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The Birth of A Star
About Alpha Pegasi (short format)
THE ORIGINS OF ALPHA PEGASI
(for those who like to read)
Out of the ashes of about a dozen bands, Alpha Pegasi was born. It only had its first breaths of life after I decided to have the balls to go after what I always wanted: to be the leader of a high-energy rock band that also has the soul of an improvising jazz group. With essentially every other band I was in, I always tried to play peacekeeper and make sure everybody else was happy, even if it meant sacrificing my own wants and my own happiness. Meanwhile, dozens leading to hundreds of original, personally-written and composed songs continued to pile and grow. Many never got to see the light of day what was a long, ongoing battle to be happy.
Shortly after asking my mother to marry him, my father wound up in a mental hospital, again. I came into the picture pretty soon after that stint. Born into a poor family at one point living off food stamps, it didn’t exactly help the situation that I was handed down “bad genes” as some liked to call them. For a while, I thought if only I could make my parents stop screaming at each other, they would be happy then in turn I would be happy.
I constantly carried an attitude of trying to make everyone else happy before even giving thought to what would make me happy. I acted that way in every single band I was in, making sure that other people got what they wanted even if it meant shutting myself up…even though I always wanted to lead a band and share my songs with the world…but not if it meant this person wouldn’t get what they wanted…but I’ve got all these songs…but they want to play something else…Cognitive dissonance anyone?
The fact that I didn’t exactly think highly of myself as a kid didn’t help. Though he may have had trouble dealing with and expressing his emotions, my dad was one hell of a back-to-back state title winning basketball coach. My brother Erik excelled in sports. I didn’t. As such, I never felt good enough when I compared myself to my younger, popular, more in-shape and athletic brother. I mean why would girls want to be with me if they could be with someone like him? As such, even when the few friends I did have blatantly told me “This girl likes you and wants you to ask her out,” I’d make up a bunch of excuses and not even approach that girl that I liked too. With that painfully crippling complete lack of self-confidence, I remained largely alone and constantly single throughout the first two decades of my life.
Music was my only constant companion that was always there for me and allowed me to say and express whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. Although I generally sucked at sports, (outside of Wiffleball) I had a knack for music that was apparent to my parents when I first picked up the violin around age 10. One day over my aunt’s house, she played the main theme from the start of the Star Wars movies on piano. I thought that’s cool. So I went home and learned it on violin. My mom was pleasantly shocked. She suggested I bring it up to my violin teacher and ask if I could play it as a solo piece for an upcoming recital. He agreed and I was stoked. When my time came, I jumped up and took center stage. Feeling such complete attention, amazement, and admiration being directed entirely towards me the music I made for minutes on end, followed by a huge round of applause and cheering was the greatest thing I had ever felt in my life at that point.
That being said, I stopped giving a shit about violin when we moved…again. Big surprise, finally got a few friends, finally starting to feel a bit socially comfortable at school, and we’re out! Third different school in less than three years. I cried on the first day in front of all the kids in my home room. Great start. Over time I found a friend or two, and one of them was taking guitar lessons. After sitting in with him one lesson, I knew I wanted lessons too. My parents agreed and half a year before I turned 13, I started learning how to play guitar.
It’s tough to describe the magic that ensues when you find out that you’ve got a knack for doing something you really love doing. My earliest memory of “playing” a guitar was first touching some strings of the acoustic that my uncle let me borrow. I didn’t even take the guitar off the stand it was on, I was just plucking 3 of the 6 strings on it (that I later came to find out were called the D, G, and B strings, notes that naturally form a G major chord, hence God I don’t even know what the hell I’m doing here, but this sounds great!). Love at first sound.
Maybe this could be a way to make friends and even meet girls. It was with girls, but I was still to shy and painfully self-conscious to ask any of them out, much less hang out with them outside of school. I at least had better luck making friends through this instrument. Some kids at my school were getting into making music too. Through jamming together, I was able to find what would become my core group of friends in high school. I even formed a band with some of them called The Mango Garden. Great times with the Garden! The first real shows I played on guitar were with that band, and to see people dancing to it was a huge high I’d never really known before. I’d been playing guitar for about 3 years when we got the Garden going. Up until then, I was really only a guitar player. I rarely sang and never wrote my own lyrics. When our lead singer came to the table with his own lyrics I thought Well if he could, I probably could too. I largely owe the birth of me as a songwriter and singer to one of my best friends to this day, Liam McCarthy.
Fortunately, I was able to become more social over time because making music with others, seeing shows with others, and playing shows for others is a really social thing by nature. The more I jammed with people and the more gigs I played, the more friends I made. Even meeting people that liked the same music was such a euphoric feeling Freshman year of college. Wait you like Phish, Umphrey’s, and the Dead too!? No fucking way! It didn’t really exist in my family or outside of the Garden where I was from. Through breaking out of my shy shell, I kept meeting new people, new musicians, and in turn formed and played in a few bands. And I kept my songs hidden. That others first mentality continued to follow me. I think it was most prevalent in the 2.0 version of the band I was in called Leon Trout. And it all started at a party one night while attending Keene State College.
