I was attending a wedding in Wenachee, Washington and happened to drop off a business card at a local music store. My friend called me to do a series of gigs; that’s how we hooked up.
Darnell is an absolute joy. We are currently working on an album project. I have shot promotional video and occasionally gig with him. The folks that he closely works with have been a great pleasure to meet.
Mackncheeze: When you were living in Australia were you playing guitar?
Darnell: I wasn’t even thinking of it. I came back in about 1997. I was down there for five or six years and came back to the States.
In Australia I fit right in; Australia and I, we got along just great. When I came back I decided this is not going to be the rest of my life. I think we all have something within us that tells us there is a better way. Certain things happen to us which help get us on track and lead us on to a different road.
I needed to seek a better way of living. Some of that came from my grandparents. They said, “You need help, Darnell, you need to get yourself together.” I started changing my direction from what I was thinking and doing.
At that time I had moved to a small town. I thought that would be a great opportunity. I didn’t have any friends in that place; there was nobody around that I knew from my old influences. This was a suitable time for me to make a fresh start; I took it.
At first I didn’t start playing. I sat in that town for an entire year being what you would call a dry drunk. I was literally having a hard time thinking. I felt like I was mentally challenged; things were happening to me, I was in a fog.
Mackncheeze: You must have been a hardcore drunk.
Darnell: I had been starting to lose jobs. I would drink so much on the weekends that I couldn’t make it to work on Monday. I did not want that to be the rest of my life.
That’s when I started making a change and again started playing. I was sitting around one day and this guy asked me, “Hey Darnell, you used to play guitar, right?”
I replied, “Yeah, a long time ago.”
“You should start getting back into it.”
I said to myself, “You know what? I haven’t got anything else to do, I might as well.”
A friend of mine at the local music store gave me a great deal on a guitar and I took it home. My playing started progressing. About a year later I enrolled in college.
I wanted to do something with my life by helping people and giving back. I was sitting in a class one day and this younger guy sitting next to me, we got to talking. He asked if I knew anybody that played guitar because he wanted to take lessons. I said, “Well, I play. I won’t charge you or anything, we’ll just kind of jam together.” He was happy with that. He had a wife and young kids so he came over to my place and we practiced.
One day he asked me if I was playing in a band? I said, “No, no.”
He said, “You’re pretty good. Do you sing?”
“No, I don’t sing.”
This went on for weeks and he kept saying, “Man, you should be playing in a band.” He asked me to sing. After he heard me he said, “You’re a little rough, but if you practice some you would be alright.” Believe it or not, that guy got me back into it and that was something I liked to do anyway.
Mackncheeze: When you took all that time off did you miss it?
Darnell: I didn’t even think about it because that was not my world; it wasn’t even on my radar.
Mackncheeze: Was that about 10 years?
Darnell: Yeah, I started playing guitar again about 2003. It came back to me pretty easily and I’m still learning even to this day. This is the year 2020 and Covid-19 has allowed me time to focus on my instrument. I’ve gotten better; I’ve invested my time into becoming a better player and learning new styles. I’m very grateful.
Mackncheeze: How did you get the airplay that you have gotten?
Darnell: I figured that I had some pretty great songs and I wanted people to hear them. I had heard about these streaming service radio stations and I wanted to see how people would respond to my music. When I had heard other stuff and compared my material, I realized I had a unique style. My sound is not average or run of the mill, by any means. It’s not an assembly line, cookie cutter sound which is the formula of most of today’s pop music; I feel it is unique and refreshing.
Mackncheeze: Here’s the big question, what do you want people to know?
Darnell: You know what, I want people to know hope and good people are still out there. The world is not as divided as some think; that would be an agenda of those trying to splinter us. A house divided cannot stand. There’s a lot more good going on than bad. These are things that I want people to know.
I’ve seen it personally, and, I would say, don’t let anybody pull you apart or push hate, division, anger or anguish into your heart. That’s them; let them go on their path and you go on a path that is right to you. We’re still united, we are still great; things come and things go, but love is forever. That’s what I want people to know.
I was attending a wedding in Wenachee, Washington and happened to drop off a business card at a local music store. My friend called me to do a series of gigs; that’s how we hooked up.
Darnell is an absolute joy. We are currently working on an album project. I have shot promotional video and occasionally gig with him. The folks that he closely works with have been a great pleasure to meet.
Mackncheeze: This interview is all about you. What is it you want to say? I’ll just prod you along and we’ll just kind of wander about.
Darnell: I remember Terence Trent D’Arby; that guy, when he first came out, he was the biggest thing since sliced bread. I bought a CD because he has an extraordinary voice. A guy with that much talent, you might think, would have been around for a long time; the next ‘Michael Jackson’ kind of thing. He had the look, he had dance moves and he could sing very well.
I remember the performance he did on Saturday Night Live. I thought he was going to be as popular as hell, and for a little while, he was. Right after that he put out a second CD.
After a while you didn’t hear anything from him; he never reached that big status. What I had heard in an interview, he had spoken badly about another artist and that was it. He was done; it’s a shame, too, because he had mountains of talent.
Mackncheeze: That’s like a personal approach of yours, right? Just don’t dwell on controversy and negativity.
Darnell: You don’t, you don’t want to do that. Artists, in my opinion, if they’re smart, are not going to be embroiled in controversy.
