There was always music around me growing up. My dad plays guitar, and much of my childhood was spent tagging along on gigs and recording sessions. It took me a while to realize that this wasn’t just what everyone’s dad did. I didn’t really care about getting into music myself until I was about 13. I noticed my peers starting to pick up instruments and figured, what the hell, maybe this can be my thing that gets me through being 13. I started out learning basslines off my parents’ reggae records, and my own burgeoning punk collection. I practiced in the living room on my dad’s white Squier Jazz Bass, which weighed about twenty pounds and had the heaviest possible strings. It was an uphill battle, but I persevered; out of a desire to be a great musician, of course, but also to get girls. My high school girlfriend first noticed me onstage, so I guess it worked. But just that one time, and it sort of took a while.

After getting his tonsils out

Tommy Stinson was gracious enough to take this photo with 16-year-old me and then we became best friends forever

In high school I played in the jazz band, and had a rock band with some friends called The Simpletones, which is notable only because our former singer is now a real hip hop producer. Junior and senior year I started playing for money with some other guys from the jazz band. I wasn’t a real live musician yet, my parents were still driving me to gigs, but I was getting there. I was good enough that my dad could take me to sit in on blues jams. I learned a lot of blues and ’60s-’70s rock this way, and got used to playing with a bizarre cast of characters of widely divergent musical ability. I was lucky to have an amazing teacher during these years, Victor Venegas. Victor was a legit elder statesman of Latin music, which was what I was into at the time, so it was a great match. For lessons, he would bring me charts from his own gigs. I began studying upright as well as electric bass under him, and his approach still informs my playing.

The round thing hanging from my bass is a length of steel cable used for a sort of primitive, noisy bowing technique.

Totally using an EBow

I went to NYU for college, and majored in musicology. I still played and took lessons on my own time, but my coursework was in theory, history, and analysis. I had to give up the upright because I moved into an apartment too small to accommodate it. I played in a power pop band, The AC Adaptors, which was exciting because I loved the songs and also because they were a little older and would sometimes buy me beer. We never really took off, but it was fun. I continued to play jazz in school ensembles the first two years, and take lessons in that idiom under Ron McClure. Ron was a great teacher, but it was around this time that I started losing interest in jazz, so I didn’t stick with it. I was more interested in the New Music Ensemble, which involved playing improvised pieces for instrument and tape using extended techniques. I was discouraged from playing anything melodic, or even recognizable pitches, and the challenge was exciting. But other than that, I found myself playing less and less. Instead, I started trying to write my own music under the guidance of Elizabeth Hoffman, who became my thesis adviser. Elizabeth’s work deals with the coextensive nature of sonic parameters that are traditionally viewed as discrete, and she got me thinking about music in a more holistic way. I wrote my first and only string quartet, and saw it performed by real musicians. Several other people in my department were writing, and we got together to organize the first-ever concert of undergraduate compositions. It was very exciting, and I decided I wanted to be a composer for real. I was going to get a PhD and write music for other grad students to listen to and talk about, and eventually score a nice professorship and a big apartment in the West Village like my teachers. This was the plan.

And then graduation happened, and the real world imposed itself. It was a time of intense isolation and deep depression. I lived in a filthy apartment with people I hated, and worked 8 hours a day instead of going to class for 3 or 4. It was harder to find the energy to write, or to see the point of trying. Being a composer started to feel misguided. I thought about the music I studied in school. It was brilliant, stimulating stuff, but I was rarely compelled to listen to it on my own time. When I got home after a long day, I listened to the same music I had always loved: ’70s rock, soul, postpunk, R&B, ’90s indie, etc. None of these people had to go to grad school to do what they did. Maybe I didn’t either. Maybe it was time to be a bass player again.

The saving grace of my apartment was that it had a basement big enough to rehearse in. I bought the shittiest possible drum set to entice people to come over, and me and some friends started getting together to play. It immediately felt right. There was something viscerally satisfying about whacking this piece of metal and feeling the low frequencies fill the room around me. It was immediate in a way composition was not. And it was a thing to do with other people, so I wasn’t isolated anymore. I had found my thing to get me through being 22.

If you touched anything in this basement while plugged in you got a shock.

At the late, great Cortland Land in New Brunswick, NJ

Today, after a few years of bouncing around between various projects, I mostly play with one band. We’ve been all over the country several times, and once to Europe. When not playing, I work at this place, where I implement and maintain databases for the Human Resources department. My coworkers do some legit important and inspiring things that makes people’s lives better. I mostly just run array functions on large sets of data and field support calls. But somewhere down the line these actions are related to some service being provided to someone who needs it, which makes me feel better than I imagine I would making widgets.

I am extremely grateful for the experiences I’ve had through playing music, and I remain cautiously optimistic about the future.

At the Mohawk in Austin, TX

The future, probably