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Long Island

Long Island’s garage bands: From humble starts to big gigs

Cautionary band members rehearse in a Smithtown garage.

Cautionary band members rehearse in a Smithtown garage. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

“In the garage / Where I belong”

— Weezer

We all start somewhere. And if you’re in a suburban band, that usually means the garage. Or the basement. Or even a local church (really). Anywhere you won’t disturb the neighbors or Mom and Dad.

The garage is a place for tinkering. A room to spread out and get ideas — and maybe some tape — rolling on a song. No one will judge. Well, except for the time you tried to incorporate a Vibra-slap into that song. Dude, we are not in Cake.

But seriously. The garage is all about the first stop on many a musical odyssey, as the Long Island bands profiled here will attest.

“It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you take it,” said Chris Beatz, drummer for Midnight Mob, based in Syosset. “Original music or not, you are still starting somewhere.”



The band Cautionary has played — among other places — the Amityville rock room Revolution, the Long Island Fall Festival in Huntington and the tattoo fest at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.

Never mind that drummer Evan Jenkins won’t be able to legally get a tattoo — if he even wants one — for another five years. And Liam Reynolds, one of the group’s guitarists, has to wait even longer.

So were these kids intimidated playing for the ink-stained at the tattoo fest? Not so much. They’ve done it for two years now. “It’s a very responsive crowd,” Jenkins, 13, said. “They’re a lot of fun.”

Oh, they start rocking younger and younger. But to paraphrase the old guys in The Who, the kids in Cautionary are all right.

The Smithtown-based fivesome — which in addition to Jenkins and Reynolds, 12, includes guitarist Kyle Sheehan, 15, bass player Justin Termotto, 16, and singer Alexander Siegel, 16.

“We met at Rock & Roll University in Hauppauge,” said Termotto, a junior at Smithtown West High School. The band started 18 months ago after meeting at the music school. But this isn’t the boys’ first time in the garage — they’ve all been in bands before.

“My dream is to always play music,” said Sheehan, a freshman at Smithtown West. “It’s something that we all enjoy.”

For now, Cautionary plays covers of songs by the likes of Foo Fighters (“All My Life”), The Killers (“Mr. Brightside”) and Bowling for Soup (“1985”). Learning other band’s songs “helps us to understand how music works, and it doesn’t constrict us when we are writing our own material,” Termotto said, adding that the group is putting together original rock and alternative-rock tracks.

They practice mostly at Termotto’s place, at least an hour and a half to two hours every week. This is the time they put on their rock and roll game faces.

“When we’re in the garage, we’re trying to get as much done as we can,” said Termotto, whose parents raised him on everything from ’80s metal to Herbie Hancock.

Speaking of Hancock, the rest of the Cautionary crew’s influences rock it as well — and illuminate how they got to this point.

“When I was younger, my mom listened to a lot of Matchbox 20 and Green Day,” said Siegel, a sophomore at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station. “Then when I got into high school, I got more into metal and pop-punk.”

Picking up musical prompts from the parental units is one thing. Being in a band — even though mom and dad have to drive you to practice and shows — also teaches you about life.

“A garage band gives you a chance to grow and see how a band works,” said Jenkins, an eighth-grader at Dawnwood Middle School in Centereach. “You definitely learn a lot of lessons — whether it be playing out or learning how to deal with other people. It’s a looser environment, and you’re not constricted by rules.”

As for the future, the pragmatic-beyond-his-years Reynolds, a seventh-grader at Smithtown’s Accompsett Middle School, puts it this way: “We should stick with this band until we feel it is wrong, but I think for where we are right now, where we are is good enough — until it’s not good enough.”



7 p.m. April 30, Shanahans Bar and Grill, 515 Old Dock Rd., Kings Park; 631-544-4545


Sound: Indie-electronica

If music doesn’t work out for The Avid Terra, the band can always dabble in a marriage counseling career.

When working on a new song or video, the indie-electronica trio sticks to a routine that’s very human.

“We use something called OHC — open, honest communication,” drummer Johnson George, 22, said. “If something doesn’t work, we’ll say it. But we’ll try different ideas, pick a point person and see if it develops the way they want. We like to make it a team effort.”

His team — singer-keyboardist-guitarist (and sometime bassist) Justus Tams and Stan George, a cousin, on guitar — jelled as a backing band for a friend before deciding to walk the earth as The Avid Terra.

Now, about that name. The guys, who usually practice at the First Church of God in Elmont, will only divulge the origins of The Avid Terra, not how they came up with it — think of the mystery surrounding what Maroon 5 means.

“We are all Christians, but we’re a secular group, so for the name we felt like this is our purpose — to be there for people through music until the end of our time,” said George, who lives in New Hyde Park and is majoring in human resources management at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Actually making the music — gentle keyboard-driven songs — can be hectic.

George, who is from Rockland County, also interns in the human resources department for the Long Island Rail Road. Tams lives in East Meadow and commutes to the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham University for his communications studies. Stan George, 24, lives in DUMBO and majors in health science at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus.

“We’re spread out, but it’s worth it,” said Stan George. “When we do practice at the church, we use the main sanctuary. There’s enough space to set up the drums and keyboards.”

Keyboards of the musical kind aren’t the only ones The Avid Terra use to get songs done. (The guys hope to have an EP of original material out by the end of this year.)

“Thanks to modern technology, we prep a lot on our own,” said Johnson George. “We have Google Hangouts or we FaceTime with each other, and we’ll kind of figure out layouts of music that we’re working on together.”

That’s one reality for bands today — just ask Owl City and Hanson, who worked on the song “Unbelievable” without ever meeting face-to-face. The other actuality, thanks to a now-gone little TV show named “American Idol,” is reality-based music competitions.

