Why We Play Metal: Volume 2: The Legend of Leland
Every musician has their own unique reasons for why they play music. Mine started from a very young age. Born to parents heavily involved in the music industry my father was a professional sound engineer and production manager. My mother, while my father still did sound for local touring acts did hair for 80’s hair metal bands. Music in my house hold wasn’t just back ground noise. It was a way of life, important, and capable of expressing ideas and capturing a snapshot into world around the writer. Respect for the artist was just the tip of the iceberg as I was often exposed to the talented, thankless art of the roadie. These men and women worked nonstop for days at a time, with no breaks to ensure an event went smoothly. I’ve been on a stage since I can walk and I intend to be on a stage until I can’t.
My earliest childhood memories contain music. Metallica, Motley Crew, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Dio, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, James Talyor, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker, Alice in Chains, Skid Row, Guns n Roses, and so many more where played on cassette in the van or on cd in the kitchen and living room. I loved it especially Guns n Roses. Slash’s guitar spoke to me. I knew from a young age I wanted to play an instrument. Sonically piercing leads on tracks like November Rain and Paradise City sparked my imagination and those whole step bends made my heart jump.
By 3rd grade I was discovering music on my own. Such a wide world to explore, I fell into the west coast Rap scene. Dr. Dre, NWA, Tupac, Ice Cube, and Eazy E worked their way into my mix cds. My parents weren’t very thrilled. Listening to hair bands talk about having sex and doing drugs was one thing, but when Rappers did it the line seemed to have been crossed. To this day I still listen to some west coast Rap. I don’t care for modern Hip-Hop but those guys actually had a story to tell. The impoverished communities in which they were raised were painted ever so vividly in my mind. Needless to say I had a lot of music confiscated, not that that stopped me. It was around this time I stumbled upon Marilyn Manson and Korn. The year Columbine had happened kids were being suspended for wearing Manson, coal chamber, and Slipknot shirts. The terribly unintelligent Lapeer school system probably did more harm than good by taking these actions. But never the less my interest in these bands was sparked. How bad did a band have to be to spark an outrage that a whole community talked about? I had to find out.
3rd grade was the last time I stumbled upon new and exciting genres for a while. Middle school swept in and finally those around me began exploring music. With 8th grade came a sweeping genre popularized by children of my age, Christian metal. As I lay dying’s song 94 Hours sparked my interest for screaming vocals. The double bass of the drums and the ferocious guitar tone literally had me at the edge of my seat. I had never heard anything like it before. Soon after a friend had played a song called Bleeding Mascara from a band called Atreyu. The lack of a guitar solo or any fancy guitar work drew me away from any modern day bands at the time. I was still listening to old school rock and roll and metal from the 80’s and the guitar work from Atreyu and the fast paced intense melody of As I Lay Dying was starting to change that. This could’ve been the platform I needed to branch out and discover new music, but my small secluded town offered little insight into any form of non-main stream society. I had cracked the ice but it would take another year before I could break through.
People tend to have moments, special enough to create memories for the rest of their life, losing a loved one, your first kiss, losing your virginity, your first car, or getting your first real job. None of these events come close to the warm feeling I get when I remember my first guitar. It was more than just a present it was a door way to expression, to learning, and a stepping stone into finding out who I was. I was sitting on the floor at my grandparents’ house. My family was gathered around me as I opened up presents for my 14th birthday. Tearing and ripping apart wrapping paper unveiled a large cardboard box and inside laid my first guitar, a B.C. Rich bronze series Warlock. It may not be the fanciest guitar in the world but for a 14 year old kid I was blown away. The sharp edges of the body, the fact it was electric, it was everything I had ever wanted. The chance to prove I was interested enough in learning music to not waste my parents money was something I was excited to do.
The utter frustration of teaching yourself an instrument can be unbearable. Chords, scales, proper hand technique, all of these things I worked tirelessly to improve. 3 books I had at my disposal, carefully I sifted through them, absorbing everything I possibly could. The day after I had gotten my guitar I bought a subscription to Guitar World. When absolute frustration from learning out of my instructional books set in, I would attempt learning songs from my guitar world magazines. The 1st song I ever learned from beginning to end was Remedy by Seether. Confined by As I lay dying was also a song I riffed away at. 2 months and hour after hour of practice would go by before those songs would resemble anything close to the album versions, but discouraged I was not. Fingers in pain, the back of my hand cramped, I pressed on. Setting the guitar down was not an option. I had goals. I was determined to play leads, like Slash and Zakk Wylde, I would get there one day.
