When I think about Doc Coyle, the phrase, “Tall glass of water ” comes to mind. Or “towering mass of yummy.” A beneficiary of the sexual revolution and primary and secondary waves of feminism, it’s almost ok to objectify Doc and his dreamy dreaminess. Except, lucky us, Doc is so much more.
I’m listening to “Do You Know Who I Am?” by Vagus Nerve, Doc’s latest musical endeavor that’s taking him out to the City of Angels this spring. Half way through I’ve lost track of time. The complexity of the song, the melodies that seem at odds with each other until they reconcile and play very nice together… “Do You Know Who I Am?” posits as many fronts as Doc does himself, it’s not a question, it’s a declaration.
The following interview took place at my kitchen table on January 23rd, 2014 in Jersey City. It was a discussion more than anything, the way Doc conducts all his interviews, pouring himself out into the world, saying what we’re all thinking but too afraid to say, standing in his own truth.
My parents never got married. My dad is white, my mother’s black. My parents lived together til I was like five. We lived on Sanford St (in New Brunswick, NJ-ed note) and then we lived in a place called Simplex Avenue. My parents split up when I was in the 1st grade, or something like that, so I don’t really have a recollection of my parents being together. And the memories I do have, they were arguing like crazy, BAD. Horrible arguments. So my dad moved out and got an apartment on Livingston Ave.
Me and my brother would go there for a few days. Our mom had a house… based on our mother not being responsible, sometimes there wouldn’t be enough food, sometimes the lights would be cut out, there’d be no heat. She just wasn’t that responsible. Eventually we went to go live with my dad, I lived with him til I was 15 or 16 years old. I ended up living with my grandparents in Piscataway to go to this private school, Gil St. Bernard. It was the complete opposite, I went from total lower class, black/white urban environment to very wealthy, very white, very small, prestigious private school. But it was super liberal, laid back.
My grandfather was one of the most important and impressive black men in the area during that time. He was the first black real estate agent in Middlesex County. He made a lot of money, he lost a lot of money, he was really respected, he accomplished a lot. He was interested in a lot of things, he would referee basket ball games, and he would sing in church. He would referee games at that school, he basically did some wrangling and pulled some strings and got us in on a scholarship. We still had to get accepted but who knows? Maybe we weren’t that bright. Maybe there was a quota, I don’t know.
I was 15 when we (God Forbid) got together. We kind of started jamming by accident, we started writing original songs because we didn’t know enough covers. The first show ever we played was at The Court Tavern. We were called Manifest Destiny. It was the first time I was in a bar. The smoke affected me so much I had bronchitis the next day.
We played and I was like, “Dad, what did you think?” He said, “You were out of tune.” My dad was a piano player. He couldn’t say, “Great job!” No, “You’re out of tune. Get in tune.”
We recorded 2 demos as Manifest Destiny that we never put out. They just weren’t that good, so we sat on them. Then we changed the band name to Insolubrious, it was a bad band name. But as a band we got, “Ok, this is not that terrible. This is actually pretty good.”
Eventually we got our bass player, John Outcalt, and everyone just got a lot better and we recorded “Out of Misery”. It was a demo we put out on tape, we started playing locally and got a nice little buzz. Our friend, Brian, who worked at a record store, Vintage Vinyl, was like, “Yo, what do you think about putting out your demo as an ep/cd?” We were like, “Cool.” And we put it out. We did some big local shows, we got some airplay on WSOU, people were passing around our demo, but we still couldn’t draw people.
We started hanging out in the hard core scene. There were people there who liked listening to heavy music and no one’s paying to play. We thought, “Our band is better than this band, our band is better than that band, if we could actually start playing in front of these people, we think they would like what we do.”
Honestly I think we were just around enough and met enough people that eventually “no’s” started becoming “yes’es”. We were just persistent. We’d just keep bothering the same people. Any place that would let us play, we would just go and play. This guy in Pennsylvania got a garage? We would call up, “Does he have a show? Can we play?” Most of the time no, other times yes. You’d get a yes, you’d go down there and maybe there were only 10 people, but one of the guys that’s there is in a band. You meet him, you get his number, you stay in touch, then it’s like, “We’ll get you on a show out here.”
We were pen pals with Mike D, who’s in Killswitch Engage now but at the time he was in Overcast, Back then a lot of guys in bands would have their cd with an address so you would send your demo to the band. He actually wrote us back, a hand written letter, “This is really cool, I really like this,“ things like that. I remember we played with Lamb of God when they were called Burn The Priest in a garage. We gave them our first cd and they gave us their Burn the Priest cd and we’ve been friends ever since.
We played with Everytime I Die in a book store in Syracuse, NY. We met them, they played their cd they were working on and we just became friends, fast forward 6 years later we were playing Ozfest together. It was definitely a different time, I don’t know if it’s that communal today among young bands.
