I grew up in Onalaska, WI., a town of 12,000 people. When I was in middle school I tried out for “Big Choir.” There was a simple audition for students in the music room, it was singing a few notes and then matching notes on the piano. The whole ordeal took about 2 minutes. Of the 400 kids in my 6th grade class, 360 of them were allowed into Big Choir and the other 40 were split into 2 classes of General Music which was all homework and tests on Beethoven. It was supposed to be the worst thing in all of school. I remember my audition very well, the teacher’s name was Ms. Saner and as a boy starting puberty this lady was incredibly hot. She had long brown hair, was very petite and had a soft voice. She was always very sweet to me, especially strange because I was 12 years old and refused to wear jeans. I showed up everyday in sweat pants and comic book t-shirts. I tried to sing a scale of la-la-la’s and thought it went ok, but then it was note matching time. What a fucking train wreck. We went through about 6 notes and she stopped and looked over at me. She sweetly said, “Alex, you have the worst voice I have ever heard. You’re not even close to matching any of these notes. Please save yourself the time and don’t bother trying out for choir next year. Have fun in General Music.”
7th grade General Music had required guitar or piano lessons. I took the guitar class and looked like Jimi Hendrix. I couldn’t play shit and had never played an acoustic guitar before then but I whipped out Green Day, Nirvana, the opening to Enter Sandman and tons of other bullshit. My crowning achievement was the riff from Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds. I still remember it to this day.
Now that I’d gotten some confidence I told my friend Matt Nuttall that we were starting a band. It worked out that Scott liked Primus enough to buy a bass, Nuttall could play a little guitar (and hopefully sing better than me), and Mike “Earl” Jung bullshitted us into thinking he’d buy a drum set (in the meantime it was pounding on boxes). We thought for a long time and I came up with the name Red Lester after a Monty Python skit about cheese. Nuttall and I recorded all our work on a little boom box and my parent’s camcorder. Those tapes are somewhere, and I’d love to see the video of me with my half assed mowhawk and Converse All-Stars slamming something unintelligible out of that shitty guitar and thinking I’m gonna be a rock star one day. Nuttall and I wrote a song called “Sidewalk Guy” about some dude I saw on the corner as I biked to school. We actually made a music video for this song that was awesome. It was all old footage of me blowing up GI Joe guys when I was 10 or 11 years old. The music was nasty, the camera was all over, and then it would cut to these GI Joes strapped into a pack of Black Cats or M80s and exploding little body parts all over. That summer before high school we did nothing but smoke pot, write shitty songs, and get drunk. It was the best time I had ever had in my life.
Alex (on stage center), and Matt Nutall (with g-tar), playing an incredibly cool high school party, that I'm sure you'd all like to be at.
Now I’m in high school. I quit playing and Red Lester actually went on to become somewhat of a success. I had a girlfriend (Yoko Ono syndrome) and that took up more of my time than music. I figured getting laid was better than writing songs any day. Red Lester played the Warehouse in downtown La Crosse and had a decent following. They also played Riverfest one year and Scott did this great trick with a cigarette while playing…. That kid is a great on stage.
Anyway, my junior year I joined a group of tools from my high school to play a show in Viroqua, MN as a benefit for some hippie Waldorf program. We were called The Carnies and I volunteered us to go first in the set of 6 bands (because I was nervous and knew we sucked) and they were pissed at me. I think they figured we should open for Norm’s Headache which was this really shitty local band that these guys worshipped… Well, we practiced in a barn for a few weeks and had decided to cover Nirvana’s Blandest (kick ass B-side), The Melvin’s version of the Car’s song Candy-O, and about 5 originals. We all got stoned on the way over and I couldn’t remember the words (still have trouble with that today) and ended up singing all the lyrics off a sheet of paper. They hated me, I had ruined their big punk rock debut. It’s all on a VHS tape in my parent’s basement somewhere. Maureen only recorded the 2 covers from the set (still mad at her to this day!) but I’d love to see us. Besides me not knowing the words, we were pretty tight. Those guys were dumbasses, but good musicians. That was the one and only show with The Carnies. After that I played a little here and there but I don’t think I even owned a guitar by the end of high school. I’m sure I had pawned it or sold it for beer money but still jammed with Red Lester once in a while. That summer was a lot of fun but music wasn’t a big part of it. I kind of regret giving it up but I have no natural rhythm, no ear for tone, and can’t sing so I figured my music career was essentially over. So I went to the dorms up in Minneapolis with my copy of Final Fantasy VII and figured I’d never really play again. Who knew?Next: Andy's Story
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