I have a lot of Navy buddies from the old days who want to be friends on Facebook. It’s fun to check out their lives and see what they’ve been doing for the last several decades. I’ve been following many of my friend’s Facebook feeds and it comes up on their sites how great somebody is. I’m saying to myself, “I don’t know, man, I don’t know. How did you get into this person? You actually believe what they represent?” They have strong beliefs about something and they ask me, “Darnell, what do you think?”
I’ll reply, “You know that I’m not into all that kind of stuff; in the end it doesn’t matter to me.” Whatever happens with whatever political party is in charge does not dictate what I do: how I’m going to run my life, how I’m going to accomplish my goals. This is not going to be in my way.
Mackncheeze: What is your inner source and what motivates you?
Darnell: You know what, everybody has their source; my source is within me. God is my source, God is my power, God is my breath. At night, that’s who I go to when I commune upon my bed. Things I’m thinking about, what I want to accomplish and manifest into my life; my source within.
A lot of people think that their source is outside of themselves; I believe the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. That’s where my source is and that’s what I believe. When I’m aware of it, I think from within and that’s where it’s coming from. I Didn’t learn that in a church. I already knew it and I felt it; it’s something that is, and was, a realization for me. A lot of people have that source as well.
I hear and understand a lot from people when they speak; a person needs to have confidence in themselves.
Mackncheeze: How do you build that?
Darnell: Building confidence is all intertwined; it is coming from within, and to me, it’s both an annoyance and an assurance. I’m into a positive mental state, positive thinking, positive thoughts. When you have confidence in yourself then you believe in yourself. If you can’t believe in yourself then you don’t have self assurance; if you don’t have that then you don’t know where your source is. It is all intertwined and all works together. That’s what I found out, that’s how it works for me, how it relates to music and all the things that I do in life.
Mackncheeze: In your journey, what have been some of your biggest struggles?
Darnell: You know what, I try not to dwell on that kind of stuff, but struggles do come to everybody. A lot of the struggles that I have encountered have come from the way I was thinking. A person can self-sabotage themselves because of the way they think. Some of my struggles were from negative thinking: Envy, jealousy, lack of growth and overcoming, those were some of the things that I struggled with. Believing I wasn’t good enough and thinking that I wasn’t complete enough, but now I know better.
I’m a human just like everybody else. Until I became aware of my thought process, I didn’t have a solution for why I was thinking the way I was. A time can come, once a person does become aware, that’s when they can really start doing something about it. I’m still a work in progress, but I’m not where I used to be.
Mackncheeze: What’s the most important question that drives you?
Darnell: Am I going to have what I want to have, am I going to be who I want to be and what is it I want to do. Those are three things that I think everybody asks. Those are questions a lot of people ask themselves: am I having what I want to have, am I doing what I want to do, am I being the person that I want to be. Those are the things I ask myself and the answer to those questions is, yes.
My personal manifesto is seeing myself doing what I want to do, seeing myself having what I want to have, and seeing myself being who and what I want to be.
You’ve got to have a vision. God says the people perish where there is no vision. If you don’t have a vision you’re not going anywhere.
Mackncheeze: How do you work your life experience into your songwriting?
Darnell: That is an excellent question. The songs that I have written and that I’m working on are all about real life experiences. Those verses, where I sing, “Where was my father?” That song was written about my mother being there and what she was doing. In my songs the people are real, the experiences are real; a lot of people relate to these kinds of things. A lot of the subject matter has come from within me, and it shows, and it’s out there now. I’m really proud of this material.
Mackncheeze: Your first instrument? What did you start playing?
Darnell: When I was in the fourth grade, we had an assembly at school and they called everybody into the gym. This day they had an orchestra that came through. When they started playing I was fascinated by the persons playing the cellos. and I said to myself, “Wow, look at that thing.” It was beautiful and it was shiny and I really loved the sound. I wanted to touch it and feel it and hold it. At the end of the concert they asked the kids to come up. It was a recruitment; we were all being recruited and we didn’t even know it. I went over and stood by the person playing the cello, that person invited me to sit down. I was shown fingering, how to pull the bow and what notes the strings were.
For the next five years I played cello in the school orchestra. I learned how to read music, dynamics, notation and how to count. I have forgotten most of that stuff but that’s where it all came from.
Then I discovered that playing cello wasn’t cool like playing guitar; I figured I could get more girls playing guitar.
Mackncheeze: Did it work?
Darnell: I didn’t date much in high school, but I wanted to be cool. I figured learning guitar I would have the girls; that didn’t happen.
Mackncheeze: That came later, right?
Darnell: I’m taking the fifth; I can neither confirm nor deny that those things happened.
Mackncheeze: When did you start playing guitar?
Darnell: I think it was the 10th grade. I remember a buddy of mine, he had just started playing, as well, and I would go over to his house. He was playing some of the cooler music that was going on during those days. He started to pick up a lot of those tunes; he lent me one of his guitars that he was not using. So I took it home and started banging around on it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I basically learned guitar by watching other people and hearing things back.
Then I got cassette tapes and a cassette player. I would listen to a song and then I would have to rewind it; a lot of starting and stopping. That’s how I learned chords. No one really taught me how to play guitar; I learned it on my own. These days there are guitar lessons on YouTube which makes things a lot easier.
Mackncheeze: Tell me about your first band…
Darnell: There were four of us, we were some high school guys who just got together. We played a couple places around town, nothing big, I don’t remember getting paid for anything. That was the beginning and I played for a couple years.
One time, we warmed up for a band called Rail. I think that was about 1981, somewhere around there. They were up and coming and had won some sort of a MTV award. They were in Moses Lake, Washington, and needed a warm-up band. That was at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake.
