Back In The Day
After graduating from Lynbrook High School in San Jose in 1995, I received a Fender bass guitar as my graduation present from my parents. My brother had recently picked up the drums and I wanted to play something so we could jam together. After hearing Primus for the first time, I knew I wanted to play the bass.
I then had a short two-year stint at De Anza Junior College before transferring down to UC Santa Barbara. That’s when things started getting more interesting.
In only my second or third quarter at UCSB, I met a guy (who’s name escapes me now) in my Chemistry lab that played guitar. He knew a guy named Jake Fowler that played drums, so we all decided to get together and play some tunes one evening. Afterwards, Jake approached me and said that he had recently auditioned for a new band that was forming. He told me that he thought the guys in the band had some cool ideas, but their bass player was not very good. He grabbed my phone number and said he would keep me in the loop if they decided to ditch their bass player. Well, they did later that week. I auditioned and it went swimmingly.
Little did I know that joining Adam Rich, Mark Barry, and Jake Fowler would change my life in a huge way.
We played our first gig at the now closed Isla Vista Brewing Company, which used to be a Bank of America building, famous from the Isla Vista riots in 1970. We met Joe Schmidt at that first gig and he offered to join and spin/scratch records. That was becoming somewhat popular with rock bands at the time, so we welcomed him to the group.
Naming a band, or anything else for that matter, is tough. For the first show, we were called Pressure Shift. We were not sold on the name, so we dropped the Shift and went with Pressure. I liked it. But then we discovered there was a band down in LA at the time called The Pressure. Rather than have to deal with that confusion later on, we thought it best to change. There was an inside joke in the band at the time. It was becoming obvious that Joe didn’t like his role as DJ, so he would occasionally not show up to practice and gigs. We joked that we never knew if we would have four or five people. That’s where the 4-5 in our final name, Pressure 4-5, came from.
On weekends, we played shows up and down California and occasionally in Arizona…once…in the middle of Summer…in a van with no AC. Some shows were great, some were absolutely terrible. But they were all learning experiences. We befriended other interesting bands, some of which still exist like Papa Roach and Dredg (one of my favorite bands of all-time incidentally).
Things were going well, for the band at least. School, well, that was a different story. As the band took on a lawyer and begun talks with a management team, I decided that UCSB wasn’t falling into the ocean anytime soon and I could always go back. It was time to put ourselves out there and really go for it.
In relatively short order, we were recording a new demo with famed producer Ed Stasium. Our managers shopped it around to their connections in LA and shortly thereafter we were doing numerous showcase shows for big wigs from the likes of Interscope Records, Maverick Records, and Dreamworks Records. Dreamworks was the first to bite. Maverick was next. Then Interscope. We ultimately decided to partner with Dreamworks since they were the first to see promise in us and because our friends from Papa Roach had a lot of success with them and their first single Last Resort. Oddly enough, I recently discovered that their manager received a finder’s fee as a part of the deal, unbeknownst to us at the time. We inked the deal on 11/22/2000.
If you’ve been paying attention, you might be wondering who Tom Schmidt is in the photo above. The plan was to select a producer for the recording and dive right into it. However, our drummer Jake had an injury to his wrist that had been an issue for the past year or so. His doctor was telling him to not drum for a year. Obviously that wasn’t an option for us. We hired an amazing studio drummer, Brooks Wackerman, to do the album instead. When it was completed, we then asked Joe’s brother, Tom, to join the band on tour and he jumped at the opportunity.
Recording a big time, major label album was an amazing experience. We decided to use Jay Baumgardner as our producer. He had recently recorded Papa Roach’s hit album and he owns the gorgeous NRG Recording Studios. The album took a couple of months to complete and I learned a ton about recording techniques and where to get good food in LA.
After many different ideas, we settled on a name for the album, Burning The Process, and the album artwork.
A few items of note for those of you who are interested in how the music business works (at least how it worked back then). When an artist signs to a major label, they typically receive a signing bonus of some sort and an advance of cash, all of which the artist must contractually pay back through album sales. We also chose to sign a publishing deal with EMI. Publishing deals are very common, especially for new artists. They’re sort of an insurance policy. The idea being that the artist receives a relatively large advance of money, which is also recouped through album sales above and beyond the album sales recouped through the record company. The publishing company also gets half the rights to the music in perpetuity. The idea being that any royalties from album sales, TV deals, movies, commercials, etc., are chopped in half, but only after all the advance is paid off. With the lackluster performance our album ultimately had, we were very glad that we signed the publishing deal. We did get paid for radio and television play that was unrelated to any publishing activities. I still occasionally receive a royalty check for a few bucks from time to time. Oddly enough, the TV show that paid off the most for me was the Regis and Kathy Lee Show (I’ve made at least $1,000 – $2,000 off that show alone).
With the odds of success stacked against them, you may be wondering how bands actually make any decent money. The advance was nice, but it had to last us until the album sales recouped the cash spent and/or we received another advance for the next album or something like that. Basically, bands these days make their money by hitting the road and selling merchandise. I remember playing a large radio festival when we were on the road with Alien Ant Farm and they said they sold around $10,000 in merchandise that day alone. And that’s cash in their pocket, so, you know. You can only imagine how much some of the larger artists make, which is why I’m not the least bit surprised when I hear about reunion tours like the Summerland Tour this year (featuring Sugar Ray, Everclear, Lit, Gin Blossoms, & Marcy’s Playground).
