Campbell Youngblood-Petersen

NYC based Composer, Drummer, and Percussionist

Windows of the Self

In my ongoing quest to figure out who it is that I am and what my purpose in life is, I've made a few observations about wildly different personas I seem to move through in the world. More on this in a second, but first, let me say that I think this concept is probably more universal than I would have initially thought, say, three years ago. In fact, I have a feeling a lot of the things I perceive as "suffering" unique to my own life are more common than my ego- caught up in its own drama- would care to admit. Ultimately, we're all dealing with the human condition, just different sets of circumstances...but I digress.

Let's get back to the idea of personas. This is something I have been aware of for quite some time, and have heard others talk about in the past, but journaling about it recently really shed some light on this idea. We all have many different relationships in various facets of our lives, and each of these come with their own set of socially constructed rules we are supposed to adhere to. The obvious one is the relationship an employee has with their employer, and the built-in power structure that comes with it. Another is the power structure between two employees if one has been employed longer/paid more dues than the other, despite otherwise being equals. 

I work in a restaurant and am constantly aware of these dynamics at play. When I talk to my boss, I assume a slightly more submissive role, trying to please, despite my best intention to just be myself. When I talk to newer employees at the restaurant (say a newer server that I am training for instance), I notice that they assume a slightly docile vibe while I, in turn, feel more confident and have an authoritative vibe. Both of these examples have parallels in my own life that I noticed all through college (music professors <---> college freshman for example) and in the past four years of my adult life.

It seems that, on some level, these rules exist in every relationship we have in our lives. The relationships we have with our train conductor (can you tell I live in NYC?), our roommates, our significant others, our parents, our siblings, etc. Some of them bug me more than others- the employer/employee dynamic for instance- but all of them do seem to exist somewhere on this spectrum of deference <-------"actual self"-------> confidence. I will say that, despite my belief that this spectrum is always at play, it only really exists in the realm of ego. 

Let me explain why I am so bugged by this. I often tell people I have this "fairness complex," this feeling that, ultimately, everyone and everything in the world should exist in a state of complete equality. I say it's a complex because, one, it's not feasible, two, I'm not even sure it's desirable, and three, I'm kind of obsessed with it. However, when it comes to humans interacting, I do really strongly believe- deep at my core- that we are all equal, and that these various social constructs interfere with truly seeing each other as fellow beings. 

As I said, in my opinion, all of these dynamics come from the ego, and as a result I'm often left feeling confused as to who I actually am. If I have an interaction where I feel extra confident/authoritative, I think to myself, "Am I a narcissist?"* I certainly don't want to be, and deep down, I know that I'm not. Narcissism is not anywhere near the essence of what I'm trying to get at in life.** If I have an interaction at the other side of the spectrum where I feel deferent, I think, "Am I insecure? Am I a fragile being?" I don't want to be that either, but both sides of the spectrum (and everything in between) are in fact a part of me. Different windows of my own self. Or more like mirrors, I guess, because they all seem to be reflected back at one another. However, my inner self, my core- the person that I am when I am just sitting by myself in a room attempting productivity-sees them as windows. It's as if I'm looking into somebody else's life while simultaneously being aware it is my own and am confused as to why I do not recognize the person adhering to these various social constructs. I also know that if I go too far in either direction on the spectrum I end up feeling exhausted, as if I've been walked on by myself, and can only get my energy back by decompressing with plenty of alone time- the introvert in me I suppose. Despite this knowledge, I can't seem to stop myself from indulging the constructs. 

This is a total tangent but I'm going to get political for a second, because, the last point I wanted to touch on is the struggle to pursue self-betterment and express myself in this fucked up political/social climate we are in at the beginning of 2017.*** In the age of Trump, how can I go about trying to further my career and better myself without feeling guilty that I'm not constantly being an activist for the things I so strongly believe in, namely equality? This is another issue I think a lot of us are probably struggling with, and there must certainly be a balance to strike. On one hand, our current POTUS is clearly a bigot misogynistic pig who represents so much of what is wrong with the world. On the other hand, what sort of activism can I engage with that will truly make a difference?

I want to believe that we all need to push ourselves even harder to be the best that we can be in whatever it is we are trying to accomplish. So in my case: If I try to:

  • Become the best drummer/musician I can possibly be...
  • Write the best music I possibly can- maybe even music that addresses the issues of the world I feel strongly about...
  • Treat others- no matter my relationship with them (strangers <----> family) with as much respect and feelings of equality as I can...

...won't those things have a trickle-down, lasting impact on the world that may truly make a difference? If we all do this in whatever it is we're trying to accomplish, won't we all shine together? 

I'm going to finish this post with the sentiment that ended the journal entry that inspired it. "Breathe. Breathe in the vastness of it all, and breathe out with the willpower to seek it."****

 

 

*I can't tell you how confusing it is to live in the age of social media and balance the act of posting content: How frequently do I need to post? Should I wait longer, put fewer things out there but make sure they're quality and in line with my current aesthetic? Am I coming off as a hopeless narcissist to the world? Am I destroying my career by not waiting until I'm great/ready? The irony of talking about this in a blog is not lost on me, in fact, I think I may need to dedicate an entire future post to these questions. 

 

**This beautiful energy of love and connection that I can't seem to put into words, despite being made aware of its existence at various points in life. I'm not exactly religious, but usually just call this "the one" or "oneness," and whatever it is, I have a feeling it's at the very center of all my goals and aspirations in life, material or non-material.

***Part of me truly does believe that, despite all of the darkness, we are actually in a better place than humanity has ever been in history. I think some of the fucked up social inequalities in the world are becoming more and more clear to more socially enlightened folk, and so it seems like things are really bad. But it's also such a strong part of the human condition to doomsay (if that's not a verb I'm making it one)- to think that things are worse than they've ever been and the world is ending tomorrow. We need to keep hope and spread the light and beauty in the world to overcome the darkness- but this also deserves its own blog post. 

****My god does quoting oneself feel narcissistic!

Shedding Skin Tour Days 3-6: Scream So Loud!

The news of Prince's death hit everybody pretty hard on the road. When an artist of such incredible depth is suddenly gone, I personally find it difficult to feel like my own life has significance, especially my own art. The solution, for me at least, always seems to be continuing to make art even more intensely, and hopefully on some level keep the spirit of the artist alive through that process. 

The purple show must go on Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The purple show must go on

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Thursday night Vajra had the pleasure of returning to The Open Chord in Knoxville: a music venue/music instruction facility. It is clearly a destination for musicians in the area, and as such has a very supportive vibe.  There was a wide variety of heavy bands playing that night, varying from punk to hardcore, alternative to new metal. If those all sound like the same thing to you, you should be pleased to know that the "loud rock and roll devil music" your granddaughter listens to has multiple genres! Each of those genres of heavy music has sub-genres, and it goes deep! But i digress. Despite the musical diversity of the night, there was a continuity to things, as well as a nice camaraderie between all of the musicians. 

Great times with great peeps!  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Great times with great peeps! 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Adding to the good vibes were the sound engineers at the venue: Taylor Johnson and his son Billy Johnson. These two are awesome dudes, great engineers, and clearly very passionate about cultivating a scene around Knoxville. They were even both sporting Vajra t-shirts when we got there-bonus! Check these guys out if you're ever in the Knoxville area, and check out www.theaudio.com for some great customized microphones done by them. Keep it up dudes!

Vajra with Taylor and Billy Johnson Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Vajra with Taylor and Billy Johnson

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Friday took us to The Warehouse in Clarksville, TN where we shared the stage with The Pleading and Backroad Brigade. As with the previous night, both bands were great to listen to in addition to being great people. The Pleading, who split their time between Nashville and Clarksville, was a very tight band who gave off an incredibly joyous energy when they played. Very enjoyable! 

Look ma, no hands!  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Look ma, no hands! 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

With a ten hour drive ahead of us, we didn't exactly have much time to hang in Clarksville post-show. We immediately loaded out after playing and drove a few hours to the hotel for the night. Everyone was able to catch four hours of shut-eye, and we drove the remaining seven hours to Dallas the next morning. I've come to terms with the fact that getting good sleep on tour is literally impossible.

