From Negative to Positive: How Mourning an Iraqi Tragedy Jump-Started My Musical Creativity and Solo Music Project

I lived at the US Embassy in Baghdad Iraq from 2011 to 2012. It was a transitional time for the US and Iraq, as Coalition Forces had ended both its combat and support missions in the “Iraqi Joint Operating Area” in December 2011. As 2012 came along, Iraqi Security Forces were taking charge of their own internal security mission, and with it came some ups…and downs. In February 2012, two parliament members from the political bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr, the guy whose army, Jaysh al-Mahdi, we fought heavily from 2004-2007, came out and publicly said, twice in one week, that “Emo” and heavy metal music were Jewish/Masonic conspiracies brought to Iraq by the United States to brainwash the minds and corrupt Iraqi young people, whom they said sat in dark rooms, lit candles, and cut themselves. The parliament members said that the Interior Ministry’s Society Police would investigate this “problem” and seek to stop it.  So, I thought, as a heavy metal-loving American diplomat with Jewish roots living in Baghdad, that I should put on a show. I had shipped my guitars, small amplifiers, and electric drum set to Iraq so I could have it throughout my year.

I practiced three songs Metallica songs, For Whom the Bell Tolls, One, and Creeping Death, and set up my apartment to have over some people, just some of my closer friends on the compound. I was definitely nervous to start because I’d never played and sang in front of people before, other than a former girlfriend here and there. But I knew, deep down, that I had been practicing these songs for so many years. I knew I would do fine. So, I began. I played, and sang, and, found myself really getting in to it. After each song, my friends were cheer and clap loudly. I felt happy and proud.

FIrst Baghdad Show

After those three songs, we headed to the British embassy for a party, where my friends who watched me play told the others we knew at the party about impressed they were with my playing. I had never performed like that before and having friends praise me as they did was very uplifting. It was the first time I played guitar and sang in front of an audience, but it wouldn’t be the last.

One of the girls at my “show,” Clementine, had a birthday coming up and a mutual friend was having a party in his apartment to celebrate her. When Clementine asked me to play for her at the party, I was thrilled and immediately agreed. Exactly one week later, I packed up my gear and wheeled it over to the apartment for the party. I warmed up, set up, and began to play. My setlist was longer this time and including Metallica, In Flames, Skeletonwitch, and Self Esteem by The Offspring…always a crowd favorite. When I finished, people wanted me to play more, so I obliged and played a Metallica song called Fade to Black.

Just as the week before, people were very impressed, and I was incredibly humbled. It was my second performance in front of people in as many weeks, and I felt I had this new sense of energy. I loved being in front of people, and I loved playing. My friends were telling everyone how good I was and it felt really great. But that was only the beginning.

Following that week, word spread to a girl at the compound named Lourenda “Rendi” Block who heard about my two “shows.” She had been spending a lot of her personal time with a contractor named Kevin, who worked at another base down the street in the Green Zone. She introduced me to him and it turns out that Kevin and I had quite a bit in common, particularly in the areas that mattered: we both loved heavy metal and both had guitars and amplifiers with us in Baghdad. Understanding this was unlikely, we exchanged phone numbers, and Kevin eventually came to my apartment one night to jam. (Note: For those not down with the music lingo, “jam” or “jamming” means a couple musicians meet up, play some cover songs, and see how good the other people are. It’s kind of like a tryout and the basis of how most bands are formed.) I picked the fun stuff that I was interested in playing and it turned out that Kevin was just right in every beat. Every song I knew, he knew. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Offspring, Godsmack. And he was a good guitar player, too, and I was especially impressed that he could play more of the solos that I could…and play them better. More people began to hear about our twosome, so we decided to put on a show for the embassy.

We came up with a nine-song setlist and started to organize the event. We would play in the embassy’s east end at pool pavilion, which was a large space with tables and chairs, and a 20-foot-long wet bar in the back. I booked our audio/video contract staff to set up the PA system. To encourage attendance, I decided to get people to help sponsor the event as an appreciation for our personal security detail security contractors. These were the gun-toting beefcakes who drove us around the dangerous areas of Iraq. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to leave the embassy, and therefore unable to achieve our diplomatic mission. So, it seemed to make sense.

