What It’s Actually Like Joining a Band You’ve Always Loved

Blair Dreenan joined East 17, Johnny Shentall, husband of Steps singer Lisa Scott-Lee, won the auditions, joining the group on 5 February 2002 and many other band members (often family also) have joined groups from Status Quo but what it is like being thrown into a success band?

They say “don’t meet your heroes,” but they never said anything about joining forces with the antiheroes. When I was a pimple-clad, scrawny(er) high school junior, I read that Dexter Holland’s label, Nitro Records, signed a band called No Trigger. They recorded a badass melodic hardcore album at The Blasting Room (Bill Stevenson of Descendents) and it sounded like a mix of my favorite punkers Strike Anywhere and Good Riddance. I was hooked, and all I wanted to sonically devour at that time was fast-paced, angst ridden music (again, see: “pimple-clad teenager”).

Having the courage, and the shield of my keyboard via MySpace, my band The Swellers invited No Trigger to play our hometown, and stay at my parent’s place — because broke band dudes never turn down free food. Fast forward 15 years, The Swellers are playing our final show at a massive festival in Belgium. We run into Tom, the singer of No Trigger, who is praising our band — something I never thought I’d hear. Fast forward a few more years, they put out a new EP, and Tom calls me out of the blue asking, “Do you want to play that show at Mac’s Bar in Lansing, or do you want to do a full European tour with us?” Duh.

My high school self would be pinching himself. My adult self is punching himself. I became the drummer of No Trigger and after five years being in the band, we just released Dr. Album.

Expectation vs. Reality

Still in high school, my old band stayed with No Trigger in Palatine, Illinois, at the house of our friend who went by the name (God bless him) Nick Bukkake. I vividly remember Tom made fun of my brother and I for our sleeping bags, saying our mom wanted us to have a “matching pair” in front of everyone. First — he was correct, which is hilarious. But at the time, it was embarrassing. There were a few moments like that, where we didn’t feel like contemporaries and thought he was an asshole. Being a youthful, scared-of-the-world Midwesterner, I always heard the “East Coast Attitude” thing was true, so joining a band like that would be too much.

But as an adult touring with them, I saw something cosmically changed with Tom and the band. I’m sure being a jaded, hardened tour veteran helped me, too. They were weird, funny and compassionate. If they ribbed, it was a fun thing. I’ve never been around a group of this rapid-fire evolution of inside jokes and wordplay that becomes this bizarre next level language we all shared. I no longer felt like an existential punching bag, because I knew how to punch back if I needed to. To quote Piebald, “Hey, you’re part of it!”

What It’s Like Being In A Party Band: Starring Baron Von Lasagna

I remember No Trigger being party animals, but I had no idea to what extent. On our first tour together, now over 5 years ago, I bore witness to some next level shit. Regularly hitting breweries before the show (and during, and after), winging it while walking through foreign lands with zero plans, and just walking on stage and going for it without warming up or preparation. My straight-laced, perfectionist brain was on fire. How could they exist like that? What’s the plan? And most importantly: Why were they having so much more fun than me?

This was most prevalent in No Trigger’s guitarist, Tom C. We’d go out, he’d have a few drinks, then we’d notice a new button was undone on his Hawaiian shirt of the day. Ultimately, the buttons would be gone, so he’d end up shirtless, wandering like a zombie army tank screaming along to whatever punk song was playing on the PA. The man we jokingly called Mr. Spaghetti because of his love of service station noodle dishes in Europe, would swiftly transform into his evil alter ego — Baron Von Lasagna. This monster did a lot of pointing and yelling, lifting his friends over his head, and dancing a little too hard until about 5AM. If you learned to tame this beast, he was a wonderful pet.

Embracing Vacation-Core

When you’re a globe-trotting band, you usually see three places: the venue, the hotel and a bar/restaurant nearby. But when No Trigger landed in Brazil, Tom looked up the best places to visit on TripAdvisor, immediately ordered us Ubers, and we went on a full adventure around each major city until the moment we played. Every day. We were living life, not playing shows.

