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What It’s Like To Start From Scratch After Leaving An Established Band

by Doc Coyle
music & audio

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Security. Most of us not only instinctively strive for it, but those of us in our 30’s are driven to maniacal anxiety if our security blankets are stripped from us: be it a good job or a loving relationship.

This is why you see so many musicians figuratively chopping at a redwood with a dull butter knife deep into their 30’s or 40’s with an established band who has a “name”, but their best days are clearly behind them. It is so difficult to elevate a band from obscurity to notoriety that the thought of going back into the trenches, playing for free, investing in studio time, buying vans, designing new logos and merch, having to promote a new project, and sell yourself all over again is just too daunting for most members of established bands. Just typing that conjured some mental exhaustion.

I didn’t quit God Forbid to start my new band, Vagus Nerve. The band had already formed. But I did leave a situation where we had a record deal with nice advances, a manager, booking agent, paying gigs, and an established fan base.

The thing is I knew is it would be a lot of work, but the idea of a fresh slate and no baggage seemed liberating.

A lot of metal musicians that leave known bands tend to link up with other known players, and start mini supergroups. I tried that a few times, and it didn’t work. There always seemed to some calculations about WHO someone was instead of WHAT they can do. Its almost nepotism of reputation, and it rarely addressed chemistry. Because it was this guy from that band, certain requirements needed to be in place or it just wouldn’t happen. That just wasn’t my attitude. I never felt like I was owed anything because of my résumé. Sure, having a body of work that people respect opens doors that wouldn’t have been there, but it’s not like I’m Sting or anything.

If you haven’t heard my new band, Vagus Nerve, here is a new song we just released.

If you are familiar with my old band, God Forbid, you notice that Vagus Nerve is much, much different. It’s a rock band with some metal influence, but only on the edges. The truth is if I wanted to make super heavy metal stuff right, I probably would have found a way to stay with God Forbid. But that’s just not where I am right now. It’s not that I don’t like metal or enjoy playing it. I still play it, and even have been writing heavy stuff for Jamey Jasta’s solo album. I just felt like this is where I could go creatively, and make a difference. It’s where my heart is.

The band started with me finding my singer Ravi on YouTube, who has a solo band called Phyllotaxis. A mutual friend linked us together.

I couldn’t believe what I heard, and I knew I had to work with him. There aren’t many singers with voices of that caliber. Just the 2 of us began working on the songs that would end up being on our forthcoming Visceral EP.

This goes back over 2 years ago when the songs were more or less composed. In today’s climate, most new “bands” would take their few songs and 2 band members and record a demo on their computers, probably with programmed drums, and then start shopping to record labels, and wait for the big break. You can’t see me, but my eyes are rolling.

I didn’t want to do it that way. I told Ravi I wanted to put a real band together. The songs were cool, but they needed to be affected by more people and personalities before they were truly complete. Doc Coyle recording songs on his laptop and having Ravi Orr sing on them was indeed recorded music, but it wasn’t a band. Not yet.

I had grown sick of being around desperate musicians who were just trying to “make it”, and manufactured every move to get a record deal or played on the radio. I was sick of compromising to fit in with mediocrity and creative ruination. I was sick of musicianship as sport. I just wanted to be part of something pure, without vapid, commercial motives. Without posturing and pandering.

From this point, every decision we made was the more difficult, time intensive, and organic of the options presented. We auditioned drummers, and luckily found our guy, Moe Watson, on the 2nd try. Ravi brought his talented friend, Aden Oxenreider, to play bass, and he fit right in. Then we did legit guitar player auditions, took submissions online, and auditions 5 guys in a day like a professional band. It took several months to get everyone together, but the hard work paid off, because I have never played with a group of guys where everything came together so naturally, and sounded so instantly unified. There were no big egos. Everyone had been vetted. I legitimately felt like I was the least talented musician in the room, and it was a nice feeling.

At the end of 2013 and after I quit God Forbid, I decided to move to Los Angeles from New Jersey with an idea that Ravi and Aden (and hopefully the others 😉 would join me in California at some point. We decided that we had to record the material before I moved. Although there were lots of problems with the album production, we tracked live in a room, and were able to get the basic tracks done before I left the east coast. Thanks Steve Lagudi and Conclave Studios for saving the day!

By the end of last summer, all of the tracking was done. Keep in mind, by this point, Aden and I were in Southern California, and the rest of the guys were in New York, NJ, and PA. Everything had to be done via email, phone, and Skype.

We needed a really good mixer to take the EP home. We had some solid tracks, but things were raw, and some of our core tones were sub-optimal. I reached out to every great rock producer I could think of to get quotes. Some offered to do test mixes, and that’s how we ended up with Forrester Savell being the mixer of choice.
We had the guy, but we didn’t have the money. We needed $2,500 USD. It’s not an overwhelming amount of money, but we had 4 options:

A.) We raise the money ourselves – Not impossible, but certainly might have stretched out certain guys in the band at the time.
B.) We get an investor – This was very doable if we looked around, but then all of the sudden you have someone who controls your fate to a certain degree, and has a hand in your business.
C.) Shop it to a record label and have them pay for it – This again was very viable, but I didn’t want to send a label unmixed tracks. They say, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”
D.) Crowdfund – This seemed the most appealing for a few reasons. I was inspired by ex-God Forbid guitarist, Matt Wicklund, and his new band Ghost Ship Octavius’ successful Kickstarter campaign. I also thought it was the best way to engage people to check out the new band. I wanted to make it intimate, and personal. Without a label or tour to support the music, this would force us to self-promote and reach out to people with authority.

Crowdfund it was! It took us almost all of 2015 to get all of the materials together to launch the Kickstarter. We didn’t have a logo, a band photo, a music video, or merchandise – just a puny Facebook page with less than 300 “likes”.

Everything took 3 times as long than a normal band because we were on opposite coasts, had to pay for everything out of pocket, and work on things in our spare time in between our regular lives. It was important to us that everything was handled with care and attention to high quality. It took a long time, because everything had to be done right.

When everything was ready to launch near the end of October, it was the most nervous I had felt in a long time. I hadn’t felt that way in years. I had skin in the game. I was putting myself out there. This is thing that I worked on for years, but no one had really heard our music, which was about to be out in the public ether. What if people didn’t like it? What if no one even cared? What if it failed? Had we prepared enough?

That wave of anxiety that shoots through my body like lightning because I cared about this. The last time I felt like this was when God Forbid got the first week SoundScan sales numbers for our IV: Constitution of Treason album in 2005. We ended up selling 8,300 albums, and I was hoping we would have sold 10,000 +. I broke out into hives when I got the numbers. It ended up being our biggest sales week in the history of the band. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, couldn’t appreciate it. This is where getting wrapped up in the results and away from the process can screw you up. I had a fuzzy relationship with my ambition, and how it was distinctly results-based.

I am a different person now, but I have certainly put myself and my bandmates in a results-based predicament. When you care, you put yourself out there, and take a giant risk. I remember that I pushed these choices exactly because they were hard, and would take a tremendous amount of work.

This is my leap of faith, and everyone who supports it has no idea how important it is to me on a personal level. We have less than 2 weeks to go, and it’s all or nothing. Starting over is scary, but it’s the only way you find out what you’re made of.

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Doc Coyle

Ex God Forbid guitar player. Songwriter. Blogger. Know-It-All. Non-conformist. NY Knicks fan. Coffee enthusiast. Agnostic.