I know right now it’s trendy to say that 2016 was a terrible year. So, I’m not going to say that (but also because it quite simply isn’t true). Overall, the past twelve months have been the biggest adventure of my life, and with adventure, of course, comes its fair share of ups and downs. I have grown more as an individual and as a photographer than any year before. I made mistakes. I suffered at the hands of other’s mistakes, as well as my own. I made so many new friends and saw so many new places along the way. I love doing what I do so much (as cliché as that sounds). I get to travel with some of my best friends and take photos and I get paid for it. That doesn’t make any sense, but I’ll take it.
The phrase I probably thought the most this year was “this is going to make for a great story.” Here’s a brief rundown of a few very random things that happened to me this year:
I got the opportunity to tour with one of my favorite bands, Better Off, on their biggest tour to date (Mayday Parade and The Maine). Only a day into the tour (and about three days after first meeting all of them) we were asked to the leave the tour and we drove back to Nashville where I was then picked up by Silent Planet two days later on their tour with Beartooth (because they’re some of the kindest humans in the world).
I rode in the back of a U-Haul truck for 20 hours after the Silent Planet van broke down in Denver and we needed to get to Reno, Nev. the next day. So, we transferred everything from the van to the back of the truck, attached the trailer, and four of us rode in the back of the truck in complete darkness while two others rode up front. That was quite the bumpy ride.
I got in an accident while riding in the back of an Uber with Will from Against The Current. The driver was a kid who told us his family had been killed in a hurricane back in his country (and he laughed about it the whole time, thinking it was funny to make something like that up), told us his country was way better than ours, and then proceeded to snapchat the other car that hit us as they were using the jaws of life to pry the passenger out, laughing through the whole thing. The kid was terrible and almost got us killed.
Despite all of that (and many other stories I’ll have to tell you some other time), I had a blast this year. I got to tour across North America way too many times with so many different people. I was a part of 10 tours and 175 shows. I was a part of five festivals, along with Warped Tour. I was theoretically only off tour about a month and a half this year. I got the opportunity to document two of my favorite bands recording their new records.
None of this would have been possible without Phinehas, Better Off, Silent Planet, Corey Kilgannon, Wolves At The Gate, Gideon, The Ongoing Concept, Vanna, and Against The Current letting me invade their spaces this year and document their lives. So, thank you, thank you, thank you. Also, a huge thank you to Andrew Cramb for being my right hand man for the latter part of the year. Thank you to my parents for being the most supportive people in my life. Thank you to all of you who believe in me and support my work. Thank you for making 2016 the best year of my life. Here are a few of my favorite moments and photos of the year. (P.S. I don’t blame you if you skip over the novella I wrote to go with each photo, but I had a blast reliving all these moments.)
1. Vanna – February – Montreal, Que. – It’s pretty rare now for a band to really catch my attention (I don’t know if that says more about a lack of good bands or how cynical I’ve become). However, in February I was out with Phinehas on a tour that Vanna was on and I enjoyed watching and shooting them so much that I made sure I was there for their set as many nights as possible. One of my favorite moments during their set every night was the last song, “Digging,” where Davey goes out into the crowd and sings the very emotional song with everyone. I loved seeing the impact this band, and especially this song, had on kids each night. We became really good friends throughout the tour and, as you’ll see throughout the rest of these photos, I ended up spending a lot more time with these boys throughout 2016.
2. Silent Planet – March – Los Angeles – One of my goals for this year was to get more creative with promotional photos. I’ve been taking band promos for years, so composing a shot isn’t a huge challenge at this point. However, I felt pretty disappointed when I looked back at all the promos I had taken – to the point where I didn’t really want to include most of them in my portfolio. I started getting a bit more creative with some promos I took with Wolves At The Gate at the very end of last year, but I tried to step out of the box even more with the set for Silent Planet’s “Everything Was Sound” record. I flew out to Los Angeles at the end of my tour with Phinehas in March and spent a day shooting around the area, getting different looks. By the end of it, I wasn’t completely satisfied with what we had accomplished. I knew there was still one more shot I needed to get. So, with the sun down for the evening, I set the guys up on a white wall, used an external flash (one of only a handful of times I’ve ever forayed into the flash world), and shot a double exposure of them with another photo from earlier in the day. It was really one of the more simple photos of the day, as far as the work it took to get the shot, but it ended up being my favorite photo of the day and possibly my favorite photo of the year. One of the proudest moment of my ‘career’ was seeing this photo in Alternative Press when they did a two page spread on the band.