As someone who was in the industry headspace, the guilt and weight of constantly being “active” and constantly “capitalizing on the momentum” was draining my soul. Meanwhile, No Trigger got a chunk of touring out of their systems, then each member went into their own career path, which includes an eclectic mix of professions. I think people thought it was a little funny how they’d pop up every 10 years with an album then disappear.

Something was happening. That life experience, and the ability to tour only if and when they wanted to, led to a new lease on life. It was a vacation, not a job. They cracked the code of enjoying music without the pressures of the industry. I needed this.

The Band’s History Becomes Yours

The first few times I flew out to Worcester, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course, I had friends from Massachusetts, but these guys had their inner-circles, their families, etc. There’s nothing more awkward than sitting around while your bandmates wax-poetic about people and places you’ve never heard of.

But almost immediately, I started meeting those people at shows. I started being a part of their world. Instead of an uncomfortable stranger, I became a part of the friend groups. Maybe sometimes one who drinks too much and goes on Larry David-style rants about life until I realize they’re just random people wearing Red Sox hats and have no idea who or what No Trigger is. Blame the whiskey.

The Surprising Behaviors Of A Band You Love

I spent a few years being a hired gun drummer, and while it was fun, I mostly just felt exactly that — hired. When I was with No Trigger, they treated me like one of them from the start. Even if they were blackout drunk at 3AM, I’d hear them tiptoe into the hotel room and whisper to each other that, “Jono is sleeping, we need to respect that.” It was adorable then, and now I’m the one partying with them. They genuinely cared about each other and me. I consider it a brotherhood of bozos.

The inner dynamic of each band is always interesting. As a writer, and sucker for character development, I love being a sponge to all of the confusing puzzle pieces that come together to make a beautiful masterpiece. Brad (Bones) listens to nature sounds to calm down his anxiety and wander around, Strader (Hollywood) is constantly capturing content and pulling new gadgets out of his seemingly endless supply bag, Tom C (The Baron) is usually reading longform articles about the impending doom of the planet, Mike P (Pippen) is a masterful wordsmith bypassing years of jokes in seconds to create something new, and Tom (Teach) is always thinking about some kind of scheme — often to the chagrin of our tour managers.

Could You Still Get Along During The End Of The World?

With a few years of playing shows with the guys under my belt, we finally started talking about making an album. We met up in March of 2020 to practice, and it was the first day a case of COVID appeared in Worcester. Tom, who we called “bongstradamus” at the time, was giving us a lecture about the world getting ready to rapidly change. He handed us each an N95 mask and we thought he was crazy. I flew home, then the lockdown started.

Like everyone, we were watching the daily onslaught of terrifying news. From the spread of the virus across the world, to cops murdering people, to protests, to — well everything was bad. We would talk here and there, trying to simply exist without losing our minds. Most of us did in fact lose our minds.

Then one day, recording software companies announced free trials for everyone desperate to make music. We all jumped on, started ordering gear, and then we were given a direction: “I want everyone to write a few songs, let’s put them in a Google Drive folder, then let’s meet on Zoom to talk about it.” That sentence would make no sense to me a few years prior, but it quickly became our new reality. In 2020, we started writing Dr. Album.

The Super Duper Chill Process Of Writing During A Global Pandemic

One by one, we were slaving away in our respective demo spaces to come up with No Trigger songs. We had a shared Spotify playlist of influences, and things we always wanted to do. The idea was throwing away the old expectation, and much like the band’s mantra, doing whatever the hell we wanted. We needed escapism over existential dread. Some of the guys apparently needed acid. A lot of it. Enter the new era.

