Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Reel Story of Aoeria and Waterwheel, Part 1

Here is something I have been planning on doing for a while and have started many times, but never finished. This is a work in progress telling of how Aoeria and our albums came to be. I will be publishing these online in a series as I write segments. Eventually I will collect them, tune them up, and maybe include some artifacts of other things I have written along the way. Feel free to add comments or anything else.
Please sit back, enjoy a favorite beverage, tune into some music, and turn the page/lights down…

The Reel Story of Aoeria and Waterwheel

by Frank Giliberti (guitarist, singer of Aoeria)

To start from the beginning…I’ve attempted to write about how Aoeria began and how we made our recordings many times now. Looking through my files, I see dozens of different drafts, some describing the music, the band’s history, and even the recording technology. I have essays written in notebooks about how I anticipated Waterwheel would be received and my imaginations about what it was saying. In truth, much of the ideas found in Waterwheel were foreign even to me, changing meaning constantly, and appearing as if by mistake. Happy mistakes. I will try to write a straight-forward remembrance of all the ideas and happenings swirling about the creation of Waterwheel and the band. Maybe sometime I will post all my roundabout rants if anyone wants to read more into and about Aoeria.

The sound and songs of Aoeria and Waterwheel began to take shape when I was about 16, around 2001, living on the South Shore of Long Island, New York in Massapequa and in 11th grade. I had previously tried starting a few different bands with jam buddies, most of whom I learned to play with. After the bands dissolved, I was left wanting to pursue my sonic vision of the music I wanted to hear. Many bands and sounds appealed to me; the bittersweet melodies of The Smashing Pumpkins, the beautiful and mesmerizing tunes of The Beatles (a lifelong love), the trance-inducing riffing and metaphysical ideas of Tool, the acoustic flowing poetry and harmony of CSN&Y, the groovyness and intrigue of Queens of the Stone Age, the psychedelic meditations of Pink Floyd, the explorative and daring albums by King Crimson, the cerebral and languid sounds of films like Traffic and Waking Life, and the fusion of rock funk and jazz by Larry Coryell and the 11th House. Later I would pick up more influences in my weekly, sometimes daily, album hunts at Binghamton record stores, picking up albums by The Church, Porcupine Tree, A Perfect Circle, The Mars Volta, The Cure, Failure and Year of the Rabbit, Les Claypool and Primus, Neil Young, and more. I wanted to make a band that was free of any stylistic constraints and would try writing songs and foraging for ideas with friends to see if they had the same interest.

The origins of the first Aoeria song, and the first on Waterwheel – Apocrypha, came in the summer of 2001 when I jammed with a similarly diversely-influenced vocalist and now keyboard-playing friend, Joe Salina. I had came up with the main riff for Apocrypha, and maybe some other parts, and had laid down a instrumental version in more of a mid-tempo with a drum machine to keep time. Joe was writing lyrics and sang to it once or twice. The demo remains in my archive somewhere. In 2004/2005 I would eventually ask him to try adding some keyboards to the recording I eventually stuck with, which is on another hard-drive here, but wound up not using them because there were no keyboards on any other songs from the album. He still makes awesome sounds with his MicroKorg wonder gadget. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Joe for being a part of this song’s creation. When I eventually decided I would be singing the songs, I was inspired by Joe’s ability to take command of an idea and his use of rhythm. The melody of the song and lyrics developed over months and years, initially starting as an instrumental guitar melody from early drafts first live-band version of the song.

Getting back to the atmosphere when Apocrypha was dreamed up, even if it did not have words or a melody back in 2001, it had a feeling. It was anger, dismay, and hope all rolled into one. The world seemed like it was in a pretty dark place, especially with music. It was being said that rock was dead, but of course the spirit can never die. Then the bizarre and tragic events of 9/11 unfolded, and I remember watching it play out like a surreal movie taking place in a setting nearby while I was in my second period calculus class during my senior year, which aside from this day was a sleep-in class. It was insane, and somehow, to me, not completely surprising. I knew things were not picture perfect in the world, especially once Bush won the election in 2000. I stayed up all night then as a 16 year old, winding up majorly disenchanted with democracy as the election played out into a court battle. I suppose I've had trouble sleeping easily since then. Some of my friends were much more closely connected to the events that happened, and I truly feel for them and all who suffered from it. It seemed like the world had run out of love.
The lyrics and ideas behind Apocrypha, and much of Waterwheel, came from the need and desire to express the travesty in the state of calamity in the world, not to mention in my own personal life (like all mixed up teens). The catch was, I wasn’t going to wallow in pity; I saw an escape and hope in trying to be positive and be the change you want to see in the world (an idea I would directly express in Shuttle on Praise to All You Hear). The discontent is heard in the verses and choruses with lines like “the wilting lies inside the lines are echoes of lost thoughts in time” and “we lost our way somewhere within the forest of our lies.” My thoughts were serpentine, the idea that we have caused our own undoing as a people. But I tried to find a silver lining on the horizon, which I put into the lines “If you look beyond, you can see love's not gone, we can find a way.” “Love is all you need” (as sung by The Beatles) is the message I wanted to send the world, and I would find other ways of saying this in songs like Wonder and Mirror Dream.

