The Dark – Biography

Posted: June 17, 2013 in My Music, Storytime
Tags: , , , ,

TL;DR Nearly 10,000 words devoted to The Dark, but I think the read is worth it 🙂 If you experienced my first band even once, you may remember some of the points in here. Might be fun to re-live, or, if you’re like most people who heard us, forget it ever happened. If you wonder what we sounded like, you can follow along at the legacy website: The Darkives

Around Thanksgiving time in 1995, I gave my friend John Jacklin a call to see if he wanted to get together to play guitar. I had played once with John before because I knew him through my brother Kevin, who told me that John knew how to play guitar, so we jammed once, but that was before I wanted to “really jam.” It took John a week to get back to me because he was in Texas on a business trip, so I thought he was blowing me off already. When he did get back to me, we agreed to meet one evening. It was OK – we played acoustic songs by Def Leppard, the Scorpions, and Live. It was a pleasant enough distraction from life that we decided to get together again in a couple weeks. Turns out that we both enjoyed it enough to make it a regular outing, so we decided on every Tuesday night. He and I both looked forward to just playing, because we were both a little rusty and raw with our talents. Very early on, John referred to it as “band practice” although he did make it a point to let me know that he wasn’t looking to “go all the way.” I thought it was a bit early to even think about crap like that when we only knew four chords, but in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to make it big.

With regular practice happening every Tuesday night at John’s apartment, we were starting to realize our talents and shortcomings alike. Fortunately, one of our shortcomings was easily remedied – we had no bass player. It was obvious at the outset that John was a better guitar player, and since we were playing with a drum machine, if I played bass, then we’d have the three essential elements of a real band. So I went to the store and bought my first bass, not really knowing anything about it. It was a red Ibanez SR300, a used 4-string. I walked into Guitar Center, picked it up, played one note through a demo amp, and said “Yup, that’s the one. I want it.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have a bass amp at home. I told a fellow bass player at work that I had bought a bass, and he asked me if I had a head. I didn’t know what a head was – to me, they were amps. That was the beginning of a long road of me learning the lingo of the business. For the time being, I played through my stereo, which lasted a little while.

Our first “song” was this crazy thing I ripped off from my roommate Scott, which started on low E and went to high E. It was very happy sounding, but we didn’t yet subscribe to an angry sound, so John and I liked it. We played it for John’s friend Scott. It was OK, but we were hankering for something of our own.

John and I practiced once up in Fremont, NH (my parents’ house) so we could play a little louder than we could in either of our apartments. We wrote the song Ripoff there. I had a riff which went from E to C and B, and that was all I had written. While we were practicing, we decided to pilfer from a Thanks to Gravity song called Floating Orange Honeymoon, which had the chords C# B A. We slowed it down a bit and added our own stuff, including a cool B part. The bridge was my original riff. After we had practiced a while, we asked my dad what he thought of it, and he said it sounded like a typical rock song. I was kinda bummed by that, but I guess he was right, so we named the song Ripoff, figuring we weren’t breaking any new ground. It was also at this Fremont practice that we decided to jam in a certain progression that I was writing, so John picked up the bass and played. I tried my best to play lead acoustic guitar, but you can hear clearly that I sucked at it. The results can be heard in the Fremont Jam on the CDs. My comment at the end pretty much sums it up. We also had some original versions of Pink Leaves from that day. You gotta hear it.

Around this time, we were thinking of what would be a good name for our “band.” I offered up the name SLU, which stands for Sucks Like Us. That stood for a couple months, and finally we settled on Mighty Lavender Peeps, which was a conglomeration of stuff from work (thank you, Jared).

I had a ton of ideas floating around in my head for songs, but I lacked the talent to make the ideas flow smoothly from my head to my hand. One perfect example of this phenomenon was the song called Dan’s Epic. I had the clean and grungy riffs all figured out in my head, borrowing liberally from Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, and it took me all day to record it to get the transition from acoustic to electric “just right.” Well, this thing lasted over five minutes, and I was damn proud of myself for writing a song so long. I couldn’t wait for John to hear it, but when he heard it, all he could do was grimace at the horrible distortion sound I had worked so hard on. I don’t think I brought it up again.

One day, when I showed up at practice, when John answered the outside door, he told me that a surprise was waiting for me inside. We had a visitor – Chris Ward, a long time friend of my brother, just like John. Chris had stopped by unannounced, and John told him that I was coming by because we had a “band” going. Chris hung out to hear what we were doing, and we really only had half a song or two to play for him. We played Ripoff, which was complete, and the new one – Pink Leaves, a ballad. Gotta follow up every rocker with a ballad, I always say. This one was named after the plant on my mother’s coffee table, which had pink leaves. John loved the challenge of this song because it forced him to play a Bm chord. Chris thought Pink Leaves should be sped up to be faster, more “crackin’” as he put it. When John and I tried that, it did in fact sound better, but I realized that it was tiring to play a whole fast song. I had so much to learn.