After that I didn’t play for a long time; I joined the Navy. Right after boot camp I was stationed on the USS Camden. One day, I was walking around the ship and heard bass and drums playing. I asked myself, “Wow, where is that music coming from.” I lifted up a hatch and there were two guys down in the hull.
Mackncheeze: They were able to bring their bass and drums on board?
Darnell: They were set up in a tiny little compartment down in the hull.
Mackncheeze: I can’t believe they allowed that.
Darnell: Yeah, they did. They allowed a lot of stuff on that ship, you’d be surprised at what the crew would get away with. We were fortunate, though, we were on a pretty good sized vessel. The Camden was a supply carrier so there was a lot of room.
So I found these two guys playing and I went down and listened to them. I didn’t say anything while I was being entertained and I thought they were pretty good. I am friends with them even to this day. When they were done playing they asked me, “Hey, you know anybody who plays guitar?” I replied, “I play guitar,” though I didn’t have one.
I was very good friends with another guy, his name was Bart, he and I were very close. He just recently passed away and that was really hard. He ended up buying a guitar which he was trying to learn how to play; I told him I would give him lessons. Come to find out, Bart could sing, so we formed a band; we were the ship’s band. We performed a couple times on the fantail. After that I did not pick up the guitar for many years.
Mackncheeze: After the Navy, what got you back into playing guitar?
Darnell: After a long time of chasing my tail, I had developed a problem. One of the things me and my Navy buddies liked to do was drink. I was in party mode and I continued to be in party mode even after I got out. For a long time, like I said, I chased my tail; I was drinking a lot.
Adam: My first experience with digital audio was Voyetra. It was basically a MIDI orchestral arranger. Before Voyetra I was using Cakewalk for its MIDI capabilities. Do you remember how you discovered MIDI?
Adam: A buddy of mine had a Yamaha drum machine. I had a Casio CZ-101; I still have one.
Mackncheeze: We did an album with a CZ-101.
Adam: The sounds that you can get out of that thing, it’s the only place where you can get those sounds. We did so much with that thing, so much.
How I figured out MIDI was that the drum machine had MIDI in and out and I had a set of MIDI cables. The very first thing I did was use the drum machine controlling the keyboard. From there it was like, “What else can I do?”
From that point on digital audio workstations would combine both the digital element and the MIDI element.
I was already at the point where I was editing MIDI with Cakewalk, that was before audio was integrated. I was using every component of MIDI, I learned everything that it could do. If the performance wasn’t doing what I wanted I would look at another control to see how I could manipulate the response; that would get me closer to what I was hearing in my head, basically just playing around with numbers. You have the value 0 to 127 in about a thousand different places. What am I going to do, what are the combinations of 0 to 127 going to be? At the time the possibilities were endless.
Me: Do you manipulate audio transfer with MIDI?
Adam: Sometimes. One of my songs I took the vocals, I turned it into a MIDI file. I’ve got that file playing strings in unison with the vocals; and it’s dead on.
Now I consider using MIDI like ketchup; it’s an accoutrement. I don’t like ketchup; I don’t put ketchup on anything but meatloaf. Sometimes I need to make a choice of which is the more direct route to accomplishing my goal. Sometimes using MIDI is faster, sometimes manipulating the audio is faster. Mostly what I’m doing with MIDI these days is globally tweaking the velocities. I don’t do the surgical shit I used to.
I’m glad I know the surgical process because every now and then I’ve got to go in and just change one note.
Mackncheeze: I’ve never had the patience to go to that level. What made you make the transition to multi-track recording?
Adam: It just kind of happened; probably very slowly. It was one of those things where I just looked back and said, “Ten years ago I was doing that and now I’m doing this.” It wasn’t a conscious process; my abilities would outgrow the equipment that I was using. I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to get more money to get more equipment.”
Mackncheeze: Awe, so you’re a gear slut. Tell me about your guitar processor.
Adam: It’s a DigiTech GSP 2101 which I bought in 1992. It was really ahead of its time.
This thing is not a modeling preamp, it’s a tube preamp. Every effect that is available is in there; wah to resonance to everything in between. If I could get it done with a tube amp I would use that. The DigiTech has tube distortion so if I need that crunch it’s there, there is no solid state processing. It sounds like an amp.
Me: What are your philosophies on recording?
Adam: You have to capture the mood as early as possible; without losing the mood. Get the best sound that you possibly can; get the idea down while the mood is there. The first impression is always the most important. Whatever made you want to record that idea in the first place, you’ve got to capture that, if you can capture that on tape you can recreate it.
You can learn that mood. If you can make it feel the same way, you’ve nailed it. I don’t know if I can actually do that but at least I can capture the mood, the groove and tone that inspired me in the first place. Then I get the euphoria when I do something great, now I’ve got something to build on.
Mackncheeze: What is your songwriting process?
Adam: Pretty much what I just explained; it’s never planned. Usually I’ll be getting ready to practice, I’ll turn on the amp, I’ll put on a drum loop, drag the loop out for about a hundred measures, and I just start jamming. As I’m playing along something inspires me, I will stop and press record. Most of the songs that I write, if I write a song and finish it, it’s usually right then and there. From beginning to end I have about 90% of it, the whole concept is there. Every single song is different.
I have no habits when it comes to songwriting. I could sit and just jam on rhythms for hours; work with a drum loop and just go. Why? Because it feels good and that’s it.
