2000 Excerpt - Autobiography - My Life in Context [1980-2020]

            The year 2000 was quite an interesting time for me. First of all, I welcomed the year by attending Billy Joel’s The Millenium Concert[1] at Madison Square Garden just hours before midnight with some friends on the evening of December 31, 1999. It was truly a spectacle!  

            In college I was really diving deep into my musical studies especially composing. As musical composition was my major it felt great that developing my composition skills was in line with my educational goals. Although I must admit the genres of music I was being challenged or suggested to compose at Brooklyn College were definitely not my cup of tea generally speaking. However, it was through allowing myself to take on these challenges that truly stretched and trained me to be a better composer. This had a positive effect on my songwriting abilities. Throughout my college days I had a strong motivation to write songs. At some point I was pumping out 3-5 songs a week.  

            My motivation to write songs was multi-layered. Yes of course I wanted to develop as a songwriter, lyricist and composer. Another significant factor was I needed an outlet to deal with my many mental, emotional, and sometimes physical struggles. As a sensitive and empathic being[2] I was always struggling to make sense of the world around me and finding ways to cope with what seemed like incessant contradictions in human beings. The most natural way for me to cope with these myriad challenges of maturing into adulthood was to write songs. 


            Throughout high school, college and beyond I was struggling with family discord which I’d rather not describe in detail. Suffice it to say I did not mind being in school from 9am to 10pm several days a week. I was also struggling with the impact of the breakup with my first girlfriend Ella. We were still in communication intermittently which felt healthy but was still quite challenging. Rather than seek solace in a new and fresh romantic relationship, I dived, as much as possible, into composing, rehearsing, performing, studying and teaching music and especially guitar. It’s not that I did not long for a romantic partner. I surely did, but I sensed I needed time unattached to more fully develop myself as an artist and a person. I was working hard composing new music for guitar ensemble, jazz ensemble and even a “20th century ensemble”.  

            As to physical struggles, I was trying to “get back in shape” as I felt I had let my health fall low on the priority list in the previous year or two. On looking back on my life, I can see that my health was never very high on the priority list until I reached my 30’s, but we’re not there yet. At that time (age 19), I felt out of shape and with a low motivation to improve my eating or to exercise more.  

            By early 2000 Modus Tollens was performing our first few gigs in Brooklyn and Manhattan as a 3-piece. At this stage the lineup was: 

MODUS TOLLENS - trio 
Bass – Jeremy Batchelor 
Drums / Backing Vocals – Dave Evans 
Guitar / Lead Vocals – John Henry Sheridan 

            On Friday February 25th, 2000 we played our first live show in the back room of Christie’s Pub(Flatbush Ave. between Ave. P & Quentin Rd.) which including a comedian on the bill. A very basic (one stationary camera on a tripod in the back of the room) video of this live show still survives today on VHS. While the three of us were aged 18-19 (and so were most of our friends), the flyer indicated: Show Starts at 11:00pm. Proper 21 ID Required. We even had to use a little persuasion that evening to get ourselves into the bar as they suspected we were underage. 

            The performance that night included two sets plus a comedic intermission. Even though we had only been playing together for three months at this point we already had put together quite a bit of material as indicated by the number of songs we played that night. The sets were as follows with a standup comic in between:  

1st SET 
Subway Dance 
In Circles 
Chameleon (Herbie Hancock) 
K.O. 
Games 
All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix) 
Alone 
I Go to Extremes (Billy Joel) 
Daddy 
Liquid Princess 

2nd SET 
Everything’s Cool 
Kansas City (J. Leiber / M. Stoller) 
Zelda (K. Kondo) 
Traveler 
Call & Answer (improv) 
Champ 
The More I Know 
Perfect Song  
Here I Am 

            The show was a success as far as first performances go. Our friends, family and supporters gave us an encouraging reception and seemed to enjoy themselves on the whole. This inspired us to want to perform more. 

            On the rainy night of Saturday, March 11, 2000 we played at the music club The Spiral in Manhattan’s East Village (located on East Houston St. near Ave. A). Though this show was sparsely attended we played pretty well. There exists a pretty decent recording of this show in my musical archives[3]. I remember that for some reason, rather than driving, I took the train into the city on this dreary and chilly day for this show, one of the few times I ever did that for a rock band performance. I guess they had a backline, so I did not need to bring any equipment besides my guitar. 

            Also, in March, Jeremy, Dave and I were in the process of recording our first official demo[4]. We chose to do so at Electric Plant Sound Studios with studio owner Vin Cin. This was a real treat for me to work with a professional and pleasant recording engineer. He helped us to further create and solidify the vision of our band and sound at that moment in time. I loved being able to record my guitar parts and vocals separately. I also really enjoyed layering my guitar parts to create richer textures in the music. And since we had a chance to focus on each part and do retakes as necessary, I was able to record a vocal performance that was largely in tune, ha!  