3. Garrett Russell – March – Houston – One of the biggest whirlwinds of the year was the events that led to me being on tour with Silent Planet and Beartooth. So, I tried to slow things down as much as possible and be intentional about the work I was putting out on this short run. One of the first days of the tour we were in Houston at the House of Blues. I looked out at the balcony and loved how it looked. So, I asked Garrett if he’d take a couple minutes to let me shoot a few portraits of him. We climbed up the stairs and I used my flash to light the scene up just a tad. I was so excited to get back and edit the photos, and this ended up being my favorite from the little session.
4. Beartooth – March – Dallas – Last year my favorite photo came from So What?! Festival in Dallas, so it seemed only fitting that one of my favorites from this year would also come from that festival. I have shot my fair share of festivals, but So What?! remains as my most loved to shoot. The setup on a baseball field is so unique and I always run into so many friends from across the country. I hadn’t really taken that many photos of Beartooth yet on this tour. So, I was stoked to shoot them in the daytime and finally see if I could get some solid shots of them. Their sets are always electric, but everything was so much bigger on this day. Their crowd was bigger. They sounded bigger. With this photo I accomplished exactly what I wanted to that day, which was showing just how much energy and emotion they put into their shows – Caleb on the ground screaming his heart out and Kamron and Oshie in the back doing their classic posi-jumps.
5. Corey Kilgannon – April – Chicago – Possibly my best friend in the world is Corey Kilgannon. We’ve known each other for so long and have gone on so many random adventures together (like booking our own tour throughout Germany and flying over there on a whim), which is why I never say no when he asks me to hit the road with him. In March and April he hit the road with a duo called Penny & Sparrow (who have also become some of my best friends on top of being some of the best musicians and people I know). This tour was some of the most fun I had all year. Corey and I travelled by car, played some of the best cities in the US, played a whole lot of pool, and picked Andy and Kyle from Penny & Sparrow’s brains a whole lot. This photo was taken at the Chicago show as Corey was walking down the stairs that led to the stage. I don’t remember what or who he was looking back at, but being able to capture fleeting, candid moments like this one is a huge reason why I love taking photos.
6. Underoath – April – Minneapolis – High school was a weird time for me, but heavy music was one of the ways I got through it, with Underoath being my absolute favorite. I was so bummed when I didn’t get to go to what I thought was the final show of their career a few years ago in Tampa, which is why I was ecstatic when I got to see them not once, but twice this year – and on top of that they were playing my two favorite records of theirs from front to back: “They’re Only Chasing Safety” and “Define the Great Line.” The first time I saw them was at So What?! Fest and unfortunately only their staff was allowed to shoot UO’s set, but then I happened to be in Minneapolis the same night they were playing in town. So, I hit up their label and got a photo pass. I remember having so many emotions that night. I was incredibly nervous to take photos of my most revered band, but I was so excited to hear those two records in a club setting. I don’t even remember taking this photo, to be completely honest. Everything is such a blur from that night, but what I do remember is having a blast and that Underoath is still the best live band in alternative music.
7. Dan McWhorter – May – Belleville, N.J. – It’s crazy to think of how much time I’ve spent with the Gideon boys over the last couple years. I remember seeing them a bunch in high school and being mesmerized by how much energy they had on stage and how wild kids went during their set. Now, fast forward to May of this year and I had the opportunity to hang out with them in the studio for a week while they worked on their first record under Equal Vision Records. I drank a lot of coffee, spent a lot of late nights watching them record and staying up to talk life with them, and went into NYC a couple times with Dan on days when things were moving a bit slower. I couldn’t really tell you what was going on in this photo, but the joy on Dan’s face represents one of the reasons why I love being around these guys. There’s never a dull moment.
8. Christina Thompson – May – Portland, Ore. – One of my favorite trips of the year was one of the two airline tickets I purchased myself. In between being in the studio in New Jersey with Gideon and starting The Ongoing Concept’s headliner in Denver I decided to fly out to Portland, Ore, relax for a few days, and explore with my friend Christina. I had been wanting to make it out to PDX for quite some time after getting a tease of the city a couple times on tour. So, finally I took the plunge. On my last day there we drove out to the coast. The photo above is easily one of my favorites of the year and is also a representation of one of the best days. I have very few friends outside the music industry as a result of literally being on tour 11 months out of the year. This day was so refreshing and relaxing. I could repeat this day forever and be content.
9. Davey Muise – June – Houston – I remember seeing behind-the-scenes photos from Vans Warped Tour growing up and thinking how cool it must be to be a part of this tour. I thought the pinnacle of success was getting on Warped (which now I realize that’s not the ceiling in the music industry, but an incredible opportunity), and ever since I started taking photos my goal was to get on this tour. In fact, the second time I ever picked up a camera was at Warped a few years back. I was so excited to be a part of the tour this year with Vanna and Silent Planet. It was on day three that I got my favorite photo of the long, hot summer. One of the most sacred times every day is the few moments leading up to the set. Nerves are high. Guys are stretching out and warming up. This shot shows Davey in the gear truck behind the stage, stretching out and grabbing a moment of serenity before Vanna’s set in Houston.