It’s something The Avid Terra would welcome.

“We come from a community where — we’re South Asian — the desired career path is either a doctor or engineer or business,” Johnson George said. “So for us, doing something like that and the amount of effort we’d put into it, it’s not common. It would definitely be nerve-racking, but we’d be up for it.”

Perhaps a closer endpoint, for now at least, is to keep honing the band’s sound and reaching more fans.

“Every band started out in a garage, or in our case, a church,” Tams, 20, said. “You want to stand out, but . . . it’s not really about us. It’s about what we create and how people can be influenced by it.”



Sound: Acoustic

Call it the American dream with guitars.

It’s 2009, and Otan Vargas, only in this country for three years at the time, is waaaay in the back at a Staind concert at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City.

Then it happens.

Some of the band starts shouting “Otan!” Staind’s singer Aaron Lewis — Vargas’ hero from back when he was growing up in the Philippines — looks into the crowd and asks, “You want to come up and play ‘It’s Been a While’ for us?” Lewis introduces him with this: “He sounds better than I do most of the time.”

The crowd cheers and Vargas plays the Top 10 hit on one of Lewis’ acoustic guitars. “This is like proof that you can do it,” Vargas said. “You’re in America and everything is possible.”

That real-life scene from a movie was the result of Vargas posting some videos to YouTube after he arrived in San Francisco from Tondo in Manila. His videos came to the attention of Lewis, and the two met at a VIP meet-and-greet a year before he got on stage.

“That was a turning point in my life,” said Vargas, 31, who now lives in East Northport. “This is what you’re praying for and this is what you’ve been hoping for. I’ve got to take this seriously.”

Fast-forward to now. Vargas’ main gig is music. He’s released an album and two EPs and was asked to appear on the soundtrack for the PTSD documentary “Battlefield of the Mind.”

He plays out solo and with a three-piece, the Otan Vargas Band, which includes veteran musicians Rich Mollo on bass and drummer Dom Barranco. Where Vargas is a child of grunge, Mollo and Barranco have more metallic tastes.

So a Pearl Jam-loving frontman, a bass player who counts Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath among his influences and a drummer who was into Metallica and Pantera all playing in an acoustic trio. What could go wrong?

“I’ve been in a lot of bands in my life,” said Mollo, 47. “But the three of us have been friends for a long time now, so it’s more of a friendship thing. I love Otan to death and would do anything to help him along with his project. Same thing with Dom.”

Temperature permitting, they use Mollo’s Cedarhurst garage. “But it gets too freaking cold in there in the wintertime,” said the actor-musician, who played one of Salvatore “Sal” Maroni’s henchmen on season 1 of the Fox series “Gotham.” Otherwise they hit The A Room Rehearsal & Recording Complex in Hicksville to practice before a short tour.

“We just hope the music reaches people in their mind, body and soul and can help them with whatever particular problems they are going through,” said Barranco, 32, of Massapequa. “And knowing that your problems aren’t that unique, and if someone else can get through it, you can, too.”



Vargas and Barranco play 8 p.m. May 6, Ruvo East, 105 Wynn Lane, Port Jefferson, 631-476-3800


Sound: Hard rock

Memo to aspiring rock and rollers: Remember to be nice to your parents. You never know when you might need something for the band — like practice space.

“I know a lot of parents are like, ‘You’re 25 — get a real job and get out of my house.’ I’m thankful my parents aren’t like that,” said Carly Quinn, bassist for local hard-rock band Midnight Mob. “We practice in my parents’ basement. They are very supportive and love the music.”

Quinn, who works as a personal trainer, also lives with her parents, Carlos and Iliana, in their Syosset home. But it’s all for the greater good — for her adopted Mob family, which includes singer Blackey Deathproof, guitarist Mickey Squeeze and drummer Chris Beatz.

Deathproof, aka Lor Palazzo, 26; Squeeze, aka Mike Occhino, 32; and Quinn, 25, have been playing together for about seven years. Beatz, aka Chris Barreto, 28, just celebrated two years with the group.

“This band has been a gift from God,” said Palazzo, who lives in Massapequa. “I had no friends and didn’t really have a voice before — literally and metaphorically. I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know how to fight for what I believed in.”

When she started singing, though, it was less of that happy-family feeling and more on the nervous-wreck side. Palazzo would cry or throw up before she took the mic. Now that she’s had years of touring under her machine-gun belt — the band has played as far west as Texas — everything is fine. Along the way, the Mob has released one album and three EPs, including the new “Honest Brutal Glorious,” which includes the bluesy rock single, “Swing On.”

“I stopped drinking, smoking, everything,” said Palazzo, an apprentice electrical contractor. “I just really want to put a positive message out there. The music is going to be heavy and in your face, and we don’t need anything else to cloud that.”

When the Mob hits the highway for shows, it takes the van, named Glenn Vanzig (a nod to gothy singer Glenn Danzig). The band plays Virginia and Pennsylvania this week, so Glenn will put on some mileage. Barreto, the drummer, usually logs the most road time on a weekly basis — making the trip from Brooklyn to Syosset for practice twice a week.

The music teacher by day knows it has to be done.

“Everyone starts somewhere and builds, no matter what it is,” he said. “That’s how you learn and get farther on your musical journey.”

That journey won’t end anytime soon, if founding guitarist Occhino has his say.

“After you’ve played with a bunch of musicians, you find this group that you really click with,” said Occhino, who lives in Patchogue and works in the accounting business. “We’ve never taken a step back. And this thing literally spawned from a garage . . . or basement.”



6 p.m. May 13, Gussy’s Bar, 20-14 29th St., Astoria, 917-261-1494

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