With a band in the living room, people (myself included) were raging and getting down so hard that the floorboards were cracking and caving in. So one of the owners of the house made a wise, executive decision: “Alright let’s move it to the basement!” We cheered, grabbed the gear, and went downstairs. The party roared on, now more alive than ever. One of the guitarists took a quick bathroom break and I asked if I could step in. The band agreed and we started jamming. The drummer and I really clicked, rocking out for over 10 minutes straight yet having never even said “hello” to each other before that night. Right before I left that same summer to see if I wanted to live with my mom in Tucson, (too fucking hot. Cool spot, too fucking hot) I got into my first relationship at age 22. Turns out she knew the drummer I jammed with from their shared Environmental Studies major. His name was Roger and when I got back, we started playing and we knew we were cooking with gas. Enter a bass player, Ethan, and suddenly we had a band. We rehearsed, jammed, threw house parties, (including the epic Toga Jam event) and booked shows wherever we could in New England. We had a really fun time doing so and we were even starting to see our stickers on passing cars. Then the bass player left.
He too left for a summer and when he came back he said he didn’t want to be in Trout anymore. At Kilkenny’s (Killers) Pub, Roger and I met to discuss the fate of Trout: both of us nearing the end of our college careers with potential to pursue anything, anywhere, we wondered if Ethan leaving would mark the end of the band.
“Hey, aren’t you guys in Leon Trout?” A random guy at the bar in the middle of the afternoon recognized us and told us how good he thought we were. Then and there we decided to keep it going. Enter Samman. After playing a gig at Franklin Pierce and hearing of our situation, a guy that went to FP reached out about having us back for a party on Halloween and mentioned a bass player who could play with us. We packed up our gear, drove down, and met the guy we were set to play a show with in about an hour. It was another wildly good time. We asked Sam to join and soon after told him of our plans to move to Boston to pursue this band. He agreed to both. So the three of us moved in together.
Really quickly after we did, I knew that the path I was on was not one I wanted to stay on. In moving to Boston, I thought I had to live a sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll fueled lifestyle if I wanted to be like the Guitar Gods and bands I looked up to. I only saw the successful side of it. When you crave drinking, drugs, and sex with random women, it’s toxic. And I knew it. Towards the end of high school and throughout college, I continued to learn more and more about sustainability and spirituality through the likes of meditation, yoga, and supporting to even working with local farmers’ markets. Visiting and doing volunteer work in Uganda and studying abroad in India really opened my eyes to a much healthier, more holistic way to live. I was a far cry from being healthy in Boston, or happy for that matter. But I felt trapped. I thought that Trout was the only path I had to realize my lifelong dream of making music for a living.
After almost a year and a half of a lot of fights, yelling matches, and a whole lot of liquor, I needed to leave and I told them just that. It didn’t go over well, especially considering we were still living together. The decision came at a time where I felt like I was going through two breakups at once: one with a girl I was in a relationship with and another with the band I co-founded and was in for over 4 years. A lot of tears were shed during that period, but I stuck to my decisions. Though I told my bandmates/roommates multiple times that I was done with the band and moving out, it seemed like they didn’t buy it or believe it because where else was I going to go? My Dad had a suggestion, “you could come live with me for a while.”
As much as my childhood was “messy” to say nicely, my Mom and Dad have always helped, housed, loved, and supported me any way they could along the way. This was one of those times, so I took him up on his offer. Thus began “the 5am phase” of my life where I would wake at 5 am, make it to the bus station by 6, hopefully be in Boston around 8, take the Red Line to Harvard station, then take a bus to Watertown and walk a mile to hopefully make it to a soul-sucking office job by 9-9:30…and then do it all over again in reverse when 5pm rolled around. It was fucking awful, but in doing so I saved up and had more money than I ever did in my bank account, about $6,000. I figured that would be enough to move out of New England and start over.
The best part of moving to Boston for me was meeting Greg King. He’s a funny, fellow craft beer nerd, and an Umphreak like myself. He is also one of the best guitar players I have ever jammed with (his band is so tight! Check out his group Squeaky Feet here: INSERT SF LINK). We share a love of a lot of similar music, especially with Zeppelin being our favorite band. Whenever we made music together, magic was in the air. It was a ton of fun to do that and just hang out when we could. Near the start of 2017, he said he was moving to Colorado and got a job there as a guitar teacher. He said I should do the same. So I did.
In moving to Colorado, I knew I wanted to make great music with great people but that’s about it. I didn’t have a shining, guiding focus of how I was going to make music for a living, much less make a really good living in doing so. (I was pretty wishy-washy with my focus and direction yet wondered why I got wishy-washy results. Odd.) Should I pursue a solo career? Should I be in a band? Should I join a band? Should I just try to play with whoever I can wherever I can? The thought of leading a band was never something I even considered doing. Until I started seeing a therapist.
