Little landmarks

Before a Myyth gig a couple of weeks ago, we were discussing when it was we fell in love with music. I’ve always liked hearing about people’s passions, and hearing how people become engaged with something can often be an interesting story. Considering that listening to, composing and performing music has been a preoccupation of mine for so much of my life, I figured it would be worth telling a few of my own stories here for posterity and to get other people thinking about the circumstances that led them to their interests. It seems funny how a series of seemingly small events can have such a genuine impact on the way our lives turn out.

As a young child I can remember waking up ridiculously early, as young kids seem to do, and turning on the television to catch the end of Rage. On a Saturday morning, Rage would play the top twenty videos after the usual eclectic mix of new clips they played during the middle of the night. I can recall that early one morning, when it was still pitch black outside, ‘Hitchin’ A Ride’ by Green Day was played. It was 1997; I was nine years old. I had no idea about rock music, I had never heard of the band before, but I can recall banging my head a little to the chunky verse riff. I couldn’t explain why I enjoyed it, I just did. Maybe it planted a new seed in my mind or perhaps it brought something to the surface that was already there, but it’s probably the first time I heard a rock song and listened to it rather than heard it.

Some years later, maybe when I was ten or eleven, my parents bought me a small radio for my birthday. It had a cassette player and an AM/FM tuner. I listened to it constantly. I mostly tuned in to the local mainstream stations. That radio probably has a lot to do with my continuing infatuation with pop music, even the kind that some of my muso friends are repulsed by. I struggle to resist a catchy pop tune even after years of listening to raw underground rap and crushing metal music.

I first took guitar lessons in 1998. I was in grade four. The guitar I had borrowed was strung right-handed, so I struggled to play. Having naturally handled the instrument upside down, I can remember being told to play right-handed during my first lessons. Eventually Dad had it swapped over for me. I quickly became comfortable with chord shapes and strumming patterns; it was much more comfortbale that way. People ask me whether I regret that decision and not just sticking it out right-handed. Sometimes I think I do, but it’s entirely possible I could have gotten frustrated and given up if I had persisted as a righty. Limited guitar choices and having to play other people’s guitars upside down at parties is annoying; giving up and never having the instrument in my life would have been tragic.

In my first year of high school, a friend lent me his copies of ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water’ by Limp Bizkit and ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ by Eminem. Two pretty edgy albums for a thirteen year old, I figure. I realised that I needed to venture outside my comfort zone because I wasn’t going to get through high school on the back of a couple of pop records. I probably thought I was a bit of a bad-ass at the time, and my parents were a little surprised at my choices, but writing this now I cringe a little. There probably isn’t any two more obvious albums to get when getting into hard rock and rap music. I got right into ‘Marshall Mathers’, while I moved on pretty quick from the Bizkit record. Even so, these gateway albums shaped my life from then on. I was a rock guy and a rap guy. Interestingly, I listened to the Marshall Mathers LP again a few months ago, and boy, it really hit home just how dark that album is. I was thirteen when I first listened to that. I thought I understood at the time, but I can’t have. Hearing ‘Kim’ again was gut-wrenching. It’s a landmark record, but I don’t blame them for putting the stickers on the front of it.

Two friends introduced me to a whole bunch of different artists that expanded my tastes substantially and lead me down some interesting paths. A work colleague lent me his copy of ‘The Calling’ by Hilltop Hoods and a high school friend, Ben, showed me metalcore and melodic death metal music roughly around the same time.

Being exposed to Australian hip hop for the first time was a revelation. I had left rap behind a little bit for years during the time I first became interested in metal. I almost became a little ashamed of it, actually, which seems sad to me now. ‘The Calling’ woke me up, big time. It was relatable, it was funky, it had depth and variety, and it had heaps of guests to look up online. Like ‘Starfish’ and ‘Marshall Mathers’, I’m certain ‘The Calling’ is another album that made a lot of kids aware of hip-hop, for better or worse. I pride myself on the fact that I didn’t stop there, though. I learnt about the history. I sought out more material, which got darker and more obscure. I liked a lot of what I heard. Most importantly, I felt a part of it, and that’s why I still get out to gigs and hand over money for CDs, merch and vinyl.

Every now and then you need someone who shakes up your situation, who challenges you and gives some direction on different music to try. Ben did that for me. The metal he was listening to was modern, focused and aggressive. I took to it more enthusiastically than I maybe would have thought I would have. In the end, it turns out that many of the bands he introduced me to turned out to be successful groups in their respective scenes. He had his finger on the pulse and got across a rising subgenre pretty effectively. Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Avenged Sevenfold and All That Remains were all recommendations of his, and they became some of my favourite bands to this day. They also influenced my playing a lot. I loved the progressive structures and I became a lot more interested in the technical side of rock guitar. The word ‘progressive’ is now a word I use to describe more than just my tastes in music. I think it’s pretty useful when describing many aspects of personality. His recommendations had a big impact.

Little moments and circumstances can often have a disproportionate impact on our lives. Hindsight allows us to examine these moments and identify them as turning points, to look to them as the time that we changed. It’s difficult to know whether or not this really is the case, because it is entirely possible we may have come to the same place via another route had these things never had occured. We’ll never know the answer, so we might as well treat them as significant. The kind of people we become is the product of so many things - our time, location, past, temperament - that separating out the strands of our life is futile. Maybe the best thing is just to think about these moments once in a while and appreciate that they were pretty important in shaping who we are.