3 months went by and my playing began to shape up. I had learned some simple songs Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson, and Deep Purple. Nothing fancy and none of the solos but I was going through the fastest learning curve I’ve ever experience. Those first 3 months I had been playing without an amp. Acoustic strumming in my bedroom had served me well but December 25th 2004 had brought a special gift. Under the Christmas tree that morning sat a Marshal DFX 50 watt combo amp. I was beyond excited. From the first stroke of my right hand I fell in love with the tone. Heavy and crisp, I was captivated by it. Nudging forward, my progress sped up and a couple of months later the unexpected happened, something that nudged me into a path I have walked down ever since.
Unexpectedly a fellow student approached my locker. Jacob Light was someone I had known for a while. We played football together, had multiple mutual classes, and had played paintball together, but I had no knowledge he had begun playing guitar. Musicians in North Branch were rare. Students played in high school band but music outside of academics proved to be few and far in between. “I heard you’ve been playing the guitar” he said. “You should come over to my place and jam” Caught off guard I replied “that would be awesome. I’m not that good but I would love to learn anything I can.” “I also have a bass player” Jake said. Just like that we made plans later that week.
Nervous I showed up to his house. A rather large house, almost mansion sized, nestled alongside a large pond, beyond a large row of pines that shielded it from roadside view. In the basement a large corner was dedicated to instruments. 5 or 6 guitars all extremely expensive, a nice keyboard, and a small Pa. Jake showed me where to set up. The bass player was already there, a newer kid to North Branch, also a Football player and wrestler Lee Brown. Before our first note we talked about our influences. Classic rock, blues, and heavy metal, we were all on the same page. We had discussed some songs to learn and within an hour we were struggling to learn our first song. Kiss’s Detroit Rock City was simple enough but for 3 barely capable musicians we worked tirelessly over the next couple of weeks to ensure it was a success. That solo took me days of nothing but tireless practice before I could slop my way through it. After a month or so we finally nailed it down. Even if it wasn’t a full band I’ll never forget that feeling of accomplishment. Playing a full song complete with solo with other musicians, forcing yourselves through sheer repetition into a crude unity. Surely who ever heard those early practice sessions would disagree, but to us what we accomplished was the best thing in the world.
Next on my list of songs was a song Jake wanted to learn, Wake me up when September ends by Green Day. I wasn’t big into Green Day especially that album, but I was down to learn anything I could. With each new song a new idea, a new glimpse into how to structure a song, and a new challenge to be worked out as a team was learned. All 3 of us worked hard, and all of this work turned into a long lasting friendship.
2 guitar players and a bass player wasn’t much of a rock and roll band. North Branch had never been a town that embraced individuality or artistic expression. A small town made up of farming, hunting, shooting guns, alcoholism, and Jesus didn’t breed the open mindedness needed to foster artistic expression. Kids started band in 5th grade with excitement, by high school our poor excuses for music teachers killed all wonder associated with playing an instrument. Children just stayed in band as a means of not sitting through another hour of real school. This made finding a drummer difficult. We honestly didn’t know anyone that played a full kit.
One day Jake came up to me at my locker. “Hey did you know that new kid Kory played drums?” “No?” I said. Kory Sir hadn’t been at our school for very long, he had moved from the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and we hadn’t interacted much. I quickly grew excited. Later that day Kory, Jake, and I had a quick conversation with him and within the next couple of brief meetings we finally set up a jam date…. and jam we did. By the time Kory joined the band we had gained the ability to learn songs faster than ever before. The songs we had learned we didn’t bring into the picture, instead we started off with a fresh batch of covers. Fight for your Right to Party, Paranoid, War Pigs, Walk, Wanted Dead or Alive, Cat Scratch Fever all made their way into our set list, each one offering a different challenge.
