Infobox musical artist
Name = Jonathan Russo
Img_capt = Russo in
Img_size = 100
Background = non_vocal_instrumentalist
Birth_name = Jonathan Coss Russo
Alias = Skudder, Jon, JR, Russo
Born = birth date and age|1983|11|17
Origin = flagicon|US Syrauce,
New York, USA
Instrument = Bass,
Guitar, drums, vocals
Hard rock, punk, Alternative rock, Metal
Occupation = Musician
Years_active = 1998 - Present
Fateful Day Rattle Snake Army
“This fucking interview is over.” I’ve been talking with Justin Whitehead for the better part of two hours now about Fateful Day, the band in which he sings and plays guitar. And he doesn’t seem that pleased about it. “ I want this to be in the interview. Me bitching you out.” I’m trying to get the history of Fateful Day. How did four guys from Syracuse, NY end up in the middle of the southern California Desert? “The story’s the story. Who fucking cares?” He contends that he wanted more personal questions. “Why do you write the songs that you write? What are you so fucking pissed about? Are you even still pissed?” These are some valid questions. So I appease him: why do you write the songs you write? What are you pissed off about? “Next question,” he responds with a grin on his face. That’s what I expected. On to the story he expects no one to care about.
If you have been involved in the desert music scene for the past couple of years, either as a musician or fan, it’s a pretty good chance you’ve either seen or heard of Fateful Day. For those of you that have been living under a rock and not ventured out into the desert nightlife, Fateful Day is a bruising brand of metal. Much more than just hard rock or cheap metal, their music hits you over the head relentlessly like a sledgehammer, pounding you into submission. It is a combination of metal and hardcore old-school punk rock. Not the sissy punk on today’s radio. Influences stretching back to Pennywise, Misfits, Bad Religion, Sick Of It All, Hatebreed, a little bit of old Metallica and a ton of underground hardcore music from bands that you’ve never heard of. The vocals are not simply screaming. They are a raging growl. “Hardcore vocals”, as Justin puts it. “None of us could sing. So that’s what came out and it fits the music.” Mikey Gafrancesco, the band’s other guitar player and singer keeps it simple. “It’s heavy metal. Metal is metal. Whether your playing it fast or your playing it slow, it’s metal. And it’s heavy. We play fast. We play hard. And we write about crazy, angry shit.”
The seed of their sound was planted over several years ago in Syracuse, NY. It was in Mikey’s father’s house that he and his brother Tony, Fateful Day’s drummer and third singer, were strongly encouraged to pursue music. Mr. G, as they refer to him, was a music lover and bass player. He bought both Mikey and Tony guitars early in their teens. A year later he bought Tony a drum set after he had become interested in the skins from a next-door neighbor. The two began jamming in the basement of their house on Doors and Metallica covers. In 1998 they were joined by close friend Mike Barnes on guitar. It wasn’t until Tony met Justin snowboarding that same year that a full band was possible. Like the Gafrancesco brothers, Justin had a parent, his mother, that not only supported him playing music, but played guitar herself. As a result, he picked up the instrument in his early teens. “Around the same time I bought a used bass. I liked bass more at first,” he says. He began playing to old Creedance Clearwater Revival, Cream and Iron Butterfly records. It was at a house party where the four guys realized they might have something. “They were playing Metallica covers. When they were done I grabbed the bass and started playing other shit. They were interested.” That was how it all started. They became A.O.D.
A.O.D. – Army Of Darkness. Angel Of Death. Another Offensive Drunk. Assholes On Drugs. Ass On Demand – take your pick on what it meant. Everyone seems to have their own take on it. Regardless, this was early Fateful Day. “Metal riffs. Punk riffs. Weird shit. But it all came out heavy,” says Justin. “Syracuse had a very big hardcore scene,” says Tony. “That’s probably why we got into the hardcore music as much.” The band began playing in small bars, packed with friends, and rose to opening for touring acts at large clubs between 1999 and 2001. “There were lots of hardcore bands that came to town and they played The Lost. Then we started playing around town and we started playing The Lost. We were on the radio and we were playing at the place to play in our town,” says Justin. Except for Justin, who is four years older than Mikey and five years older than Tony, the guys weren’t even 21 yet. They were just out of high school. In 2000, they realized the name A.O.D. was already taken as a band name. A change was in order. Mikey recalls, “We took Fateful Day out of one our A.O.D. songs. We were listening to the music, just thinking of a cool band name. That was one of the lyrics.” He even sings the line: “That Fateful Day!” Everyone agreed to it.