Chris wanted in on the band, so he asked if there was another instrument we could let him play. I had an ancient Casio keyboard from 1987 that was gathering dust, so I brought it to the next practice. Chris played this for a little bit, although he had no keyboard background. That was good in a way, since he had no rules to follow and played by ear. He quickly outgrew that minimal Casio keyboard and bought his own Yamaha PSR820. This keyboard was light years ahead of the Casio and made the coolest sounds, as John put it. It’s funny that I happened to buy my first bass combo the same day, a Fender BXR 200. At the time, I thought it was all I needed to keep up with the pros. Hey, it was plenty enough to play in John’s apartment, as we could measure by the dude upstairs stomping his feet, trying to get us to keep it down.

In addition to keyboards, Chris also wanted to be the vocalist. We thought that was cool because it could mean that we had drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, and vocals, all from three members and a drum machine. Chris put words to Crackin’ and called it Timeless Dream. John and I hesitated at first because it was a direction we weren’t prepared for. Turns out that Timeless Dream was a great campfire song. I don’t know if it’s been sung at a campfire yet, but I have my hopes. We also experimented with an electric version, dubbed Punky, but it was never recorded.

The next few months consisted of the three of us getting together once or twice a week to practice and try to write new stuff. We only had a couple songs, so new material was in demand. We were living the rock n roll dreamer’s lifestyle – doing the 9-5 thing while we played at night, pursuing our dream, which we figured was a non-reachable thing. We would enjoy the time for the social aspect as well, getting together for dinner and then playing, and we would share parts of our lives that were non-musical because the music was such a small part of the gathering.

In February of 1996, the recording itch was far too strong to keep doing it live with a two-track cassette deck. I decided to plop some dough down on a real four track recorder from Tascam, a Porta-07. This was a sweet purchase, and it opened so many doors for us. To experiment with it, I wrote a couple songs (sounds so easy, doesn’t it?) and played around. The Irish Gothic One and River’s Edge resulted. Anything before that was done on a two-track deck or through my Ibanez Rockman (far against the rules, I might add). OK, I’m a little embarrassed about how the Irish Gothic One came about. I was listening to Sanitarium by Metallica, and I tried to write something dark and spooky like the riff in that song. I came up with this abomination, and please don’t tell Lars. John said it sounded Irish and gothic, hence the name. I played this for my friend Shawn on the way to work once, and he said the guitar was so easy, he could do it. Thanks, Shawn. When I wrote the River’s Edge, I thought it sounded like the Water’s Edge by Seven Mary Three, thus the title. My friend Cherie said she loved it when she heard it. In retrospect, I don’t think this song varies enough.

Before I played anything for the band, I started exploring the limits of the drum machine, a DR-550 which I bought from my brother when he moved west in 1995. I found a really big drum sound in one of the presets, and there was a preset song which was easy to play, so I let it loop around. I tried coming up with a bass line based on the song The Man’s Too Strong by Dire Straits. What I came up with sounds nothing like that song, of course, but it fits in with the big drum sound really well. Sounds like something out of the 80s. This was my best bass line to date (and still one of my best) and when I played it for my friend Jeff, he said it was the balls, and so I named the song The Balls. That stuck for the longest time. That song perpetually evolved and finally became Anxiety once Doug joined the band, but bear with me …

By May of 1996, we had really nothing of any consequence to play for anybody. On Mother’s Day, however, we gathered in Fremont again to play while my parents were out. That day, the real beginning occurred. While I was in the kitchen, John picked up the bass and started playing a cool riff bouncing between D and C. I heard it and picked up the acoustic guitar to play along. When Chris heard what I was playing, he found a string voice on his keyboard and started following us, with the slightest delay in the changes to give the song a cool feel. We started writing the changes, and eventually we had a working song. By the end of the day, we had a complete song, and we called it Asia because someone felt it had an Asian feel to it. If you listen to it, you’ll wonder what we were thinking. Asia, on Mother’s Day, 1996, was really where it started coming together. By the end of the day, we had both a four track recording and a live recording. We were so amazed with our accomplishment. I remember taking the 4-track version and playing it for my friend Al, and he didn’t care one bit about it. That was nice.

Creating a follow-up track to one’s first “hit” is always difficult, and we found ourselves in that difficult position after Asia. We tried for weeks, but nothing came out. Finally, one day at practice, John started playing a new riff. It sounded good, so we asked where it came from. He said “I just pulled it out of my ass.” That was fine, so we called the song John’s Ass. This was a really tricky song to write. The beginning was cool, and then the song evolved into another part, and there it went. The middle had the makings of a bridge, and I played some simple bass there. When we finally recorded it, and John could hear the bass line without concentrating on his own part, he was impressed with what I had written (thank you, John). Chris had an unreal time trying to remember the timing on this song, because the timing on the beginning and end were different from the middle, sort of a double time thing. I tried describing the song to him as a sandwich, where the slices of bread were different tempos from the meat. This didn’t help, of course – all he needed was time, and eventually we had it right. We never renamed the song, and so it was forever called John’s Ass, which maybe kept us from playing it for others.