I was also in the midst of becoming the lead guitarist. When we started out Jake was miles beyond me in terms of fancy guitar work. Odd chords, big bends, and faster runs he was able to learn them all with a greater deal of accuracy. That didn’t last for long. With a guitar always in hand I struggled with leads for months, learning everything I possibly could. Metal was my main inspiration. Lamb of God and Trivium riffs became my bread and butter. Immersing myself in material that was far over my head, I pushed myself to constantly get better. All of that work paid off. Jake was more than glad to give up the helm as lead guitarist, I was more than happy to accept the challenge.
I had also picked up Vocal duty. North Branch had no singer available. The only people who had any training were church girls. We tried out a couple of vocalists but no one stuck and so out of necessity I began to experiment. The first thing I noticed was that voice was much lower than most conventional singers. Running scales on a piano my voice seemed to fit into the Baritone range. I forced myself to sing in higher registers. This proved harsh on my voice but I did manage. Although we played classic rock I was naturally able to sing thrash much easier. Fortunately for me this seemed to be the direction we were headed towards. Slayer played on a seemingly endless loop through my headphones.
We played with Kory for more than a year and this shaped our playing immensely. We were sounding like a unit. Every basic skill requirement needed to play in a band was learned there. Eventually we parted ways with Kory. I honestly can’t remember why. We were moving in the direction of wanting to write our own original material. Heavy metal was what we were aiming for. I remember Kory didn’t care much for it. He was pretty religious and at 14 or 15 years old music that often pertained to anti-Christian topics didn’t sit well with him. It was at this time we brought Mike Young into the band.
1 year older than us Mike was a big tall Goth kid. The slipknot S logo covered everything he owned. His double bass and big 7 piece kit impressed us (not that that was hard) and he fell right into our group quickly. We started writing aggressive music. We kept our current list of cover songs but added more intense music to the repertoire. Slayer and Metallica offered an array of sonically crushing riffs that inspired our original music. Before long our originals were sounding more and more put together. Growing up in a very Christian community we lashed out against religion in our lyrics. My voice seemed to fit, our riffs fast or slow sounded heavy and Mike added a whole new dimension to our sound.
Throughout High School the 4 of us played together. A lot of my firsts were experienced with these 4 guys. We partied together, got into trouble together. The 4 of us were truly a single unit. We played only a handful of small parties but we had one hell of a time. It was these few shows that solidified my urge to play live music and by 2009 my senior year of high school we seemed to part ways musically. We stayed close friends but I had to look elsewhere for live companions. For 6 months or so I jammed with another drummer. Alex Morgan from Imlay city was my cousin’s Husband’s son. We seemed to get along well and he was one hell of drummer. But unfortunately Alex quite showing up and I was left once again without the hopes of a new band. I didn’t get the opportunity to start another band until the late summer 2009 when leaving North Branch and finding work opened up a whole separate world of opportunity.
Shortly after high school I began work at a plastics shop. With my parents in the middle of a divorce and a living space becoming unstable college wasn’t really an option at that moment, and so began my introduction to the industrial workforce. While there I still had some hope that if I could find a bass player and Alex and I could get something going. I used this job as an opportunity to scope out some new talent. Skinny, covered in tattoos, with a death metal shirt on every day I had my eye on a man named Ben. I thought for sure he had to play an instrument, the bass guitar hopefully. After a couple of weeks at the shop I finally approached him. Ben didn’t play bass but he said he was a death metal vocalist and already had a drummer, but he needed a guitar player.
I was pretty excited to play with these 2. Ben didn’t seem like he could belt out death metal lows, but that didn’t matter much. Truth be told at the time I was much more excited about a new drummer. Less than a week later we met at my house, set up instruments, and played together for the first time. It was a no pressure improv jam sessions. The drummer Chris Stock was pretty good and his kit was actually kept up, it was pretty comfortable to play with him. A scream that came from the pa was unlike anything I had ever heard at the time. The low end gurgle was almost blood curdling. Instantly I had realized that I underestimated Ben severely. This guy was the real deal and for the first time I was going to be able focus just on the guitar work. Jamming for maybe 3 hours it was pretty clear we should get something started. So we set up another jam date the following week and the rest of our pieces seemed to fall into place.