Songs started popping up. Strader’s Green Day-inspired pop-punk ragers turned into the likes of “Antifantasy,” Brad’s heavy hardcore jam became “Acid Lord,” Mike P’s melodic anthems like “Northern Corner,” and for the first time ever, my contribution of a Foo Fighters/Samiam jam ended up as “Coffee From A Microwave.” Most had no lyrics, or rough ideas, but we noticed Teach’s tunes were a lot more straightforward, quirky and clever. A through line started to emerge. The sound of No Trigger was all of us with his voice over it.

How To Be A Band In A Bubble (No, Not That One)

The guys traveled to Michigan and we headed to the cornfields to record at Oneder Studios, my brother Nick Diener’s basement mecca of music. At the height of COVID, before testing was even available, we established our own “tribe” without letting anyone in, at least as best we could. Mike P was residing in Nick’s camper, while the rest of the guys stayed at a nearby AirBNB. I tracked 18 songs on drums in two days, and we all drank way too much extra-caffeinated coffee. The other guys did their parts and this skeleton was becoming a behemoth. Everyone played on everything, switching instruments and seeing what worked best. I’ve never seen it work like that before.

It was stressful, scary, uncertain, and surreal, but we finished the music and the gang was on their way. They headed home and did the vocals and extras with Alan Day of Four Year Strong. It seemed like an eternity with more tweaks continuing to happen until they sent me the record. I remember I excitedly put it on in my car, and I was — confused. There were weird sound effects all over it, a song had a rap part about pineapple pizza, and this strange low monster voice appeared all over the album. I messaged the guys and did my “Hey… I’m not really sure what’s going on here? I have some notes.” They weren’t expecting that, and I’m sure were a little pissed.

Popping The Bubble, Freeing Dr. Album

A while later, I gave the album (which was still living on a hard drive with no plans) another listen. After talking to the guys about their recording process, they explained how two of them were microdosing acid, and coming up with their usual inside jokes, but actually including all of that into the music for the first time. No more serious melodic hardcore, now it’s a trip down Tony Hawk Pro Skater memory lane. It’s like the weird NOFX albums. It’s No Trigger finally being themselves in a sonic sense, and when the world was on fire, they reverted to their adolescence. There’s probably some Freduian stuff here, but you get it. What do you think this is, an editorial in The New Yorker?

On my next listen, I heard the bands I grew up loving. The party music I’d sing in basements, the punk mixes I played while pretending I could skateboard. The low monster voice was a character called Acid Lord that tied the album together and allowed them to make the music. The sound effects were the funny inside jokes in the studio that made them laugh/cry and forget about the broken system we’re all stuck in. And the final song, you know, the “pineapple pizza rap song” — it was talking about embracing how fucked up the world is, shedding ego and being fine with being an idiot. My interpretation was that maybe kids have had the right idea all along, while the rest of us get trapped in our jobs, our expectations and our failed American Dream. It wasn’t stupid. It was brilliant.

No Trigger, “Acid Lord” Music Video

People Don’t Change, But Maybe I Should?

Two years later, Dr. Album was finally released on Red Scare Industries. In the last month, we played Riot Fest, then opened for NOFX, Descendents and The Lawrence Arms. We endured the shit like everyone else, but No Trigger came out with a renewed sense of life, and now we’re living our childhood punk rock dreams. First things were good, then they got extremely dark and we came out feeling alive.

I look back at my decade-plus of touring and realized I was a guy glued to my laptop or wandering to find wifi instead of being present in beautiful countries around the world. What these guys were doing was just unabashedly being themselves. The mentality of, “Who cares?” wasn’t an act of apathy or lethargy, it was a freeing concept. When I play these weird, fun songs, now I feel like the 10-year-kid walking into my scary unfinished basement, putting on my massive headphones, and playing along to my favorite Millencolin CD.

It’s been a bizarre rollercoaster, but I’m still enjoying every minute of the ride. I may not understand a lot of it, but I’m just letting it happen. We all started playing music for a reason. We all listen to music for a reason. For once in our lives, we don’t feel burdened to do it. We feel invigorated.

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Hannah Fuller

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