The band thrived until the events of 9/11. Barnes, who had always thought about going into the military, like his father, left the band to join the army. “9/11 set him off,” reflects Mikey. “He went over there with a vengeance. We couldn’t be pissed at him. He was going to fight for our country.” The band briefly went on hold. Justin even considered a move to Washington State to pursue snowboarding, his other passion. In stepped Jon Russo. Russo was a friend of Tony’s who had been hanging around the band for most of its existence. Though his interest in music had more to do with the engineering and production side of things, he also dabbled in guitar playing. Justin decided he wanted to switch to playing guitar, so Jon offered to take up the bass. “When I joined the band I said I’ll just wing it,” Jon says. But Justin showed him the ropes. “I just showed him the bass lines. He picked everything up quickly. I didn’t really have to teach him the song but once or twice and he would struggle a few times with it, but then he got it.” The band was renewed with excitement, but that was short lived.
“Right when I got serious about playing and got comfortable in the band, I bailed for three months. It was a kinda shitty thing.” Russo is recounting his going to Europe not long after becoming Fateful Day’s bass player. It was another event that could have ended the band, but ultimately it set them on a course toward the Coachella Valley. Russo’s father, Lou, was close with Syracuse native Chris Goss. Goss was well established in the music industry having founded the band Masters of Reality and moving on to do production work for desert bands Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, amongst several others. Goss invited Jon to work on a three month Masters of Reality tour in Europe. The experience was invaluable. “When I came back from Europe that was when we started getting really serious. That’s when we started talking about music as what we want to do with our lives and the steps we had to take from that point.” Jon was then given the opportunity to sit in and learn production from Goss at recording sessions in the high desert. “I was doing a lot of work with Chris. Over time I had accumulated all this studio equipment out here.” At the same time, the band as a whole had grown tired of the distractions in Syracuse. Friends. Family. Girls. Drugs. Too much partying. Moving to the Coachella Valley became a welcomed idea. It was the perfect opportunity for the band to get a fresh start and use the equipment Jon had waiting for him to record a full album for free. So in 2002 the band slowly started migrating west. They came out broke and car-less, often lifting food from AM/PM gas stations to eat. It wasn’t until this past December that each member even had their own car. Over the next two years all the members moved out, got jobs and settled in.
Lou Russo, like Mikey and Tony’s father and Justin’s mother, loved music and supported Jon’s involvement in it from day one. Lou saw more than just his son living out rock and roll dreams. He saw potential in the band as a whole. He became what the band considers, “the fifth member”, who has proven to be invaluable. Over the years he has encouraged, pushed and championed band in every way. And while he obviously maintains contact with Jon, he also calls each member individually to talk to them about things, both personal and band related. He recognized the need for the band to have a place to record. So, in 2004, he purchased a house in Indio that they could rent from him, setup shop and get to work on their record.
That fall, the band took part in the Mystic Avalanche Showcase, along with several other area bands. Though the band had distaste for the battle of the bands format, they agreed to play. “That’s when we started getting a lot more recognition in the desert,” Tony says. Earlier that year the band had started playing shows with the likes of Family Butcher, The Hellions and The Traces, after being introduced to them by local promoter, Ming Bob. “When we first started playing around here there were only like four or fives bands playing,” Mikey says. That showcase, along with, in early 2005, the beginning of this magazine’s publication and its commitment to talking about music in the valley, sparked a rebirth in the desert music community. Suddenly there were a lot of bands playing out and a lot of people going to see them. Fateful Day seized the opportunity to make themselves known. They quickly built the reputation as the band you did not want to miss live.