So now let’s move on to how these songs started to take shape and became the emblem of Aoeria and our first album, Waterwheel. After high school, I decided to go to Binghamton University in upstate New York, part of the State University system, and a fine school with so much diversity of ideas and people, I might add. What it was like living in Binghamton and all the musical endeavors I undertook while there could be a whole story of its own. This much must be said, it was an interesting contrast between a dilapidated downtown that made one think of what the atmosphere must have been like during the Great Depression and the beautiful, vast countryside of cows, barns, and the ever-winding Susquehanna river. As to what led me to Binghamton, I would have to say it seemed more interesting and peaceful then my previous idea of going to New York University, which I toured and shunned when I saw how old their computers were in comparison to Binghamton at 1/10th the price of tuition. I had once thought of entrenching myself in New York City, but I already had many friends in Binghamton a year ahead of me, like Joe Salina, and I saw the open country as an open terrain to explore myself, the world, and music. One thing led to another and I wound up meeting the man who would play drums on 8 out of 10 songs on Waterwheel (or 11 counting the untitled secret song on the disc).

In the dorm where Joe Salina lived was a freshman, like myself, who was a drummer named Adam Santorini (if I am spelling it right! I had no written correspondence with him). Joe Salina and another buddy (and aspiring drummer), Steve Dini, introduced me to Adam and we hit it off immediately. We both liked energized musical groups like 311 and The Deftones, and I was introducing him to things like Tool. He had played with another group back on Long Island (where many Binghamton students hail from) and I think he had more of a hard rock leaning. We wanted to jam and found out the dorms housed a jam room with a drum set for the music students in the Broome building (named after Broome county). We somehow finagled our way into getting permission to jam in the incredibly named Broome Closet, which was more like a big rec room with a piano and drums. We would sign up and literally cart down my amp, guitar, and occasionally a 16-track digital Korg D1600 recorder over the hilly terrain of the campus in a shopping cart we found. Sometimes we would have to wait for hours because the signup scheduled got mixed up, or other bands were playing, or simply just because we needed to get someone’s attention to let us in. We would play loud, fast, and intensely. We would sometimes go into tight interlocking spaces, or expand outward into outer space. We often got told we were too loud or distracting! It only lasted a few months, roughly from September 2002 till that November. I even wrote a poem trying to capture the explosion of sounds taking place. I have recordings of some of these sessions, and funnily enough, early guitar takes of Lucidity and Spinner done in Massapequa seemed to have self-imploded probably because of the recorder being shaken up over the rough concrete roads on the way to our jam sessions.

Adam and I jammed on many different moods and improvised songs on the spot. Some of them were ideas for chord progressions or riffs I had been writing in my dorm room on mostly an acoustic Martin guitar. I had an electric Heritage Les Paul-inspired model for the jams with Adam. Other “songs” we played were spontaneously composed, most of which I have added onto the Waterwheel DVD in the Broome Closet bonus section. Of the ideas that would later become full-fledged songs, we jammed on Apocrypha, Imminent, Masque, Lucidity, and Devastation. Early jams around some of the main ideas appear on the Waterwheel DVD, too, but the style and flow would often be pushed along by an unknown force, or maybe just Adam’s boundless drive (I remember him telling me he was a fan of sports car racing). We had a winter break coming up between semesters and we would both be on Long Island, he on the North Shore and I on the South. I invited him to come to my parents’ house to record in the basement, where I had recorded my earlier bands, jams, and some local groups. I worked on building sound-proofing walls out of cheap carpet padding stapled to wood panels and walls, which worked very well. I squared off a portion of the basement and Adam set up his gorgeous custom Pearl drum kit with scaffolding-like beams (called a drum rack) to mount the individual drums and cymbals. He definitely seemed like a pro to me with all his hardware; he had recorded before and had an idea where microphones should go, which put us on the same wavelength. The fact that he was able to learn the grooves to all my odd riffs, and even give them a push of his own energy and spin, makes him one of the best drummers I have ever had the pleasure of playing with (if anyone knows where Adam is, tell him to get in touch!). So, over the course of two or three days, Adam would come over and we would start the day visiting a deli for big egg sandwiches on heroes, known as the Hungryman, at the Unqua Deli close by. Once we finished eating and discussed some plans for the day we would return home to record all the ‘songs’ we were working on, and a few more I had been working on.