Within the next couple of jam dates we had nabbed another guitarist. Aron Ball was a coworker at the same shop Ben and I worked at. 4 band mates obtained in just a couple of weeks, it was amazing. We wrote as fast as we could. Writing music with this new group of guys proved to be more difficult than I had imagined however. Chris and Ben were into heavier music than I had been exposed to. Up to this point I had only been exposed to limited amounts of death metal due to North Branch’s lack of musical diversity. Aron on the other hand was much more of a metal core kind of guy, break downs and peddle riffs were his thing. As different as our tastes were we made it work. The individual preferences of each musician helped shape our sound, each song sounding different than the next, one song leaning towards the inspirations of one musician the next towards another. We worked extremely hard to write our first couple of songs, and when all was said and done, we created something all of us should have been proud of.
Still one problem persisted, the age old problem I have always had with bands… the lack of a bass player. We tried out several people but to no avail. This search began as soon as we began to write music but we didn’t stumble into a new member. Never the less as our set list grew so did our urge to play live shows. Chris and Aron had never played a show before. Ben had been in a band prior as had I, although my past band Legion had only played small parties in the middle of nowhere. Before we played a show we needed a name. I swear the hardest part of being in a band in picking out a name. Many nights of drinking by a coffee table writing down whatever came to mind yielded 0 results. It wasn’t until Ben got super fucked up one night and began randomly reading the dictionary that a name had finally stuck. Execrate! Still to this day I feel like it’s a good name and for that thank you Ben and thank you Webster.
With a half an hour’s worth of material, and a brand new band name we decided a waiting on a bass player would take forever. It was time to book a show. Our first show was a basement party filled with maybe 30 people. A coworker named Brandon drummed in a hard rock band called Mind Flaw. One way or another we had been asked to play at his house for a party. I’m not the one to get nervous performing in front of people, but that first show with a new band is always a bit nerve wracking. This experience was no different. Never the less we performed a solid set. Afterwards we celebrated with a ton of booze. We drank a lot in those days. My younger years were not my most responsible, but god damn they were fun.
We played one more party at that house, worked on our live show, and soon afterward we finally decided to book a public show. At first getting anyone to book us felt next to impossible. After weeks of non-responsive local bands, we ended up doing it ourselves. A shitty little roller rink in an even shittier town provided the perfect place. North Lake was a not much of a town. A church, a couple of party stores, and a roller rink were all it had to its name. With the help of Mind Flaw we landed the gig and we began the new task of promoting our shows. I printed off thousands of flyers and went to town. It was an all-ages show so I went to every school in the area and passed out flyers to any metal or emo kid I could find leaving school. No tattooed person was safe walking down the street, no corkboard was left empty, no bar was left without a stack of flyers. Weeks of tireless walking later it was show day.
I could not believe how many people showed up to that first show. There must have been 150 people there. No alcohol was served but the liquor store across the street seemed to enjoy our company. People drank outside the building and came back in with an energy as ferocious as any college party depicted in Hollywood. The crowd loved us and we played our asses off. A month later we returned with another show of equal greatness. Our first public shows gave us the confidence to hit the scene as hard as we could, and we did.
Shortly after those shows we were finally in contact with people who would book us. Flint, Detroit, Romeo, wherever whoever we would play. That first summer we played shows nonstop. We met important contacts and we made good friends. Not a weekend went by where we weren’t out playing somewhere. Sometimes the shows were packed sometimes no one came but we played to whoever showed up. That first year is filled with so many fond memories. We were all on the same page as band mates. We all wanted the same things. We practiced, played, and hung out together every second we could, the resulting bond made us tighter and tighter.
Less than a year of playing shows we finally started making a name for ourselves. We had put out a pretty poor sounding 2 song demo, had written a full hour set, and had finally found a bass player. Gavin had come to us through his older brother whom I was friends with. Multiple times Nick (Gavin’s brother) had mentioned I should try his younger brother out. Gavin was younger than us, just 17. His age made me a bit reluctant but I met with him at my place and after a night or 2 of drinking I felt like we meshed well enough to see what he was made of. That first practice with him we all seemed to mesh and Gavin’s talent captivated everyone. He needed some work but he wasn’t bad. With a musical background rooted mostly in punk, Gavin, once comfortable enough to help write music became an indispensable tool in furthering Execrate’s sound.