Me and Kevin show labelOur small advertisement we used to promote the event

So that Friday night in March, Kevin and I took the stage and I gave my iPod, preloaded with a setlist, to the guy running the PA system. Since we had no drummer and no bass player, we were going to play our guitars on top of the iPod, which would provide the drumbeats and some extra support. People showed up, got some shawarma, and seemed to enjoy the music. There were no headbangers but we played our songs and we got some applause. I felt proud of what we had done. We had brought heavy metal to a large stage in Baghdad. And people showed up. It was good enough for me.

But the highlight of the night was what happened after the show. Kevin and I were talking together at the front of the stage when a guy came up to us and introduced himself.

“Hey guys, my name is Eric,” he said. “I thought tonight was great, but I wanted to let you know that I can play the drums to every song you guys just played.”

I was instantly surprised because I doubted that there was someone at the embassy who could play, on drums, the difficult stuff we were playing. One of the songs Kevin and I played required some really intricate double bass drum work for half of the seven-plus-minute song.

“If you’re serious, that sounds good to us,” I responded. I gave Eric my phone number.

A few days later he came over to my apartment. Kevin couldn’t make it because of some work he had to finish, so Eric and I started to jam. Because it was late, and we wanted to be respectful to my roommate Nick, we picked one and only one song to play that night and we’d see how it went: Metallica’s Seek and Destroy. It’s a fun, riffy song that has a great chorus to involve an audience. It wasn’t particularly difficult to play on guitar or drums, so we gave it a shot. Eric sat on my electric drum set, and I plugged guitar into my amp. I started off and Eric joined in the drums. We started playing…and we were playing it very well…and most importantly, we made it through the whole song. While it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t need to be. The 90% of the song that we nailed as enough for me. I was immediately sold. I thought it was incredible to find someone who liked the same type of music as Kevin and me, and can play it as well as he said he could, at the time and place we wanted to play it. Having Eric in Baghdad, as a drummer was a gift. I immediately called Kevin and told him the news.

“Dude, you have to get over here.”

“Really? It was that good?”

“Yes. It was that good.”

Kevin finished his work and came over about 20 minutes later. We were able to get one more song in with all three of us before calling it quits for the night. Kevin was equally impressed with Eric’s drumming. We had our trio. We had our band. I had never been in a band before, so I was nervous about how it would go, but I was excited. I was just grateful to find other musicians in Baghdad, having been there for almost eight months.

And so it began. A few nights a week, Kevin and Eric would come over to my apartment around 8 p.m. and we’d practice for an hour. It was exactly the stuff Eric said he could play. Metallica, Misfits, Offspring, Godsmack, Mudvayne. When Eric wasn’t practicing with us, he would take his drum sticks and practice in his room, using his mattress, pillows, and stacks of books as his makeshift drum set. Kevin practiced in his place with his stuff, and I did so with mine. It was all coming together.

The itch that I got from playing those first shows, at first by myself, and then with Kevin, got me to want to play more. Kevin and Eric had been in bands before, so they needed no convincing to play live. Our first order of business was to pick the date of our first show; the second order was finding the place to play. We picked a date in early May 2012, when all of us knew we’d be available. We thought a great place to play would be the Marine House—where all of the members of the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment lived. The MSG were young, fairly rambunctious, yet professional. They were great at their jobs but also threw grew parties. We talked with the MSG detachment commander, a gunnery sergeant, who was fully on board with our plan.

We advertised the event but struggled with one particular thing: our name. We were a band but we didn’t have a name. So I thought about it. I thought back to how this whole thing came about. Eric met us because Kevin and I played together. I met Kevin because Rendi showed up to Clementine’s birthday party. Clementine invited me to play at her party because she saw me play my first “show” at my apartment. I played that first show in memory and mourning of those Iraqi kids who were slaughtered because of the heavy metal music they listened to and how they dressed. They were singled out by politicians who called their music an American conspiracy.

I had it. That was it.

Heavy metal.

Conspiracy.

America.

American Metal Conspiracy was born. That’s what we used to define ourselves. It was our homage to the Iraqi kids lost to senseless, archaic violence.

