When he’s not aboard Iron Maiden’s private jet en route to a 50,000-plus stadium gig in South America or Europe, Anthrax guitarist Jonathan Donais says there’s no place he’d rather be than his Easthampton home and “triangle.”
“‘The Triangle’ is what I call this little circuit of bars I can walk to from my home — Amy’s, Brass Cat, and Se7ens,” he explains. “After a day of doing things around the house (painting the kitchen this particular day), running errands (a new shirt from Old Navy this particular day) or whatever, I know I can go to the triangle and always see friends and family.”
And — on some occasions — fans, of course.
Donais is one of several Valley musicians who lead a double life, so to speak: mowing his lawn on your street in Easthampton one day and seeming to fall off the face of the earth for weeks on end and you wonder what his “deal” is?
His “deal” is that he is kind of a big deal. With a record deal. And all of the world tours and personal tales involving some of the most notable names in rock’s Rolodex that such a distinction affords.
But Donais is quick to preface that straight up, “Oh my God, you’re him” cold sightings are a rarity and that he is easily “the least recognizable” member of his own band.
“I mean, those guys were on MTV, posters and there were a lot more metal magazines then” notes Donais, who first blipped on the national radar as a founding member of Shadows Fall in the mid-90s. “So guys like (fellow Anthrax guitarist) Scott (Ian) get it everywhere they go.”
Even when the first flickerings of any sort of celeb connection are being made, it’s also a tricky dance.
“You know, I’m trapped between being a music fan myself, wanting to engage with our fans but not come off as ‘do you know who I am?’ or a name-dropper,” he says. “I’m laid back by nature, too, so I just let the conversation flow naturally and if it goes there, it goes there.”
“You have to understand, I was a fan of Anthrax before I was in Anthrax,” he explains. “So of course many of my other music heroes are my bandmates’ peers. This creates a situation where I could be backstage warming up and catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. ‘Um, ok. Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains just walked in. That’s pretty cool.’ Meanwhile, the other guys in Anthrax are high-fiving him with ‘Jerry, how are you brother?’”
Other times, the big-name-versus-buddy dynamic has even led Donais to ponder his own role in certain equations.
“We were going to do an AC/DC cover during a recent LA House of Blues show, and the manager says to me ‘hey, is it okay if Slash jumps on and plays with you?’” Donais recalls. “So I say ‘sure’ and start taking my guitar off to hand it to him when he goes ‘No, no. Not your guitar, WITH you.’ So we start playing, Slash walks up… I’m doing my thing but can’t help turning my head once and while and saying ‘Wow, Slash is rocking out with us, two feet from me.’ Probably never could have imagined that when I met him briefly at Pearl Street in the mid-90s when I went to see Slash’s Snake Pit show as a fan.”
Unlike most of the rock stars you read about, Donais 1) will be the first to tell you he isn’t ‘rock star rich’ and 2) does not partake in extravagance, debauchery, or the proverbial life in the fast lane when he returns home to Easthampton.
“I’m happy to make a living doing what I love, but sure, most of the big money guys are older,” he says. “They’d get the publishing for their big rock songs that played on the radio and up the charts… that people would wait in line for at the record store. They were on MTV and their videos sold magazines, posters, T-shirts, and concert tees at a whole different level.”
He adds that, to his thinking, the current generation is much more instant. “They want it now: Spotify, Apple Music, what have you,” he explains. “And if they don’t like it in 10 seconds, it’s on to the next. Back in the day, of course, $10 was a lot of money. And if you invested in an album or disc and spent that $10, you were going to listen to it, and hopefully it would grow on you.”
Even if he were to fall into hair-band era fortunes, however, Donais doubts that he would break from his present, local routine.
“For me, like when you are on a tour bus, we have TVs, but you are either watching on a bigger screen with a big group or your holding an iPad with headphones in your cubby,” he says. “So when I get home, I hit the couch, stretch out, and binge. Right now, I’m all about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. Then like I said, stuff around the house, The Triangle… If I mix it up, it’s with something like The Big E, which I love. Maybe Hampton Beach.”
And you’re able to just flip a switch on this? Fifty thousand head banging fans to couch surfing and Mrs. Maisel?