Mackncheeze: What are your current projects?
Adam: I’m working with John Wright, a great friend and great guy. We first met when he came over to just to do a quick 3 to 4 singer-songwriter type demo. That turned into the Stone Lantern CD. Nothing that I have written is on that CD. We took the project up to Paradise Sound in Index and had Paul Higgins lay down drums. I did all the mixing and mastering here.
Videos that Joe O’Hearn and I are working on for the Wicked Snake Bite project.
I’m working with Amy Turner.
Working with other musicians, it needs to be instinctive. Practice is everything; if you don’t practice you don’t see the results.
Mackncheeze: Some challenges you face?
These days everything takes time. The other day I was getting mad because I was thinking, “I have to work today but I have no errands to do.” I was thinking I was going to get 3 to 4 hours of practice in. It was 8:30 before I could sit down to do anything; I barely had enough time to warm up. I was too tired and not in the mood anymore. No one’s fault, it’s just the way life is.
Mackncheeze: Where do you see yourself headed? What are your motivations?
Adam: My motivation is the same that it has always been; it is to make me happy first. I don’t think of money. The ultimate goal is to just have some fun and do it. If I’m in a situation where it’s not fun anymore, if it’s getting too political, or people in the band or arguing the difference between an F or an F#, as far as I’m concerned, pick one or the other, we’re not cutting a Yes album. I refuse to argue about music; it’s not worth it, nor am I interested. I can’t motivate myself for something I’m not interested in.
If there’s decent money on the table then I might be interested other than just doing it for fun. Money can be as much a motivator as a cool voicing you’ve never played before. “Triads, you want to pay me for triads? What kind of triads do you want?”
Mackncheeze: So you’re running Sound Forge and Cakewalk? Is that a new version of Cakewalk?
Adam: It’s the new version; it’s the one that Bandlab took over. Bandlab bought Cakewalk from Gibson after Gibson pretty much abandoned it; they just stop developing it. I had paid a lifetime licensing fee for it and then Gibson dumped it.
Mackncheeze: What is it you want to say?
Adam: Music is just for everyone to enjoy, it’s not a competition, it’s not a statement, it’s not a protest. I hate protest music, some great stuff has come from it but I’m not interested in messages. I’m not against messages, obviously that would be very stupid. I just don’t need a message in the music. I grew up on Van Halen, Rush, AC DC, Judas Priest; I like instrumentals, I like jazz , there’s a lot of country I enjoy, I love the early days of rap. I can listen to some old Judas Priest and say to myself, “That was pretty Neanderthal wasn’t it?” Did they do a good job of it? Damn right they did; not a lot of deep messages there.
Good lyrics? I don’t really hear the words as much as I do the syllables; it’s like I’m color-blind in that way. I hear the syllable with the notes and if they flow that’s great. I could listen to a song my whole life and not know the words.
I don’t care what the words are, I just want the music to flow. Someone could ask me what the words to a specific Zeppelin tune are and I’d have to say, I don’t know. If someone starts singing it and I’ll say, “Oh yeah, I know that song.” If they speak the words I’ll have no idea what the song is. Music is about feeling good, I don’t care about the message.
As far as my own playing? I’m probably like every other musician, I am my own worst critic. I very rarely like my playing or what I do. If I capture the moment, I like what I did right there, something I can listen back to a lot.
Adam: I love music. I do what I say I’m going to do and that nails it. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it; I’m not going to tell you otherwise or act otherwise.
Mackncheeze: What got you started in all this?
Adam: Weed and Kiss. Seriously.
A friend of mine had an old Sears guitar and a Vox AC 30 amp. We didn’t know what we had. Before we knew how to make it work we would just turn up the amp feedback on the reverb and throw out obscenities. We didn’t sound any better than my six-year-old nephew who’s right now trying to learn guitar. We were having a ball; we destroyed the amp and the guitar.
We were sitting in my friend’s bedroom, listening to Kiss and I had the guitar in my hand. I played seven notes, and you know that feeling you get when the music you’re performing is just perfect, you get that high, it was like, “Hey, these things actually work.” From then on it was like, “Hey, that’s it!” The magic was there.
It’s like being addicted to a drug. Sometimes it happens in the studio, sometimes it happens on stage, sometimes it happens just thinking of an idea. I’ll be in bed thinking about something and telling myself I’ve got to record this thing.
For the rest of my life I’ve always been searching for that feeling. Ultimately, when you are playing music, you’re trying to please yourself. You hope everybody else likes it but if you please yourself then there is success. That’s what it’s all about for me. It’s such a rare occurrence and I’m trying to get back to that point again. I know it’s only going to last a minute or so, and then I spend the next three months trying to make it happen.
The best thing that ever happened was Facebook because the people that really mattered in my life, we are now all back together again. Most of us stayed involved with music one way or another. We loved every minute of it and still do. We share our projects with one another with a little more expertise than we had when we were younger.
Mackncheeze: So your high school band experience…
Adam: We had different bands; we weren’t actually doing the high school dance scene or anything. There was a group of us and we knew we were good; we were having fun playing and we knew we could play.
Mackncheeze: So tell me about your dad…
Adam: My dad is amazing. Growing up we used to hear him every single day just playing scales on piano; all scales and exercises everyday, four hours at a time. We grew up listening to virtuoso practice everyday. It was the way it was and that’s how my father lived.
We would go into Manhattan regularly and my dad would be working on some Off Broadway show. There were always good musicians and good music around the house: classical, jazz, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach. He would be listening to this stuff and then just rip it at practice.