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

As things in life often go, it turned out that  Vajra's set got pushed to Sunday, making our frantic rush to TX on Saturday frivolous. It did however allow us to check out the festival, get some tattoos (in the case of Danny and Max) and hear a couple of awesome bands. Sick Puppies and Buckcherry were both super tight groups full of great musicians. We had a blast hanging and listening to them, as well as scoping out the stage for the next day. Despite a slightly hectic Saturday, it all worked out in the end. It always does, right? Right? 

Mr. Rojo is clearly a seasoned pro at this tattoo stuff. 

Mr. Rojo is clearly a seasoned pro at this tattoo stuff. 

Enjoying ourselves during Buckcherry's Texas Showdowk Festival set. The crowd was anxiously awaiting "Crazy Bitch," but the band sounded great the whole set!  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Enjoying ourselves during Buckcherry's Texas Showdowk Festival set. The crowd was anxiously awaiting "Crazy Bitch," but the band sounded great the whole set! 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Sunday brought about our turn to take the big stage and everyone was stoked, if not a little anxious. We loaded in nice and early, giving us time for full on soundcheck- a rarer occurrence then one would expect in the music industry! There was a green room backstage with access to complimentary food and drink, showers, washer and dryer, arcade games... the list goes on! Furthermore, the sound engineers and production staff at the venue were on point, adding to the excitement and energy of the day. Big thanks to The Bomb Factory for the professionalism and hospitality!

Shredding some strings and shedding some skin at The Bomb Factory.  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Shredding some strings and shedding some skin at The Bomb Factory. 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Sweet stage! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Sweet stage!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The show itself was a ton of fun. There is no feeling quite like playing a room and stage of that size, with the huge sound that accompanies it. It is an inspiring place to make music for sure! Adding to the enjoyment was the fact that Sunday was also Vajra's fourth gig of the week, meaning we were really starting lock things in in terms of sound. This is an incredibly gratifying process to witness, and one of my favorite parts of playing in a band. 

Jammin' with Danny   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Jammin' with Danny  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Annamaria bringing the heat! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Annamaria bringing the heat!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Before leaving Dallas, the band had to make one final stop: the legendary Dealey Plaza.  Annamaria is especially fascinated with the Kennedy assassination and the conspiracy behind it, and has been since childhood. Danny, being a Cuban guy, also has tons of background and interest in that time in politics, so it was an interesting group to go there with. Seeing the spot of the assassination was certainly eerie, but it was also fascinating. Looking up at the book depository, standing behind the fence on the grassy knoll, seeing the overpass; we all had the feeling that something was fishy about the situation. So much so that we had to try and recreate the crime scene for ourselves:

X marks the spot.   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

X marks the spot.  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the final blog of Vajra's adventures on the shedding skin tour, coming in a couple of days!

Until next time...Dave looking like a badass as always! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Until next time...Dave looking like a badass as always!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Shedding Skin Tour Days 1 & 2: Yeah, yeah, yeah, Tennessee.

Vajra has embarked on yet another tour! This time around we're heading down to Dallas to play the Texas Showdown Festival with Buckcherry and Sick Puppies, and we're playing a few dates along the way.

Photo credit: Max Sequeira  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira  

We are fortunate to have left in good conditions this time around. Unlike the insane blizzard we departed in a few months ago, this time was sunny and clear, but it wouldn't be a Vajra tour without some transportation trouble. After getting only a couple of hours from NYC, we got stuck in standstill traffic near the NJ/DE border. It was hands down the worst traffic I have ever been in, and was a real test of all of our patience/sanity. With nothing to do but sit in the immovable madness, there was only one solution: deep, deep breaths. Good thing Zeppelin was on the radio!

Sittin'.  

Sittin'.  

Fast forward five hours and we had arrived at the culprit of the delay: the Delaware Memorial Bridge undergoing repair for three broken suspender ropes. Ominous vibes abounded as the sun set behind the bridge. Hundreds of birds circled the crawling cars, and there was something very Hithcockian about it all. I couldn't help but entertain thoughts of the bridge collapsing directly beneath our wheels. Inch by inch, Beatrix- the name of the van for you newcomers- got us across unscathed, and we rolled on toward the Carolinas!

Beautiful nightmare Photo credit: Danny Rojo/Max Sequeira

Beautiful nightmare

Photo credit: Danny Rojo/Max Sequeira

Finally making it over the bridge was a triumphant moment, but the feeling quickly dissapated as we remembered the seven hour drive awaiting us. Nothing like getting to the hotel at four in the morning. Tour life baby! I was the one who had the privilege of rocking the night shift, so I downed some 7-eleven coffee and grinded it out. 

Max captured my feelings by the end of the night perfectly.  

Max captured my feelings by the end of the night perfectly.  

A seven hour drive and three hour sleep later, we were up and at em' in Fayetteville, NC. Everyone was excited to rock some face at The Rock Shop, but it was not happening without a serious hand stand session outside the venue first. 

The aforementioned session   Photo credit: Max Sequeira  

The aforementioned session  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira  

Vajra had played The Rock Shop only a few months beforehand, and getting to return so soon was truly a pleasure. The venue is a hub for all types of creative people; from musicians to visual artists, skateboarders to MCs. It is owned by Shawn Atkins- a great drummer in his own right- and features the legendary pooch Noser. So legendary in fact, that we need to take a second to observe a couple of pics:

Frontman Noser with owner Shawn on the drums 

Frontman Noser with owner Shawn on the drums 

The legendary pooch in the flesh   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The legendary pooch in the flesh  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The gig itself was our first with bassist Danny Rojo, and was a ton of fun. Danny picked the music up very quickly while simultaneously adding his own element. This made for a fresh performance with a nice balance of familiarity and improvisation. 

Danny the man   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Danny the man  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Danny and guitarist Dave Sussman   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Danny and guitarist Dave Sussman  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Tour life is a combination of excitement, rushing to wait, and sleep deprivation. In true form we packed up immediately after the Rock Shop gig and drove two hours towards Knoxville. Woof! 

Vocalist Annamaria Pinna in Fayetteville 

Vocalist Annamaria Pinna in Fayetteville 

Before I wrap up, I want to mention how devastated everyone in Vajra is to learn of Prince's passing. Though this technically happened on day three of our tour, we had just learned the sad news at the time of writing. This blog- and our show tonight in Knoxville- are both dedicated to that incredible artist formerly known as Prince. We will be paying subtle tribute to the master throughout the week. Thanks for reading!

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Blood Witch Tour Days 18-21: Ice Age and The End of all Things

We are Vajra. We are the bringers of ice.

As we finish up the last leg of Vajra's #bloodwitchtour, I find myself reflecting on what has been one hell of a tour. The initial adversity dealing with a record breaking winter storm in NYC set the stage for the whole tour, and it seemed to bring the cold with us wherever we went. To be fair, it is winter, but residents of CA, NM, TX, KS, TN and NC all said it was much colder (or more snowy) than they were used to, and it always seemed to happen just in time for our arrival! 

Ganesha watched over us from the dash through it all! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ganesha watched over us from the dash through it all!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

On Wednesday we rolled in to the legendary music town of Memphis, TN. In caseload  you're unfamiliar with the history, Memphis has produced many pioneers of music including Aretha Franklin, BB King, and Elvis Presley. It was also home to the legendary Stax records, especially know for its 1960s period with Booker T. and the M.G.'s as the house band. Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, and second to Nashville as the largest metropolitan area. Upon arriving, we immediately went to Beale street: a famous, historic district in the city. Beale street felt similar to Bourbon street in New Orleans; music, art, and culture just oozing out of every corner. After enjoying some southern cooking, we took a drive past Graceland, and played a fun gig at Rockhouse Live. 

Dave, Annamaria and Max chillin' near Beale street in Memphis Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Dave, Annamaria and Max chillin' near Beale street in Memphis

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The next morning we awoke to the news that our Clarkseville show (just outside of Nashville) had been cancelled, and we had been added to a bill in Knoxville last minute. This threw a bit of a wrench in our plans, as our awesome sound person Chris was set to fly out of Nashville the next night. Unfortunately, this meant we had to drop Chris off in Nashville that night (giving her a 24 hour wait for her flight) and continue on to our show in Knoxville without her. Serious bummer! As seems to always be the case, everything worked out in the end. Chris got back to LA, and we made it just in time for our gig at Open Chord/All Things Music in Knoxville.