Well, the sophomore jinx was out of the way, so we decided to write a third song. This one was also based on a riff John had pulled out of his ass (you’d think we could find riffs elsewhere), so we called it John’s Ass II but eventually shortened it to J2. Our first recording of this song was done with the instruments slightly out of tune with each other (not on purpose), so the mixdown sounded like a swarm of bees. We later rerecorded it and fixed that problem. At this point, we were still enjoying each other’s company and the various meals provided, like baloney sandwiches, mac and cheese, Hamburger Helper, Elios Pizza, and Boston Market take-out. Chris turned out to be a rather finicky eater, but since neither John nor I was dating him, it was OK. John always said he liked the chord workout that J2 had provided him, as it changed chords kinda quickly in certain parts. This song was first recorded on a tape that had been used to record the tale of the Gingerbread Man, so at that point we decided to name the band the Gingerbread Men.

With rehearsals well underway in Methuen and Waltham, we decided to think of a real name for the band. One night, when we had dinner at my place in Waltham, John decided to go out for a smoke. Chris wanted some soda that he had brought with him. John said to be careful opening the bottle because it had rattled around in the back seat during their ride to Waltham. Chris said “Yeah, whatever” and opened the bottle anyway. When it sprayed everywhere, John looked in from the porch to see what was going on, and Chris unrolled a roll of paper towels around the incident, saying, “nothing to see here, move along.” Well, that caused quite a laugh, so we decided to name the band “Nothing to See Here” or NTSH for short. This name stuck until we named the band for real.

Sometime around June of 1996, Chris had put words to The Balls and called it The Window. This was an insightful song, and Chris had put verses where I thought the chorus should go and vice versa. It didn’t matter. But John thought the song was a little fluffy, so to speak. He wanted to play really hard rock songs, and Chris’ lyrics were too light for him, so he asked Chris to write words to Ripoff and make them gritty. Chris answered this challenge with Lies.

We were thinking about getting other members into the band, and a drummer was on the list, so we enlisted the talents of John’s friend Scott to drum with us. We played in his basement, and he put drums to Asia for the first time. It sounded damn good, but that would be the only time we’d ever jam with Scott. That alone was our third time trying to get him to commit – it was already starting to feel like Spinal Tap.

In the meantime, I was still writing songs on my own, and I decided to model a song after Dreams by the Cranberries. I took some time to write the drum track, because I thought that was the most important part. The bass was simple, but it was the guitar line I wanted people to hear. I had both a rhythm and lead line, which was a first. When my dad heard it, he said he expected a more exciting bass line, although I explained that that wasn’t the point. Oh well, my friends Nika and Karen liked it. I called it Mom’s Song because my mother claims it’s the best song I’ve written so far. Thanks, Mom. I renamed it Stolen Dreams because of the rip-off from the Cranberries.

Enter Lies. Per John’s request, Chris wrote grittier lyrics to Ripoff. It turns out he stole the lyric structure from Stabbing Westward. But we didn’t mind, since we stole the chord structure from another band. This was a total bitch-slapping song, and we finally felt like we were becoming a rock band at this point. Then something happened.

One day Chris came in with a new song that he had written entirely by himself. He called it Fresh, and it sounded like a great pop song in desperate need of lyrics. We had no idea what to make of this song, so we just played it. There’s a C# part where the beat gets a little choppy, so we always called that funky part. My mother dropped the dishes to applaud us for this song the very first time she heard it That was the first round of applause we had ever heard. This song never went anywhere, although we were inclined to include it on our first demo for a vocalist, along with Asia, to show our softer side.

With a catalog of close to ten songs, we thought we might try to play out with a few of them. I talked to management at the Bluestone Bistro in Waltham, because they had acoustic acts play on Thursday nights. The manager said they don’t really take instrumental acts – a bad mistake on their part, I thought.

We had been an acoustic act for ten months, and Chris had had enough. “Let’s plug in!” So we plugged in, and we started work on a concept song, one that started off quiet, dark, and spooky and then got rocking really quick. I offered the concept of staying on a chord for a while, and then any deviation from that chord would add tension, so the return to the chord would be welcomed by the ears of the listener. That’s why this song has only two chords in it, although it’s interesting to note that in early versions it used to go from D to D# instead of C, but it was never recorded that way. When we needed a name, I said we should give it a dark sounding name because of the concept of a dark song, so Chris said “How about The Dark?” Enough said.

When we were still finishing up the song in the Fremont studio, Chris recommended that we go from the loud part to quiet again, and then back to loud. I said that was a horrible idea, and no one would like it. Hear me now – I was wrong, OK? I admit it. When the time came to write the middle piece, John couldn’t think of a riff, so he went to the bathroom – hell, riffs had come out of his ass before. By the time he came out, I had written the simple chug riff.

The Dark went on to become our signature song. It was almost a universal favorite, rounding out the vocalist demo. This was probably the most recorded song besides Mantis, and there are many variations. The drum track was inspired by our first ever drummer audition, a guy named Kevin, who brought much life to every song he played on.

The song has lots of evolution after this point, but suffice it to say that it was a very early take that we agreed to be the final take, and all subsequent takes, as well as vocal attempts, were rejected. The song held a special place in our hearts, and we were very skeptical of anyone who would change it. I brought the original take to a Halloween party and so desperately wanted people to hear it, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. What a piece of crap.

