This is the first chapter from my soon to be released book, Backstage: How I Almost Got Rich Playing Drums in a Christian Hardcore Band.
Be on the lookout for more info about pre ordering the book and a solid release date. I WILL have copies available for purchase on the upcoming As Cities Burn tour. Links for tickets to those show are on ascitiesburn.net or on facebook.com/ascitiesburn. Thanks for reading.
It’s August of 2006 in New Orleans and it’s hot. And humid. Really humid. This was the type of humidity where I wasn’t even sure what the point of showering was. I'm just a sweaty, sticky mess. Not to mention that rapidly accelerating my dehydration is the fresh Abita Amber - a local Louisiana beer - I just picked up from a bar across the street from House of Blues, that I’m now enjoying as I watch the openers load in their gear through the stage door. In New Orleans, it always seems like a good idea to start drinking early. Never mind that in the morning one may have to get on a plane or take a ride across Lake Pontchartrain on the 25-mile causeway back to the North Shore. Pulling over to blow chunks of jambalaya and hurricanes on that stretch of road is tough, seeing as there's no shoulder to speak of. But it’s the last show of tour. And my band As Cities Burn is headlining a House of Blues show in New Orleans for the first time. We were on the verge of greatness. Riches and fame were inevitable. Abita Amber was the only appropriate action to take.
If I had only known the truth in that moment, sipping my beer, watching our friends in Jonezetta load their gear through the back entrance of HOB on Decatur Street, that THIS was as big as it gets. By the time As Cities Burn would come to an end in 2009, I would be humbled and broken, devastated by the suicide of a friend, a failed marriage, and the collapse of my band. No ill- advised night of drinking in New Orleans could match the metaphorical hangover that my life would become.
It was actually supposed to be our last show ever at the end of a very successful farewell tour. Bands are very narcissistic about their “farewells,” aren’t they? It can feel quite presumptuous to think that anybody is going to give a shit about your LAST TOUR EVER. Which of course, it wasn’t. As you may have noticed I wrote ‘supposed to be our last show’. Turns out that “Final Tour” billing is worth a lot of tickets and a lot of merch sales and a lot of fans spilling their hearts about how important you are to their existence. This all must have been convincing because about halfway through our “final tour” we decided to announce that in fact it was not! We had been so inspired by all the heartfelt gratitude from our fans (and their money): we realized what a stupid idea it was to break up. Besides, we were going to be HUGE once we put out our next record. That was the trajectory we were on. All the other bands on our label were blowing up at the time and we were next in line, so “they” said. We had the right booking agent. We had the right sound. We were getting the good tours. And the fans were damn passionate about what we were doing. There was a connection between As Cities Burn and the fans that was unexplainable, still is to this day. We had to stay together. For the greater good of music, right?
This last show at House of Blues in New Orleans was kind of a dream come true for us. Just one year before we were still playing churches and VFW halls for our hometown gigs. Headlining HOB was a rite of passage for us. It meant we were moving on to bigger and better things. I remember that night we believed we had a very good chance at selling out the show. I don’t remember the capacity at the time, but I believe close to 1,000 people could fit inside. I think it’s less now, but let's say 1,000. That sounds better than 878. So we were expecting 1,000 kids to come to this show. Sure about 163 of them were friends and family but that’s the way it always was when playing South Louisiana. All the members of the band but myself were from nearby Mandeville and Covington, just across the lake, and also attended LSU before quitting to tour full-time. Popular guys and really fun to be around,so there was always lots of people hanging wherever they were.
If you sell out the show at HOB New Orleans you get your name on the wall backstage. I remember being so giddy about the possibility of our band name written on a wall next to Jimmy Eat World or Foo Fighters. We were at the peak of our career and on the verge of attaining the unattainable for a hardcore band from Baton Rouge where frat rock rules all and Zydeco country music is a real thing that people want to see. I dare you to google “Zydeco”.