I had to know where I stood on the guitar before I realized how astronomically good my father was. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Give him any tune and he could play it stylistically perfect in any interpretation: Fugue, jazz, classical, whatever he felt like doing. That’s how he played all the time, it was amazing.
Mackncheeze: Did your dad teach you? Did you go to school?
Mackncheeze: Where did you learn all your theory? You know theory backwards and forwards.
Adam: We were sick of Reno and my friend Bob Knight, who is an amazing bass player, we both moved to Washington. My dad was already here and said there was a pretty good music scene going on.
After we moved to Washington from Nevada, I went to Bellevue Community College for a year. I had been playing guitar for four years and playing in bands for regularly three.
Mackncheeze: What casino was your dad working at in Lake Tahoe?
Adam: His regular gig was playing dinner piano at the top of Harrah’s, but he would also get side gigs at other casinos. Before that he was the piano player and arranger for my grandfather’s band, The Al Tronti Orchestra, at the Sahara Tahoe. My dad played with Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Sonny and Cher, The Jackson 5, Frank Gorshin, The Carpenters, Phyllis Diller, with whoever. Think of the major acts of that era and he played with them.
After that my dad had to hustle. He came to Seattle in about 1982 or 1983 and did a 20-year stint at the SeaTac Holiday Inn playing the main dining room.
I came up in late ’84. When I had first moved to Seattle I took Bob with me to an audition for this band called The Earl White Review. Bob was getting ready to audition for the band and I was talking to Earl and he found out I was a guitar player. He asked me to bring my guitar and amp to his hotel the next night and I sat down and played with some tapes.
I was playing along with a bunch of tunes he had and he asked me if I wanted to play in the band. I said, “Oh yeah, this will be kind of interesting.” I’d only been playing for four years; I wasn’t a seasoned pro by any means. I had been playing mostly 80’s pop metal, and now all of the sudden I’m playing covers like Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, a huge amount of Motown, some goofy hits from the 40s to the mid-80s.
That was a Tuesday that I took Bob to the audition, it was a Wednesday that I sat in the hotel room and played to the cassette. Thursday I showed up for rehearsal and by Friday the guitar player and the keyboard player were gone.
I didn’t know any songs on the set list and we opened on Friday at the Cotton Club on Martin Luther King way. We were booked for a week. My plan was to follow along discreetly with the set and try to stay out of everybody’s way until I learned the music. But now I was told I had to carry the whole thing and I didn’t know any of the tunes. That night we played a lot of Blues.
I worked with Earl for about a year and then that ended because of extenuating circumstances. After my tenure with Earl I went to Bellevue Community College.
That’s where I learned theory. Because I was living with my dad at the time, if I had questions about something that didn’t sound right, he would direct me into the way I needed to go. My dad was an arranger and he was used to writing out music for an entire orchestra. He would do all the copying for each part for each instrument; every bit of it was second nature.
Mackncheeze: How did you get involved with recording?
Adam: Before I even knew how to play I would plug my guitar into my dad’s stereo quarter inch input. I didn’t have an amp at the time. It sounded like garbage. I recorded onto a little Radio Shack cassette thing. I was farting around with the cassette player, I would play something through my dad’s stereo and record it and then I would jam along with the playback. I decided it would be cool if I could record me trying to play along with those cassette recordings; I bought another cassette player.
I had this cheap little mic, I had my little practice amp, I would play back the cassette recording and jam to it and record it onto the other cassette player via the little mic.
I realized the cassette player had outputs, so I was able to accomplish a multi-track recording by recording one track into the right Channel and another track into the Left Channel. I was 15 years old and I realized I needed to do something else. I utilized that for a while before I got a 4-track cassette recorder. It was a Tascam Ministudio Porta One, which I still have.
Mackncheeze: You never got rid of it?
Adam: I keep it because I still have old recordings that I can play back.
We recorded my dad at Kearney Barton Studios in Lake Forest Park. His Studio was immaculate. He had a full size grand piano. Hendrix had recorded there a few times, among others, a veritable whose who.
I mastered my dad’s recordings on Cool Edit Pro which was freeware. I paid 10 or 20 bucks for the pro version in about 1994, 1995. I didn’t know what I was doing; I just winged it and it turned out okay.
That was my first mastering experience. For that time, it was basically a light version of sound Forge. That was my introduction to a stereo digital audio processing workstation; strictly working with stereo files. That’s when I when I made a distinction between recording and mastering. I was using DOS 2.0; this was before Windows even existed.
Mackncheeze: When you were at the Art Institute, did you study vocals? How did you learn to sing the way you do?
Rob: A mixture of church, singing by myself, with my quarter inch reel to reel, some vocal training; at the Art Institute there was a lot of recording. At that period of my life I wasn’t really into doing music. I wanted to be a producer and make albums. I had no interest in being an artist. There was no intention.
The first time I ever started singing was at a karaoke bar when I was stationed in Japan. At that time, most karaoke bars in Japan would have Elvis songs, some Beatles songs, Johnny Mathis. This is like 1988. Back then, in Japan, karaoke was cool because everything was on a LaserDisc. They all had videos.
Some of the most amazing bands I have seen were in Japan. This one band was a Zeppelin cover band. This Japanese dude looked just like Robert Plant, his hair and the whole nine yards. He was blind and he sang just like Plant. His pronunciation was spot-on. There was a part of me that was asking, “Is he really blind?” I’m just like, wow. A high energy, amazing show. I’ll never forget them.