OK, so we were on our way in the fall of 1996. I paid a visit to EU Wurlitzer to see if I could buy something for the band. I ended up with Crate guitar amp and a Zoom 505 effects pedal, which would carve our way in the following year. We decided to write a song which would highlight our solo abilities. The concept behind Solo 3 was that it would be one anchoring chorus and three wide open spots where each of us would write a solo piece. We all had our parts “kinda sorta” ready but never recorded. I think we got sick of the song. Jeff commented that Solo 3 sounded like that Bay City Rollers, and someone else said it sounded like The Cars. Great, just great. Unfortunately, none of us had any solo abilities to speak of at that point, but we proceeded regardless. Only the rhythm was ever recorded because we never finished the song. I remember thinking, during this song, that John had come a long way in his guitar playing, and for the first time thought we could actually “make it.”

Well, Chris was full of ideas (progressive ones at that), so he thought it would be cool if we wrote another song that started off slow and got heavy. I had experimented with an acoustic line which was pretty neat, so it became fodder for this new song called Homeless Child. We had lyrics for this, but they were never recorded, although the music was, and there is a minimal recording of it. It changes keys abruptly during the transition, and it hurts to hear, but the intention is clear.

So what happens when you practice in your apartment, and the neighbors call the police, who in turn arrive and tell you to stop making so much damn noise? You rent a rehearsal space. We found a place in Lowell, MA, at the Backstage, run by a weenie named Tory who was only interested in making moolah. It didn’t matter to us. It was in the basement of an old mill building on French St., and there was card access down to the pit where it smelled of piss. Our room was #29, and it was a dungeon, but it felt like a palace. 24 hour access, and we could make all the noise we wanted for only $200 a month. We stayed until 2 AM the first night we were there – November 12, 1996. The room had a rock wall shelf in the back for us to put things on. There was a hole in the wall, and there were bugs everywhere. We felt like rock stars. It didn’t matter. This was our very own jam space, and many memories were to be made in this 10×10 room before we graduated to a new place. One of the great memories was made when I wasn’t even there, but it was strong nonetheless. While Chris and John were jamming to The Dark, another person from the complex was listening in, and when the song was over, he knocked on the door and said “That was awesome!” Kudos to us. We were on our way to becoming rock stars!

While we were there, we wrote a number of new songs. Among them was The Jam, which was a cool ditty which bounced between G and C with me on guitar and John on bass. It ended up being a full-fledged Dark song called Peeping Tom. In its instrumental form we just referred to it as The Jam. I actually had a solo in this song, and you can hear how poorly I played the guitar. Still, it lasted as a Dark song. It was one of the two which John and I switched instruments on stage.

Kevin (my brother), Chris, and I decided it would be nice if John had a new guitar, so for Christmas of 1996, we decided to pitch in and get John the guitar he wanted, which was an Ibanez with a floating bridge (I forget the model number). While it was supposed to be a surprise, Dennis gave it away, but we bought it anyway. Suddenly John had an “adult” guitar.

We also wrote the song Trippin’, which was a turning point for us because it showcased a light to heavy progression as well as tempo changes. In the height of Trippin’, we presented to Chris that we wanted to pursue getting a dedicated vocalist so that he could concentrate on keyboards. He resisted a little at first but eventually agreed to help in the search for a full time vocalist. There were many auditions, and the times we spent auditioning couldn’t begin to be described here. There is a section devoted to the auditions, so hear for yourself. The most memorable vocalist, probably in name only, was Inonge Nyumbu. I had to pick her up at Alewife and drop her off in Roxbury. We decided that she was more of a liability than an asset, although we enjoyed our one rehearsal with her. The most memorable brush-off was from Kristin Lund, who felt that our lack of musical knowledge, basically theory and composition, would create too large a gap for us to work with her. Her loss, we feel. We eventually went with Doug, but I have to give Inonge credit for putting great words to three of the four songs we put on the demo. Gina O’Donoghue did a great job as well, putting words to both a light and heavy song. And finally, we have to give credit to Jef Green (yes, spelled with one F), who put down a rippin’ version of The Dark.

Doug came into the band in February of 1997. This was a point of contention between me and John and Chris. They wanted to audition more people, but I thought Doug had what it took to be with us. Whether it was the fact that we weren’t so good at our instruments, or that we couldn’t write lyrics so well, I don’t know, but I fought for Doug. His rendition of Judgment Day was riveting to me (he “blew me away” as I put it to Jeff). I fought hard to get Doug, and although John and Chris put up the good fight, I won, and we had Doug on our side.

Before Doug joined us, we wrote a couple more songs and had the infamous Fremont Sessions. My parents were going away for a long weekend, so they let us have the run of the place while they were gone. We used my dad’s DJ PA and set up all over the living room. When we played Asia, which was the standard first song that we played, we almost creamed our jeans because it sounded so good. Over the three days, we recorded 13 songs, which was a little aggressive, but we came through – we wanted progress. Hell, 13 songs … it had been only one year since John and I had started. The most memorable moment of the Fremont Sessions was Karen’s visit to hear us play. After The Dark, she said “That song ROCKS!” Enough said. Schwing.

We also had a new song called Ed of the Nile. This was two songs pasted together. John and Chris had jammed while I was gone and came up with two separate songs. The first one was based on the chords E and D, so they called it Edy’s Ice Cream. The other had a Middle Eastern feel (whatever the hell that means), so they called it The Nile. When I heard them, I suggested combining them into one song, and so the names were combined into Ed of the Nile. This song was a total piece of shit, but The Dark played it until the very end to please the fans. I prefer to call it Ed of the Fucking Nile.