Perhaps it is that reputation that led to the band being labeled ‘Fight Club’. I’ve heard the movie title used in reference to Fateful Day on more than one occasion. For quite a while the band’s shows always seemed to include an incident involving fists connecting with faces. “It was like that in Syracuse, too. There was a fight at every show,” says Tony. The band swears that rarely have they been the instigator. Usually it is someone in the crowd acting stupid. But they’ve had their moments. Jon once lit a cigarette while playing at The Red Barn and got maced by an impatient door guy. The obvious brawl ensued. “We don’t go around starting fights, but don’t fucking fuck with us,” the toughness evident in Mikey’s voice. Of course this toughness also translates into the occasional in-band-fighting. But those moments are equivalent to that of any close family. “It goes back to living in a house together for two and a half years. You start getting stuck under each other’s skin,” Jon says. But fortunately the guys have always been able to work through those moments and realize they need each other. With these guys, punching sometimes is a good thing. Celebrating Mikey’s birthday a few years ago, the band put on one of their most memorable shows that included only four complete songs, more that the usual amount of alcohol consumption, playing drums on the bar, Jon’s bass through a ceiling tile and a destroyed light fixture. Mikey, who doesn’t remember much about that night does recall having a friend punch him in the face before they played. “It was just to get me amped up,” he says. The reputation really does no harm for the band. It only makes a Fateful Day show more inviting to see. Go to a show. Brings lots of money for alcohol. Perhaps a designated driver. Be prepared to walloped over the head by the music and you might get to witness a few drunken idiots pound on each other. Or you can become one of those idiots yourself. Honestly, the band doesn’t encourage fighting. They just want to put on good shows. “We want to make it fun,” says Mikey. “Write cool music. Party. Have a good time. Make friends with as many people as possible cause those are your fans.” So labeling them ‘Fight Club’ is strictly by their reputation. Then again, maybe the name became attached to the band because of a rumored barbecue they wanted to host that would include other area bands fighting each other like the movie. A true ‘Battle of the Bands’. Of course, that’s just a rumor.
By the beginning of 2005 the transition from New York to the desert was complete. The band was renting Jon’s father’s house and had completed setup of their studio, or “The Dungeon” as it was called. With the best of intentions, the band had moved to California to record an album for free and have the sonic calling card to take the band to the masses. In theory, they should have been able to complete the album in a few short months. But after escaping the distractions of home, new distractions began to surface. “It was a huge house with a big pool and a hot tub and full of liquor,” Jon explains. “So, yeah, we’ve got a studio, but it doesn’t really matter if you’ve got a refrigerator full of beer and a hot tub and a pool.” Meanwhile they were playing more shows and meeting more people. Tony continues: “We’d get in the studio, start recording and then we’d get sidetracked. Playing pool. Partying. People would come over.” They did get some work done, especially when Lou would come into town and remind the guys to focus on the task at hand. “Everything kind of happened in cycles,” says Justin. “We were really productive for a while. But then everyone would need a break.” Tony contends that the partying lifestyle wasn’t the only excuse for work not being finished. “We also all had nine to fives and different schedules. It’s not as if it is cheap to live here.” Having their own studio also proved to be a double-edged sword. Jon was learning how to use the gear and capture the band’s sound, which led to multiple re-recordings. “We tracked our CD two times over and then we would dump it. We always knew it could be better and that would kind of fuck us,” he says. But in the middle of 2006, Lou had to get rid of the house and the band had to move out. “It was an investment and it was time for him to sell it. The album wasn’t done. We had fucked around for two years.” With the threat of having to place all the recording gear in storage, and the album incomplete, the band got lucky when they hooked up with longtime desert musician Brad Garrow. Garrow’s Dead End Studios, built in his backyard, had enough space to house the gear and he was excited to add Jon’s equipment to his own. It was a win-win situation. “It was a bummer when it happened. But out of adversity it turned into a great thing. I met up with Brad and created a studio three times the studio it was before.” Within a couple of months the boys buckled down and finally finished it: the first full length Fateful Day album that they had moved out to California for five years earlier. Appropriately titled: “Fatter. Drunker. Faster.”
“The name of our album, ‘Fatter. Drunker. Faster.’ explains a lot,” says Mikey. “In our exchange from Syracuse to the desert we’ve all gotten fatter, we’ve all gotten drunker and we’ve all gotten faster at our instruments.” The first two words in the title are fun in nature, but ‘Faster’ is a serious point the band is proud of. It may have taken them a long time to finish a record, but in that time their skills have improved so much that they feel it was worth the wait. Justin, who came up with the title, echoes Mikey’s explanation. But then he offers the antithesis with another smirk on his face. “ ‘Slimmer. Sober. Slower.’, that’s what we’ll call the next one.” He then says, “We should have done this at the bar.” And with the suggestion agreed upon, off we go. At least for now, ‘Sober’ will have to wait.
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