The story of Desacrator, and ultimately Thought Industry and Twitch, has its roots in rural Michigan. Dustin Donaldson, Brent Oberlin, and I grew up together in Athens Township, along with Brent’s younger brother Kevin. According to ‘Google Maps’ the town of Athens is situated approximately 16 miles south of Battle Creek, and 38 miles southeast of Kalamazoo. As of the 2000 census, the population of Athens was 1,111 mzd we didn't even live in town. As far as we could tell, we were living in a forgotten land on the planet furthest from the bright center of the universe (pardon me for butchering a familiar metaphor). A painful existential angst brought our three young souls together in this unlikely place where remoteness and oppressive Midwestern provincialism bred loneliness and despair.
Dustin moved to Athens in the 4th grade, and we became friends in the 8th grade. We were united by our love of music and by a mutual feeling that we did not fit in, and that we did not care to try. We decided at this young age that music was our way out of the rural Midwest, and applied all our energies to it. We formed our first band, which we called “Asylum,” at age 14. We were the only two members. Dustin had a small blue sparkle kit, and I had a Lotus flying V and a tiny amp with a 6” speaker and only a volume and tone control. I turned my amp up until it distorted, and Dustin and I banged out our first song, “Iron Man” and wrote an original song one weekend in 1983. I still have the tape.
Brent and I were Athens natives from birth. He was a year younger than Dustin and I and not yet in high school when he asked me to show him some guitar. I taught him a few things, and he was a quick study. In turn we both sought lessons from Tim Keyes, an upperclassman and a very clever guitarist in retrospect. Brent bought his first bass guitar from Tim, and Dustin and I recruited Brent to play bass with us. Dustin, Brent, and I played together for the next 6 years. We ate, breathed, and lived music.
Dustin and I were sophomores and Brent a freshman when we played our first gig, “The Athens Follies,” which was our high-school talent show. Tim, who was now a senior and by all rights much “cooler” than we were, graciously teamed up with us for this event and we performed “Rainbow in the Dark” and a blues jam in E. It was amazing—about 300 people were in attendance, and we brought down the house! Again, I still have the tape…
We now called ourselves “Fair Warning,” after the Van Halen album of the same name. Dustin, Brent, and I could not have been more serious about our music. With so much youthful passion it was natural that egos clashed, and on a couple occasions push literally came to shove, but in our young minds the only thing worse than showing up to practice unprepared was not showing up to practice at all. I could count the number of times either happened on one hand. We were young, anxious, depressed, testosterone-laden and full of machismo, and we were pathologically driven by the sense that music was our only escape.
We soon converted our “sound man” Michael Jobin into a lead singer and began playing in garages, basements, and even barns in rural Michigan. Fair Warning was central to our musical development over the next two years. We played a number of covers and original songs, while each of us worked assiduously on our own to improve our skills and conceptual understanding of music. We took individual lessons, hounded more experienced musicians for their knowledge, studied composition, theory, and history, traded mix tapes, listened, listened, listened, and basically became musicians during this time period.
In general we found more experienced musicians to be supportive, and approached them frequently. But it’s worth mentioning one outstanding musician in particular who made an impact on us in the summer between our junior and senior years. This was the era of “Master of Puppets,” which was released in early 1986. Dustin and I went out of our way to meet Kirk Hammett when Metallica played the Kellogg Center Arena as the support act for Ozzy in July of that year. He and the band’s sound man, “Big Mick,” graciously spent a couple days just hanging out with us. Kirk was very inquisitive, and took a keen interest in who we were, how we lived, and what we were about. The four of us, Dustin, Mick, Kirk, and I drove out to Dustin’s house in my old beater Dodge Aspen. Kirk commented that his family had a similar car when he was young. We traded comics for T-shirts, and for 2 days we were new-found friends. We went back to his hotel room, hung out, and I played his guitar. There can be no question that this experience was hugely influential for both of us. My hero worship has (largely) subsided with age, but for my part Kirk Hammett influenced me as a guitarist and as a mentor. I think that many musicians could take a lesson from this little-known aspect of the man's character.
In Dustin’s and my senior year (Brent was now a junior) we parted ways with Michael and teamed up with Kerry Johnson (vocals) and Willard Morgan (guitar) to form the band “Darkness.” Kerry and Willard were 4 or 5 years older than us, and we now began playing dances and bars. Of course, since we were still in high school we were only 16 or 17 and therefore underage, so we sometimes had to sneak into our own gigs!