Soon after the Fremont Sessions, when we were back in the rehearsal space, we were working on a new song I had written a riff for, called Desert Wind, which never amounted to much of anything. During the recording of it, I mistakenly hit two or three notes in a row which sounded OK (sarcasm unintentional). I asked John and Chris to stop for a second and let me try something. Within a half hour we had Dwell, named because twice during the song, the drums stop and we dwell on the D chord. Chris wrote words to this song, and then the band rewrote the chorus based on John’s words. The arrangement of this song remained unchanged for years, as soon as the Em bridge was written. This song was acoustic for months until I suggested that we plug it in, and it immediately had a tasty new flavor to it. This is definitely one of my favorite songs. Dwell pushed past the boundaries of The Dark and became a Language of the Mad song and was formally recorded as such, which is a testament to its solidity.

Again, before Doug joined us full time, we decided to record a couple more tunes. We had written a new tune called Crybaby. There was a part in that song where the E rang, and I rang the low E while I bent the high E to create a dissonance. It was cool at first because I couldn’t bend it very far. As the song progressed, I got stronger and could bend the note farther, and it didn’t sound nearly as good. Oh well. This remains one of my favorite Dark songs to this day. We tried an electric version as well, and an electric version of Fresh, but Chris got frustrated while recording his part, so it’s just drums, bass, and guitar.

When Doug finally started working with us, we decided to record Anxiety and Ed of the Nile as our first two songs with vocals. When I played them for my friend Scott, he was pretty impressed with the sounds we were making. When I played them for my mother, she basically farted in their general direction. Oh well. It turns out that we had a lot of problems based on Doug joining the band …

One of the songs Doug worked on during his second audition was The Jam. At first he had written words for a song called Youth, but it was very serious, and we felt that The Jam was more of a party song, so he rewrote them to be Peeping Tom, which was more in line with the feel, and we suddenly had three songs.

I don’t remember when it happened, but we started working on a new song, and Take Me Away was developed very quickly. Originally, the chorus to this song was the A G E progression, but I knew that wasn’t enough, so I offered a typical chorus progression in D – D A Bm G. This became the song, and I wrote a drum track around the parts. The second verse starts immediately after the first chorus because the drum machine wouldn’t allow me to program more into it, so we had to shorten it somehow – I’d love to think that it was more of a creative decision. This was the other song besides Peeping Tom in The Dark’s catalog where John and I switched instruments. There’s a neat acoustic version which Doug and I worked on early in the song’s development.

We tried to follow up Ed of the Nile with a song called Fred, which was three songs rolled into one. That trick worked only once, so Fred was never really much to listen to. Doug wrote two sets of lyrics to it, but neither made it to the stage. We eventually kept the song instrumental and named it Imaginary Friend, both to rid us of the bad memories of Fred and since Imaginary Friend was a candidate band name. For what it’s worth, this song did contain John’s signature slide to the E chord.

In July of 1997, a couple things happened which made the band progress in a few ways. I bought a 5-string bass, an Ibanez SR305, and Chris bought a Korg Trinity keyboard, which cost WAY too much for the quality of the band at that point. Two songs were instantly born from these two purchases – Mantis and Amber. Mantis was a 5-string rocker which had me wanking that B string all over and took about 20 minutes to write. Amber took several weeks. It’s funny – Mantis was recorded about seven times, and Amber was recorded only twice. I guess Amber was the better song from the start. Doug wanted to rename Mantis to King of the Castle, but the name Mantis had stuck.

Either way, Mantis was a huge step forward for us. The name Mantis was a candidate band name, but it was already taken by some other stupid band that probably broke up too. Amber was the most complex song we’d written so far. I worked my 5 string pretty good, and John said again that he was impressed with my playing, but John’s playing stood out the most in this song. This song changes chords every second or so, and it took us forever to finish. Doug put words to it and wanted to call it Castle Rock (what is it with castles, Doug?). We named it Amber because the drum beat was pulled from a preset drum beat on the DR-5 drum machine called Ambient, or Ambo in the short display. The official name was originally Amber the Color, to ensure that no one would think it was a girl’s name, per John’s request. Then we called it Color Me Amber, and then finally just Amber. This was supposed to be the song which sold ten million copies. To date, it hasn’t sold a single copy.

It was getting on in the summer, and we wanted a drummer so we could start playing some gigs (we still hadn’t played our first). We had some drummer auditions, and you can hear them on the audition page. Kevin was the best drummer we had come through the door, but he was unreliable. While he was in the space, he had written a great drum part to The Dark, and from that point, we used his ideas when programming the drum machine.

While we were still looking for a drummer, we decided to learn a couple covers, namely Lakini’s Juice (Live) and Cumbersome (Seven Mary Three). Well, our attempt at Cumbersome was more successful than our attempt at Lakini’s Juice. A word of warning to aspiring vocalists – never try to cover Ed Kowalczyk in your first year. Cumbersome was OK, but LJ fell short of expectations, shall we say. If you were at our first show, you know exactly what I mean.