10. The Maine – June – New Orleans – Probably the hottest and most humid day of Warped was New Orleans. We were right on the river and people were dropping from heat strokes more than usual. I didn’t venture out much that day, but I had been wanting to shoot The Maine since I enjoyed the one night I was a part of their tour with Mayday Parade and Better Off a few months earlier. Almost every morning I would grab the schedule at 9:30 when it was released and write out a schedule of my own of bands I wanted to shoot throughout the day in the event that I had a little free time. I just happened to have a few moments where I felt like going out and shooting for a bit that day. So, I ran over to the main stages and snapped a few, very quick, photos of The Maine. It just so happened to be at just the right time when the sun was beginning to set and was peeking out over the top of the stage. I set up real low below the singer, John, and shot him, trying to frame it just right, with him in focus and the sun just showing up in the top of the photo. I still love how this shot turned out.
11. Waka Flocka Flame – August – San Diego – Another whirlwind moment of the year was when I was asked to shoot for Waka Flocka Flame for a few days on Warped. He was on the tour for a week and the first couple days his photographer didn’t show up. So, through a friend I was connected with his crew and given full access to shoot Waka. The first day it all happened so quickly that I don’t remember the set at all. I felt like I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off for 45 minutes. Right before he went on in San Diego he was in a fantastic mood, posing for me a bunch and smiling a whole lot. This photo was the last in a series of shots where he tried to look real tough pouring out a bottle of water, but he couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of him trying to be tough. I feel so privileged to have seen a little bit of the behind-the-scenes of such a huge cultural influencer.
12. Pink Feathers – August – Portland, Ore. – Last year I saw this group called RAC randomly play at Webster Hall in New York City when I was there on another tour. I took a few photos and ended up posting one on Instagram, which they asked me to send to them. Since then I’ve kept in contact with them and I hit them up when I ended up sticking around in Portland at the end of Warped. Liz got back to me and said she was in need of some promos for her solo project, Pink Feathers, and she had a plethora of ideas and locations for a shoot. So, we got together and took some fun, conceptual photos. This one in particular was at one of my favorite places in Portland: the International Rose Garden. I am so proud of how this whole set turned out and I’m glad to have been able to work with Liz.
13. Alex Camarena – September – Grand Rapids, MI – I have done so much touring with Silent Planet over the last two years that I really have to get creative to do new things live, but candids are still as exhilarating as ever. The boys were playing H-O-R-S-E with the Aussies in Make Them Suffer before the gig in Grand Rapids when I just happened to be standing above the hoop and snapped this shot of Alex going for a dunk. There’s nothing like a solid game to get Alex in a good mood. This guy is the best at pretty much any game you can think of – I’ve spent many a day on tour trying to beat him at Kan Jam.
14. Against The Current – November – Montreal, Que. – Going into this tour with Against The Current I was incredibly nervous. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking going out with a crew I’ve never met, but especially when it’s in a genre that I’ve never toured in. I was so excited to get out there and show them what I could do though, and this ended up being some of the most fun I’ve had on tour. The shows were a blast and it was cool to mix things up a bit. Before the show in Montreal I scouted out the balcony and ways to get easy access up there so that I could try to get the perfect shot from up there that night. This was only a few days into the tour. So, I hadn’t quite memorized the production yet to know the best moments to grab certain shots, but I just so happened to get up on the balcony at the perfect time and got really lucky with this photo.
15. Will Ferri – December – Seattle, Wash. – Sometimes the best photos happen spontaneously, other times you have to make them happen. This was a bit of both. We were in Seattle during one of the worst snow storms the area had seen in a very long time and I knew this would be a perfect moment to capture some great portraits of the band and crew. So, after the show, while everyone was loading out, I pulled as many people as I could aside for a few moments and snapped photos of them each as the snow was coming down, perfectly illuminated by the street lights. It was like a scene out of a movie. I love this photo of Will, not just because of the photo itself, but because he ended up printing it onto a blanket as a Christmas present. It’s so rewarding knowing my photo played a part in making someone’s Christmas.
16. For Today – December – Dallas – I had to throw in this photo because it means the world to me. For Today has done so much for me, from giving me opportunities to being some of my good friends to giving me advice when I need it. I’ve done a lot of tours with them, in fact my first tour was a short run they headlined. My tour with Against The Current ended perfectly for me to fly out to Dallas and see For Today’s last two shows of their career. I was so bummed when I heard they had decided to call it quits, but being able to see their final show and capture those last moments was a perfect way to end the chapter. I love every member of this band and crew so much and I cannot wait to see what they do individually in this next phase of their lives.