I first picked up the guitar when I was 10 years old, actually. I found it in my mom’s closet. I started playing and fell in love right away, there was just something about it, it got my interest going. I was self-taught for the first few years, just listening to music and getting guitar magazines, stuff like that. And I hung out with friends who played, which was a big inspiration. Then I started getting lessons from a few great teachers. Around the age of 14 I discovered a teacher who was really into the Dead and improvising by the name of Jon Gram5, that whole concept was new to me at that point, and he got me going in that world.
In high school (Highland Park), I was into alternative rock, ‘60s rock, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Rolling Stones, the Beatles – pretty much psychedelic rock bands. And of course the Dead was something I was getting more and more into, too. I got into the jazz band in high school, and that got my mind going in another direction. In between classes, I’d be in the courtyard playing Dead songs on acoustic guitar, escaping the mundaneness of school. I started reading music in the jazz band, but credit my advancement to my guitar teacher at the time, Aaron Weistrop. I had double knee surgery when I was 17, and while recovering, I intensively self-taught myself msic theory via books, and got into Berklee School of Music in Boston. Spent four years there, had some amazing teachers, hung out with some incredible players, other students, and graduated in 2006 cum laude.
I primarily studied jazz at Berklee, but I was also playing a lot of funk with people, jazz influence on top of rock, fusion, more avant garde music styles rather than anything pop or mainstream. I was just working hard to get myself better as a player.
Even before I graduated, I knew I wanted to be on the road performing. My band ended up on a bill with another band that happened to be from Chicago, 56 Hope Road, and we hit it off, and they wanted me to join them as soon as I finished school. So I had that lined up, and ended up playing like 150 shows a year like right off the bat. They actually won some jam band “most shows in a year” award. I really cut my teeth with them. I got to take everything I’d learned and apply it on a nightly basis in a crowd setting. The other musicians in the band really helped push me, especially the drummer, Greg Fundis, who I still play with today, different projects. He’s in a huge Led Zeppelin tribute band, called Led Zeppelin II.
After a couple of years touring, I decided to start my own group in Chicago with three other musicians, all of whom also went to Berklee. We were called The Hue. We were like an instrumental progressive rock jam group, kind of – we had a lot of influences from heavy metal to jazz to all kinds of stuff. We did a bunch of stuff with Umphrey’s McGee, after shows, and they sat in with us, that was the kind of people we were looking up to back then, and the people I now play with. We had two albums, Unscene and Beyond Words, and yeah, that group did some great music together from 2008 to 2012.
Toward the end of that group, a band called Digital Tape Machine got started. And that band was based out of Chicago with members of Umphrey’s McGee, primarily Joel Cummins on keyboards and Kris Myers on drums. And we originally planned on it as a studio project, but the music was great and people were really interested, so we decided to take it out on a live basis. DTM played for about five years, consistently doing big festivals like Electric Forest, All Good, Summer Camp, Bear Creek, and more. We recorded two albums, Be Here Now and Omens. It was electronic-based, so it was performed as a band plus electronic production. We played a lot of great shows together—you never know, we might play again. But during that time, I also (laughter) went and did a master’s degree in jazz at DePaul University—luckily, they were really flexible about my schedule. Had a great time there, Bob Lark and Bob Palmierei were particularly great teachers there.