AMC Logo

The day of the event approached and we set up the stage for our show. This was our first show with Eric and we knew my electric drum set wasn’t going to cut it for a live show, so he borrowed an old crappy drum set from the US base across the street that somehow had survived eight years of warfare. We did some sound checks, and watched as the crowd came in. The people started coming, and my nerves were starting to grow…there were probably 50 or 60 people in the crowd by this point. I had never played for this many people before and worried if they would judge me if I made a mistake. But I focused myself. Sure, they weren’t all headbangers, but there were some people who liked the music we were playing. Even if I did something wrong, which I ultimately would, what was the difference? Nothing. We’d keep playing and all would be fine. I was motivated, prepared, and confident. But I was still nervous.

When I used to skydive, we used to have a phrase. “If you’re not nervous, something is wrong. Don’t jump.” It was the idea that human beings were never biologically meant to fly. Our technology had changed that. And because it’s not inherent in our systems like it is for birds, our bodies should have a natural…nervous…reaction. And for all of my 55 jumps, I was nervous for everyone. I met guys who had 10,000 skydives, and they got nervous every time. It went back to the rule: “If you’re not nervous, something is wrong.” I was nervous, and rightfully so. I was putting myself out there, being vulnerable, to 50+ people. But it was time to start, the nerves could wait.

Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-deeeeehhhhhhhhh

Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-deeeduuuuhhhhh

We opened with and explosive start to Metallica’s Creeping Death. Eric started the drum roll, and we exploded into the song with a drum crash and Kevin’s guitar. I belted out the lyrics. Some people smiled, some cheered, and some, who had no idea who or what we were, were just shocked at the style of music and its aggressiveness. It was happening. We were doing it. And it was sounding great.

The rest of the night went as planned, and we made plenty of mistakes. I certainly noticed them, and the crowd might have too. But it didn’t matter. We were in the middle of it, and we were loving it. Toward the end of the set list, we invited one of the MSG marines on stage to sing the lyrics to Rage Against the Machine’s (RATM) “Killing in the Name.” Marines like RATM, and RATM is eerily suited for marines. Every marine in the place went bonkers when we played that song.

At the end of the night, we got a lot of great feedback, with most people asking us when we were going to play next. We didn’t have anything on the books, but took the feedback as votes of confidence to get something going soon. That night, back in my apartment, I reflected on that night’s events. The thing was…I had this bug. I loved playing for others. It gave me a rush unlike anything I’d seen before. Of course, I’d had plenty of rushes/energetic moments before…but this one was unique, and I realized what it was. It was a sense of command. Standing on a stage with a microphone, I discovered that I could control a room. I’d never been an actor or done a lot on stage, but I was extremely extroverted and loved getting energy from other people. Being center stage let me do that, and I ate it up.

Keeping the “conspiracy” alive, we scheduled our next show for three weeks later, on June 9th, the day before I was scheduled to go on my last rest period out of Iraq. In all likelihood, it was going to be our blowout show.

We nearly doubled our set list, adding new music from new bands. We decided to have it back at the pool pavilion and began to advertise the event. We practiced and we were ready. I didn’t have a band to come back to in the states, so I thought this might be my last show…ever. So I decided to blow it out. I had a coworker buzz my hair into a mohawk and brought our stuff over to the pavilion. It was time to kick it off.

With about 75 or 80 people there, we began to play. We went through our set list and something strange happened while playing the song “One,” my favorite by Metallica, our last song of the first act. While I was playing the opening riff, waiting for Kevin to play the intro solo, I heard a whistle loudly from the back. I looked up from my guitar and saw a guy with long, curly hair standing there holding up the signature hand gesture of heavy metal. The horns. \m/ \m/ Check out the video to below to watch.

I smiled and gave him a nod, trying to keep my mind focused on the song. We entered the verse, the chorus, the second verse, the second chorus…the song continually built up until it explodes and becomes very heavy toward the end. Eric’s drumming sounded like machine blasts. Kevin’s and my guitars were together on point. We were headbanging. Eric was crashing the cymbals.

The end of the song built up further, and we were truly feeling it. I ripped into the two solos to end the song, receiving cheers from the crowd. Two machine gun blasts on the drums and guitars ended the song. We crushed it. I was so overwhelmed by it that, when watching the video of our performance, my face clearly shows how I was feeling at the time: surprise; amazement; joy. We got a huge roar from the crowd, especially the guy who whistled and gave the horns in the back. After a 10-minute break and starting our second set, the same long-haired guy from the back of the room did something I’ll never forget.