So the cool thing was my Aunt Dee Dee knew Jay King who was the head guy of Club Nouveau. He was in the Army and he was stationed up in Anchorage. I was working at Miramar ( Abraxas Pool, The Storm, Steve Lukather ). I was doing a few projects for him that we’re not related to Miramar. It was more R&B and rap stuff and we hooked up a few times. The initial connection was through Japan. I was off and on in Japan for two years.
I was given the opportunity to go back into broadcast journalism in Japan and be a writer for the Stars and Stripes. The catch was that I needed to re-up for 2 years. This was right before the Gulf War. I didn’t go that route.
Mackncheeze: Please give me a history of being a DJ.
Rob: I started when I was in the Marine Corps. When I wasn’t in Japan, I was in Pohon Korea. That was a cold weather training, and I was also a part of the operation Team Spirit. North Korea’s leader Kim il-sung was firing missiles in protest of the American and South Korean operations occurring at that time.
So the club DJ did not show up.
Everybody knew I was a broadcast journalist and so they said, “Hey Brewer, you have to DJ.” I crawled up in this really small square cube glass enclosure. I’m sitting cross legged, the club is packed, all the heat is rising to the ceiling. I was in this tiny little room in my own world, just getting down , throwing down all the cuts, and keeping everyone happy. I did not know it at the time, but being a DJ would be something I would end up doing.
It was all turntables back then. I was having a good old time. That was back in the day, my first real experience with turntables. I got paid a bunch of free beer. I was happy, everybody else was happy.
Mackncheeze: I find it very interesting that you sing in two different bands, doing a DJ Act as well.
Rob: Being a DJ, I am my own entity. I control my own destiny, I don’t have to pay anybody else at the end of the night, I make my own decisions. Being in a band, you can not instantly take a gig. When a gig is offered you have to call everyone up and ask who is available. Many times booking agents and club Owners need to know right away.
As a DJ I’ve never had that problem; it’s just me.
Mackncheeze: You carry a light show?
Rob: Yes. I think ambience is important. Not only do I carry lights, I carry video as well. I have a philosophy that most people are pretty much wallflowers. I think they need an icebreaker to engage them to want to dance. If I can nostalgically take you to a period, or mentally put you in a happy place, have you visually see something that makes you think of someone else, makes you think of another time, it might engage you to want to dance.
Macknceeze: Have you thought about writing books on psychology?
Rob: I think it’s important to be a good DJ but I think you have to do a little bit more in order to get people to buy into what you are doing. Being a DJ, you definitely control the mood and the tempo of the Dance Floor. Technically, I’m not the greatest DJ ever, but I know what I need to do to make it work.
I do a little scratching, but I’m more into blending and overdubbing, I’m not trying to be a turntablist.
If you’re a turntablist, people are only going to your show to see you perform. If you’re a club DJ, people are going to a club to dance. It would be selfish of me to practice turntable technique to a packed dance floor of people trying to get their groove on. It’s good to show a level of skill, whether it’s taking a song and mashing it into another song, or recreating some songs. To me what’s important is creating my own brand and originality of style.
Mackncheeze: A technical question: if you were a DJ with a live band, could you take your discs, sans CDs, using correct tempo and scratch tracks into the band’s performance?
Rob: Oh yeah. Mackncheeze: There are not many DJ s that can do that.
Rob: That’s where some of my time at the Art Institute came into this. During that time I was producing and engineering. Knowing how to lay tracks properly, knowing how to piece together songs and how to orchestrate and collaborate, that was very important on my education. It’s one thing to know how to play an instrument but it’s another thing to know how to work as a team and work together.
Mackncheeze: Tell me about the two bands you are working with…
Rob: Midnight Radio Revival, that’s a band I’ve been with for 7 years. I took over the lead vocal position around for 11 years ago. We’ve mainly been doing psychedelic Rock from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. We call it Golden Age Heavy Rock. We cover about 80 or 90 songs.
Over the past year, Doug, our lead guitarist, has written some amazing stuff. We could continue playing covers, but our new focus now is to take some of this music that’s been written, and do it in a classic rock style. We want to record it and get it out. Certain clubs do not want a cover band; they want bands with original content. There are radio shows and TV shows that love to have a bands like that. They can’t do it with bands doing covers because of licensing agreements.
I think for a lot of the people who come to the shows, they’re like saying okay, what’s next? You can only do so many covers. Our next step is to record about seven or eight original songs. We will still do covers and blend in original material. That’s our next big step.
Bands are like sports teams. At the end of the day, after piecing all the music together, it becomes a collaborative effort. In order to have success it has to be a team effort. It’s funny because music is kind of oxymoronic; a lot of it is based on self oriented concepts where there is no team.
The other band is Cold As Ice. We’re a foreigner tribute band. We have only been doing Foreigner covers. Foreigner is a 7 piece band. We have been covering all the parts as a four-piece. We have some amazing folks. We did a show together last year on the 4th of July. That was the last gig we did. We got together before this whole corona virus thing happened. We pieced together a song list of what we were going to work on. All this came about and that’s where we’re at now.
I almost had the opportunity to play in an Earth Wind and Fire tribute band called Kalimba. The manager approached me and during the interview I was told they do about 70 shows a year. Most of the shows are out of state. As a cover band they’re probably doing better than most national Acts. It was good; I was practicing all of that Philip Bailey stuff. It helped increase my range. To me, any opportunity is always a fun challenge. To be acknowledged or even thought of as being a part of that is kind of cool.