Mantis took an early dig from my father, who said the song didn’t vary enough. I tried to defend it by saying that it was patterned after Bulls on Parade by Rage Against the Machine, but that held no water, probably because it wasn’t true. John eventually wrote a solo to it, which changed things up a bit. That solo was cast in stone all the way through Language of the Mad, even as we changed guitarists.

As the summer wore on, we continued writing songs. There was this one song which Chris and John wrote which they thought sounded like something Tool would write. To this day, I don’t hear that, and Jeff’s only comment about it – “This bit.” We managed to record it but probably could have better spent our time on something else. Concurrently, they had written a bit called Grunge Solo, but we never recorded it. Doug wrote some lyrics to Tool Riff, but we quickly dismissed the song in favor of other, better songs.

One of those better songs was Psych 101. This was always the first song in our live shows. Chris wrote a spoken word intro to it called Learn to Swim, after the repeated phrase in the Tool song Aenema. When we recorded it, Doug had done a take of it, but didn’t get it quite the way Chris had intended, so Chris then did a take. When they were superimposed over each other, the result was impressive, so we kept it. The end of Learn to Swim is a drum intro which paradiddles into Psych 101. Learn to Swim was going to be the name of the CD. The lyrics of Psych 101 tell a story about Doug’s friend dying in a car crash. The name Psych 101 is meaningless, given by John and Chris. A song called Vapor was in the works at the same time. Vapor was an interesting song developed around the same time as Psych 101, but Psych got the attention. Only a minimal bass-free recording was made of Vapor. It’s got a lot of spacey sounds and is quite dreamy. Doug actually put some words to it, but we never did gel it into anything.

The continuing search for an appropriate band name was getting tiring. We had a list on the wall with over fifty names on it, but the four of us couldn’t agree on any of them. Interestingly, Chris and I had independently placed The Dark on the list, so we agreed that if two people had come up with it, why not name the band after a song? Several people, including Doug, did not like the idea (he didn’t want the band named after a song he had nothing to do with), but once we were underway, most people realized that the band name isn’t all that important – it’s the music you make. Though the list is long gone, a few that I remember are Atomic Space Fuzzies, Doug, Clown Car, Kick the Bastard’s Ass, Miserable Fuck, Mantis, Booty Plug, Screw the Pooch, Banks of Teflon, and Swiss Idol.

All during the summer of 1997, we were looking for a drummer. We had some good auditions and some not so good auditions. The first guy, Kevin, was awesome, and you can hear his audition on the auditions page. His version of The Dark was so good that it was peeled off the live audition tape and considered the real deal. My friend Ed Hayes from work filled in for the summer, and was eager to stay with us as long as we needed – my favorite line from him – “I am Lars.” In August, Ernie Harrison, one of Doug’s friends, finally answered the call as a full-time drummer. He learned the first ten songs quickly, and we were poised to get our first gig. Doug booked us at The Tank for October 24th. We would open for Pistachio, BadMotherSeed, and Godsmack (yes, the real Godsmack). It was a battle of the bands, but we just wanted to play. We had 75 people there, and it was paradise. Although we sucked, we could do no wrong. Everyone cheered big time after every song, and the place was crawling with Dark fans. I had, after all, promoted my band for the year and a half before then. It was a great night and the beginning of an era.

Although we bickered a lot before the gig, the five of us got along quite well the morning after the show, when we were putting our equipment back in the rehearsal space. We were on our way to becoming rock stars! Not ones to rest on our laurels, we decided to get a photo shoot done so we could put a press kit together. Karen was our esteemed photographer in the beginning, and she came down to Lowell to hang out and snap some shots of our mugs, in and out of action.

I sat down at the keyboard one day and started playing piano, and Chris followed with keys. John heard and liked, so we created, against a drum machine track, a song we called Pi. An orchestral piece, Doug never put words to this one, though he was in the room when we wrote it. Ernie had nothing to do with this one, so if you think about it, slightly more than three members wrote this song, about 3.14 … bad joke, I know. Named Pi because I spent some time trying to describe the concept of Pi to John and Chris during a camping trip, when the concept of Pi should never have come out.

While we were writing with five people aboard, we were having trouble. It seemed that one night while we were trying to write, nothing was coming out, and we couldn’t understand how it was possible for us to come up with great songs one day and total crap the next. The very next night, John, Chris, and I got there before Doug and Ernie and started on a new riff which Chris had written. We had it mostly done before they got there. When they finally arrived, we wrote the rest. This was the first song we wrote with Ernie, and since all five band members had a part in the writing, we called it Five. Doug wrote words about Mother Mary, but John didn’t hear them except for the name Mary, so after a take he said “Who the fuck is Mary?” We changed the name to Five (Who’s Mary?). The flow of the name wasn’t quite right, so it was changed to Five O’Clock Mary – I don’t know why. This remains one of my father’s favorites.