Our band was finally full and it felt good. We spent some months with Gavin before he finally joined us onstage. Once he did our sound filled out nicely. The Michigan scene was healthy and the Flint area had a lot of good bands in it. We played bars, house parties, Music Festivals, any place that would have us. We were tight and somewhere around 2 years after our first show we began to finally record a proper demo. Chris bought drum mics and a Presonus interface and we went to town. A lot of time went into that demo but it didn’t sound too bad in the end. For 5 guys that had no idea what we were doing I give it my stamp of approval. We never sold a copy of it. We simply passed them out at shows and everyone was more than happy to get one. My only regret in Execrate was not recording a proper demo way earlier. If someone doesn’t have something they can physically hold in their hand and take home it’s way harder for them to remember you.
With all of the positive things happening with Execrate we did eventually run into problems. Aron our other guitar player had ran into some rough patches with employment. He quite showing up to practice and often times was late to shows. After months of this situation not improving we had to make the decision to let him go. We as a band probably didn’t handle the situation with the finesse it needed, never the less it had to be done. When we decided to part ways with Aron no one wanted to break the news and so no one did. Aron didn’t show up to practice which is where we wanted this conversation to take place, and so we just didn’t contact him anymore. Eventually after not hearing from anyone he showed up to Ben’s apartment. Aron was understandably angry as Ben broke the news to him. To this day I keep in contact with all the members of Execrate except Aron. The bad blood stemming from this incident has never properly been healed. It was a hard lesson learned, don’t let disagreements lead to anger. Everyone has a different way of thinking, a different way of handling stressful situations. When you have a problem with someone’s actions be up front about it.
With Aron out I really worked on stepping up my game on guitar. I played my ass off and wrote constantly. Gavin stepped in as the other main writer in Execrate flawlessly. Our music underwent a slightly more sophisticated transition into more complex song structure, as we got better at our instruments it was only natural. Ben’s lyrics where as good as ever, Chris became faster, more consistent, Gavin settled in as the absolute foundation of our music, and I was trying to write solos that didn’t sound like a complete disaster.
Our current line up stayed the same for quite a while afterward. Execrate’s stage presence increased over the next year and a half. People seemed to enjoy our new music, we even learned some covers. Shirts finally were printed and they sold out extremely fast. Chris, Gavin, Ben, and I never tried to steer the band into a business direction. We should have, I’m sure we could have made a profit, but that never occurred to us that this could be worth our while. It didn’t much matter to us any way. Playing music was nothing more than absolute joy we all shared. However every time things start going well in a band some adversity rears up. This time was no different.
Chris had stopped coming to practice as frequently. His union job had recently gone on strike and money was tight. He was also trying to save up money to buy a house. With his absence writing new material began taking longer and longer. Execrate already took its time writing music, and with Chris’s frequent absence this time frame became expanded. Compounding complications between work and music eventually became too great for Chris to handle. A single phone call sparked a stressful moment in Execrate’s lifespan. Chris told me he wouldn’t be able to continue with us for many months as he had been trying to get into a house. I was given an option, wait this situation out or look for a new drummer. Great amounts of hesitation ran through my mind. Slow in my response I preceded to mutter I think we’ll go with a new drummer. A new chapter of Execrate began that day, along with a ton of hard work.
Our search for a new drummer had officially begun. Lapeer has a handful of good metal drummers, but only a couple where not tied down to another band. I had contacted a couple of guys but our first pick was a longtime friend of ours. Derek Young had played drums in 2 bands we very much enjoyed. Shadows Domain was a doom band; their music had undeniable groove and structure. Drinkhorn was his 2nd band, influenced by the 2nd wave of Scandinavian black metal. Derek wasn’t the fastest drummer in the world but everything he played was consistent with a strong sense of rhythm. Both of his previous projects had since disbanded leaving him free to focus his energy elsewhere. He seemed to be the perfect choice.
Gavin and I met with Derek to jam 2 weeks after Chris had left the band. We had set up our amps with the intention of teaching him some of our simpler songs. That day it became clear Derek had acquired a problem we could not cope with. Derek had 2 kids and a wife. They owned a home in a small town called North Branch. Within that year Derek and his wife had gotten a nasty divorce. It bothered Derek, life had become more stressful, and an old habit flailed its head.