Open Chord/All Things Music Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Open Chord/All Things Music

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The two guys running sound at Open Chord were a father/son duo who could not of been  more friendly, passionate folks. As we rolled up to the venue, the son immediately greeted us with a huge smile, helping us get quickly situated. We literally loaded our gear from the van to the stage, and despite not having Chris, were able to quickly get great sound with the father/son duo. The father came up afterwards raving, calling out the tantric and Indian influences in the music. In addition to asking us to come back to Knoxville, he suggested we play in Argentina, Brazil, and Europe, where he had both spent lots of time and thought we would have good reception. Thanks guys!

Post Knoxville gig photo shoot   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Post Knoxville gig photo shoot  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

We awoke again to some startling news the next day, this time in the form of...wait for it...another snow storm! Knoxville was getting nailed, and residents seemed out of sorts. There were cars on the side of the road, and warnings on the radio. Unfortunately for us, our journey required that we cross the Appalachians to get to our gig in Fayeteville, NC! The roads were pretty bad for awhile, but luckily this storm wasn't nearly as bad as winter storm Jonas. Everything cleared up within a couple of hours, and we were given a beautiful view of the Smoky Mountains. 

The Great Smoky Mountains Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The Great Smoky Mountains

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

When we finally arrived at The Rock Shop in Fayeteville (not to be confused with The Rock Shop in Brooklyn), we were happy to walk into the biggest room of the tour, at least in terms of square footage. The venue was a warehouse with two big stages on either side of the main room, a vert ramp for skateboarding next to one of the stages, and a huge dance floor. 

This was quite an imposing view 

This was quite an imposing view 

The event that night was the two year anniversary of a series called Art Attack featuring live music alongside visual art, skateboarding, and comedy, with the intention of improving the quality of life in Fayeteville. Awesome stuff! 

The uber-creative Vajra merch table diligently put together by Annamaria before every show Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The uber-creative Vajra merch table diligently put together by Annamaria before every show

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

There were three other bands before Vajra, one of which, Last Ditch, was particularly interesting. They had an incredibly unique sound that constantly shifted vibes in an avante-garde manner while still maintaining a progressive rock feel. The frontman/vocalist Dave played a variety of instruments (including one particularly cool looking rainstick), effected his vocals with a plethora of pedals, and at one point even screamed into the microphone wearing a horse head. Metal! I had the chance to talk the drummer Scott beforehand, and was immediately impressed by his attention to detail. Starting with gear, his drumset was huge: 5 toms, 2 bass drums, and 20+ cymbals on a large rack. Despite having such a large kit, he was adamant that every piece of equipment was secondary to his primary goal: serving the song. Scott took incredible care of his equipment. His drums were super shiny, and his cymbals squeaky clean. While I am admittedly of a different mindset in terms of equipment upkeep, I learned a lot from Scotts meticulous approach. On the recording front, Scott did the engineering for the band, and was particular on that front as well. He and Dave put two years into perfecting their latest single before releasing it. Two years! It was very cool to see Last Ditch putting so much thought and effort into everything they did. Keep it up guys!

Sumo Max giving Kevin a lift before the Rock Shop show!

Sumo Max giving Kevin a lift before the Rock Shop show!

The Rock Shop set was the last of our tour, and it was definitely a bittersweet feeling. The energy was intense: reflective, yet triumphant. There were times that the smoke on stage was so thick (from the smoke machine) that I literally could not see my hands, much less my drums or cymbals. At these times I would go into a trance like state, almost an out of body experience. This is an example of music functioning as a path to the one, Annamaria's concept that I expounded upon quite a lot a couple blogs ago. Fun stuff!

This pooch had an omnipotent presence at The Rock Shop Photo credit: Max Sequeira

This pooch had an omnipotent presence at The Rock Shop

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The #bloodwitchtour was truly an amazing experience. Being on the road can definitely be a grind at times, but getting to drive across the country and back, playing music along the way, is just about as good as it gets. There's nothing quite like it. I am so grateful to Annamaria, Dave, Kevin, Max, and Chris for being wonderful bandmates through it all. Being in a band is truly like having another family, which may actually be the best part of it all. I can't wait to hit the road with Vajra again this summer, and again in the fall. Thank you all for keeping up with us along the way, and if you can, come say hello at a Vajra show in the near future!  

Can you spot the Vaj? Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Can you spot the Vaj?

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

This tour brought to you by Poo-Pourri- seriously in contention to be a future Vajra sponsor, or at least a Dave Sussman personal sponsor! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

This tour brought to you by Poo-Pourri- seriously in contention to be a future Vajra sponsor, or at least a Dave Sussman personal sponsor!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ok, had to go with one last appearance change for the end of the tour...  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ok, had to go with one last appearance change for the end of the tour... 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Blood Witch Tour Days 11-17: Flatter Than A Pancake, Middle America Heartache

The middle of Vajra's #bloodwitchtour (both literally and geographically) has been an insightful look into an American lifestyle that feels like the bread and butter of our country, even if the bread is at times a little stale. Contrasted with Southern California, middle America feels a bit culturally stagnant, an unfair comparison to be sure. This is a land of industry and hospitality. The vibe here is actually quite similar to the rural areas I grew up around in Montana: people are friendly and practical, and have a unique appreciation for music. This has made for some rewarding shows with extremely appreciative audiences.

Acadian Galaxy: Vajra at Acadia in Houston Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Acadian Galaxy: Vajra at Acadia in Houston

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Our first stop in "middle America" was in Arlene, TX, where we had a radio interview with Frank Pain on Rock 108. Frank was an effusively complimentary DJ who seemed to have a true passion for music and his job. The walls around us were plastered with signed posters from hard rock bands who had been in the studio; names that left me feeling nostalgic for my high school years.

Nostalgia in the form of papa roach, nonpoint, mudvayne, etc

Nostalgia in the form of papa roach, nonpoint, mudvayne, etc

We played a few tunes on air acoustically in the studio (a format we've been exploring a lot), and one track was played off of our record Pleroma. Somebody even came down to the studio just to buy a CD during the show; that's some old school music promotion right there!

Hangin' with Frank Pain!  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Hangin' with Frank Pain! 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

In true tour fashion, we pressed on to Houston immediately after the interview. Here we were lucky to be put up for two nights by bassist Kevin's father and mother in-law: Kenneth and Elané. The timing of being in an actual home halfway through the tour could not of been better. On top of the incredible hospitality we received (we were greeted with beer and pasta), we also got to sleep in, do laundry, and spend a day relaxing; an amazing break from the grind of the road. Thanks so much Elané and Kenneth!

Dave feelin' good in an actual home! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Dave feelin' good in an actual home!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

After sufficiently freshening up, we packed up and headed in the direction of the Acadia Bar & Grill, the venue for our gig that night in Houston. The Acadia was a bit of a dive, but a cool venue all in all. The other bands were quite good: Theory of Thieves had a polished hard rock sound that I immediately identified with; Oceans Ego sounded very progressive with constantly shifting odd time signature interspersed with heavy riffs. The light show was also incredibly professional looking, and we later found out it was upwards of 100 grand worth of equipment.

Annamaria doing her spirit-ball warmup before the Acadia show Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Annamaria doing her spirit-ball warmup before the Acadia show

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

While waiting for our set time at Acadia, I had the opportunity to grab dinner with an old friend and his family: Eric Rokohl, his wife Jesica, and their daughter Olivia. Eric and I were both percussion majors at the University of Montana; he focused on music education, I studied performance. Despite being a few years younger than Eric, we were roommates my second semester of college when I decided I couldn't stand the dorms: I don't know how he put up with 19 year old me! We also played drums together in The Loud Mouth Brass Band, and ended up both serving separately as assistant band director at Hellgate High School (under Leon Slater), my alma mater. Eric and Jesica moved to Houston, TX after finishing up school in MT, and Eric is currently assistant director of bands at C.E. King High School in Houston. Their three year old daughter Olivia is a firecracker, very sharp and witty, and they've got another one on the way! So great to see you Eric, Jesica, and Olivia!

