songs together. On the eve of our individual departures (traveling from New York, California, and Sweden respectively), a massive snowstorm swept across the U.S., canceling and delaying flights everywhere. Some of the smaller airports had completely shut down, and our carefully planned reunion looked to be in jeopardy. Through a series of movie-like scenarios, we all eventually arrived in Ft Wayne, Indiana, but a few days of precious studio time were sacrificed. Cutting our losses, we settled into a groove, setting out to reshape the magic we felt in Poland. We put together two new songs towards the end of the week, and officially decided to form a band.
It was a really important decision to agree that any recording moving forward, would have to be done with all three of us present. We had all made enough records where sending files back and forth through email was the norm. Although this method would've made the most sense for us from a financial point of view, there was an undeniable spark with us jamming and writing in the same room, and no amount of money saved was worth sacrificing that result. Meanwhile, we were still an unnamed entity, and we booked a couple of gigs on the east coast for October 2014. One of the gigs was a house concert in NJ, set up in a living room for about 30 people. Before playing, one of the guests asked us to huddle around for a photo. Randy, move in a bit. You're kind of on the fringe. Nick and I looked at each other, and knew we finally had a band name.
During the time between the Sound Of Contact tour and The Fringe sessions in October, I had taken a chunk of my tour money to upgrade my home studio. With new possibilities at my fingertips, I set out to experiment and learn some new tricks. As a result, I began writing and recording what became the third Lo-Fi Resistance album, The Age Of Entitlement. Although Chalk Lines had raised the profile of the project ten-fold, I became aware of the corner I was painting myself into with insisting on a roster of outside, higher-profile musicians. Lo-Fi Resistance started with me, and I started to feel that I had to get back to that foundation. The results were a strange, uninhibited collection of songs that I had a total blast working on. It came and went with little fanfare, polarizing a portion of the small audience that even knew it existed, and exciting others with it's whimsical chaos. I think it remains a buried treasure, and for all its flaws, it was a very important record for me.
I was encouraged to put together a live version of Lo-Fi Resistance, as there were some gig opportunities available if I did. I had actually tried this before when A Deep Breath came out, and although it was regionally successful for a few shows, I felt the Chalk Lines material wasn't suitable for that group, and I let it fall away. Over three years had passed however, and with my network expanding, the idea of another live group was easier to conceive. Ronen Gordon was my first choice to play drums, along with Tom Brislin (Yes, Meat Loaf) on keyboards. At one point, Tom fronted a band called Spiraling which I was really into, and I had seen him play with Yes in the early 2000's. His musicality was something I truly admired, as he displayed a rare balance of tasteful restraint and total virtuosity depending on what the piece called for. The quintet was rounded out by Michael Wu on bass (also a member of the 2010 incarnation), and Phil McGovern on guitar. For the first time, I was able to play and hear the music from all three Lo-Fi Resistance albums in a live setting, and it felt wonderful.
In April 2015, Lo-Fi Resistance was given an incredible opportunity to open up for the Progressive Rock legends, Marillion, in Montreal. It was one of three big fan conventions they would schedule biannually, and a great target audience to expose our music to. Tom was touring with another band, so we were going to try out an additional guitarist instead. A few days before the gig, I had this gut feeling that I couldn't shake, and decided that I wanted to just do the show as a duo with Ronen. I felt awful cutting the others loose, but I had really thought it through and committed to it. My conclusion was that having the full band was a gamble. The risk of not having our own production in place (such as a dedicated sound engineer familiar with our music), led me to envision us playing a set with no impact, sonically confused, with minimal potential of selling merchandise. Instead, I felt that the context of a duo would be unexpected, and could have the sonic effect of being larger than it looked. On the morning we left for Montreal, Ronen and I saw a public announcement from Sound Of Contact that the original studio line-up was back together. It put a definite close to that chapter, and I think we both felt an extra jolt of excitement and purpose in the gig we were about to do.
We played our set in Montreal and it was a great success! I was a bit choked up, playing my songs to a large, captive audience, opening for a band I grew up listening to from an early age. We made a lot of new friends that weekend, and dispersed a good amount of albums among the attendees. The performance was recorded and L'Olympia was released digitally, unaltered, a few months later. We continued on in this duo format for the summer of 2015, playing a handful of house concerts and club dates, pushing our musical boundaries as much as we could. Lo-Fi Resistance has been a state of hibernation since, but I'm confident it will come back when the time is right...