As we started playing a song called “Awake” by Godsmack, the guy started to run up to the stage and started headbanging like he was possessed. I remember watching him from the stage thinking, this is absolutely incredible. Here I am, in Baghdad, Iraq, playing heavy metal, and I’ve got a guy whipping his head around at insane speed. He might give himself a concussion. But even so, I was humbled. Someone liked what I was doing so much that he expressed himself so freely. I’ll never forget it.

We kept going through our set, and the headbangers would come and go. We played another Godsmack song called “Whatever,” in which I had the whole crowd involved in the song. More than 100 people were repeating vocals back to me. It was the way we had practiced it, and it went exactly as planned. This was important because, while I wasn’t Godsmack doing it to 30,000 screaming fans, I got 100 people to do it. It gave me even more confidence that I could command a crowd, and I loved what I was doing.

Until March 2012, a few months before this big show with Kevin and Eric, I had never played for a crowd before. The confidence I gained during these shows enabled me to get over my fear of looking bad, missing a lyric, or playing the wrong chord. It didn’t matter because while I was there for the crowd, I was there for me and my band members doing something that I loved and that I wanted to share with the world. I had a talent, but talents are useless if they’re kept inside.

We finished our set, took down the equipment and the stage, and shared a celebratory beer. The next day, I left for my three-week rest period. It was the last show I’d ever play with American Metal Conspiracy.

But the band…my first band…had struck a nerve deep inside me. I was so proud of what I had done that I trademarked the name American Metal Conspiracy. I thought it was such a cool name and that someone else might want use it. Looking back, this was fairly ridiculous, but showed the passion I had for the project we had created. I wanted to make it ours, in case the band ever got back together. Also, I got all of the band members an embroidered, black flag with the name of the band, our “logo” (a rudimentary design I created via the t-shirt making company Uberprints), and the names of the band and our roles in both Arabic and English. At the bottom of the flag was our tagline: “Baghdad Heavy Metal.” I gave the flags to Eric and Kevin and parting gifts before returning home in September 2012.

And when I did return home, I enshrined American Metal Conspiracy forever. I went to Michael’s, the arts and crafts store, and brought with me the black flag and six pictures of the band and ordered it all to be framed. $350 and two weeks later, American Metal Conspiracy lived on forever on my bedroom wall.

AMC 2

From left to right: Eric Doss, me, Kevin Wallace

I was proud, not just of what we had done…the three of us in Baghdad…but because of how much I had grown personally. I played in front of crowds of dozens of people. It wasn’t thousands or tens of thousands, but it was a start. I sang. I played guitar. I played bass. I commanded a crowd. And the thing was…I loved it. Seeing the frame on my bedroom wall every night before I went to sleep and every day when I woke up reminded me of those feelings. I decided I wanted to keep doing it.

In December 2012, a few months after I got back, I posted an ad on Craig’s List: “Metal vocalist/guitarist looking for metal band.” The ad explained that I was into Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and the like, and that I was a good rhythm guitar player who could sing at the same time. It was something not many people could do well, so I hoped I could find my niche.

About two days later, I received a response from a guy named Herb Raffaele, who said that he jammed with a few guys in his basement on Friday nights and he invited me to play along. A few weeks later in January 2013, I went to Herb’s house. I didn’t know what to expect, whom I’d meet, or what we’d play. But I was willing to give it a shot because I wanted to be in a band. I wanted to be on stage.

In our first practice session, I discovered how amazing Herb was on the guitar. (It did not surprise me that as I got to know Herb he told me that he was actually in a band that was signed to a record contract in the late 1980s.) The other two guys I played with that night, Chris and George were good guys but not into the music that Herb and I wanted to play. So Herb took the lead in finding their replacements: we found a full-time drummer, Carlos. We got Carlu, short for Carlunle, on the bass, and Chuck as another lead guitar. We had our five-piece group. All guys who loved thrash metal, all wanted to play shows in front of a crowd.

After some back and forth, we agreed on the name Death Echo and focused our playing on the best heavy/thrash metal bands from the 1980s: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Exodus, and others.