Rock 108 tower Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Rock 108 tower

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The Acadia gig was fun despite a few sound issues (an unfortunate thing due to the live broadcast by Reach Down Radio) and some other nearby shows affecting our turnout. We found out soon after arriving at the venue that christian metal band P.O.D. was playing in Houston, and heavy metal band Lamb of God was playing just down the street. Damn! The next night we played another metal bar called Tomcats West in Fort Worth, TX. Upon arriving at the venue, I showed my old ID to the sound guy/door man who said, "Montana huh?" It turned out that this guy, Nolan, was from Kalispell, MT, a two hour drive from my home town of Missoula. We most likely played each other in high school soccer matches, and had a mutual drummer friend in Kelbee Sweedman, who I went to college with. Now he was helping with my monitor mix in Fort Worth, TX; small world stuff! Despite being a Friday night, this shows turnout was also affected by, you guessed it, Lamb of God playing in nearby Dallas. We couldn't escape! Nonetheless, we all had a ton of fun making music that night, maybe the most fun of the tour to date. As bassist Kevin Jones keeps quoting: "Five or five-hundred, play like there are five-thousand." Some aspects of the industry are out of your control, but I am truly of the opinion that if you prepare to the best of your ability and play your heart out on stage when the time comes, the rest will take care of itself.

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The next day we drove to Wichita, KS to play The Lizards Lounge, getting closer to the true geographic center of the country. The landscape, as you might imagine, was flatter than a pancake,* and I found my mountainous Montana interior becoming a little depressed. The venue, as you might imagine, was a total dive, with country and hard rock alternating on the jukebox. My Montana interior now felt at once home. The story at The Lizards Lounge was similar: an appreciative Midwest audience and fun times had playing music; so much fun in fact that I split my finger open hitting the rim of a drum in a moment of passion! The sound here was quite good thanks to a collaboration between our kick-ass touring sound person, Tina-Vega-Chris (she goes by all three names), and the house guy at The Lizards Lounge, Nate Roy. Nate is a Wichita-based sound engineer/drummer (I swear 90% of sound people are drummers) who is another example of someone that gives me hope for the industry. The guitarist from the first band that night informed us that Nate was the best sound guy he'd ever worked with, and it showed. Chatting with him afterwards told the same story. As we chatted generally about the industry, he said something deep along the lines of, "Whether I'm playing music, or doing sound, I take a great deal of pride in my work. If you don't give it your all, why do it at all?" Yes Nate, yes.

I swear I wasn't flipping Max off, that's just where my cut was!   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

I swear I wasn't flipping Max off, that's just where my cut was!  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

To catch you up to now, the last few days have felt like a bit of a blur. We arrived on Sunday in Hutchinson, KS, which makes Wichita seem like the cultural center of the world, and Chicago seem sheltered; damn it was windy! We took the day off on Super Bowl Sunday, because god knows nobody in Kansas wants to see music when the Super Bowl is on! Monday consisted of a radio interview at KJAG and an acoustic gig at The Rusty Needle that night. Same story here: small dive bar with a very sweet, appreciative audience. Tuesday was mostly a repeat day. Lots of driving across flat-ass Kansas, and a radio interview at KJML 107.1 in Joplin, MO. I did find the more eastern parts of Kansas to have a beautiful serenity to it that I hadn't noticed in the Wichita area, though personally I still couldn't imagine living out there! That serenity quickly left as we entered Joplin, which had remnants of destruction from the 2011 tornado that leveled the city, killing 150+ people, injuring 1000+, and causing around $3 billion in damage. Yikes!

Acoustic gig at The Rusty Needle: Acoustic guitars, doumbek, vocals, water phone, electronic tanpura Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Acoustic gig at The Rusty Needle: Acoustic guitars, doumbek, vocals, water phone, electronic tanpura

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The interview in Joplin was with DJ Muttley, who had some interesting thoughts pertaining to the current state of the music industry, something that really seems to be the theme of this tour. He compared it to the radio industry, in that both of them seem to have less and less potential to make money, especially for people who refuse to fit squarely into the mainstream. I'm simultaneously inspired and depressed by what I've been learning. It seems more and more as if the only way to make a career out of music these days is a grass-roots approach, and even still the actual concept of making money is a bit of a mystery. Thinking about the fact that the career I have chosen to pursue, the degree I have earned, is one that still has no guarantee of being my livelihood can be a little discouraging. But when I look at the bands that are doing it, I'm nothing but inspired. Some of my favorite bands like Snarky Puppy and Lettuce, started out with an entirely grass-roots approach, and have kept that mentality throughout their development as a band with one common thread: hard ass work, and a true passion for music. Time to shed!   

Midwest vibes Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Midwest vibes

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

We are super stoked to play these last few gigs of the tour, and I will do my best to document the end of the #bloodwitchtour! Thanks for reading! 

Oh Kansas... 

Oh Kansas... 

*After googling the expression "flatter than a pancake", it turns out that science has actually proven this to be true, though Kansas actually isn't even in the top five flattest states in the country.

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Blood Witch Tour Days 8, 9 & 10: Water, Fire, Earth

First there was the relentless Winter Storm Jonas that tried to keep Vajra from leaving New York. Next, the heavy rain and flood warnings outside of Santa Barbara, a rare occurrence in the area. Then, the metaphorical leaps of fate we took off of imperial sand dunes in Arizona, leaving us devoid of a very important possession. The #bloodwitchtour has been infused with the elements in some insidious ways.

Imperial sand dunes in Arizona Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Imperial sand dunes in Arizona

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Sunday marked our "ta ta for now Cali" show at Brick By Brick in San Diego, but much like NYC, California tried its best to hold on to us. During the drive south, we all got pinged for flood warnings, creating an apprehensive energy in the van. It was raining a bit in Santa Barbara, but nothing that seemed too severe. Any amount of rain is apparently rare in the area, so it felt like the warnings might be overplayed, and to a degree, they were. Halfway to San Diego we found ourselves backing out of a closed highway, admist multiple other vehicles attempting the same. We made it to a separate highway, but just outside of LA we found the streets to be filled with debris and pools of water. We did have to traverse around some gnarly fallen trees, but all in all it could've been much worse. 

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS" 

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS" 

When we finally arrived at Brick by Brick to load in, we realized that the cold warehouse was a true metal venue. It is co-owned by former members of metalcore band As I Lay Dying, now defunct due to the incarceration of their singer for some messed up shit; google if you please. As bassist Kevin Jones pointed out, Vajra doesn't fit traditionally on to a metal bill, and this one was no exception. Conversely, we don't fit exactly into a softer world music or rock category, which leaves us in an interesting middle ground. It seems that Vajra's music is dynamic enough to keep the attention of a more traditional rock crowd, while being heavy enough to intrigue the metal crowds; it's a fun place to be!*

Brick By Brick show board: if you're a metal-head, you probably know some of these names.

Brick By Brick show board: if you're a metal-head, you probably know some of these names.

Other than some initial setup and sound issues, the show went smoothly, with one notable exception. At some point in the night our photographer Max Sequeira was asked to leave by the co-owner/former As I Lay Dying drummer Jordan Mancino!* As it turned out, they suspected Max to be dealing drugs after seeing him go in and out of the venue all night. I guess these guys are probably on high alert with all of the recent negative media attention, but I'll be damned if it didn't feel somewhat discriminatory against Max. Weird!

"Drum selfie" from Brick By Brick

"Drum selfie" from Brick By Brick

Monday was our first full day off of tour and we spent it LIVING IT UP, PARTYING SO HARD WITH ALL THE GIRLS AND ALL THE DRUGS!!  No, not actually. We actually spent Monday driving, and driving, and looking at our iPhones, and driving some more. We did have one notable stop at the imperial sand dunes for a quick photo op, and it turned scary for a second. 