Then the writing slowed down a bit as we booked more shows. Our second gig was a unique one – we played a Christmas party for the Midnight Shift Biker Club. There was no pay, but they gave us a free entry into the raffle for a brand new Harley – a $200 value, so we felt like we had been paid. No, we didn’t win. There was another band there that night, and they headlined. They sounded so much better than we did, and I couldn’t understand why we were so bad. They seemed to have it all together. They probably broke up too. After the show, the Midnight Shift invited us to come back to their club and hang out, which was an intense night, especially for meek little Dan. Roxanne …

Our third and fourth gigs were Tankers like the first, unforgettable show. We did one in December of 1997 for Christmas and another in January of 1998 when my brother was in town. My whole family was there to see the band that night, and my brother was long time friends with John and Chris, but we had kept it a secret from them, so that was a nice surprise. At the December show, we made a critical ally in the Boston rock scene – Bishop Strike. They were playing their first area show at The Tank, like we had, and they were headlining. They were fronted by Jay Carey and booked by Lou Raineri, and boy did he have connections. We made instant friends that night, and they loved to get high. Their music was incredible, and I felt it was far more professional than our own. We would play with Bishop Strike a number of times after that.

We had no more shows that January, but February had big ones coming. We played at 100.1 FM WBRS – Brandeis radio, a live show. We advertised our upcoming fourth Tank show and our big news, that we were playing with Bishop Strike and Godsmack at the now defunct Mama Kin Music Hall. Man, that was a killer opportunity and a great night – February 28th, 1998 – only our seventh gig ever. The place sold out (over a thousand people), and this was when Godsmack hadn’t made it national yet.

Unfortunately, that was to be Ernie’s last show. He wanted to pursue something a little lighter than the hard rock we were playing, so he gave us the last three gigs and headed on his way. The search was on for a new guy, which wasn’t such good news because it had taken us so long to find Ernie. The ads went out, and the outlook was bleak. I had to travel for two weeks on business in March, so during that time, the other guys decided to re-record some older material.

When I came back from my trip, we started the search up again, and we found a guy named Dan Wangerin, who spoke very slowly on the phone and moved slowly in person, but put a set of sticks in his hands and look out! It didn’t take long before we realized that Dan was an excellent drummer and a pretty good fit for The Dark. It was late March, and we decided to turn up the heat by booking a gig for May 1st. Where? Where else but The Tank in Revere …

During April we spent weeks writing a new masterpiece called 3rd Person, the skeleton of which was written while I was out of town. The opening riff is similar to Eye of the Beholder by Metallica, so we took that name and changed it to Third Person, although we always used the number and not the word – 3rd Person. This was the first song we put on CD, and we gave away over 400 copies of it. I’ll never forget playing the song at Mama Kin, and when Rob from Bishop Strike heard it, he rushed the stage to get a copy. We recorded this on a Yamaha MD-4. While we were still writing it, we used a white board to write a general “road map” of the chord changes and timings. This song clocked in at nearly seven minutes, and the small whiteboard looked like a map of L.A. It took weeks before we could all read and understand it, but we felt we’d progressed with this one.

May came quickly, and The Dark was fortunate enough to get the headlining spot that night due to another band not showing. By the time we went on, the place was pretty packed, as a lot of people had come to see our new drummer. We had even more good news in store because we had the new song as well, and we also decided to play Pi since we had extra time as headliners. This show was captured on video, and there were some surprises along the way. Jeff told me that he had trouble filming the show because “the drunk guy” kept getting in front of him. That drunk guy was Jay from Bishop Strike – God bless him.

We played a lot of shows that summer, our biggest month being July, in which we had six shows. The most memorable, besides the requisite Tank appearance, was at the Amesbury Sports Park for North Shore Palooza, opening for eight other bands including Bishop Strike and Godsmack, who had just been signed. We debuted a new song that day, the fourth of July, called Phantasy. I think this was one of the strongest songs we wrote. Doug wrote a good melody over what we wrote as a good song. We changed the F to PH to avoid confusion with the Mariah Carey song, in case they happened to co-exist on the pop chart. This song was written around a neat sound effect on Chris’ Korg. Dan W had forgotten part of his drum kit at home and was forced to write an interesting snare-free drum track. This and three other songs were recorded on a Yamaha MD-8.

Another special event happened in July, this one on the 25th, though it wasn’t a club gig. The band gathered at the famous Fremont abode of my parents for a barbecue. Every band member’s friends were invited. It got off to a rough start because Doug had to return to Revere to get the car keys to his wife Leigh, but once we finally got going, it was a beautiful day, and the songs sounded great. I think about 25 people showed up to what was dubbed DanFest, or Danapalooza, depending on who you ask. It was all caught on film and inspired many future attempts to have a band play in Fremont during the summer.

In August of 1998, we had a huge show coming – we were going to play downstairs at the Middle East in Cambridge, a huge venue. On the day of the gig, Dark T-shirts and bumper stickers arrived. Over 125 people showed up to see US play at the Middle East that night! We felt unstoppable. It was far and away the best show we played as The Dark – we could do no wrong, this time for real, unlike the debut Tank show of ten months earlier. We were maturing as songwriters and performers.

After that climax, things started to settle down in the fall, as we wanted to do more writing and start recording our first CD, called Learn to Swim. We also decided to get a professional photo shoot and interview done for our bio. We gathered on October 4th at Castle Rock in Swampscott, MA, a nice rocky beach location. It was chilly but a beautiful day nonetheless. Those photos were the best ever taken of us.

