My Favorite Neighbor

My Favorite Neighbor is an occasional column from regular contributor J.R. McIntire where he reminisces on a projects he’s been a part of and spotlights the talented musicians he worked with.

In today’s MFN, J.R. shows us the circuitous path from a high-school talent show to tune-yards.

Welcome to My Favorite Neighbor.  An occasional column that covers my chronological history in playing and recording music, spotlighting those who joined me along the way.  Part of me wanted an avenue to promote my talented friends and the things they have been involved in and part of me wanted to simply get this stuff down.  We aren’t the bunch that has a lengthy Musical Family Tree presence or even a myspace page archived, so it has been fun to go back and hopefully it’ll be fun for you as well.  

For me there were three distinct groups that shaped me as a musician, and they often crossed over.  One was my close friends and our “culture” (music, clothes, skateboarding etc.).  Another was my peers at church that played music – some of them being so focused and sharp with chops, they are still masters of their craft to this day.  The third group were my peers that weren’t in my close friend group necessarily but who would end up as bandmates and where I started to cut my teeth on playing with others.

I want to give credit where it is due so I would argue very few things had more effect on my musical taste and want to play music (aside from fake BMG accounts) than Anthony Gabriele’s basement.  No matter what we did, even going to sleep, we had music going.  All would full stop until some sort of music was on.  I remember rare moments of quiet in that basement and how foreign they felt.  Anthony also played electric and nylon string guitar.  He had taken lessons from a local guitar teacher named Atanas and Anthony had convinced him to teach him the covers he wanted to learn.  We would all watch as Anthony would rip through Sublime, Nirvana, Hum, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Cat Stevens songs with ease.  Somewhere along the learning process he got the technique down and it really made me want to play guitar, like BAD.  It looked so fun and sounded so cool. Though many of us played other instruments that could assemble a band, we never got the drive to form our own group, at least not yet. Still I have to give credit to those days with Anthony on guitar entertaining half of the teenagers in my friend group.  There is no way I would’ve played a single note later without those precious early evenings and weekend nights in between shooting hoops and playing N64.  

I really liked drums and could play, not as good as my friends like Zaven Papakhian (he can play everything, like everything, but drums especially), but I could play a beat.  Anthony however made me want to pick up guitar.  I remember I learned the E chord shape and my first song was that shape moved up and down the fretboard in a clunky half melodic chunk that I thought would stand the test of time.  I couldn’t wait to show Anthony (he had me figured out pretty quick).  But the skills weren’t what was important, it was the want and internal push that was growing.  Our group had some talent but again we didn’t lock into a band until later.  

Today we talk about the third group.  Our school had a concert every year called “Southapalooza” – classic word play off of the school name Bloomington South.  It was the only cool event that the school put on aside from sports.  I had heard of a few of my friends I skateboarded with outside of my close who were planning to play the event.  They were some of the smartest kids in our school.  My friend Graham McKeen invited me to come to a “practice” as he had recently gotten a baby blue Yamaha electric that inspired me to get my own and he knew I was into playing music.  They were ok, but I had to be honest after hearing one set run through and I flat out said “let me play the drums next time”.  They didn’t.  I waited until the end of the set when they were playing “Freedom” by Rage Against the Machine.  They were struggling with some of the rhythms and the current drummer got up in a fuss.  I immediately jumped on the drum kit.  We nailed it almost perfectly the first time through (or at least better than any take before).  Graham and I had a chemistry.  It was AMAZING!  There is still nothing to this day that matches that feeling.  

Southapalooza in all of it’s glory.

Graham and I ended up playing in that group at the show, but we started jamming with some other guys who were in another band “Koala” (one of the BEST bands from my childhood – ask anyone who was there).  We all wanted to be in multiple bands at the show because it was one night and none of us ever wanted it to end.  Koala was chocked full of band kids, and they were good.  We had the school band leader’s son on drums Rob Dubinski (he wasn’t full time in Koala but only because they had Todd Mason the Star of Indiana Drum Corp leader’s son…yeah, he was good) and their keyboardist “Vanilla Bob” Thompson (in a future post we will cover another time when he opened up my mind to recording and Stevie Wonder).  Bob and Rob were my crossovers to the church peer group as well.  We rounded out the lineup with another Koala band member, the multiple award-winning keyboardist from Craig and the Crawdad’s son Nate on bass and vocals.  Graham played guitar and drums, I played Guitar, Nate’s sweet new five string Washburn bass and sang, and we had some special guests that night on vocals who spanned the friend groups.  Rehearsing for that show and playing it live made Graham and I so much better, we went back to our friend group and other band, and they were like “nice, where’d you learn that”.  It felt cool to have a “band”.  It was mysterious, no one knew what you were going to play at the show.  Man, I miss that mystery almost every day.  

Nate and Rob really showed me what a solid rhythm section should be and when I played Nates bass and in turn the drums while HE was on bass it really locked me into that drummer/bass player relationship concept that I hold so dear to this day.  I won’t go into too many details as I have gone on long enough, but the important thing is that group of likeminded musicians, adjacent to my close friends whose influence was strong but not yet driven started a fire in me.  We may have only tripped through covers of Hendrix and 311 while nailing Aerosmith and most likely botching “Regulator” and just, yeah…we had one called “Chicken Rap” (don’t ask, I wrote it) but that night was everything.  It started the blade.  It may have started dull but they gave me the want to cut.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  We used to have video but it was long gone years ago.. haha video.  If you have or get the feeling or “blade” I’m referring to, you know.  There is nothing like playing, writing, and recording music with others.  You share an unspoken, spiritual bond and it’s fantastical and sloppy and terrible and anxious and smooth and really something I can’t live without.  It started for me that year and that night, that band was a big part of it.  

You may not know me or most of who I talked about in this article, but that’s the point of My Favorite Neighbor. Craig’s son Nate is Nate Brenner from Naytronix and Tune-Yards both interesting and important bands in the music ethos.  Nate is not the only one who went on to do something important musically.  I am still friends with Graham, he is the University Director of Public and Environmental health at Indiana University and though he wouldn’t pat his own back he helped get more people vaccinated and safe in our hometown during the pandemic than anyone I personally know.  I’m sure we’ve all gone on to do important things and there are people who I’ve referred to who will show back up in later submissions but for the kickoff I thought I’d start at the beginning and Graham and Nate, you’re My Favorite Neighbors!  Thanks for the tunes.  Check out the links below to see what my neighbors have been up to.


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