Jumping shot: every bands gotta have one   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Jumping shot: every bands gotta have one  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The dunes were windy as hell, creating fresh layers of sand every minute, and blowing it in our eyes as we jumped. The look of the sand blowing on top of the dunes was so cool that I had to try and capture it in a video:

 

After snapping a couple of pictures, we decided we'd had enough sand in our eyes and boots and hightailed it down to Beatrix the van. Upon reaching Beatrix however, we realized that the keys had been lost in the act of jumping off the dunes, with no accessible spare set! Considering the amount of wind, it seemed likely that the keys may have been buried in sand in the time it took to walk back. Panic ensued, as we traversed back up the steep dunes, covering as much ground as possible. As seems to be a theme on this tour, we had some good fortune in overcoming adversity, as Dave managed to find the needle in the haystack. Few!

Guitarist Dave Sussman, triumphant in his find of the keys 

Guitarist Dave Sussman, triumphant in his find of the keys 

Interspersed with full shows on the #bloodwitchtour are numerous acoustic radio dates. These performances are an entirely different animal, as the instrumentation is completely paired down and changed. Instead of the usual vox/guitar/bass/drums/percussion/backing track instrumentation, the acoustic set is simply voice, two guitars, and doumbek. As you might imagine, it takes a fair amount of rehearsal to adapt the material. Even though the arraangements themselves don't change, practically everything else does. 

Rehearsing acoustically in a cold New Mexico parking lot like a bunch of hippies  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Rehearsing acoustically in a cold New Mexico parking lot like a bunch of hippies 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The first acoustic set and interview of the tour was on Tuesday night: Cranked Up Live with Curtis McKinney in Carlsbad, NM. Curtis is a former drummer and radio personality based in Carlsbad who, in addition to hosting  Cranked Up Live (which is heard on over 45 stations around the world), also owns MSL productions: a company that puts on huge shows at the Walter Gerrells Performing Arts Center. 

The Cranked Up Live studio

The Cranked Up Live studio

Similar to Ted Mills from the FunkZone podcast, Curtis is the type of guy that could be the saving grace for the music industry. After undergoing a serious drumming injury, he was forced to reconsider his career, but knew he wanted to stay in music. He says he now gets even more of a rush from putting on a show than he once did from playing in one, though he admits it's a different kind of satisfaction. After talking with Curtis for some time, I got the distinct sense that he approaches his work with a great deal of pride, and is especially concerned with treating artists and bands fairly, possibly due to his past on the other side of the equation. The Cranked Up Live interview and performance painted the same picture. Curtis was unendingly patient as we figured out the balance of the room; a task that we could not of completed had our sound person Chris Castillo not come to the rescue! In the interview itself, vocalist/bandleader Annamaria Pinna did most of the talking (as it should be), but Curtis was also very clear about wanting to speak to each member of band individually, a fairness that I am a fan of! You can check out audio and video of the show (that we're splitting with Megadeth) later this week at www.crankeduplive.com. 

Ram.  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ram. 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Annamaria keeps bringing up this concept in interviews that really hits home with me, as I think it gets to the heart and energy of the #bloodwitchtour, and life in general. From her perspective, music- along with sex, religion, etc- is a pathway to the "one." Everyone's pathway might be different, but we're all looking for the same thing. So what is that thing? I like to think it's a state of awe. An interconnectedness of all things that transcends ego, basks in the glory of the universe. Personally, I first experienced this feeling experimenting with psychadelic mushrooms. Psychadelics have the power to give your ego no choice but death, and it's  scary as hell. Your ego fights and fights for control, causing overwhelming anxiety, building and intensifying, suffocating you until... RAM!* It all washes over you in a moment of clarity that, as my man Ram Dass says, is "an ineffable experience. I'd like to tell you about it but it's ineffable, sorry."  

Album Cover Material? Ram.  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Album Cover Material? Ram. 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ram Dass also talks about how psychadelics are only a temporary window into the "one." They showed him the possibilities, but no matter how many times he experimented, it was not a permanent "oneness." I can say that I too have felt I would never lose this feeling of "oneness" once achieved with mushrooms, but like Ram Dass, I always returned the next day to old neuroses and anxieties. I did however feel a subtle, but permanent shift.* Eventually the truly permanent path for Ram Dass was spirituality, but like Annamaria says, music is another one of those paths. 

We Montanans like to call our state Big Sky Country, but I think New Mexico qualifies as well! Oh, and, Ram! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

We Montanans like to call our state Big Sky Country, but I think New Mexico qualifies as well! Oh, and, Ram!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

I want to leave you with a quote from my favorite movie, American Beauty. Here's the ending monologue from Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey):

"I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars... And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street... Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper... And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird... And Janie... And Janie... And... Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."

Ganesha  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ganesha

 Photo credit: Max Sequeira

*A little research shows that one of Jordan Mancino's favorite bands is heavy metal group Fear Factory from LA, who plays occasionally at Brick By Brick. Coincidentally, Max is friends with Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares, whom he calls the meanest right hand on the west coast. The other day I was chilling at the hotel room in Hollywood when there was a loud bang on the door. I opened the door and this huge dude bellowed in my face "Where's Max?!" I had no idea who the dude was, but felt myself fearing for Max's, and my own, safety. Turns out, that dude was picking up Max for a burger, and that dude was Dino Cazares. 

 *After writing this, I was shown a great article written about Vajra in the Hutch Post from Hutchinson, KS, which coincidentally talks about some similar stuff. You can check that out here: http://www.hutchnews.com/the_bee/rockers-of-vajra-laud-independent-style/article_32206a97-52c8-51c4-903a-8eaa739215b0.html

*Ram is a mantra that has slightly different meanings in every religion, but basically just represents God, or the "one," or whatever you want to call it.  

*There are actually tons of interesting studies being done right now on the lasting, positive effects of mushrooms on people dealing with severe depression or anxiety, especially related to terminally ill patients. 

Blood Witch Tour Day 7: Velvet Jones and The Funk Zone

Good vibes seemed to permeate day 7 of the #bloodwitchtour with Vajra. Other than getting to do some epic sight seeing coming up the PCH (see yesterday's blog), we also played the coolest venue of the tour so far: Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara, CA. It's a great (and sometimes rare) thing to have good vibes on tour; the music business is in a tough spot, and doesn't look to be getting better anytime soon. Personally I have felt skeptical of this fact, and chalked it up to perpetual unsatisfaction (again, see yesterday's blog) You know the whole, "KIDS THESE DAYS" syndrome. I am also aware that there are nuances to the industry I don't understand, but I'm starting to see some patterns that are convincing me there is validity to the pessimism. 

Velvet Jones was so cool that they even brought NYC to us so we'd feel at home! Photo credit: Max Sequiera

Velvet Jones was so cool that they even brought NYC to us so we'd feel at home!

Photo credit: Max Sequiera

Here is some personal and practical evidence of the industries decline. The first venue we played on this tour didn't even give us water, much less free drinks or a soundcheck. The bartender literally told me I could only get water from her if I payed $4. The second venue we played wanted to charge us $35 to soundcheck (AGAIN, see yesterday's blog for that rant). Velvet Jones? Velvet Jones was different. We were greeted by an instantly friendly staff across the board, and treated with respect throughout the night. We were given a cooler with beer and water, and even extra drink tickets when the beer ran out. The bartender was adamant that we not pay for drinks, which is a form of payment in my mind, albeit a small one. These amenities may seem irrelevant, but this sort of treatment for musicians may just be the difference between life and death for the music industry.* Why were we treated better at this venue? It came from the top: some human who owns the venue put a lot of thought into how they want things to go, and that thought manifested itself into a good experience for everyone involved. This gives me hope. I could go on ad nauseam about the cause of the industry's decline (streaming services, torrents, pop culture etc), but I think it's more important to focus on the thing we still have, and that thing is humanity. 

The venue from the front. This is a super happening block in Santa Barbara, which is a super happening town, man! Dude. 

The venue from the front. This is a super happening block in Santa Barbara, which is a super happening town, man! Dude. 