I I had charted out each song’s structure and blueprint for where I wanted it to go, and I gave him a sheet counting off the measures of each section (ie: intro - 4, verse - 8, lead in - 2, chorus - 4, etc.). For the first few songs, I played guitar live direct into a pair of headphones Adam was wearing to help guide him along. After a few songs Adam asked to do the rest of the songs solo so he could get the flow himself, which I can understand since it was odd for me playing without an amp while trying to evoke what we had been doing at full volume a month earlier. Somehow he recorded most of the songs in first takes, astonishingly! He did perhaps two for Apocrypha and another. It also helped that we talked about how rhythms should be accented and grooved, which came from my sense of making an original style. I do not even recall us really playing Wonder or Spinner before these sessions, but somehow he knew what to do. Maybe I showed him on the guitar first and coached him through some of the ideas for how I wanted the rhythm to feel. For certain songs I had specific ideas, like on Lucidity. At first, Adam was doing a more even backbeat, but I asked him to mix it up with odd-time divisions of measures, giving it that forward-moving and ever-changing feeling. In Devastation, I recall asking him to do the drop in on the toms from the intro into the full-on rocking part the way you hear it on the album. After we had recorded everything we knew, Adam packed up his drums and returned home.

I spent a few weeks doing minor edits to the drums and trying to come up with ideas for how to fill out the sound. I recorded a basic guitar part for each song the night before returning to Binghamton for the Spring semester to keep a record of how the songs went at the moment. Over the next few months, I would record more guitar parts onto the songs from my dorm room (and bass on a few breaks back home), playing my electric guitar in the corner with headphones on while my two roommates did their own thing in the cramped room. Throughout the songs I layered a lattice work of guitar melodies through the songs, many of which were early explorations of what would become the vocal melodies. I also continued to write on the acoustic guitar, penning April Rain and Harpoon from my bed, complete with lyrics. At this time, I was starting to jam with other guitarists and bassists, in hopes of possibly filling out the band that would eventually become Aoeria. I grew more confidence in my songwriting and singing abilities, which I had been doing since I picked up the guitar at age 11 or 12, first with a garage-sale acquired classical guitar, and later with my first electric guitar, a Fender Stratocaster my Dad picked out with me at Sam Ash music. I also have to say my Dad has been a huge influence and inspiration to me musically and as a guitar player (I feel another story coming on!) Perhaps in an effort to impress some ladies or express my inner turmoil, I would go to open mics in Newing Hall (where Joe Salina lived) to play acoustic guitar and sing. I would also take my acoustic around campus for some outdoor courtyard jams and encounters in dorm rooms and dining halls.

Around this time, Adam became increasingly hard to get a hold of. His interest shifted away from music towards his girlfriend, who were pretty much inseparable. I would try to persuade him to play more, and I may have gotten a little intense in our conversations on account of all the work we had put in and how surprising great it was sounding to my ears. This was surely the best and most interesting music I had ever been a part of making. Eventually, Adam told me the music was too heavy for him and informed me he wasn’t interested in playing anymore. Quite in shock and disbelief, for I thought the music was balanced, with sounds of depth and lightness, introspection and wonder. Again though, the times were strange, and so was the music. Nonetheless, Adam liked heavier music than me in many ways, being a big Deftones fan and telling me he liked Motley Crue drumming a lot. He definitely seemed to propel much of the music towards the breakneck speed and intensity found on songs like Imminent and Apocrypha. I was caught off guard with the power of his style and often had to push myself extra hard to match his bravado. But I liked the challenge, and I was reveling in the fact that my music was coming to life with the power of imagination I had dreamed of. I let him know my intention of finishing the recordings and asked if I could keep everything as my own and see the album through, to which he agreed. For the next several years I would continue to write and finish these songs and recordings, all the while rediscovering and continuing to find out what I wanted to do musically.

To Be Continued….

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