We did “Out of Misery” and the same guy who put it out said, “I think it’s time to put out a full length album. We ended up doing “Reject the Sickness” with Steve Evans, the producer for Metalcore Records and he just to happened to work really close, at Tracks East. We had gotten a lot better, the material was way better, and he made us play way better than we were. And the record just sounded incredible, musically it was really cool, it didn’t sound like anything else that much, we knew who our influences were, but to a lot of people it was fresh.
Evans and Alan Douches, the guy who mastered “Reject the Sickness”. sent it to Century Media for us because they thought it was really good and that’s always a good sign. Literally I got a call from Tom B who was A&R from Century Media. That NEVER happens. Labels never call people without a multi-month/year long deliberation process of watching the band live and working on their songs and development. I think that gives you an idea of how strong the record was and how much it stood out. It was about a year from when we had the conversation to when we had to sign because of contracts and everything. And that basically changed everything.
Because we had a record deal we had a manager, because we had a manager, we had a tour, because we had a label we could have a bigger record budget. Once all that started happened, everyone quit their jobs and moved home with their parents and just went for it.
We came out in an awkward era, we didn’t come out early enough where everybody just made a lot of money being in a band making record deals. But we didn’t come out late enough where we were prepared for the new way of how things were going to be. If you came out in mid 2000, you basically understood the new way; that you had to promote, the new way you had to tour…we came, we had some decent success, and had some good footing and then everything changed, and not just for us.
It was easier if you were already really big and you had a good team with a really good manager and a good label and really basically doing the work to kind of convert to “music 2.0”, whereas the band just makes records, they tour, and everyone else is handling the promotional side, the marketing side, if you were doing it yourself and didn’t have a great aptitude for evolution…I think a lot of bands struggled with that transition.
I left God Forbid in August of 2013. I think I went through, what is that? Post-pardem depression?
I was working on this original project and a cover band project, but things weren’t moving at the pace I wanted things to happen. I took this gig with UnEarth, and the tour ended up getting cancelled.
God Forbid ended and whatever my “new thing” was going to be didn’t develop. I was single for a long time, my immediate family is not really what I think of when I think of a wholesome family environment, it’s just made me think about all these elemental parts of life that I didn’t really have, that I think are important. It’s the reason why people go to church, it’s the reason why people have children, because people want to feel a part of something and I wasn’t a part of something.
I did the same shit for 10 years. My band was everything. I wrote, toured, came home, wrote, toured, hung out with my bro. That was it. Then my brother left the band, my girlfriend broke up with me. Then my grandmother passed away. I was living with my grandmother, so it was like this cocoon where life was set in stone: This is where I live, here’s my band, here’ s my bro, here’s my girlfriend. Basically everything was gone, one after the other and I didn’t have feet to stand on.
One thing that should be stated, me and my brother had a very codependent relationship. More so on my end. I didn’t make a lot of friends when I was younger. I didn’t have a lot of my own friends. Because basically, my brother was my best friend. We did everything together.
When I was thirty years old, I was trying to develop friend-making skills. (laughing) And that’s really weird. It’s not common. I don’t have a normal learning curve for development. Sometimes I have to let myself be that because I beat myself up a lot thinking about being behind the ball about certain things. It’s a societal pressure. There’s all this stuff you supposed to be doing: you should have a kid if you’re this age, you should be married if you’re this age.
That weighs in on you. Because people look at you and think, “Oh, you’re a little, hmmmm?” That’s tough for everybody. But that’s the risk you run of being in a band and “going for it”. Like, I’m going to mortgage everything on this, if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to be 10 years behind everyone else in terms of doing normal stuff.
If the band was more successful, and I could buy a house with the money I was making from the band, then I’d be less behind the curve. It’s not like money is the most important thing but money does help you attain the essential amenities of “the adult” standard.
Vagus Nerve, is actually the biggest nerve in your body that connects your brain to the rest of the nervous system. Me and Ravi Orr, the singer, met through a friend of a friend, started working on material sending traces back and forth, he lives out in Pennsylvania, so the distance always been an issue, as far as getting it going. This past year, we started putting a band together got some really good players but the guitar player was playing in another band, he’s really busy, so it’s been kind of difficult but both me and Ravi are both moving to California.
At the end of the day, you have to take risks. You have to see what else it out there. I if don’t do it now, I’ll probably regret it for the rest of my life. The only reason I was going to stay here was for Vagus Nerve, and me and Ravi had a discussion he & his wife want to move out there too. I’m going to LA because I think there’s more opportunity for a guy like me out there. It’s not zero. It’s zero right now. Zero degrees, zero opportunities, zero chances of going surfing right now.
Ever since I’ve been on my own, things have been consistently getting better. I’ve never done this before, and it’s scary the first time, you think, “Will I be able to eat?” So this is the next challenge. Can I go somewhere and actually make something of myself?