Enter Ted Mills. Ted is the creator and host of the FunkZone* podcast which features interviews with artists of all types from the Southern California region, as well as people from the "outside world" that come through on tour. We obviously fit into the latter category, and had the pleasure of recording an episode of the FunkZone with Ted yesterday. I am a huge podcast fan as I find them to be an extremely educational and intimate format that can be great at shedding light on certain aspects of art or life that might otherwise be overlooked. This is the sort of medium that has the potential to bolster the music industry, bringing lesser known artists into the public eye. Ted is an extremely informed individual who seems to have a real passion for the artistic process, and it's guys like Ted that have the potential to be our saving grace in music. Most podcasts, including the FunkZone, rely heavily on donations to support their content, as it is technically free content. You can subscribe to the podcast, and support Ted (as well as be in the know when the Vajra episode is released) here: http://www.funkzonepodcast.com; it's also on Stitcher and iTunes. 

Annamaria being interviewed by Ted Mills for the FunkZone podcast

Annamaria being interviewed by Ted Mills for the FunkZone podcast

I'm going to leave you with the chorus to the TLC song "Waterfalls," which I coincidentally covered at the Blue Smoke NYC holiday party a few weeks ago, but also literally heard on three separate occasions the other day in LA. Seemed like somebody was trying to tell me something! Thanks for reading.

"Don't go chasing waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to. I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all. But I think you're moving too fast."

Getting to use my own kit at Velvet Jones =happy times! Check out the hooligans in the background.  

Getting to use my own kit at Velvet Jones =happy times! Check out the hooligans in the background.  

*If you're wondering why good treatment has anything to do with the success of the industry, consider this: musicians have to love to make music, but are also "normal" people with normal needs. There are probably more people trying to be musicians out there than ever before, but don't take that as a sign that the industry is thriving. There is also less money for musicians than ever before, which means less incentive for good artists to push their craft as much a possible. Good treatment actually promotes good art, as it keeps good artists in the game, and keeps them pushing. 

 *A "hip" neighborhood in Santa Barbara

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Blood Witch Tour Day 6: New Beginnings, New Additions, and the PCH

As we come into day seven of Vajra's #bloodwitchtour, I find myself gaining some perspective on my situation, and feeling incredibly grateful. I am cruising down the PCH with five awesome people, looking out over an emerald ocean, Thomas Newman providing a musical landscape for my ears.

The PCH photo credit: Max Sequeira

The PCH

photo credit: Max Sequeira

We are en route to Santa Barbara to play at Velvet Jones; our second to last show in CA. If I stop and think for a second about the goals and dreams I have set for myself in life, I realize that I'm already living them out on some level. I have a tendency, as many others surely do, to feel personally and situationally inadequate. It sometimes feels as if I've lived my whole life with a voice in the back of my head reminding me that I'm not "enough." The voice shouts, "You're not good enough yet, and you haven't done enough yet. Keep pushing for the future so you can be ok then!" But I'm starting to realize that this way of thinking is a trap. It's a trap set for us by academic institutions, governments, society itself. We are an achievement-based society that far too often forgets the importance of cherishing the moment, living for today. Success is an admirable pursuit of course, but when it comes at the expense of the moment, it means nothing. It's somewhat paradoxical, but I think I'm finding a mixture of curiosity, desire for excellence, and joy of the moment to be a potent potion for life. 

Feeling the intensity at Molly Malone's  photo credit: Max Sequeira

Feeling the intensity at Molly Malone's 

photo credit: Max Sequeira

Up until this point on the tour, we've been rolling with five "teammates" total: vocalist/bandleader Annamaria Pinna, guitarist Dave Sussman, bassist Kevin Jones, photographer Max Sequeira, and myself. Yesterday we added a most vivacious sound-woman in the form of Chris Castillo. She has already added an element of positivity and humor to the group (as well as great ears to the mixing board) that is making the whole experience even more enjoyable. Great to have you aboard Chris! 

Molly Malone's is apparently the namesake for the band Flogging Molly who played there every Monday in the mid '90s. 

Molly Malone's is apparently the namesake for the band Flogging Molly who played there every Monday in the mid '90s. 

Chris's first official gig doing sound with us was last night at Molly Malone's which, like Loaded, was not without its frustrations. The first annoyance as I mentioned yesterday, was the news that we would have to pay $35 if we wanted to soundcheck. This is, of course, the most ridiculous demand in the history of venues*, but apparently that seems to be getting more and more popular. As it turned out, we got there at five to soundcheck, but didn't actually get let in by the soundman until 7. Let me tel you, we certainly did not pay that $35. My main frustration with both venues so far is the lack of communication leading up to gigs. I am personally not the one to receive this correspondence, but I know that nobody in the band has received any sort of rider from a venue thus far. Despite these hurdles, we had a very fun show last night, and had great pictures and sound thanks to keen-eyed Max and sharp-eared Chris. 

Drums drums drums yay drumz! 

Drums drums drums yay drumz! 

After the show, I was very excited to get to spend a little more time with my lovely girlfriend Emily, and left to join her at a huge birthday party for four of her friends. Before getting in an uber, though, I was witness to a sea of bikes flooding the street, one of which had light up wheels and duel American flags! Cool! Man! Yeah! You can check a clip from the bike parade below...

 

Needless to say, getting to spend more time with Emily was absolutely amazing. I am still so shocked and touched that she surprised me in LA; it really is going to make these two weeks away from NYC much easier. 

Hangin' with this amazing woman on Hollywood boulevard photo credit: random woman passing by- thanks!  

Hangin' with this amazing woman on Hollywood boulevard

photo credit: random woman passing by- thanks!  


*If we can just think about this fucked up reversal (of which there are currently many in the music business) for a second: venues want bands to play on their stages so that people will come to the venue and spend money. People spend money at shows when they're having a good time. People have a good time at shows when the music is good. The music has a better chance to be good if the band gets to soundcheck! The venue wants the band to pay to soundcheck?!?! OK,  I think I've said enough about the absurdity of that. 

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Blood Witch Tour Day 5: Dragon Music, Fairy Tales, and Chicken Surprises

After driving cross-country in two days, I can't tell you how excited Vajra was to finally get payed off in the form of music making! It has also been incredibly relaxing to get some chill time in LA, soaking in the sun, and getting to witness a very specific brand of crazy. Coming from New York of course, we are no stranger to crazy, but out here it seems to be the stuff of fairy tales. Now, let me be clear that when I say "crazy." My intention is not to be judgemental of these people. My wish is to compassionately observe them as outside of the realm that most people consider to be "normal". We're all pretty crazy on some level though right?

Bathroom art at Loaded, which is unfortunately closing in less than a month   photo cred: Max Sequeira

Bathroom art at Loaded, which is unfortunately closing in less than a month  

photo cred: Max Sequeira

"Crazy" Anecdote #1

Walking back from Starbucks on Hollywood Boulevard, we observed a cute, middle aged blonde woman whimsically feeding a group of pigeons. We were all naturally intrigued by this fairy woman, and as such may have been blatantly staring. As we walked by, she instantly morphed into an evil fairy and shouted at us, "I fucking hate people! I fucking hate skinny asses!" We weren't exactly sure what she was referring to, but decided it was Annamaria, and her "skinny ass." As we walked towards the hotel, she continued casting "skinny ass" spells in our direction, causing us to reconsider entering the room, lest she fairy stalk us. Luckily for us, she flittered onto a nearby bus, transforming back into the "happy" fairy in the process. Real life Siren!

 "Loco" Anecdote #2

Dave getting his crazy on with the legendary scowl and an epic double fist photo cred: Max Sequeira

Dave getting his crazy on with the legendary scowl and an epic double fist

photo cred: Max Sequeira

En route to acquiring a pre-gig salad, I came upon a woman rolling on top of a star on Hollywood boulevard. She jumped to her feet, ran across the street, and grabbed a can that got crushed by her feet. She then yelled, "Sesame Street! It's all Sesame Street," then, "I'M ALIVE!" Now, having had my share of psychadelic experiences, it seemed possible that this woman was tripping. But it can sometimes be hard to differentiate between "sober insanity," and "insanity" brought on by substances. This leads me to wonder if maybe, just maybe, this woman was actually experiencing freedom and bliss. Maybe the rest of us are the crazy ones, playing by the rules society has laid out for us. Who knows right? The government, man. 