Ok, enough talk of the business of music, I’m sure I’ll tackle it in more detail at another point. So where was I? Oh yes, the album was complete. Now the marketing started to kick in. That meant a big time music video with a big time director, Marc Webb. He’s a prolific music video director and has directed two feature films, 500 Days of Summer (2009) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). It was such a cool experience to film on a sound stage at Universal Studios with some of our good friends as extras in the front row. Watching the stuntmen on wires was pretty amazing as well.
I had cultivated a decent sized following with our online efforts. We had a website that I had created and a very active forum. Keep in mind this was before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Bands kept in contact with fans via forums and tour diaries.
We needed to hit the road. Our first tour was in mid-summer with two other newly signed bands, Hoobastank and our friends Dredg. It was a West Coast tour with Colorado being the farthest East we traveled. The month-long tour gave us some great practice for what the road would be like in a van. It’s not easy, but we were still excited and having the time of our lives.
Next up, we kicked the promotion into high-gear. We were lucky enough to land the second half and East Coast leg of the Ozzfest tour. Even though we played the third stage, we routinely played in front of 10,000+ sized crowds. We also traveled in a fancy tour bus for the first time, which is only about a million times more fun than driving our van across the country.
Touring is definitely an odd lifestyle. In the van, you’re completely sleep deprived the whole time. I drove probably the majority of the time, so I got even less than everyone else. Sleeping in a van while driving isn’t the same as sleeping in your bed at home. Being on a tour bus, on the other hand, is completely different. When the show is over, you wait for the driver to return from his hotel, then he drives you to the next town while you’re sleeping in your bunk. The next thing you know, you’re at the next venue and you have to remember which state you’re in.
Here’s a fun video someone posted to YouTube with some footage of us on the road:
So, Ozzfest ends and we head home for a couple of weeks off. Next up, we hit the road, again on the West Coast. Meanwhile, our first single Beat The World was about to hit radio and MTV. I distinctly remember seeing our video late at night on MTV2 at a hotel on 9/9/2001. The next night, we played in Portland, OR and stayed at a crappy motel.
That next morning, I woke up to my cell phone buzzing. I missed the call. A minute later I had a voicemail. It was from our friend Jason. All he said on the voicemail was, “Turn on the TV.” When the TV turned on, I thought it was showing some sort of apocalyptic movie I had never seen. Nope, it was the first tower of the World Trade Center falling on 9/11.
That day was surreal, as I’m sure it was for most Americans. We were scheduled to play a show in Seattle that evening, but it ended up being cancelled. Seattle was a complete ghost town. We could only find one restaurant that was open besides fast food joints as most decided to close up shop for the day.
Since our promotion was already in full-swing and the album was scheduled for a 10/2 release date, Dreamworks and EMI decided to press on. In retrospect, we should’ve questioned that decision more adamantly given the unprecedented nature of what had occurred and the effect it had on the psyche of the country. It’s hard to get your new upstart band noticed when people’s eyes are glued to CNN all day to see what’s going on at Ground Zero.
We pressed on though. Our CD (remember those?) release party was on 10/2/2001, my now wife’s birthday, incidentally. It was a great party with a lot of friends and fans who had supported us from the beginning.
We hit the road again and this time we had a show scheduled in New York City. If you’ve never been to NYC, go, now. It’s like no other place in the world and you always leave with a good cab story or two. We stayed at a hotel around the corner from the Ed Sullivan theater where Letterman is taped and the show was only a few blocks away at The World in Times Square. While I wasn’t a fan of the WWE theme of the venue, the location was amazing. You could walk out the front doors, look up to your right, and the Jumbotron was so close you could hit it with a chip shot.
It was early October and 9/11 was only about a month old in everyone’s memory. The fans at the show were thirsty for something positive. Something to take their minds off the tragedy that had occurred so close to home. Everyone in the band commented that there was a different vibe that night and the show went down as one of the most memorable we ever played. We provided more than entertainment that night, we provided an escape from reality, if only for a few moments.
The next year or so was spent hitting the road off and on. Being on tour is odd. When you’re on the road, you want to be home. When you’re at home, you’re itching to get back on the road.
There were big highlights like the show at the Bluebird Theater in Denver (a little ironic considering my startup is called Bluebird) with Alien Ant Farm. It was filmed for an MTV2 special and two of our songs were featured on the show. The show went well, except for one of my bass strings breaking in the middle of Beat The World, which was most certainly going to air on the show! I couldn’t find the show via Googling and I only have a copy on VHS at this point (yes, I know, what’s VHS?).
Here’s our second video for Melt Me Down in which the footage from the MTV2 special was used:
Ultimately, the album never gained enough traction and eventually Dreamworks decided to stop sending us on tour. We headed back home to Santa Barbara after a fun show in Louisville to attempt to write for the next album. We made demos in our practice studio and sent them to the label, but they told us to keep writing. It was obvious that they were looking for the next Beat The World from us. Some of us wanted to go in a softer, more mainstream marketable direction, some of us wanted to go heavier with our music. My brother’s band, Ambionic, was making music that was more up my alley and it was becoming apparent that Dreamworks wasn’t totally on board with us doing another album. I had heard stories of major labels doing that to other artists; simply waiting it out, unless a marketable hit was written. Since we had a two album deal, they were obligated to see it through, unless of course both parties decided to call it quits.
I decided to quit Pressure 4-5 and join Ambionic before that occurred and ended up making music with Ambionic that is my favorite I’ve created to this day. We never got a record deal and ultimately had a falling out with our singer. That marked the end of my music career. Although, I still play music from time to time on my own.
There are no regrets; I had a hell of a ride and got to experience things that most people don’t. I’m always looking forward to the next adventure.