By November we were working almost full time on our CD, but we still found the time to write new songs. John and Chris had begun a new tune which John called Black Lung, a 7+ minute epic that Doug had to write a thousand lyrics to. He came through and called it Karma. We eventually shortened the song to about four minutes, but it never caught on with anybody. We played it first at Club Good Times in Somerville, at a Christmas show in December with our newfound friends superZero. We’ll never forget a few things about that show. When superZero played, their singer Tommy made a grand entrance and accidentally kicked the power cords out of the wall, so they lost their sound and had to go figure it out. They covered their asses well.

The other thing that every single one of us remembers, whether we saw it with our own eyes or not, was the hot blonde chick who was so drunk that she took her shirt and bra off during Dwell and showed us her tits. Goddamn! She kept on bouncing around until they dragged her away for indecency, but I tell ya, John couldn’t keep his eyes off her. There’s video footage of him with the biggest shit-eating grin on his face. Who can blame him? That’s what rock n roll is all about.

Doug rolled around on the floor during Karma, and during Anxiety, someone gave him an entire cup full of tequila, and he downed the whole thing. Thankfully, it was our last song, because as soon as Doug said good night, he ran to the bathroom and puked. On top of all that, in the middle of Anxiety, one of the PA speakers fell over next to John. Nobody on my side of the stage knew it had happened, so when the breakdown came, and John took his guitar off and started walking away, we were all curious, to say the least. He helped put the speaker back up, strapped on his guitar, and helped us finish the song.

We also played New Year’s Eve of 1998 at Sharky’s in Nashua, opening for Zoso, a Led Zeppelin tribute band. A great way to ring in the new year – earlier in the year we had played a battle of the bands at Sharky’s and won. First prize was $100, and that felt pretty damn good, the largest sum we ever made.

1999 – The new year found us with a pair of new songs, Warped and Don’t Walk. One day at practice, Doug went around the room and asked everyone what kind of song they’d like to do. Dan W got to answer first, and he wanted a really fast song, so he started drumming fast, and I stole two chords from Tool Riff, and Warped was born. Don’t Walk suffered the same fate, and it had a really cool bass line which anchored the song, but oh well. We debuted both songs at the Backstage in Haverhill that February. The Dark was the very first local band to ever play at the Backstage. Lots of national acts had played there, but we got in first when they opened it to local guys. Right before we played Warped, I announced that we were about to play a song that no one but the five of us had ever heard, and when we started, Brian from the band Spek, who played down the hall from us in the rehearsal space, shouted that he had heard it. I guess he wins.

February saw the onset of a few new songs as well, namely The Storm, Ant, and Trinkets. The Storm was the only one of the three to be played live, and that happened at the Middle East in March. We headlined upstairs, and at the end of the show, people were stomping their feet and shouting “One more song!” We had to give in, so we played a very poor version of Peeping Tom. My solo had never sounded worse, and of course it was caught on video. The Storm was another fine guitar solo by John. I felt he was really coming together when he wrote this one. The chorus never did much for me, but the verses were nice. It was called Storm because Chris used a thunderstorm sound effect during the intro and outro.

Ant was a power ballad with an acoustic intro and great guitar work by John. I had never heard him play something so well. I wrote it on the acoustic guitar, and when John heard it, his hand pretty much wrote the solo for him, in virtually one take. We couldn’t believe our ears. We named this one Ant because there was an ant walking on the rug while we were trying to name it. Yes, we were very creative sometimes.

Trinkets was one of John’s best riffs ever. He decided to try something different because his guitarist friend Kevin recommended that he mix chords and notes together in riffs. I added a basic thumping bass line, and Chris added gunfire sounds which made for a damn good effect. This was the last song we wrote.

By March of 1999, Chris had had enough of Doug, mostly in the singer category, but everyone was getting on each other’s nerves. We had heard our share of “You guys rock, but you gotta replace that singer.” Chris called me one day before practice and said that he wanted a new singer or he would leave. This was a bit of a surprise, but then, not really. What Chris didn’t know was that I had already written to myself and sealed in an envelope a promise to leave the band if anyone else did, so Chris’ ultimatum led the band to its final demise, since either he or Doug was going to leave, so I was gone.

We decided to play our last few gigs, the final one being April 23rd at the Rockpile in Saugus for a WAAF sponsored battle of the bands. It was a short set – only seven songs – but we had a great crowd because they all knew that it was now or never if they ever wanted to see us play. Doug thought it would be interesting if he stripped during the last song, and those who weren’t paying 100% attention might have turned away for a second and turned back to see him in his skivvies. In fact, it *was* interesting, although no one I know thought it was very cool.

We threw massive amounts of bumper stickers out that night, and the club made us pick up the ones that weren’t taken because they made the floor slippery. We didn’t advance to the second round of the battle, but that’s OK. The Dark was done. It had lasted two and a half years, and exactly 18 months separated our first and last gigs. It was my first band, and I’ll never forget the times. We may not have revolutionized anything, but we all learned a lot and had a hell of a time. John, Chris, and I regrouped that fall to create Language of the Mad, but that’s an entirely different story … maybe someday it will be told.

– Dan (darkbass98)


  1. Priya says:

    ‘ The Dark’ is a nice journey of musical events. Was reading the entire story eagerly and surprised to know YOU left the band 😦

    Totally agree the album ‘lighter side of the dark’ has best songs mentioned in this blog carrying Memories !!

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