            Despite coming up with a pretty good sounding demo of 4 of our stronger songs, we were already looking into fleshing out the sound of our power trio. Due to this, the 4-song demo took a back seat as a priority and was beginning to feel dated as we were now preparing to evolve our sound beyond a power trio. The first addition to our growing band would be keyboards. Jason Hills had been excited about the band when I first told him about it in late 1999. Jason had played with Jeremy and I in Requiem / Beauty & Chaos back in high school days. Additionally, all four of us had played together in musical ensembles at James Madison High School. Jason was a natural fit and joined Modus Tollens as the keyboardist in the early spring of 2000. He would also bring trumpet, backing vocals and technical know-how which helped us to facilitate an online presence. Now the lineup was: 

MODUS TOLLENS - quartet 
Bass – Jeremy Batchelor 
Drums / Backing Vocals – Dave Evans 
Keyboards / Trumpet / Backing Vocals – Jason Hills 
Guitar / Lead Vocals – John Henry Sheridan 

            In 2000, we also began to play fairly regular shows at the “local watering hole” CC’s bar on Ave. N in the neighborhood of Flatlands, Brooklyn. This bar was in close proximity to where the band members and our friends lived, so it was a convenient place to play indeed. One of these shows was on Saturday July 8, 2000. The flyer indicates: $10 to enter w/ 2 free drinks. Show Starts at 10:30pm. 21 ID Required. Featuring the Sounds of D.J. Jill. 

            Despite the “21 ID Required”, to our youthful zeal, we were glad that CC’s was known for allowing under-age kids to enter without much hesitation. This was a great place for us to play as we could pretty much pack the place both since it was local and our underage friends (which were most of them at that time) could attend.  

            The set lists for that night are as follows: 

1st SET 
1. Here I Am 
2. Subway Dance 
3. Friday I’m in Love (The Cure) 
4. Champ 
5. I Go to Extremes (Billy Joel) 
6. Perfect Song 
7. Rocket Man (Elton John) 
8. Proud Mary (John Fogerty) 

2nd SET 
1. The More I Know 
2. K.O. 
3. Servant Song 
4. Gone 
5. Lovesong (The Cure) 
6. School’s Out (Alice Cooper) 
7. Kansas City (J. Leiber / M. Stoller) 
8. Act III 

3rd SET 
1. Breaking the Law (Judas Priest) 
2. All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix) 
3. Gone 
4. I’m Eighteen (Alice Cooper) 
5. Hello 
6. Future Memories 
7. In Circles  
8. Liquid Princess 

            As a result of the Modus Tollens performances, I had a chance to meet new people. Sam A. was a friend of Jeremy’s who I had vaguely been aware of when I was in high school. He was a few years older than me and of a significantly different character. He was muscular, tough-looking, very logic-oriented yet also quite sensitive and subject to emotions as humans are apt to be. Sam and I struck up a friendship. We initially discussed the idea of being workout partners. So, I began biking over to his apartment, perhaps a 15-20 minute bike ride away, on Sunday mornings where we would work out together in his room and then sometimes have coffee and maybe even breakfast together. Sam and I also began jogging together weekly as a way to hold each other accountable to keeping fit. As my friend Alfred Major was also interested in improving his fitness, I invited him along to join the work outs with Sam. Alfred joined our jogs often and occasionally our workouts. Amidst this new tri-bond relationship the topic of travelling abroad came up. I was speaking enthusiastically about my trip to London the previous summer. One thing led to another and next thing we knew we had booked a 10-day summer trip to the UK.  

            In the summer of 2000, the three amigos (Sam, Alfred and John) were soaring away to the not-so-sunny land of London, England. It was the first time any of us had travelled abroad completely on our own. We stuck together though I remember our collective energy was sometimes bordering on pessimistic and nihilistic. We drank a lot of coffee and alcohol. It was on this trip that I learned to develop a taste for sharp cheddar cheese in the kitchen of a friendly Italian-British woman’s bed and breakfast. We visited London, Manchester, The Lake District, Edinburgh and then back to London.  

