King of the Road: Profound Kindredship

by - February 22, 2019

Photo courtesy of Adam Silvestri

At various points in my life, there have been stretches of time where I’ve toured exclusively solo. Let it be known that during these points in time, it was never by choice but rather out of necessity. Almost always the reason for venturing out alone was due to the simple fact that I could not afford to take a band along with me. In an ideal world I’d have my bandmates; my brothers in arms with me at every show because after all that’s the most fulfilling and enjoyable way to make and perform music. Hell, this is the primary reason I chose not to play under my birth-given name but rather under the title Radiator King. I’ve always imagined and hoped for it to be an endeavor that did not just center around myself but rather a platform where a group of kindred spirits would give life to a song at whatever capacity they wished to commit themselves. I wanted to foster a brotherhood because that’s the way I’ve learned and grown to love playing music. However, this is the real world and there are mouths to feed and bills to pay.

Birmingham, AL
At some point in 2015 I found myself tired of performing solo. Not only was I yearning to have some companionship on the road but I was also sick of playing the types of listening rooms that are typical for a solo act. I wanted to get back to playing rock and roll dive bars that felt like home to me. But as it goes, these types of clubs more often than not will simply not book solo acts. So to get back in the swing of playing in the capacity I hoped, I knew I needed to get a band together. The problem was that money was tight and a lot of the musicians I knew and played with had either moved out of New York City or settled down to start families and were not willing to hit the road. My solution came in the form of a Jewish pianist, an Israeli from Jerusalem, a prophet of sorts named Shaul.

I had met Shaul a few years prior when he was playing piano in a friend’s band here in New York City. I was always blown away by his talent when seeing him play live and once we started hanging out we immediately became great friends. One night after a show in which Shaul and I were on the same bill, we sat drinking at the bar and I explained to him my predicament with wanting to form a band for tour but not really having the means to do so. After a slight pause he proposed an idea where he would do both, play drums and keys at the same time. I laughed at the idea but he assured me that he was serious. So we decided to test the waters. The next day we went to a rehearsal space and got to work on an absurd idea. We tipped a floor tom over on its side, placing cinder blocks on either side to keep it from rolling and one in the front to keep it from sliding. We attached a kick pedal to the tom, more or less converting it to a kick drum. Then we brought over a high hat and stand and placed it on the opposite side of the keyboard. There and then a sound was born! With his left foot he would play on the high hat and with his right he would play the floor tom, all the while playing the organ with his hands. I must say it sounded damn good! How on earth he was able to seamlessly do these three things at once is beyond my comprehension, but he could and he did. 

Halloween 2015
So it was, in the fall of 2015 we took our circus act on the road. In fact, if you had seen Radiator King play with a full “band” on the road from the fall of 2015 until the end of 2016, you’d have seen Shaul and I up there on stage rockin' out as a duo. Up and down the East Coast and through the Midwest we traveled. Each city came with its own unique experience and we never knew what we were in store for. On Halloween in D.C. we found ourselves jumping from house party to house party where Shaul managed to consume more than half a bottle of tequila, much more than I’d ever seen him drink even to this day. In the late hours of the night when we got back to the house where we were crashing, he ran to the bathroom and vomited uncontrollably into the toilet, laughing in between hurls as I filmed the whole thing on my phone. I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard. In Kentucky we played a house show surrounded by nothing but farmland. Inside the house the plumbing did not work and the cigarette smoke was so thick that we had to periodically go outside for fresh air. However, the kids in attendance lived for rock and roll and reminded us how important music still is to the spirit of the youth. In Connecticut we played at a college party to what had to be over 200 kids crammed into the upstairs of a house; I was absolutely convinced the floor would collapse at any moment. It did not. We partied with those amazing kids all night and it felt refreshing to return to the carefree recklessness of youth. In Buffalo we had some time to kill before soundcheck so Shaul and I decided to go see Niagara Falls. There we were together, taking pictures of this beautiful sight on a Monday afternoon surrounded by honeymooners and senior citizens. 

Yoga in the streets of Charlottesville
Some nights we were lucky enough to find kind-hearted people who would let us crash in their living room, on their floors or couches. Other nights we weren’t so lucky and had to sleep together in the bunk in the back of the van. I can remember one time in Charlottesville, North Carolina where we had parked in the venue’s lot overnight and slept side by side in the back of the van. Since there was no driving involved we had ourselves quite a bit to drink. When I awoke in the morning Shaul was not next to me. I got up, stretched and looked out the back van window only to see him there in the parking lot, mat spread out on the pavement, doing yoga.

I’m not a trained musician in the traditional sense. Most of what I know about music comes from listening and figuring out music that has always struck me as something special. I don’t know much about music theory and sure as hell do not know how to read music. I’ve always been somewhat insecure about my lack of knowledge, which is no surprise due to the fact that I’ve always surrounded myself with very skillful and technically sound musicians. It’s the case that when on tour with bandmates who are more knowledgeable about music than I, I seek to find answers from them. Being probably the most skilled player I’ve ever played with, I would often pick at Shaul’s brain when on long drives and nag him with questions regarding the technical aspects of music and theory. However, I’d often be disappointed by the answers he’d give because he regarded these aspects of music to be secondary, and didn’t feel they were necessary for me to learn. The primary forces of music were innate. It is a very rare thing for a musician with so much knowledge to place more importance on the soul than on the brain. 

I’ve learned so much from playing music with Shaul but perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from him is how to truly listen above all else. There’s this look that he gives me when playing with him, a deep gaze. It’s almost as if he is looking into my soul when I am singing and in some ways he kind of is. He’s listening in a profound and sensitive way and this above all is guiding what he plays. I’ve learned that the greatest musicians are those that can intimately listen and play in response to what they hear. Music is a conversation when executed at its highest level and just like a great conversationalist, in order for the dialogue to have meaning and depth, listening is imperative. 

Sending out the vibes at Graceland in Memphis, TN
Sometime in 2017, following a stretch of duo tours, I had formed a band once again. Shaul remained in the band as a keys player but he was replaced as drummer. In fact, right up until today, he continues to plays keys in my band and has played on every album I’ve made (he also produced the latest EP!). I can honestly say he’s played an imperative role in bringing my songs to life. Sadly, at the end of the month Shaul will be moving out of the country for the time being and for the first time in years we will not play music together. Many musicians have come and gone in this journey but I know to see him go will hurt the most. There’s a deep and profound kindredship you share with someone you connect with musically and it travels deep down into the roots of your soul. While I am sad to see him go, I am extremely grateful for the impact he has had on my life, both as a musician and as a human.

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