DEATH ECHO 2_BLACK JPEG.jpg

We ordered t-shirts, stickers, and a huge banner, and we started to play shows. Our first gig was at a place called the Grog’n’Tankard, a makeshift bar in a house in the middle of nowhere between Stafford and Fredericksburg, Virginia. The only fans we had were the ones we brought with us…about 10 people.

But it didn’t matter. We played, and we played well. And we kept getting better, and I gained more experience leading a band on stage through a show, and with that came even more confidence. We returned to the Grog several times, until it closed its doors. We played at a restaurant called Mahalo Cove in Sterling, Virginia, which also closed. Then we played a few times at the Treehouse Lounge in Washington, DC, which closed as well. From 2014-2016, we’d play wherever we could and kept getting better.

But for me, it wasn’t enough. And most people who play in cover bands for years will tell you the same thing. Once they perfect someone else’s music, the desire grows to want to make your own music. The problem for me, in particular, was that I wasn’t a great heavy metal songwriter, and I knew it. I could play other bands’ stuff pretty well, but I had before tried on numerous occasions but my riffs never sounded good, and I got discouraged easily. In late 2016, some of the other band members started to branch out, in addition to playing in Death Echo. Herb joined a Megadeth cover band called Dethstrike, and Carlos was playing with another rock cover band. Around that same time, an event…a scourge…would darken the world, one that would forever shape the face of the United States.

That scourge was Donald Trump.

I didn’t pay attention on election day. I voted, went to work, then went to a casino with my then-fiance, now wife, to get away from whatever would happen in DC. Parties for Hillary Clinton. Riots for Donald Trump. We didn’t find out he won until the next day.

Many of my neighbors in my condo building shed tears were shed on election night. Anger raged. I neither voted for Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, but I agreed with her comments from her concession speech: “We must give Trump the chance to lead.” But it wasn’t long until he floundered that chance. And then it got worse, and worse, and worse. The comments. The actions. The political appointments. The nominations. It got worse, and worse, and worse.

And with it all, my sadness, anger, and fear of the future hit their nadir. I reflected and decided I needed a way to vent my emotions. So I did something I had never done before. I started to write songs. I’d never done it before because the heavy metal riffs and lyrics I tried were never good. This was something completely new because I wasn’t writing heavy metal songs. I was writing political punk songs.

To my surprise, the lyrics came easily, probably because there was so much stuff to write about. Trump’s twitter feed was a wealth of content, so I started with that, and I began to find themes in my lyrics, and with the themes, the songs’ lyrics started to come together nicely. I wrote lyrics to a song called “12 Angry Men” about the overwhelmingly white, male, and excessively rich cabinet members Trump appointed. I wrote another song about Trump’s lies, eponymously titled after the band name. A third song was about Trump’s “Verbal Warfare,” in which I compiled all of the attacks that Trump made via twitter. The fourth song was a 30-second song…very hard and heavy…about the potential for nuclear destruction. The fifth and final song consisted of dark piano and acoustic guitar riffs. It was called “The Scourge.” I had never played the piano before, but Abby bought me one for Christmas. I put it to use. The lyrics came and the riffs started to flow. I played the drums, too, so I started to come up with drum riffs. It was all coming together.

To help get these recorded, I contacted Mark Riddick, a guy I met at a local metal show a few years back. He is a world-famous heavy metal artist and did my band logo for Death Echo, as well as a t-shirt design for us. But more importantly, I knew he self-recorded his own heavy metal projected called Fetid Zombie, so I figured he’d have some good insight into best practices. We met and he told me the equipment I needed to buy to record my music, including the hardware and software. I purchased everything within a week and had it set up.

Over the course of late December and early January, I recorded, to the best of my ability, my five new songs. Abby fully supported me and gave me the time I needed to focus on the project. When I’d get frustrated with recording, she’d calm me down and support me to keep me going. “I’m proud of you,” she’d say. “I think it sounds great.” I regained my patience and kept going.

As I was recording the songs in early January, I contacted a Massachusetts-based amateur audio engineer, Ben Schwartz, with whom Death Echo had worked with previously. He loved my project and offered to mix and master my album for $20 a song. With the music ready to go and an audio engineer on board, I was missing a critical piece: a name.