As Cities Burn had survived dealing with shady local promoters and playing for free at churches. No longer did we have to work our asses off to promote and sell tickets for shows that we would receive no financial gain from, even though our draw was double that of the touring “national” act. We had arrived. We were legit:
“Pay us our money or we take a walk to the ATM buddy! And by the way we requested BUDWEISER, not bud light on the hospitality rider. FIX IT NOW!!!”
Truth is we were never like that. Never demanding. Never really that professional. We never took what we were doing too seriously. I think we were mostly surprised that this plan had worked. Dropping out of college and just hitting the road with no help whatsoever. We were surprised and proud. Excited for the future. In the end, our turn to blow up and become the next Tooth and Nail/Solid State Records screaming band to sell $100K records or more would never come. We had reached the peak and didn’t have a fucking clue.
You see we would end up changing genres completely. TJ our singer/screamer decided to go ahead and leave the band to start a normal life and get married. Although we loved TJ we thought, “Well now at least we can write the music we want to write and try and be part of the cool rock and roll indie scene.” Cody, TJ’s brother, would become our singer and As Cities Burn completely reinvented itself. Artistically, it was for the better. Our second and third records were much more in line with the type of music we all actually loved to listen to. But career-wise, it was devastating. Our sophomore release would end up selling half as many records as the first.
The shows got smaller. The booking agent was gone. The label loved the record, but it was like marketing a whole new band. Half of our fan base left us. Can’t blame them. They liked screaming and hardcore dancing and moshing. You can’t expect an 18-year old kid to go from wearing girl jeans and black t-shirts to within a year becoming an uber cool indie rocker. I was cocky about our transition. I thought that our music would have more mass appeal and that we were going to be the biggest band in our “scene”. Not even close.
After our third record was released in spring of 2009, the band was basically in shambles. We played one show in support of the record with no mention to anybody that it could be our actual last show. We were still friends, but relationships were strained. There was plenty of blame to go around, including myself. I was on the tail end of an eventual failed marriage that had deeply affected friendships and even my commitment to the band. At times I was selfish: missing practices, bailing out on shows, asking the band to tailor everything to my schedule. Oblivious to what was going on around me, my dream was falling apart and I didn’t do a damn thing to try and save it.
That summer Cody posted on Facebook that the band was done, thanking the fans for six years of ACB support. None of us even discussed it. But someone needed to say something. So that was it.
Let’s get something straight about this book. I’m not writing this about those years after our peak. That’s a story for another time. I only mention that part of our history to give you context. This is a band that fell short in a lot of ways. Nobody bought houses with the money we made. In that sense, there was virtually nothing to show for it in the end. The financial success was minimal. We fell short of all expectations I had on that hot August day in 2006.
Most of this book will be about three of the best years of my life, which also happen to be the beginning of three more years of absolute misery. Even though As Cities Burn embarked on a great adventure from 2003 to 2006, this time period was not without tragedy. Suicide. One could never imagine how many life trajectories can be jolted from their previous path due to the tragedy of suicide. I will write about these things with transparency. Because these things are all too intertwined with my experience in As Cities Burn. I think in some ways this book is a way for me to appreciate that time in a way I was never able to back then. When you are always looking forward to what is next, it’s difficult to live in the moment and realize how amazing those experiences are. With touring and trying to push your career forward, you're always thinking about where the next show is, how many tickets have been sold, are we going to get an offer for that amazing tour, how much merch we should re-order. Always looking forward to the next thing. Never enjoying what’s happening to you right then.
Even with all the terrible things that would occur in my personal life, I want to enjoy those moments now. I want to tell you what it was like to come up as an indie hardcore band in 2003, before the internet took over every aspect of the music industry. I want to tell you about playing for absolutely nobody in Brighton Beach, NJ, with a foot of snow on the ground awaiting you after the show as you search for a place to lay your head. I want to tell you about the overwhelming joy that you experience when you find out you sold more than $300 worth of T- shirts! Or the numbness and disappointment you feel when you send off over 100 press kits to record labels and managers and agents and don’t receive a single response. These were the realities of starting out as a touring band in 2003. Maybe this is still true for 2015. I wouldn’t know. I don’t want to know. Well, not by way of experience that is.