            During the Lake District visit we rented bikes and took a long bike ride through the lovely green and rolling hills of the English countryside. Partly due to the hand breaks being opposite to the American way and partly because I had picked up too much speed going down a hilly road with sharp turns, I ended up losing control of my bicycle and crashing into a ditch on the side of the road. My back landed in a stream of running water. Sam started laughing as he watched me proceed from the grasses with some of those grasses popping out of my clothing as if I had tried to camouflage myself. When he realized I was limping and looked hurt he sincerely asked if I was ok although between snickers of laughter. Alfred was already way ahead of us and it took some time for us to catch up with him as my speed was seriously diminished now. We may have been cutting it close already with returning the bikes before closing time, but this made matters that much worse. It was a scramble to get back on time which we did by the skin of our teeth. I made my way up the stairs of our hostel that evening slowly one step at a time. Fortunately, I had a helmet on that day. It was the first time I ever wore a helmet and when I returned to the USA, I went out a bought a helmet soon after and have worn one ever since. Well except for that one time in Brazil . . . but we'll come to that later.  

            Up until the summer of 2000, I had been teaching guitar at home in the basement apartment of my mother’s house. I had long used the basement as a hangout for myself and my friends[5] so it was not new that I was teaching guitar from there, but what was new was that I had now moved into the basement and it was now my apartment as opposed to just “the basement”. By this time, I had been teaching guitar for 3-4 years and I had developed enough as a teacher and local musician to have a fairly steady stream of students. Perhaps I was a good teacher at that time, I don’t know but I was definitely growing bored and probably impatient with teaching guitar. I wanted to experiment with doing an ordinary job rather than teaching guitar. So, as a life-experience experiment I worked as a box boy and general helping-hand at the local Esplanade Pharmacy on Quentin Road. It was low-stress, somewhat menial, low-paying and (like many jobs) time-consuming. This experience was depressing enough to help me appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to teach guitar more or less on my own terms, and so I quit after 6 months of “giving it the old college try” and picked up with the guitar teaching again. A good life experience all in all.

            By summer of 2000 Modus Tollens was auditioning singers for the band. While I was quite happy to be the singer of the band, some of the other members did not share my enthusiasm. It was suggested that we look for a singer. Being the primary songwriter of the group, I was offended that my fellow bandmates would want my songs and guitar playing but not my voice. However, I did recognize that my voice was not of the type that was heard on popular radio and that, after all I was not a trained vocalist. I felt that my voice was my voice which was right for my songs, but I had to admit I was also curious to know, “What if someone else could do justice to these Modus Tollens songs with a more commercially viable sound and look?” Besides, I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to focus solely on guitar playing and songwriting?”  

            Anyway, I accepted the sentiments of my fellow bandmates and agreed to move forward with the new singer plan. We auditioned several singers. We narrowed it down to two. In the end it was a young man from the lower east side of Manhattan with a background in acapella singing groups, who got the gig, Adam Bank. Now the lineup was: 

MODUS TOLLENS - quintet 
Bass – Jeremy Batchelor
Drums – Dave Evans 
Keyboard / Trumpet / Backing Vocals – Jason Hills 
Lead Vocals – Adam Bank 
Guitar / Backing Vocals – John Henry Sheridan 

            Fortunately, before we went fully into our expanded lineup, we did indeed release a recording that captured my time as the lead singer of Modus Tollens. The Familiarization Project was a conglomeration of three different recording sessions throughout the year of 2000. I treasure this recording as it really captured a particular time and energy in my life.

            In November we held an informal photo shoot with our new singer. We took these band photos on our own with a friend’s assistance. Some were taken in drummer Dave’s parent’s basement and the rest were taken as we walked along the Marine Park Salt Marsh Nature trail across the street from my house in south of Brooklyn (affectionately known as “The Creek”). These shots were fairly interesting and goofy though we did not end up using them on any official promotional material.  


            On Friday, November 24, 2000 we once again played CC’s on Ave. N. The flyer tempted the recipient with: “$10 to enter w/ 2 free drinks”. The show was listed as starting at 10:30 that night which likely meant it started later and I can imagine it ran pretty late. As Adam was still quite new, I believe this was the last show with me as the lead singer or perhaps we traded off lead singing duties. As evidenced from the set that night, we were moving away from playing cover songs and focusing more on originals. The set that night was the following: 

1st SET 
1. Here I Am 
2. Servant Song 
3. Subway Dance 
4. Perfect Song 
5. Pain & Poetry 
6. Lovesong (The Cure) 
7. Joie de Vivre 

2nd SET 
1. Champ 
2. Liquid Princess 
3. Future Memories 
4. K.O. 
5. All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix) 
6. The More I Know  
7. Act Three 

            My life as a musician, songwriter, and composer was truly developing at this time and I was maturing as a person. While being replaced as a singer for a rock band in which I was the primary songwriter may have been a blow to my ego, I can see now that it did indeed help me to grow. On the other hand, a boost to my ego was that I was being taken seriously as a composer at school.  