I knew I didn’t want to release the music under my own name, so I had to come up with a band name, just like Mark had done. I found my inspiration in the 1988 Metallica album entitled …And Justice for All. It was a politically-themed, hard metal album, and one that I grew up listening to. As I was reading the lyrics to the eponymously titled song, I found something that jumped out at me. It was in the third set of lyrics:

“Lady Justice has been raped, truth assassin. Rolls of red tape seal your lips, now you’re done in.”

It was right there, the perfect name for my project. The perfect moniker for the president-elect who seemingly piled lie on top of lie on top of lie.

Donald Trump was the Truth Assassin.

Before I got too excited, I scoured the web for anything related to the name Truth Assassin and found nothing…no copyrights, no other bands. That day, Truth Assassin was born. I called Mark and asked if he would be willing to create a logo for Truth Assassin. He agreed and had some sketches to me with in a few days. He even created an album cover for me.

TRUTH ASSASSIN_Riddick_Cover_Black_Frame 3000x3000x300DPI JPEG.jpg

It was all coming together: I had the mixed and mastered music, a band name, a logo, and cover art. I researched distribution companies and found one that supported independent artists like me. I went through the company’s process to release my music, copyrighted the album, paid the necessary fees, and on January 20th…Inauguration Day…my album was released. The Scourge by Truth Assassin. It was my five-song, proverbial middle finger to the man I thought would ruin America.

And besides the supporting work of Ben and Mark, it was all me. I played and recorded everything—the guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and piano—something I had never done before. It was something I was very proud of, and it was something about which I hoped my future child(ren) would appreciate.

When the album came out, I had a few friends download it on iTunes or listen to it on Spotify. It was nice, but it wasn’t enough for me. Nothing is really ever enough for me. I knew I could do better, and I knew I could do more. It was just that desire inside me. Never give up. Never stop. Never quit.

Get after it.

A few weeks later, I married my wonderful, beautiful, amazing wife Abby, and took a few months to establish a strong foundation of our marriage. But after that short hiatus, I had the urge. The urge to get after it.

I started writing music again and found that it was even easier than the first time. I learned from my past mistakes and made fewer recording errors. And I was even more passionate about the political issues that had arisen in the summer of 2017. There was Trump’s proposed ban on transgender troops in the military, “advisor” Stephen Miller’s claims of CNN’s “cosmopolitan bias,” and the horrific acts by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, the latter of which struck me especially hard because my brother was in Charlottesville that day counter-protesting the white supremacist groups.

The ideas started to come, so I contacted Ben in mid-June asking if he wanted to work with me again. He was fully onboard, so we got back to recording, and we hit it hard. We finished everything for the 10-song full-length album—the writing, recording, mixing, and mastering—on August 29th. 77 days is all it took, which is pretty amazing considering we both had families and regular day jobs. Needless to say, we got after it.

I designed the album cover, lyric book, and CD design and picked October, Friday the 13th, for digital distribution. I promoted the album and send advance copies to webzines, fanzines, blogs, and local record companies. I held a release party at a local bar to celebrate the release.

In the Shadow of Tyranny Album Cover (Black Font) JPEG

I still think back to that day in February 2012 when those tragic killings of Iraqi teenagers lit the fire inside me to play and sing in front of other people. That led to meeting Kevin, which led to meeting Eric, which led to us forming American Metal Conspiracy. Playing shows instilled my confidence that I had stage presence and could command a crowd, which made me want to play in a band when I returned home. I met Herb and we formed Death Echo, in which I sang and played guitar, bass, and drums at various times. Coupling my ability to play all of those instruments fairly well and my anger and disgust of Donald Trump, I started Truth Assassin. And now, as long as the internet exists, I, my family, my descendants, my friends, and anyone across the world, will be able to find and listen to Truth Assassin music. Forever.

While I’m proud of my accomplishments in music, I’ve learned a lot of life lessons along the way:

The importance of self-awareness: If I had not recognized how deeply I was hurt by the tragedy in Iraq, I might not have played that night. If I did not accept and appreciate the support I had from friends when I played that first night, I might not have met Kevin. If I had not recognized how Kevin and I gelled, we wouldn’t have played live and not met Eric. If I did not recognize how powerful of a trio we were during that first practice, we would not have played live shows as a band. If I didn’t realize how much I loved being on stage and playing in a band, I wouldn’t joined Death Echo back home. If I didn’t appreciate how much I had learned and improved while playing in Death Echo, and how much the 2016 US presidential election angered me, I might not have started Truth Assassin. If I never accepted how proud of myself I was for writing music, well, there would be no Truth Assassin.

