Career highlights? Getting to play with the Mike Keneally Band is one of the coolest things I’ve done. With Mike I’ve been able to play the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland and things I never thought I’d do. Playing with Ben Taylor and taping the Carson Daly Show on the Saturday Night Live soundstage. Having Carly Simon guest on a song I wrote that was featured in Capturing The Friedmans. Recording for The Roots, Gwen Stefani, Kevin Gilbert and a lot of little things that have happened in my career.
I grew up in a time of war in Lebanon. I lived in Beirut. It was hard on everybody, especially on kids who were 4, 5, 6 years old. All you saw was fighting. All you heard was bombs going off. You couldn’t really plan anything. You had to live day-by-day, hour-by-hour. Somehow, I found peace through music.
I played in my first band when I was 12 years old. It was sort of a pop-punk band. We had silly songs but it was a lot of fun and I knew from that moment on that I wanted to be a musician. I started recording at a friend’s studio which gave me experience in the studio before I moved to the U.S. I actually had a song on the radio when I was 14 or 15. It was in the Top Ten in Lebanon.
I knew that I had to come to the United States. There were good musicians in Lebanon but you could only get to a certain level there. There was nothing like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Jimi Hendrix back home.
I came to Wichita with $2,000. My cousin found out that there was a really good music program at WSU and gave me and my dad information. The first thing I did when I arrived in Wichita was buy a stereo system for $1,200. I had my priorities straight.”
When I was a kid in Lebanon, I would watch the TV show Fame. I thought that that was what music school was like, and I always wanted to go to that school. But, as it turned out, WSU was a real university. I had to take English and math and history. I wasn’t a great student. After 18 or 19, I really only wanted to explore music.
Music faculty at WSU? Craig Owens, Tom Fowler, J.C. Combs. The main one for me was Craig Owens. I love that man. He’s the greatest. I wasn’t as close to J.C. Combs, but I always dug what he was trying to do and how he was always trying to help students. He encouraged them to be involved in ensembles and concerts — all kinds of cool stuff.
Interests outside of music? I like cooking a lot. My body weight shows it right now. I like learning about organic food, coffee beans and how they’re roasted. I love the beach. I’m a water guy and I love water parks. I also enjoy checking out vintage gear on eBay.
My favorite sandwich would probably be one that I would make. It would be a toasted triple-decker sourdough sandwich with at least two kinds of cheeses, veggies, some herbs, Genoa salami with mayo or Thousand Island Dressing, accompanied by plain organic potato chips and washed down with a Pepsi.
Smug is a rock trio that features Bret Helm, formerly of Public Image Ltd. on bass and vocals. Sean Daniel plays drums. Somebody said that we play well-crafted pop songs with a hard edge, sometimes funky, and funny and sarcastic lyrics. We’re working on our first album and our goal is to get the first album out by the end of April this year.
Our goal in Smug is to go out and tour and sell records and license our music and rule the world, just like what every other band wants to do.
My biggest non-musical influences? My mom, Eugene Levy and Peter Sellers.
I’m trying to launch a project right now called Punktuition, which is an animated show based on punk songs. We’re doing a pilot in May. From that point on we’ll be working on more episodes. So far some of the people we have interested in doing voice-overs are really cool — members of Duran Duran and Madonna. I’m involved with five other writers in the project.
There’s an upcoming Mike Keneally Band live album and DVD called Guitar Therapy. It sounds awesome.
I’m in two bands with Arlen Schierbaum, one is The Dirty Janks. It’s a retro live band, kind of funky and with vintage gear. We’re also trying to put out a record. The other is called Simple. We are working on creating a music library for music editors. We’re building cues, so that if, in a movie, there’s a scene of a plane flying over the ocean, we’ll have written a cue named ‘Plane Flying Over Ocean’ which can then be used as that cue in a film or on TV.
My plate is pretty full.