I pretty much enjoy all aspects of music. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground.
Mackncheeze: So Rob, what do you personally want to say?
Rob: Rob Brewer, aka, DJ Forrest Gump, still has a lot of music in front of him. I have a lot of things yet to accomplish. I’m looking forward to doing those things.
I am Robert Brewer, son of Shirley Brewer, grandson of Lula Bell Brewer, from Seattle Washington, born and raised in West Seattle, at High Point.
Back in World War Two, High Point was subsidized government housing for military personnel, all the way into the 90s. High point is now gentrified; now it’s $500,000 plus Homes.
I come from a family where music was a very important part of our lives. My older sister, Kathy, her father, was a local music icon in radio; his name was Burl Barer. He was on KJR for a long time. He is not my dad.
My life has jumped through a lot of hoops. I have been a radio DJ, on and off, for 25 years.
Mackncheeze: Really, what stations?
Rob: KCMU 90.3, which later became KEXP, and KLSY 92.5. My first internship was at KFOX. 1250 AM. That was when I was in college. Bob Wickstrom was president of Bailey’s School of Broadcasting. He asked me if I would like to intern at KFOX. I would run from The Art Institute to KFOX to do it. I stayed there until the station went off the air.
Some of the first records I ever had were from my mom and my dad. When I was three, I remember my mom playing Sly and the Family Stone. One of my first vivid memories is hearing the song, Stand.
Mackncheeze: That’s a cool memory man. I love Sly Stone.
Rob: Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, those are really the first memories of my life. As I grew older I would listen to more and more of my mom’s and my aunt’s music.
My grandma loved Hee Haw. So I watched Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk, and a little bit of the Grand Ole Opry. The folks from my mom’s side are from Little Rock Arkansas and St. Louis Missouri, as well as the Mississippi Delta area. In my back ground there is some Creole, Native American, and a little bit of Haitian.
Mackncheeze: You got the turntables, you got the vinyl, that’s awesome, man.
Rob: My mom had these records which I have kept till today. My mom and my dad wrote on the album sleeves. I cherish those albums because I really feel like I have a connection with them. Through these pieces of vinyl, to me, that’s really the only true connection I have with my dad.
As a child, watching TV, my grandma always used to record me singing Michael Jackson songs; ABC, I Want You Back, stuff like that. I pray those recordings have been destroyed.
In recording, if you don’t get used to you the sound of your voice, you are going to have to either accept it or forget about it.
My aunt Catherine was the music collagist of our family. She was an amazing woman. Her life and music, in a weird, chronological way, went along with the albums she collected. I have all these older Fats Waller albums. I have a Quincy Jones 78 disc. It is a recording of Quincy’s band when he was stationed at Fort Lewis. My aunt would not only give me vinyl but tell me stories that went along with each one, how they were purchased, how each artist inspired her and why she liked them. My mom was into The Supremes, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix.
Mackncheeze: What influence started you performing?
Rob: I was the only boy in the house. I grew up in a house full of women; me, my mom, my grandma and my sister. If I wanted to hang out in the house I either had to be in my bedroom or I would be doing chores. My other choices were down at the gym or down at the park playing.
My mom gave me all of her vinyl. Some days, Seattle being drenched with rain, I would spend part of the day at the gym and spend afternoons and evenings listening to albums.
One day, my mom got me a quarter inch reel to reel tape deck. I started experimenting with recording. I would take my record player and record sounds, just goof around. Those were my early recordings.
Through a buddy of mine I got a body of a Gibson SG. There was a record record shop called Zobrist. Zobrist is the first place Jimi Hendrix got a guitar. I bought all my guitar components there. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I built my first guitar, a copy of a Gibson SG.
When I started going to High School I saved up some money, my mom helped me and I took guitar lessons. I took lessons at a place called The Rosewood guitar. That was in the U District. After school and in between playing basketball I would go there and learn guitar.
I was a decent athlete and I wanted to play basketball at Roosevelt. In the early and mid eighties Roosevelt was the number one team in the state. I had been going to private school most of my life; I wasn’t part of the Seattle public school system. That gave me an option to go wherever I wanted to go.
I would get out of class at 2, basketball practice would be at 5:30. A lot of times I would go to a place on the Ave called Kennelly Keys. The Rainbow was across the street. I would go and jam out on different guitars. After practice I would go back to the Rainbow and listen to bands play. The one band I enjoyed and listened to a lot was Robert Cray.
After High school I played basketball at Shoreline Community College. We weren’t good; we went 8 and 20 or 7 and 21 something like that, we were really bad. That was the first time in my life I had ever played on a losing team. It was unfortunate, we had some really, really good players who got caught up partying too hard.
I went into the Marine Corps which really was not my first choice. When I first started at Shoreline I had applied into ROTC Army officer training program. I felt like the process was taking too long . I remember one day I went across the hall to the Marine Corps and signed up. That was in 1988. The day after my mom’s birthday I shipped off to boot camp. Believe me that was an experience and a half.
I was in the Marine Corps for four years.
I had decent scores so my original job was a broadcast journalist. The Marine Corps School of Journalism is at Syracuse University. Towards the end of boot camp I had to take my school of Journalism tests. I was just trying to finish boot camp and I wasn’t ready to take all these tests. In the middle of physical training I was not able to focus; there was no chance to study. The only thing I was brushing up on was cleaning my M16.