“I am.” Donais chuckles. “I mean, of course, when we’re rocking out at arenas and festival, is a major adrenaline rush. And if you want to keep the party going, you could move to L.A., which I did for a couple years. It was just too much for me though. I find it much more grounding to come home, be with friends, and do the things I used to do when life was much simpler.”
Jeanne (Sagan) Wawrzyniak
Even a cursory glimpse of Jeanne Sagan’s rock resume reveals that her metal credentials are definitely in check. In years past, the Springfield native has held down the bottom for local notables Light Is The Language, Ligeia, and All That Remains.
Now Jeanne Wawrzyniak, after marrying husband Scott, she says she has nestled into a nice, little Nutmeg State groove between her home in Waterbury, day job at Cross Culture Kombucha in Danbury and home base for her present band, Crossing Rubicon, in Bristol.
“I actually play bass and sing back up in Rubicon with my husband Scott,” she says. “We just released our second full length, Seeing Red, on Imminence Records. So there will be touring. People always want to hear these big rockstar stories, crowds… people you’ve met. Most of what I have taken away from touring is doing touristy things like going to museums, consuming local things, and meeting fans. I’m really looking forward to continuing that with Rubicon.”
Never one to betray her beloved Bay State, Wawrzyniak notes that the official video for the new album’s title track was recorded at the Ludlow Elk’s Club, too.
“The video is on YouTube and it includes Battlefront Pro Wrestling star Justin Credible,” she adds. “That was a pretty amazing experience and anyone into wrestling should really check out one of their events.”
When not rocking out with Rubicon or crafting Kombucha, Wawrzyniak says she loves to watch movies. She’s also an avid reader, and recently acquired a retro gaming fascination vying for her time as well.
“My husband got me both Nintendo minis,” she reveals, “so those are pretty awesome nostalgia to play.”
Another familiar face among the “Triangle” is Easthampton-ite Matt Bachand, who shares both a musical past (as he has also emerged from Shadows Fall) and a similar lifestyle approach to Donais.
“You don’t realize how important your own bed is until you’re away from it, that’s for sure,” the present bassist for thrash metal supergroup Act of Defiance (featuring members of Megadeth) echoes. “There is the non-stop action in the bigger cities, too, but in addition to that, I also experienced incredible levels of fakeness. A constant smokescreen of ego and who’s more important than who.”
Still, with nearly a quarter century in the biz at the tender age of 42, Bachand is not without his international assessments — and highlights — from his high decibel globetrotting.
“We did a few European festivals last summer and I have to say, those fans are super dedicated,” he notes. “I mean here, there are bands people love, then newer bands come out, and people dig them… kind of bounce around. In Europe, it’s like ‘I bought this Scorpions shirt in 1968. Scorps or die!’”
Also across the pond, circa 2005, Bachand recalls one of the more memorable brushes with icons that is forever crystallized in his head.
“We were playing Ozzfest, and I look over, side stage, and there is Steve Harris from Iron Maiden just watching me play,” he remembers. “I’m thinking, I can’t believe this. This is one of my idols, whom I’ve listened to my whole life, and he’s watching me play, this 27-year-old kid from Massachusetts.”
In the space between touring and recording, Bachand says he also prefers to stay close to home. Quite literally, in fact, as his number one non-audio related interest is to tackle projects on or around his home.
“I love it,” he says. “Any given day, I can be doing anything from painting or electrical to, say, digging out a 2,000 gallon hole in my front yard and installing a koi pond.”
While fortunate to be making a living doing what he loves to do — including helping out up-and-coming acts with advice, contacts, or even production at times — he also confirms that the metal industry certainly isn’t as “precious” as it used to be; back when platinum album sales afforded rockers opportunities like lining garages with Italian imports and keeping Bengal tigers in their backyard.
“There used to be a lot of money in this game,” he explains, “And it affects a lot more than most people think. I mean, we all know people aren’t buying albums now. Why buy an album when you can stream for $5 a month? OK, so how do the record labels recoup on the studio costs? Prices go up on concert tickets and merchandise, creating lower concert attendance and sales. So the pie couldn’t be sliced any thinner, and everyone else gets paid before the actual musician gets their check.”