And that takes us up to pretty much the last couple of years, where I’ve been more doing my own projects. I started a group with Arthur Barrow called Cosmic Playground—Arthur was Frank Zappa’s bassist for many years, he was on Joe’s Garage and You Can’t Do That On TV and Tinsel Town Rebellion and a bunch of others. That’s been really fun, doing Frank Zappa shows with him and several other of the former members – Chad Wackerman on drums, and Robert Martin on keys and saxophone and vocals. So I got to play the Frank Zappa role with those guys and had fun learning from them. Arthur’s been very key in taking me under his wing and showing me how Frank taught him and how they worked together, and that’s been an invaluable experience. Playing live between Arthur and Chad, I’ve felt like I was doing justice to Frank Zappa…
There’s been other side projects, but the main thing I’ve been focusing on, other than my debut album of original music coming out this year, is Shred is Dead. My first exposure to the Dead was a hat with the Rosebud logo on it—I was like 13 at a summer camp—and I asked about it and the guy said it was from the Grateful Dead, “You neer heard of the Grateful Dead,” and I said, “No.” He had a bunch of tapes, so he turned me on to what they meant. I got into it, and soon after I got pulled in by, I’m pretty sure, “Scarlet – Fire” from Cornell. My uncle was a great Dead Head back in the day, and he used to play guitar for me when I was a little kid, I don’t even remember it, but I saw pictures. So that was my first experience.
And then all through high school I listened to a lot of Dead, Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia, different stuff than just pure Dead. I’ve always had that influence— playing free and open. I wanted to get back to that, after playing a lot of really constructed music, really arranged. And then Fare Thee Well came to Chicago, and the whole town was excited, the vibes were amazing. And I had a vision of doing a pre-show for that whole weekend on Thursday night. So I booked a show at the Emporium in Wicker Park, Chicago, and got a bunch of my musician friends to come down and play the show.
It wasn’t called Shred is Dead but it was based around doing the Dead’s music in a progressive jazz, fusion-y and electronic at times way, different from the way anyone else was doing it, in a non-traditional way. And it went really, really well. Fareed Haque (Garage Mahal) was playing guitar also, Todd Stoops (Raq, Electric Beethoven), Steve Molitz who played with Phil & Friends, Greg Fundis was on drums, and Joel Cummins from Umphrey’s McGee came down too. So it was a really great night and the vibes were really high. And it kinda got me thinking. I really loved playing the music, and I wanted to do more of it.
I started thinking about how to make it happen—I started taking a look at the arrangements and the songs that I really loved, and started putting a band together. The next ones after that were a few shows on the East Coast, I can’t remember what we were calling it, maybe Without a Net. Reed Mathis was on some of those.
Then I decided to make it an actual group, made arrangements and rehearsed people, and named it Shred is Dead, and the first show we did was at Skull and Roses last year. We’ve done a bunch of shows since then. We opened for Melvin Seals & JGB in L.A., and in a couple of places in Chicago, with Jay Lane in Denver, did one with Cubensis at the Lighthouse, and we have some more coming up in Denver at Be On Keys April 2 and 27. Oregon. And then Skull and Roses, where we’ll have the Grammy-winning Cuban percussionist Raul Pineda (a Chucho Valdés associate) performing with us. And I’ve got plans for an album that’ll be Shred is Dead emulating the Dead in a way that’s different. It’s been really fun to brainstorm on, see how to make the music different.
Ventura’s super-vibey to play in. You know—palm trees and blue skies, it’s just a great place. There’s a nostalgia factor, which I love.
Marcus also shared some links:
Full Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4_gXNg52D0
Estimated Prophet ( Dub Style ): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlNAD_Fxopw
Row Jimmy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OGOMdtFUp8
I started seeing things going downhill at Cervantes in Denver in March, I think it was March 20th, the first day of spring. I remember it was starting to come on the news and people were getting scared, and people were just telling people to stay home and stuff, and it was like totally shifting. We had a lot of shows lined up, we were actually supposed to fly out to the west coast to play all the way up to Phil’s bar actually that next weekend after the Denver show. So I was super bummed out once that all shut down, you know, especially for that.
And you know the next time I played publicly was not until an event that took place in the Virgin Islands that I put together with some musician friends of mine. And we went out there, where things were a little more under control, not until December, basically. So it was quite some time.
I had a feeling back in March that things were going to start changing and be not as much touring and a lot more stuff coming from home, and a different angle of being a musician. So more writing and more teaching online. I finished my record online, my second one. We mixed it all digitally and had to do it that way, which was crazy. And it turned out well.