Darkness had a prodigious start. We had honed our chops in Fair Warning, and we were very competent young musicians. Darkness learned dozens of songs in the first few weeks as a band, and won the Lakeview Battle of the Bands when we’d been together only 6 weeks. Kerry and Willard wanted to continue on the bar circuit and make a living as a cover band. Dustin, Brent, and I were far more interested in writing and recording original material, so we disbanded after only 6 months together. It was during this time that we first learned of a new upstart named Chris Simmonds, who we saw as a musical rival. A war of words ensued through intermediaries—over what I don’t recall—but in the end talent was the only thing that really mattered to us, and Chris’ talent was undeniable. And so it happened that within a few months of our spat Chris, Dustin, Brent, and I formed a band at the twilight of youthful innocence, and named it “Desacrator.” The year was 1987 (and incidentally, the misspelling was intentional).
The four of us lived in the Battle Creek area at this time. Dustin lived with Steve Jenkins, and we practiced over at their place. We played in every mutant-infested basement, garage, rental hall, and shit-hole dive that would have us (including Blondies in Detroit). We were happy with Chris because his pathos was equal to ours. In the beginning we learned and performed a few covers by Metallica, Flotsam and Jetsom, Megadeth, and some others, but we soon focused our efforts on writing and performing original material. In the middle of all this Desacrator recorded and mixed an 8 song demo at Fast Trax studios in one day in mid 1988. Probably our best-remembered shows were the two Red Cap rental hall shows, which we played to sold-out crowds, and the State Theater show, though we played as far afield as Detroit and Indianapolis.
By the spring of 1989, after 6 years with Dustin and Brent, testosterone-driven ego won out. I left the band one day because they wanted to learn Brent’s new song instead of mine. It seems like a trivial reason to end such a productive relationship, but the reason given was only a symptom of a much larger underlying reality: Those of us who experience such headstrong youthful passion seek out others just like us, then frequently find ourselves in conflict with them. All in all it was remarkable that we had stayed together for so long, but it was time for me to split. Dustin, Brent, and I learned how to play our instruments together, and we pushed it as far as we could in the time we had, but parting ways gave us room for personal growth. In time we all went our separate ways, and I can only imagine that whatever reasons were given, ultimately it was for the same reason that I left. I feel that there's nothing wrong with headstrong youthful passion, and I retain a lot of that to this day.
I went on to play in several bands after Desacrator. I immediately started up a guitar-oriented instrumental project called “Sacred Nine” with Kalamazoo natives Matt Moser and Kim Krauss. We were a studio project, and recorded a 2 song demo at Fast Trax studios in the summer of 1989 before moving to Los Angeles together. After arriving in LA I soon joined the established death metal band Evil Dead, which consisted of former members of the bands Abattoir and Agent Steel. But Evil Dead wasn’t my scene, and I played with them for just 3 months before leaving and starting my own band “Busy Dying.” Busy Dying lasted for 2 years. We played many of the famous LA clubs including Al’s Bar and The Coconut Teaser. We were friends with the band Failure and we played with them a few times before they went on to sign with Slash records. Busy Dying hit the studio and recorded a demo in 1991, moved to San Francisco, and disbanded shortly thereafter. I took a break from the band scene and concentrated on other interests, eventually moving on to careers in neuroscience and art. But I kept a guitar close at hand.
As for Desacrator, it seems that my departure was the end of that band. More than that, I think that it marked the end of an era for us given our history together, though I didn’t understand it at the time. Within a month Desacrator was renamed “Thought Industry,” and had taken on Steve Spaeth as my replacement. Steve went on to form Clockmaker and was followed by Paul Enzio. This lineup was soon signed, and the rest, as they say, is history. I was happy for them, but I have to admit that I felt a bit cheated by the circumstances. I would liked to have toured with Desacrator because it's what we had worked for all those years, and I obviously had nobody to blame but myself. Having said all that, nowadays when I talk to those guys we reflect on the Desacrator days with fondness and nostalgia. I’m glad to know them—they remain brilliant musicians.
And so it was that our young souls found salvation in thunderous drums, growling bass, and bone-crunching guitars. We were lucky to have music and to have each other. It seems like my personal sense of success has come in proportion to a drive that was nurtured by those early musical experiences in rural Michigan. I suppose that in my heart I remain a musician. I still play most every day, and I play like I have something to say because I do. I can only suppose that the pathos that we developed as young men is still with each of us in some measure to this day.
-Dan Roe, aka “The Good Doctor Midnight," 2007
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