"NUTTY" (you'll see what I did there) Anecdote #3:

OK, so this anecdote is less about traditional insanity, and more about a life lived out in an arguably insane fashion. Last night, Vajra went down to the legendary Rainbow Room on Sunset Boulevard, for drinks and Pizza. The room is a storied one, with a firmly cemented place in rock history.  "Lemmy" Kilmister was known to frequent the Rainbow, and tributes to the late great Motörhead bassist/singer could be seen all over the place. Another regular as we came to find out, is the legendary pornstar Ron Jeremy. Now, before you jump to disgusted judgemental thoughts of this guy like I did, let's all take a second to remember: Ron's a person. The guy has seen a lot, but happened to end up in a field that doesn't garner a lot of respect. He didn't look particularly healthy or happy, and I found myself feeling sorry for him. But a little research shows that Ron, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the male in the most pornos (2000+), had a recent near death experience that's left him reconsidering his life. The guy is dealing with the same toolbox and search for meaning that the rest of us are. To quote Ram Dass, we are all "given a heavy curriculum, that's it." Ron was given his curriculum, the fairy and Sesame Street lady were given theirs, and you were given yours. Ram Dass again:    "This is your work. There’s no blame, it’s not even wrong, it’s just what you’re given. You hear what I’m saying? It’s interesting. Can you all hear that one?"

Annamaria and Ron Jeremy hanging at the The Rainbow   photo cred: Max Sequeira

Annamaria and Ron Jeremy hanging at the The Rainbow  

photo cred: Max Sequeira

 Queens College Alumni: Ron and Max

 Queens College Alumni: Ron and Max

Ron Jeremy wasn't the only person "of note" at the Rainbow Wednesday night. We also got to meet and chat with Annamaria's friend, guitarist John Ziegler. John plays in the band VOLTO! with Tool drummer Danny Carey, and hosts a weekly jam session every Monday at the Baked Potato. Other than Danny, John, who in his own words loves drummers, has also played recently with Matt Garstka (of Animals as Leaders) and Chris Coleman. As a drummer, those three names alone are enough to be awestruck, but I was especially struck by how down to earth and engaging John was. I've been trying to suss out the differences between the scenes in LA and NYC, wondering if the clichés are true. John seemed to epitomize a theory of mine: the LA scene feels more accessible than NYC. If we compared the music scenes to socioeconomic status, LA has a true middle class, with opportunity to climb the ranks, bridging the gap to elite. NYC on the other hand, has an elite upper class, and everyone else. These are sweeping generalizations of course, and my own opinions,  but potentially relevant ones I think. 

This place is steeped in rock history  photo cred: Max Sequeira

This place is steeped in rock history 

photo cred: Max Sequeira

The dudes getting a hotel warm up in photo cred: Max Sequeira

The dudes getting a hotel warm up in

photo cred: Max Sequeira

As I mentioned previously, we got payed off for all of our driving by getting to make music Thursday night, though, payoff is maybe the wrong word. We arrived at Loaded plenty early to leave lots of time to load in and soundcheck. Upon arriving, we were told nobody would be there to let us in until 6:30; information that had not been previously communicated. We waited for an hour in the urine stained back alley, until the stage manager finally arrived around 6:35. 

Piss Alley: about as sketchy and rank as you would imagine  

Piss Alley: about as sketchy and rank as you would imagine  

The stage manager was perfectly nice, but we were informed we would have to use the house kit (which he insisted sounded amazing), or I would have to let the other two bands use my drums. I wanted a chance to showcase the Vajra logo on my bass drum, but I didn't want to risk damage to my kit from drummers I didn't know. Turns out it would've been fine as both of the other bands, Varna and Obsidian Silence (and their drummers) were great. The house kit though... didn't exactly sound amazing. The bass drum sounded like cardboard in the FOH*, lugs were missing from the rack tom, and there were dents in all of the heads. What's more, we didn't actually get a soundcheck*, and the sound on stage was not good as a result. Nonetheless, the energy of the gig felt good to me. Sometimes adversity at a gig can create powerful, frustrated energy, that leads to an almost meditative, quiet intensity. This is my favorite place to make music from. As Brad Mehldau states in the title track from his collaborative effort with Mark Guiliana, Mehliana: "You know, I think of it like taming a dragon. The dragon is the crazy dude and if you don't watch out he'll bite your ass hard. So you need old Joe there to set you straight. But Joe knows about the dragon, because Joe and the dragon are a part of you. So you don't try to kill the dragon - you know, the dragon's where you get all that voodoo shit from, that's where you get your power from. You don't want to snuff him out, you wanna tame him, you wanna actually make friends with him and harness his power so you can use it."  

We'll miss you Loaded... Kind of.  

We'll miss you Loaded... Kind of.  

There was one more incredible treat in store for me when I got off the stage Thursday night, drenched in sweat and exhilarated in true fashion. My wonderful girlfriend Emily flew in from NYC to surprise me after our first gig and wish us well on our tour. It still feels like a hallucination, I couldn't believe it. It was like the best surprise birthday party ever, because the only attendee is your favorite person in the world. Unfortunately we are heading out of LA soon, and I hardly will get to see her at all. However, the mere gesture was so touching that it will undoubtedly stay with me throughout the tour as this incredibly positive, energizing force. I love you Emily. 

Chicken surprise!: My lovely girlfriend Emily during our anniversary trip last week 

Chicken surprise!: My lovely girlfriend Emily during our anniversary trip last week 

That's it for today. Thanks for reading, and check back tomorrow for more stories from day 6 of Vajra's #bloodwitchtour. 

I'm shooting for one major appearance change per blog. Today: ear piercing.  

I'm shooting for one major appearance change per blog. Today: ear piercing.  

*"Front of house" abbreviation 

*I was just informed that for our gig at Molly Malone's, we have to pay $35 if we want a soundcheck. What is this world coming to?!?! 

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Blood Witch Tour Day 4: Believe In Beatrix!

Vajra embarked on a crazy journey Sunday afternoon amid a record breaking blizzard. We immediately broke down that evening, and had to stay the night in Bloomsburg, PA.  Most of Monday was spent waiting for our beautiful, burgundy baby Beatrix (the van) to undergo surgery, and our progress resumed around 5 pm Monday. Fast forward 48 hours and 2600 miles; we are sitting in 70 degree sunny Los Angeles on Hollywood Boulevard. That's a lot of numbers, and a lot of driving! 

We always believed in you Beatrix... Uhh... I SWEAR!!! 

We always believed in you Beatrix... Uhh... I SWEAR!!! 

Thankfully, it seems our luck has taken a turn for the better. Beatrix didn't have any other apparent issues the rest of the drive, and the weather got better and better as we hurdled west. There were a couple of semi-sketchy situations coming into LA- which were totally my fault- but luckily at slower speeds. Turns out, a van full of equipment is not that easy to stop on a dime!

 

photo cred: Max Sequeira

photo cred: Max Sequeira

We are hooked up accommodation-wise as well! Unlike the dump we struggled to catch seven hours in last night, our Hollywood hotel room is actually pretty nice!

There is speculation that this room, in "true LA fashion," is only sparkly on the surface.

There is speculation that this room, in "true LA fashion," is only sparkly on the surface.

Yes, this is our hotel. They aren't exactly subtle in Hollywood!! 

Yes, this is our hotel. They aren't exactly subtle in Hollywood!! 

#tecatewood   Photo cred: Max Sequeira

#tecatewood  

Photo cred: Max Sequeira

To make up for the stress of the last two days, we get to be in total chill mode for Wednesday night. That entails drinking Tecate in the hotel room, having a "Lemmy" (named after the late, great Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister) at the Rainbow, and doing parking lot yoga. 

Parking lot yoga, it's a real thing! photo cred: Max Sequeira

Parking lot yoga, it's a real thing!

photo cred: Max Sequeira

That being said, we are all focused on making some good music tomorrow night at Loaded, and won't be going that hard tonight. After all, we are still BEAT. I mean just look at these faces. 
BEAT photo cred: Kevin Jones  

BEAT

photo cred: Kevin Jones  

Thanks for reading, and check back tomorrow for gig stories from LA!!! 

Oh yeah, and this happened. Metal!