Despite the bleak fiscal prognosis, it’s experiences like the one Bachand recently experienced at Easthampton’s Se7ens that truly fills his proverbial tank. And it didn’t cost more than 15 minutes of his time and a pint of beer. A Shadows Fall fan came up to him shyly and told him his music got him through some hard times — then proceeded to roll up his shirt to reveal an entire sleeve of Shadows Fall lyric tattoos on his arm.
“Okay, so it’s like that. There are fans, and fans like you… I don’t even know what to say except that I am so honored,” Bachand told him.
In an effort to honor their musical influence and, more importantly, have some fun, Bachand and Donais team up with members of Ross The Boss, All That Remains, and Let Us Prey to perform locally when schedules allow. That cover project, dubbed Kobra Kai (and formed prior the YouTube premium Karate Kid revival of same name), prides itself on a setlist that often includes everything from “Poison to Pantera.”
As of press time, this Kobra clan has signed on to sink its collective teeth into three area venues this summer. Catch them at Poor Richards in Chicopee July 20, Bonehead’s Live in Fall River Aug. 17 and Feeding Hills’ The Tank on Sept. 21.
Greenfield’s Don McAulay has also inhaled the rarified air of opening and performing with national artists. Throughout his years manning the drum throne for the likes of Valley notables Spouse and Ware River Club, he has found himself sharing stages with the likes of Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Neil Young. He still frequents the local circuit with projects involving Kate Lorenz and the Constellations and Spirit House featuring Andrew Jones.
These days, however, he’s also associated with none other than what many refer to the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time, The Rolling Stones.
“Yeah, for a few years now, I am Charlie Watts’ drum tech, making sure that he has everything he needs and sounding the way he wants be it live, the studio, whatever,” McAulay says on a phone call from Chicago, where the Stones recently kicked off their 2019 “No Filter” tour.
The supporting role is certainly not a novelty for him. He’s tech-ed for everyone from NRBQ to Faith No More and Neil Young in year’s past.
He landed his present, high profile gig in 2012 on a recommendation from a friend who also happens to be Keith Richards’ guitar tech.
“It’s all very fitting, perhaps, too, as the Stones’ sound really seems to hinge on Charlie and Keith,” he explains courtesy of his coveted time in the band’s proverbial engine room. “Charlie and Keith really feed off each other, and of course, they know each other so well from decades of growing up together, riding in vans together… walking on stage together. No matter how many times you see them play together… a concert, a soundcheck, or just sitting around sort of off the cuff, it’s truly an amazing chemistry and connection to watch.”
While not a full-time employment opportunity — this first leg of the tour is only scheduled out to August — McAuley adds that the Rolling relationship has also spawned a couple nice side jobs.
“I’m always looking for unique drum sets for Charlie at pawn shops or wherever… especially any with any historic significance in terms of who played them,” he says. “There is also a traveling Rolling Stone exhibit, called ‘EXHIBITIONISM,’ that features many instruments and such from their private collections. That travels all over the world, and it’s my job to sort of follow it around, set up some of the exhibits so they are true to the Stones recording and live environments, as well as make sure they packed up, unpacked, and transported properly and safely.”
Absent of all of that, McCauley says he still spends a fair amount of time in his beloved Greenfield, where he runs a drum and furniture restoration business with his father, Don Sr.
As previously mentioned, he steps up from his tech duties to be a performer himself whenever the opportunity arises, and he and his wife take in as much local music — and cuisine — as possible, too.
“At this point, we could probably be considered regulars at Hope and Olive,” he notes. “We love that place. But the other really nice thing is that Kim is able to come with me on all of these Stones projects, so we truly have the best of both worlds.
And does the juxtaposition of it all ever blow your mind, say, when you are sitting The Four Leaf Clover restaurant in Bernardston and you think over coffee: “Wow. Yesterday I was working with Charlie and Ringo Starr came in and they started trading licks. Tomorrow, I fly out to Japan for the exhibit?”
“I suppose it would if I thought about it like that,” McAulay laughs. “But hey, everybody has to live somewhere, right?”