I graduated from high school in June 1996 and in the fall I began my first semester at Eastern IL University in Charleston, taking one friend with me to college and waving goodbye to a few others. A few of those other friends also began their first semesters at The University of IL in Champaign, a mere 45 minute drive from EIU. One of them was my good friend, Andy.
I met Andy in 7th grade and we quickly became friends. We were inseparable during high school and some of my favorite teenage memories are of the dumb things we did together. Andy came with me on family vacations, got me drunk for the first time, and he also designed the original cover to the first Allister EP, “You Can’t Do That On Vinyl.” Most importantly, though, I credit him with introducing me to the underground punk rock scene. He was the first one to play for me bands like Slapstick, Apocalypse Hoboken, The Mushuganas, and The Bollweevils, iconic Chicago punk rock bands that completely changed the way I listened to music. In 1994, Andy convinced me to come with him to a run-down, ramshackle old bowling alley in Chicago to see a band called Rhythm Collision. It was an experience that transformed my way of life and I am forever indebted to him for it.
I got to see Andy and some other friends relatively frequently throughout the first year of college. Those weekends would generally find us sneaking into bars or wandering the streets of Champaign, drunk and looking for another house party. One of those weekends spiraled a bit out of control, landing my good friend in jail and inspiring the track “Residential Burglary.” One of the funny things about the song is that lyrically, it is entirely factual. Andy really did run out of a house party trying to steal a record player and CDs. He was really thrown in jail with a guy accused of beating his wife. And, of course, his cell smelled like piss and beer (would you expect anything else?). The only other memory I have of writing this song was that I remember thinking how sophisticated I felt finally adding a (gasp!) 4th chord into one of my songs. Sad, but true. Andy and I have since lost touch and I haven’t seen him or talked to him in a number of years. Kind of a shame considering how close we were but I get it, sometimes shit happens. Maybe one day him and I can get a beer together again and wax nostalgic on those earlier years. Particularly the year that “Andy is going to jail…”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been eighteen years since we recorded our first EP, “You Can’t Do That on Vinyl.” That is exactly half a lifetime ago. At that time we were only a three piece; John on guitar, Eric on bass, and me behind the kit. Scottie wasn’t yet an official member of the band but he was instrumental in getting the entire recording session set up. He played bass for a local band called The Humdingers who had done numerous sessions at a recording studio in Hoffman Estates, IL called Solid Sound. The head engineer was the late Phil Bonnet (RIP), a bit of an icon in the local Chicago punk rock scene. Phil had produced and recorded many of the bands we listened to during high school including Apocalypse Hoboken and Smoking Popes. Most importantly (to me, anyway) however, was that Phil had recorded Screeching Weasel. Screeching Weasel was (and still is) one of my favorite bands. As an 18 year old kid, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to record at the same studio as my punk heroes. So, with a good word from Scottie, Phil agreed to record our shitty band one fall day in 1997.
We recorded five songs for the EP, including one that I wrote called “Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s a fairly terrible song that was heavily influenced by bands like Home Grown, Assorted Jellybeans, and Less Than Jake. The “ska-punk” wave crashed hard on me during those formidable last years of high school, and I’m not ashamed to admit that many of the songs I wrote during that time sounded a lot like “Ex-Girlfriend.” Thankfully, most of them sucked just enough to not get recorded. In my Junior year I got my first real girlfriend. Her name was Emily and she was a year older than me. I felt like I had won the lottery. She was the only thing I could think of during the 3 months or so that we dated. Was I in love? Yeah, I suppose I was, just as most sixteen year olds fall into some sort of naïve adolescent version of it at some point. I took my girl to the prom that year and we spent the day after with a group of semi-mutual friends at the Indiana Dunes. That was the last day Emily and I ever talked. She spent a good majority of that day at the dunes with one of the other guys in our group and it was painfully obvious she wanted nothing more to do with me. What’s interesting though, in hindsight, is that there was no fight between us. No bitterness, no angry words, no earth-shattering, world-ending teenage breakup. Our relationship simply dissolved into thin air over the course of one Saturday. I wrote “Ex-Girlfriend” about a year after that and, though it sounds like a bitter, angry song, I can honestly say it was not written with any animosity. In my mind, the chorus line “I didn’t mean to love you” is delivered with a simple shrug of the shoulders and an acknowledgement that sometimes things just fade away….
For the last few months I’ve been tossing around the idea of creating an Allister “song diary,” a collection of memoirs and anecdotes related to all of the 44 songs I’ve written for the band. The idea came mostly to satisfy my own personal nostalgia but also because 2016 marks twenty years since I graduated high school and I thought it might be an enlightening (and probably at times terrifying) exercise to revisit and explain some of the songs that got the Allister train rolling all those years ago. Looking back, these songs span eighteen years, five full length records, and one EP. Not exactly prolific but, what the hell. My goal is to dissect one song per week, starting with our very first EP called “You Can’t Do That on Vinyl.” By my calculations that should take almost a year. A lofty goal but hey, we’re nothing without ambition, right?