            On Wednesday December 6th, 2000 I took part in two concerts, first in the Brooklyn College Conservatory’s Small Jazz Combo and then in their Big Band. We played many tasty jazz classics plus an original jazz composition of mine in each ensemble. I was honored to be able to hear my music taken seriously by so many capable musicians as well as excited to actually hear it come to life live! In the concert pamphlet, my name shows up twice with composer credits which at the time felt quite significant. It read as follows: 

Small (Jazz) Combo - 12:15pm 

Selections to be chosen from the following… 
“Donna Lee” - Charlie Parker 
“On Green Dolphin Street” 
“Autumn in New York” 
“My One and Only Love” 
“Autumn Leaves” 

plus an original song: 
“If It’s Not One Thing” - John Sheridan 

Big Band - 8:00pm 

Selections to be chosen from the following… 
“Perdido” 
“I Got it Bad (and that ain’t good)” 
“Cherokee” 

plus original songs: 
“Book By its Cover” - John Sheridan  
“Don’t Bite” - Paul Corn 

            As it turns out being a jazz composer was not a skill that I would develop much beyond college, but these experiences both playing and composing in the jazz traditions truly expanded my mind and abilities as an all-around musician and teacher. Funny thing is as much as I enjoyed learning about the history of jazz and playing it, I never really developed much of a taste for listening to it. In an interesting way though however, my experiences in the world of jazz and the rock band I was in, Modus Tollens would soon crossbreed in an interesting and life-changing way.  

            One of the main influences on the core three Modus Tollens members: Dave, Jeremy and myself from the get-go was the Dave Matthews Band (DMB). DMB was very popular at this time and really appealed to a wide audience which included both rock and pop fans. In addition to the band’s quirky and high-level guitar, bass, drums and vocals was the rich use of the violin and the saxophone. Apparently, Modus Tollens was hungry for a rich musical experience similar to what DMB offered. On a personal level I was always very inspired by the saxophone use in Billy Joel’s band and cherished a secret wish to have my own killer tenor sax player to work with one day.  

            There was an unusual and funky-cool Japanese fellow in the Brooklyn College Jazz Ensemble who I was becoming somewhat friendly with. I liked the instinctive and guttural way he played sax and thought he had a cool atmosphere. As the idea of a saxophone player or violinist emerged in Modus Tollens repeatedly, I mentioned to them about a possible good fit, Aftab Motoyama. On the evening of Friday, December 1, 2000 we invited Aftab to come down and jam with us. We were all in quite a giddy mood that night. I think we quickly realized that he could fit well in the band. Now the lineup was: 

MODUS TOLLENS - sextet 
Bass – Jeremy Batchelor 
Drums – Dave Evans 
Keyboard / Trumpet / Backing Vocals – Jason Hills 
Lead Vocals – Adam Bank 
Tenor & Soprano Sax / Hand Percussion / Shakuhachi / Backing Vocals – Aftab Motoyama 
Guitar / Backing Vocals – John Henry Sheridan

            Just two short weeks later at 9:30pm, Friday December 15th, 2000 Modus Tollens played our first gig with our new sax player Aftab Motoyama and our new lead singer Adam Bank. As this was a fresh lineup, we had had very little time to gel and build our sound together, so this first show as a sextet was certainly rough. However, this was a special show for a few good reasons. It was the first (and only) time we played at the legendary Brooklyn rock club L’amour, it was our first show as a 6-piece, it was our first show with a saxophone player, and it was Aftab’s birthday to boot!  

            We now had a pretty cool website (www.modustollens.net), and we were becoming a kick-ass 6-piece band! 2001 was right around the corner and looking to be an exciting year of expanded possibilities! 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Billy Joel – The Millenium Concert 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1q2LwSV0i8 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Years:_The_Millennium_Concert 

[2] It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized myself to be “empathic”, but I always had a sense that I was more sensitive and perhaps more “tuned in” to what was going on around me than others in my environment. 

[3] To listen to the show on YouTube, search: 
Modus Tollens (Brooklyn Rock Band) – Live @ The Spiral, NYC [03/11/2000] 

[4] While the four songs contained on this “first official demo” were never actually released as a demo at that time, we did later add those four recordings to the end of The Familiarization Project which we released in Autumn 2000.
To listen to The Familiarization Project on YouTube, search: 
Modus Tollens (Brooklyn Rock Band) - The Familiarization Project [demo 2000] 

[5] This detail was not very appreciated by my brother who was understandably upset that I dominated the basement in my teen years. He moved down there himself when I moved out of the house years later.

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