I started streaming solo shows from my living room pretty fast, actually. You know I had already been working with some people who did live streams of my full band shows, and we were all moving into that hemisphere very quickly. So I immediately had them come in and set up in my living room, right here, where I am sitting, going through my studio my home studio rig for the audio. And they had good cameras set up and lights and everything. And it was probably within a week or two that I started doing the live streams, just jumped right into it. And you know, so and I like performing solo too, you know, acoustic and stuff like that. So it was fun to engage with people and have some sort of, you know, social engagement as if you will.
Did it almost every other day. But it was so weird to play for two hours and then like, see ya. And then the camera is off in your home. It was the weirdest thing ever. It was like where is everybody? I made the best of it. It was not easy. But I had to make things—new things happen. You know one of those was finishing my record, Truth and Sound came out about four months ago. It was with members of the Trey Anastasio band, that we finished in a year. And we’ve been touring that lately. And I’m really happy with how that came out.
But I’ve also been teaching lessons online. All kinds of students, ranging from professional players to college grad students and everything in between, just hobbyists as well. So, you know, a lot of things came of the pandemic in good ways for me, outside of the performance aspect of things. Although, you know, we had very small, safe gettogethers of musicians to play together. We had to keep playing, somehow, spaced with masks and, you know, the whole thing.
So I was still playing, luckily, with one group of people, who were all very closely monitoring themselves. None of us got COVID, luckily. We had to keep flexing our improvisational muscle. But I was doing a lot of teaching and practicing, actually and, you know, writing music.
Covid affected me personally, as it did most other people, it changed our daily way of life, of masking up, and being kind of precautious everywhere you go, washing your hands all the time. And, you know, wanting to be doing the things that are supposed to be safe or, you know, you don’t know where it is or where it isn’t. So it was challenging. My daily way of life was sort of very limited to being home quite a bit. So yeah, I was it was strange. And luckily no one close to me, my family got sick from it. And everyone, you know, was vulnerable. It’s tough to worry about everybody in your family.
But the connection with people is so hard to not have for musicians and people that are used to that. So we have to, you know, find some strange middle ground where we can function. Luckily, you know, I had my very close circle of people that we kept to ourselves kind of, and luckily we managed to get through it.
Then in March of 2021 we played, socially distanced and masked, indoors in Fort Collins. And by now (December 2021) we’re about back to normal. Just finished doing a long eight week tour basically. And then I was doing a lot more before that too. But we are touring the new album. And we are all the way east coast, west coast, central, you know, Chicago, Colorado, doing regional runs across all these areas, down to South Carolina, all over the place. So, you know, we’ve had some great shows.
Burlington in Vermont, in New York City at Brooklyn Bowl. And we did a Phish after show out in Los Angeles with a bunch of amazing musicians across the board. And another show, where my good buddy Nate LaPointe sat in from Cubensis. And had the Umphrey’s Magee guys playing with us. It was actually the Umphrey’s after show, when they were playing Hermosa Beach. So we have just been having a really good run and getting around again quite a bit. I really have to say I have been putting myself out there more than most people ever have been willing to during the pandemic. Kind of me and some other musicians we are really just staying at it, and kind of going to where we could play safely, you know, and, you know it’s just been more and more shows that are just getting better and better. And luckily it’s been going in the right direction with people wanting to be back out in crowds and stuff like that getting vaccinated.
And I’m definitely looking forward to April and Skull and Roses. I’ve played it every year, when it’s going on. I remember the first year we were in the other location, the smaller location, before it was in the Bowl. And it’s just been getting better and better each time. The last time we were there, it was so cool, with the wall of sound and, you know, the stages facing each other. We played the late night set the last year, the last set of the night. And it was really fun. A lot of great bands, great musicians to be a part of and a great gathering of friends and a lot of fun. I look forward to 2022.