Pride is powerful: As I mentioned above, I was proud for all of the things I had done musically. And it is a healthy pride. It’s perfectly normal to be proud of one’s work, and I was proud of what I had done. I started a heavy metal band in Baghdad, which Ambassador Steve Beecroft praised for bringing an energy to the compound that hadn’t been there before. I was proud that I was able to control crowds playing with Death Echo. I was proud that I resisted a heinous administration through Truth Assassin, exercising my first amendment right of freedom of speech. Moreover, my wife was proud of me. And it wasn’t just her. My parents, grandparents, friends, and other family were proud of me. Pride is powerful and it can be a huge motivator when striving for anything.

Be patient: Patience in writing music, recording music, and playing in bands in critical to achieving your goals. If I wasn’t patient with my bands, and they were patient with me, we probably wouldn’t have grown to well-functioning bands because we would have gotten frustrated with each other and called it quits. Taking the time to let others learn and they’re own speeds is very important, and it was important for them to recognize that it took me longer to learn some songs because I was singing and playing simultaneously. Patience is also key when writing and recording music. During process of making the 2017 Truth Assassin album, In the Shadow of Tyranny, I found myself getting impatient when trying to force a song that just wouldn’t come together the way I wanted it to, as well as trying to record music to get it to sound as I wanted. For example, I had been trying to write a song on the number of people that had been hired and fired or just quit under Donald Trump since he took office. But the song wasn’t coming together. I was forcing riffs together and they didn’t sound good. I couldn’t come up with the right lyrics. So, I recognized it, and I stopped. The next day, while riding the subway to work, I started to write lyrics for a different song, one I called Down in Charlottesville. The lyrics started to flow and I left a voicemail on my own cell phone sounding out how I wanted the rhythm to go. I even wrote down the chords on my notebook. I returned home that night and had the entire song (guitars, bass, drums, and vocals) recorded in two hours. But while that may seem like a short amount of time (and it is), I had to record the guitars probably 15 or 20 times to get them to sound how I wanted. It’s important to stay patient in those times because impatience can lead to frustration, and frustration can lead to quitting. If I made a mistake when recording a track, I brushed it off, immediately deleted it, and recorded it again. Leave the mistakes in the past, breathe, and try it again. The more I did it, the better I got, which leads to another lesson:

Perfect practice makes perfect: The more I practiced in any situation—American Metal Conspiracy, Death Echo, or Truth Assassin—the better I got. But I came to realize that it wasn’t just playing around for fun that got me better, it was a self-aware focus on doing everything exactly how it should be done, with proper form and technique, that got me to be better overall. The more I practiced how I wanted to command a crowd in our practice space, the better I did on stage. During Death Echo practices, I would get myself in a mindset that I was on stage, and did everything that I would have done if I were on an actual stage. We were that much better because I had “perfect practice.”

Protesting is my right and my responsibility: Since I was 18, I voted for Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents. I voted for George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008, Barack Obama in 2012, and Gary Johnson in 2016. I’ve voted for Jim Moran (D-VA), George Voinovich (R-OH), and George Allen (D-VA). I’ve been frustrated by the political establishment for some time, especially when I showed up in December 2012 to the Capitol with a sign that said “Get Your Shit Together,” but nothing enraged me more than the actions, words, mannerisms, and demeanor of Donald Trump. Never before did I feel so angry about a politician. But in the United States, dissent was engraved in our Constitution, and it was my right to be able to peacefully protest. And protest is what I did. I voiced my concerns…my resistance…through Truth Assassin, and despite being a government employee, my job was safe under protections of the first amendment. The US Government could not fire me for my political views, and as long as I was not active in political campaign, which I was not under any circumstances, I would not be in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibited federal employees from participating in political campaigns. I was exercising my right of free speech and peaceful protest. It was my right. It was my responsibility.

Even if I don’t record another Truth Assassin song ever again, I’ve left my mark—my legacy—on society. All because I never gave up, never quit, and never stopped. I got after it.

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To listen to Truth Assassin, check it out on Spotify.

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