They decided to send me to Wire and Comm School At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Part of Comm School is that you spend three or four weeks climbing telephone poles. Most of those poles are 40 or 50 feet off the ground. The pole yard had tons of wood chips spread across the ground so if we fell 40 feet down we wouldn’t break a neck.
Mackncheeze: Did you ever fall?
Rob: Hell, yeah, I fell down many times. We were provided boots and climbing gaffs; it was never a hundred percent free fall. Poles can be really slippery, especially in the rain, especially with a lot of humidity. Where I lived in North Carolina there could be days of 90% humidity. Five, ten feet off the ground, you’re drenched in sweat.
Towards the end of my time in the military, a really good buddy of mine who has passed away, used to work at The Improv. The Improv was a comedy club that is now the Showbox.
I was doing security there. I started doing that on one of the last times I was home on leave. Larry Harris, the owner of the Improv, he used to own a couple of recording labels named Buddha and Oasis. Larry and his first cousin created a record label called Casablanca. He used to manage Kiss. Two of his other bands were Parliament and Funkadelic.
I started going to the Art Institute when I first got back. I was studying music and video production. I was inspired by one of my good friends, Russ, a super great guitar player. His group was called Bitter End. They were a heavy metal band. They were one of the last heavy metal bands pre grunge in the Seattle area. I remember seeing them on MTV when I was stationed in North Carolina. It was really cool to see my friend on National Television.
The Art Institute was one of those organizations where people would come to the school because they were infatuated with Grunge music; people seeking a musical education for not all the right reasons. For me, going into it was for all the right reasons. I knew my limits; in order to advance I knew I needed a higher level of musical education. So a combination of me going to the Art Institute and working with my friend Russ in Bitter End, and also working at The Improv , having a mentor like Larry Harris, from Casablanca, really helped me connect all the dots of entertainment. Working with Larry was not just about the whole business of music, but included the whole business of comedy and the whole business of dining.
Michael: I am my friendships and relationships. I am very blessed that my friendships are from all over the world. My glass of water, I can honestly say, is half full or close to full. I work hard to keep it that way.
Its music, or what I do to motivate myself, or sitting practicing scales, or whatever I want to accomplish.
I am well supported on the planet.
Musically, I have always been drawn to very good vocalists, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Michael McDonald. Motivationally, great jazz players. I’m like every other player; I need inspiration.
I really enjoy a great melody coupled with great vocals. I’ve always been partial to Black Music and Swing. Classic Rock, I would call a squared off sort of rhythmic structure. I have experienced those, and they really don’t do a whole lot for me. I’ve always had swing in my music, one way or another. I was born with a quarter note triplet in my blood.
I have been thinking about the bands I have been with through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Millennials and how much they have really defined what I was doing and accomplishing. The last twenty years I have been trying to focus more on being a singer/songwriter, more of a front line approach.
I am focused on producing videos for my first album, Easy Street, and for current musical projects. Its really the task at hand.
Mackncheeze: What is Moondance?
Michael: A Van Morrison Tribute band, comprised of five really solid musicians who really enjoy Van Morrison’s music. We have great respect for Van who has been recording since the 60’s and even today is doing it at a very high level of success, which is really amazing.
Moondance captures the essence of the really great vibe of Morrison’s poetic ballads and pop tunes. We are not an orthodox tribute band; we don’t play note for note, but we certainly capture the essence, intros and hooks. We also inject solos within the arrangements, because we have accomplished people who know how to improvise.
Mackncheeze: What are your passions?
Michael: As a Berklee drummer, I would like to be playing drums in some sort of intelligent ensemble. I grew up being a drummer and vocalist, for me, those usually went hand in hand.
I just wrote a song called, Say Goodbye, looking forward to recording that. I’ve also recently written a more modern, hip-hop kind of song.
Presently I’m feeling very creative. This year, after taking a trip to Europe and visiting friends in Germany, Poland and Iceland, I had a switch come on. I can be inspired to write music by walking down the street. I’m learning how to make it tangible. Its the combination of things; the video perspective of capturing an image, learning how to listen better, conversations inspiring a lyric or a feeling, something I can visually see.
I love singing. Talk about passion. These ballads, when I sing these songs, I sing them to the bone, I feel them and I think about my own life and how the songs interact with the lyrics.
Presently, it’s an exciting, creative time. Considering the lack of sun in the Northwest, this is a good thing.
Mackncheeze: You are your sun. Whats the most exciting thing you have ever encountered ?
Michael: Helping deliver my daughter. She was born in the back seat of Volkswagen Bug. I was in the backseat with a midwife, as we were on the way to a hospital after forty two hours of labor.
My passion list would actually be long; things that actually changed my life. Moving from the east coast in ’74, ’75. Playing in front of 85,000 people at Seattle’s Bumbershoot when it was in Pioneer Square. In 1986, playing at the World Expo in Vancouver, British Columbia . Bake’s Place, Moondance, August 2019, the only band to sell out the club on a Friday night. Being debt free and a home owner; anomolous for most musicians. There are alot of successes.
My health and my music are somewhat intertwined. Right now it’s about being in the trenches and disciplining myself everyday, everyday. I’m learning that more and more.
Mackncheeze: What are your struggles?
Michael: Writer’s block, that’s been a struggle. I’m trying to write down everything: documenting, documenting, documenting.
Mackncheeze: Anything else?
Michael: I’m really thankful for all my friends. And Jasper, my Maine Coon Cat. What would we do without our cats?