Oh yeah, and this happened. Metal!

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Blood Witch Tour Day 3: A Most Glamorous Lifestyle

If there's one thing that can be said about hardship, it's that it sure makes for some interesting subject matter. The first two days of Vajra's Blood Witch Tour were so fraught with difficulty, that writing about them was anything but difficult. Day three has been decidedly less eventful, and that's mostly a good thing! Unfortunately, it does mean that today's blog will be short, and I can assure you, boring. 

To start things off nice and boring, here's my favorite road snack. My dad and I have been munching on this sweet treat since 2003. Still does the trick!

To start things off nice and boring, here's my favorite road snack. My dad and I have been munching on this sweet treat since 2003. Still does the trick!

There is one thing I need to get straight first.  The name of the beautiful, burgundy Dodge Ram Van that we've been spending so much wonderful time with is actually Beatrix (referencing her trickster nature-which we have certainly witnessed), not Beatrice! After spending all night (2-10 AM!) behind her sweet wheel, getting blown in the wind together (sorry mom), and filling up her tank (doubly sorry mom), I feel terrible to of not even known her name!

The glamor of road life includes spending inordinate amounts of time in exquisite locations like this. 

The glamor of road life includes spending inordinate amounts of time in exquisite locations like this. 

Now that we've got our ducks in a row, let's talk about all of the glamorous aspects of road life. We all know the cliche of touring involving crazy parties, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. It's also almost cliche at this point to hear professional musicians talk about the realities of the harsh road. Well let me tell you, Vajra is living the good life right now! For instance: trucks. It blows my mind how many 18 wheelers are out there, transporting god knows what to every possible corner of the American universe. I think I must've passed 40 semi trucks within a 90 minute time frame, all being blown side to side by the heavy wind as we hurtled by in a one ton piece of metal at 80 mph (really sorry mom). Glamor baby!

Trucks on top of trucks... 

Trucks on top of trucks... 

Add in the fact that we saw one of these bad boys on the side of the road flipped completely on its side, combined with the news that another one flipped in Utah carrying 65,000 lbs of cattle, and you get a mind full of trucks. Party!

...on top of trucks 

...on top of trucks 

I've got one more crazy party for you. I'm taking about today's MVP, which is really saying something. That thing is WHATABURGER. The mouth watering burger wonder that my northern eyes had never laid sight on. And what a sight it was. Add in some wonderfully warm customer service, and you get a seriously comprehensive dining experience. Glamorous!

Zombie-walking into the gut wrenching yumminess that is WHATABURGER    

Zombie-walking into the gut wrenching yumminess that is WHATABURGER    

Well folks, I warned you- short and boring! Thanks for reading. Check back tomorrow for what should be some legitimately good stories as Vajra finally makes its way into Los Angeles!  

Instead of the daily sunset pic, here's one of those time-lapse vids of the TX sunset featuring, you guessed it, trucks!! You know, the time-lapse that used to be super cool back in the day, in all the coolest documentaries, before everyone could do them on their iPhone 6.  

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Blood Witch Tour Day 2: Overcoming Adversity, Then Overcoming Some More

Beatrice you poor baby!  

Beatrice you poor baby!  

There's something about the human spirit that has the ability to persist. Some humans deal with it on larger scales: enduring through poverty, illness, hunger, and violence. In the west, it seems we are usually dealing with less life-threatening dramas, but I like to think we are all working with the same set of endurance tools. In the case of Vajra, we are definitely dealing with adversity on the "western" level. Our vehicle Beatrice is in some serious shit. I know next to nothing about cars, but apparently the rear differential is totally shot.

This is (apparently) the rear differential. I'm learning, I'm learning! 

This is (apparently) the rear differential. I'm learning, I'm learning! 

This challenge, combined with Winter Storm Jonas, is starting to add up in terms of setbacks on our tour thus far. Annamaria Pinna- vocalist and bandleader of Vajra- and my mother, would both chalk it up to Mercury being in retrograde through January 25th. It has obviously been very frustrating for everyone in the band, but I am continually impressed with their positivity and patience. Not only is the whole band in a relativity good mood, but people seem to actually be viewing the situation with an external perspective, even laughing at the absurdity of it all. Coincidentally, my aforementioned mother sent me a super relevant email about the Leo full moon on January 23rd. To quote lovedogdesign.com's Deborah O'Connor from the email:

 "Leo asks each of us to engage fully in this human drama, to find something humorous in the absurd, to plug into our (lioness-hearted) courage because the intensity of Pluto’s energy wave continues to help us see all the players for exactly what they are . . . and that includes the voices of the players within our own heads."

How cool is that! I mean look, I view astrology a bit like I view religion: agnostically. It seems like there's a good chance it's all a load of shit, but I'm always able to learn some helpful lessons from it. It definitely deals with some spiritual territory that feels deep and real. Who knows what's actually right?!.......but I digress. 

Picturesque river bend on the way out of Bloomsburg, PA

Picturesque river bend on the way out of Bloomsburg, PA

I think part of our toolbox in working through adversity is the understanding that things usually work out. In true form, life threw Vajra some fortune to go with our misfortune. Not only were we able to find mechanics who would look at our van immediately, they were also mechanics who took pride in their work, cared about the immediacy of our situation, and were able to find the exact part we needed within a few hours of looking. 

Here's the torn up rear differential, post-replacement 

Here's the torn up rear differential, post-replacement 

On top of the mechanics being awesome, we ended up spending the 8 hours we had to kill in the surprisingly charming little town of Bloomsburg, PA, home of Bloomsburg University. As I sat eavesdropping on a passionate professor and student discuss current politics and economics over coffee, I envisioned an interesting life lived out in Bloomsburg. There really are so many nooks and crannies in this country!

Fog & Flame had me right back in Brooklyn with its charming hipster vibes. And wifi. Mmmmmm wifi. 

Fog & Flame had me right back in Brooklyn with its charming hipster vibes. And wifi. Mmmmmm wifi. 

All that is to say, things definitely worked out, and could've been a lot worse. Yes, we were set back a day (and $1000) to repair Beatrice, but we're on the road now. To make up for even more lost time, we are literally driving 38 hours straight (fingers crossed) to Hollywood. Can't wait to express all of this frustration in music!

Thanks for reading, and check back tomorrow for more adventures from Vajra's Blood Witch Tour 2016!

It wouldn't be the end of a blog post without a sunset pic.  

It wouldn't be the end of a blog post without a sunset pic.  

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Blood Witch Tour: Getting The Hell Away From the Jonases

I think most New Yorkers were thinking winter wasn't coming this year. I know I was. I may have even bought into the "man, the climate really is fucked!" propaganda* this time around. So when Winter Storm Jonas came barreling in- ruining the end of my anniversary trip with my girlfriend Emily, and delaying the beginning of the Blood Witch Tour with Vajra- I couldn't help but feel incredibly unlucky. Damn you snow gods!

Cars were completely buried across the city  

Cars were completely buried across the city  

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After a harrowing drive back from upstate NY, in which Emily and I ended up having to take refuge in Jersey (thanks Sarah!!!), I was finally ready to be done with the storm and on the road inside Beatrice the tour van. Unfortunately for my idealism, the road outside of my apartment had not even begun to be plowed- thanks city! Loading drums into Beatrice consisted of a complicated game of "Tetris," on top of getting her unstuck multiple times with a line of cars waiting patiently (some not so patiently) all the way down the block. 

Beatrice you babe, you were worth the labor

Beatrice you babe, you were worth the labor

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At the time of publishing we have finally hit the road, and have an incredibly long journey ahead of us. To make up for lost time (and alternate Jonas-avoiding-routes) we are driving straight from NYC to New Mexico without stopping, and playing our first show in Hollywood on Thursday! If you are in any of these areas (listed above) we would love to see you- come say hey! And be sure to check back here for more adventures to come from Vajra's Blood Witch Tour 2016. 

At least Jonas was kind enough to give us some beauty on the way out of town  

At least Jonas was kind enough to give us some beauty on the way out of town  

Thanks for reading!

*Don't get me wrong- climate change is very real- I'm just not so sure we see dramatic effects on a season-altering scale quite yet.