Though I saw one in high-school around the time of my parent’s divorce, it had been over a decade since I had professional counseling from a licensed psychologist. A month away from turning 28, I was at a real low point when I started going to Denver Dynamic Therapy in March of 2019. I had lived in Colorado for 2 years with next to nothing to show for it. I had no girlfriend, had been single for about 3 years, had next to no (at many points negative) amounts of money in my bank account, few friends, no family, no support system, no job I loved or even liked, and I had just left a band I was in because of a story similar to Boston: my songs didn’t see the light of day and there was excessive drinking and drug use going on. I moved to Colorado to largely literally keep my nose clean and aside from one occasion that instantly reminded me why I no longer wanted to snort anything, I’ve done just that. In living a healthier lifestyle by drinking way less and cutting out drug use, in wanting to give so much to organizations looking to improve the health of people and the planet, in working out and exercising consistently, and in wanting to professionally pursue music to bring people together, create connections, and add enjoyable experiences to people’s lives, where the fuck was I going wrong?
Well for one, I continued to tear myself down daily with a steady stream of insults that were internally directed. I’ve always tried to have as much compassion and kindness for others as I could, yet I didn’t even consider that demonstrating those two traits for myself was an option. I essentially had only motivated myself by criticizing myself in the past. While the intent to “get better” was good, the means of doing so by mentally beating myself up with a lot of negative inner-talk, I kept pushing myself away from the goals I had and from the person I wanted to be. I had deep-rooted thoughts of never being good enough and living a pathetic existence compared to other musicians making a living from their craft, much less touring around the world in sold-out stadiums. Combine those factors with being so broke and so alone for so long, it created a vicious mental cycle that only intensified as time went on.
Needless to say, early 2017 to early 2020 was the lowest and loneliest period of my life. A lot of forces came together to save it. The first couple years in Colorado wasn’t my first bout with suicide, but it was definitely the strongest. Feeling so far from the person, giver, lover, musician, author, and artist I wanted to be, it didn’t seem worth it to get out of bed a lot of mornings. A whole lotta love and a whole lotta of art felt trapped in my heart with no external recognition, awareness, or appreciation of it. No fanbase (having gone from playing Main Stage at festivals in New England), having had sex only a handful of times in years (as opposed to 5-6 times in a day back home), no touch given or received for so long (my primary love language), my heart felt like my stomach consistently did in that period: empty. One night got so bad I was convinced that I was not going to live to see a single day of or a single day past the year 2020. The plan was to buy a bunch of sleeping pills, a bunch of alcohol, and lethally mix them together.
Fortunately that didn’t happen. What did happen is ordering a book called The Self-Compassion Workbook. Again, self-compassion didn’t even seem like a possibility to have in life. Yet it’s what I needed most. When I started making my internal dialog a lot better, my external world got a lot better. I was still working the 22nd job I ever had in my life as a busboy, (the first job I had a dozen years earlier in high school) I had no car, (having gotten in a collision with a bus the day before Thanksgiving) and didn’t have nearly enough money coming in to pay for bills, food, and rent, (having been mainly working for Uber at the time of the crash) yet I was so much happier with myself than I ever had been. Offering myself some sympathy, support, and unconditional love was a novel experience for me. Things were starting to look up, especially as I now had professional recordings of my own under my belt.
it’s strange, I’ve been through so much excruciating emotional pain over such an extended period of time to professionally pursue what gives me the most joy and happiness in life: making music. Though I had no idea where they were actually going to end up, I wrote 13 new songs in the first couple of months in moving to Colorado. I felt strongly enough about them to decide to record them at a pro studio in Boulder. I took care of all the vocals and instruments on there, except for drums. Those were done by a drum teacher I worked with. He ended up giving me a lot of pointers and informal lessons along the way on how to play drums (Thank you Carl Holz!). Playing the kit a really fun, new, creative outlet. It also offered an opportunity to hit something as hard as I could to release the demons a bit, yet do so in an artistic way. At the same time, learning how to play with finesse and hold down a groove was something I loved (and still love) doing. A year after I started playing drums I went to a different studio in Boulder to record 2 more songs, this time taking care of every instrument including drums (and a 1959 Hammond organ with a Leslie Tallboy speaker cabinet, oooh baby).
From around the start of to the very end of 2019, I began working with another Mitch, this Mitch of J. Mitchell Management and Lionheart Records. He gave me such a better blueprint and sense of direction as to how to finally become a professional musician. First thing’s first, he honestly asked and I honestly answered. “What do you want to do here?” Lead a band. Make music on my own terms. Have the freedom to play with whoever I want and play every instrument on any given studio recording as I see fit. Have ownership of this business and how it operates. If I want to give 5% of all my profits to non-profits, no one is going to tell me otherwise. The answers came quick as did rapid stages of progress. Now it was clear of what I wanted to do and the role I had: being the bonafide leader of the band called…? Just Mitch Melodia? Mitch Melodia and a band name? Neither. While looking for cosmic and/or star-based names, I found a couple that I liked but they were taken. After scrolling a bit through the “names of stars” search, I came across one, instantly stopped, and knew that I was going to base my band, brand, business, and life around it: Alpha Pegasi.