Maybe this book will be a cautionary tale to some young hopeful musicians that just know they can make it if they try! Or maybe somebody in their early 30s who had dreams of playing in a band and going on tour but never did will feel eternally grateful towards their younger selves that they decided to stay in college and become an engineer. Or maybe some of my peers will read this and declare that I am totally full of shit and starving for attention in my musical “twilight” years where I can no longer make a living doing what I love—that I just can’t hack it in this business and that I am now trying to make a quick buck exposing some things about the music industry and “Christian” bands.
My honest to God hope regarding the quality and success of this endeavor is that I just want my wife to like it and maybe laugh a few times. Dammit. That’s a lie and I know it. I want to sell 100,000 copies and be the voice of a scene and generation of music fans that started underground and slowly made their way into the mainstream. I want to get fucking rich and go be a panelist on Dr. Drew or Dr. Phil or Oprah. I can talk about how “difficult it is for touring bands to maintain their mental and physical health on the road” or some bullshit.
Outside of trying to get rich and become a famous author, I think this is a story worth telling. But also, this band has real fans, and these fans might actually find this book interesting! Beyond that I hope that this story can appeal to someone who has never even heard of As Cities Burn. I really don’t want this book to be about As Cities Burn. I hope fans of the indie/hardcore/warped tour scene in general can find entertainment in this book.
My intention is not to create a biographical account of our experience. I plan on writing hardly anything personal regarding the other band members. This is just my perspective of what can happen when kids dare to dream. You could change the band name and it wouldn’t matter. If I wanted to please our fans I would leave out the chapter where I basically talk shit about our fans for 3,000 words. But it’s relevant to this story, to my story. This book is meant for those who long to see how this works from the inside: a firsthand account of an amazing experience by the drummer that kids still don’t recognize even when I’m wearing our own T-shirts left over from tours of the past. “Hey is that an As Cities Burn shirt??? Cool! What’s your favorite record?” a kid asks me at the Whole Foods’ meat counter. No kidding, this just happened yesterday. Oh…and yes I wear my own band’s T-shirts. I’m old; it doesn’t matter.
I think it’s possible for non-fans to read and enjoy this. Maybe this book can lead to new fans even. (We are on the Internet.) Some interesting and amazing things happen when some 19-21 year olds leave college to hit the road. To many who are not familiar with this world, it could seem like a crazy fantasy novel or something. Others may be appalled at the complete disregard for responsible adult behavior. “How do you pay bills?? Where do you live?? What are you going to do when you have a family one day?” Oops.
Whoever you are, if you like music I hope you find some level of enjoyment in reading this. And during the parts of the book that are dark and depressing, I hope you are able to find comfort and maybe allow these stories to relate to your own life in a meaningful way. Outside of poverty, suicide, and divorce, being in a band is really fun. We had lots and lots of fun. We lived in a fantasy world, a boys’ club of sorts. It was an escape from all the bad stuff. And if you keep having fun for long enough, eventually the beer is free!
When I think about myself at 23 years old, sipping that Abita Amber, getting my mind ready for what I thought would be the ride of a lifetime, I wonder if it would have been better to know that the summer I had just experienced was as good as it would ever get for As Cities Burn. Would I have taken the time to enjoy it more, or been riddled with anxiety and feelings of let down and failure. It’s probably wise to submit to the brilliance of Garth Brooks' “The Dance” on this matter. Yes, I like Garth Brooks, and I was in a post-hardcore band. Garth said he was “glad he didn’t know, the way it all would end, the way it all would go.” That’s deep, Garth. I have to agree. If I had known on that day what I know now I probably would have drank too much and had to endure that awful trek across the lake, puking out the window at 55 mph.
Now at 32 years old with a wife and two kids, I’m able to look back and appreciate it all. The good, bad and the ugly. In the summer of 2006 I was a dumbass 23-year old boy. No 23-year boy old could possibly appreciate that experience the way he should. The way the experience deserved to be appreciated. Now I can. And now, I can write about it.