Frequenting Derek’s new trailer I was well aware that people had accused Derek of shooting up heroin. I had yet to witness this and so I doubted these claims, simply shrugging them off. We had drunk beer and partied in the trailer well over a dozen times, I had never seen a needle, nor had I experienced him nodding off. Jamming with him in a dirty shed changed our opinion however. Derek actually did well that day. He seemed to pick up the songs quickly, playing them at a steady tempo he nailed the changes. After a couple of hours Derek wandered out of sight for but just a moment, returning in a noticeably more sluggish state. At one point I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. Upon entering the shed again Gavin and I noticed him face down, passed on the slab of concrete next to his drums that had been heavily stained in oil. We decided to call practice and drove Derek home. He was for the most part unconscious the whole way there. This was something that weighed heavily on me as Derek and I had been good friends. This event marked just the beginning for Derek. His downward spiral into addiction eventually left him homeless, his children taken from him, all his possessions abandoned as he lived in a tent behind a target in Flint Mi. Eventually he hopped a train to Chicago. Just recently he has gotten clean. I wish the best for him but at the time we couldn’t take on a liability like that.
Next up we contacted Jesse Delreal. He had won my admiration in his previous band American Brutality. A solid drummer, but most important someone that was easy to get along with, Jesse seemed to mesh with everyone and after our first practice with him it was pretty obvious we found our new drummer. The pace at which Jesse caught on was astounding; he would learn 2 to 3 songs a day. Writing new material became an accelerated process as well. Simultaneously we would teach Jesse our old music and write for a recording. The biggest advantage our new found drummer brought to us was his close living proximity to the rest of the band. Everyone lived within a mile from each other whereas Chris lived 20 minutes away. Though this distance isn’t enormous, living just down the road offered us impromptu extra practices. We really got tight together as musicians, on a personal level we bonded as well. These 3 other guys in my band weren’t just people I saw at practice these were guys I hung out with before and after as well. Whenever someone went out of town for some type of social gathering at least 3 out of the 4 of us were together. Those days treated me well and I’m not soon to forget them.
We only took a couple of months off finding a new drummer. Before we knew it we had booked a show with Jesse. Our performance felt great and just like that we were back. Playing shows with someone that was able to give it 100% felt amazing. With everyone on the same page we pushed on. A small shed in Jesse’s back yard provided us with a practice space. When I say small I mean small. This thing was maybe 6” X 12”. Deafening would be the appropriate word to describe how loud practices were, but we made it work.
We had also pushed on recording a new album. With 10 or 12 new songs ready to go we decided to record 5 or 6 of those, and for the first time we didn’t record these songs ourselves. Instead we looked towards someone we had known for some time. Kurt (I can’t remember his last name) was in a fellow local band. He played keyboards and sang. He had recently produced his own demo, it sounded better than 90% of the local demo’s at the time so we decided we’d give it a shot. The process was actually really quick. We had a day of pre-production, a day of drum tracking, a day of rhythm guitar tracking, a day of bass tracking, a day of guitar solo tracking, and a day of vocal tracking. Surprisingly the results were better than they should have been. It was a good push in the right direction for us.
With a new E.P. under our belt we pressed on with live shows, little did we know this would be our last summer together. Ben, our singer, had begun not showing up to practice. He lived an 8th of a mile away. This became a problem. Our moral was beginning to diminish. Whenever a member quits showing up a looming sense of uncertainty can be felt amongst the other members, making it harder and harder to move things forward. It was well known that we would have to get a new bass player that fall. Gavin was leaving for college. That alone left some uncertainty hanging in the air, but Ben’s absence really hurt us. I didn’t want to continue Execrate with me being the only original member. I was also aware that I wasn’t about to find a singer that could come close to what Ben was capable of. We still played some shows but I had slowed down our schedule expecting Ben to quite. Then one day I finally received the text I had long awaited. “I’m done with the band. I’m not playing anymore shows.” Ben wrote. That was it as simple as that it was done. I knew it would end but I really wished we would have finished out the last couple of shows we had booked. We did not though. Quietly we exited the Michigan metal scene, and so the door opened for me to start Pestilent Age.