Towards the end of 2015, The Fringe was putting finishing touches on our debut album. At this point, we had gotten together at Sweetwater Studios three or four times since our frozen expedition, and the finish line was finally visible. The truth is that we were incredibly quick and engaged in the studio together, but time passed quickly throughout the months between our reunions. While roaming around the Sweetwater campus, I received a call for a potential opportunity. A band called Jane Getter Premonition was booking a small run of European dates for February 2016, and they needed a strong second guitarist to fill in for Alex Skolnick (Testament). Vocal abilities were a definite plus, as they needed someone to cover parts that were sung by Corey Glover (Living Colour) on their new record. The live band consisted of Jane on lead guitar and vocals, Stuart Hamm (Joe Satriani, Steve Vai) on bass, John Mader (Patti Austin, Booker T.), and...Adam Holzman on keyboards. An absolutely incredible line-up of musicians, and what appeared to me as a comedic, full-circle opportunity to not only meet Adam, but to spend a week or so playing with him!
At the end of January 2016, the band arrived in Germany to shack up at the tour manager's house, and rehearse for a couple of afternoons. As I introduced myself to Stuart in the airport, he looked at me and asked, did you get the email that said we're playing the whole set in E-flat? Nerdy musician humor from a bass legend I had first seen play with Joe Satriani when I was eight years old. It was a nice little icebreaker for me, and the start of another relationship that felt as though could've been plucked out of an adolescent dream.
The tour was short, but grueling compared to anything I had done before. We started the tour playing in some shack in the middle of nowhere, with a PA cobbled together from scraps. You really can't make this stuff up, and although a cropped picture of it appears on the "appearances" page on this site, it does nothing to display the feeling of actually being there. These are the moments where you rethink your life plans, and it all went wrong. Imagining that the kid who sat next to you in high school is probably raising a lovely family on a comfortable salary. Snap out of it man! I digress. No, these are actually the moments you reflect fondly on, sometimes just days later, as you realize you're grateful for the strange path you're on. Having these memories stick out because they're so absurd by conventional standards, and being completely comfortable with never being able to properly explain it to the outside world.
We traveled to different countries in a sprinter van, and I realized how privileged I had been prior, mostly touring at length in the comforts of a luxury bus with PFX and SOC. On the other hand, I was really engaged in my surroundings, and for the first time, I really saw what we were driving through instead of just sleeping through it. We hit Germany, France, Amsterdam, and England, with each venue being totally different from the one previous. We closed the tour in London, with Steven Wilson and his entire band in attendance. I thought it was a really nice gesture for them to all show up in support, and a great way to end our brief, but quality time together.
On June 10th, 2016, I turned twenty eight. I was on the road for the day, and a call came in from Stuart. He explained to me that he had a one-month tour slated to begin in less than two weeks, and his guitarist had a visa issue. Could I do it? To be honest, I should've been more excited by the opportunity than I was at first. I was looking forward to a summer at home, and the call really shook me up internally. There was also very little time to decide. I made some calls, did some soul-searching, and realized I should absolutely take the gig. I was honored really, but I had to fight off the negative elements in my mind to stay positive about it. Ten days to learn a set comprised of Stuart's songs, some Joe Satriani, and some Steve Vai tunes? Deep breath. Exhale. Bring it on.
We rehearsed in LA for a total of six hours between two afternoons, and we were off and running. Our trio was rounded out by Jeff Bowders (Paul Gilbert) on drums, a totally solid musician and human being. It was just the three of us driving a passenger van, taking turns in the driver's seat. This tour was truly the definition of grueling. 26 cities in 31 days, no crew, driving an average of 5-6 hours between gigs every day. Several drives were over eight hours to get to the gig, where we would practically show up, unload, and play, functioning on pure adrenaline. You can't help but get a bit testy from time to time, but cooler heads will prevail. Although in my head I was strangling the guy who routed the tour on a daily basis, once again, given some perspective and time, it allowed for a lifetime worth of memories. It was truly a grand adventure through the heart of America, circling the entire country, and meeting people from all walks of life. Early on, we had a couple of days off to get from Texas to Atlanta, Georgia, and decided to spend a night in New Orleans. It was truly a night where I realized how lucky I was to arrive at this space in time. In the end, we did over 15,000 miles in that van. It never broke down, and we all live to tell the tales.
The Fringe made it's live debut on May 8th, 2016. Of course, we started the whole thing as a live band in 2013, but we were now able to officially launch as The Fringe, with our debut album in hand. It was another incredible feeling to have arrived at that moment. During the week leading up to the gig, we spent a couple of days in the studio with Nick's former bandmate, Neal Morse (Transatlantic, Flying Colors), recording a song I wrote for us. We also shot a music video with the legendary director/videographer, Nigel Dick. Guns N' Roses, Tears For Fears, Britney Spears, and on and on. If you watched MTV before it turned into a wasteland of reality shows, you saw his work on a daily basis. We had one day to make it happen, and we set up shop in an abandoned warehouse in Indiana. Trying to avoid tetanus and broken glass, it was a crash course in trying to ham it up for the camera. I was certainly happy that my first professional music video experience was in the capable hands of Mr Dick, and he was both patient and encouraging as I navigated this new territory.