If you give the people a reason to forget you, that’s just what they’ll do. Conversely, if you keep giving them a reason NOT to forget you, then you’re onto something.
It’s been 7 years since Joe Cafarella walked out of another sold out stemm show at the Town Ballroom only this time, STEMM was saying “farewell”. Not a week has gone by since that night that he, and the other members of that band haven’t been asked about the band, will they come back, and when! I’ve been one of those people, while I may be friends with the guys in stemm, I wasn’t always, I started off as just a fan. Now, 20 years after I first seen stemm play at a VFW Hall in Niagara Falls, NY, 15 years after becoming actual friends, I had to reach out to Joe for a long overdue interview with The Metal. We are a Buffalo based Webzine for all things heavy after all, why not talk to someone who had their hand firmly in this metal cookie jar for 13 years. Whether you loved them or hated them, you had an opinion, typically a staunch one at that. All in all I think this is an honest and genuine conversation between a couple guys who’ve been friends for 15 years now. This interview is for fans of the band, haters of the band, and most important to me other bands in our scene and worldwide that wanna hear a few tricks of the trade from someone who’s 1. Been in the game for 25 plus years, and 2. Still making a career out of it today. Without further ado:
In December of 1998, a new band emerged from Niagara Falls NY by the name of STEMM. But, before we get to STEMM portion of the interview, I want to begin by asking you about 1990-1992. You had a band that featured future members of STEMM, Mario and Alex by the name of Infestation.
Mike Deitzman: What was the climate like for metal at that time, and why do you think that’s such a revered era now?
Joe Cafarella: Hi Mike! First I want to say thanks for having me for this interview! That is an interesting question in regard to the late 80’s early 90’s Buffalo underground scene.
Looking back to those days, #1 we were all kids fresh out of high school or early 20’s so EVERYTHING was fresh and exciting for many of us on the scene.
The 1 thing that I can say about that era is it was an “underground scene” and it flourished. It was not uncommon to have a death metal band & a hardcore band on the same show. There was a TON of variety from thrash, death metal, black metal, grindcore, punk and hardcore. The genres were not segregated, everyone supported each other for the most part and the scene flourished. you could go to a show on a Wednesday night and there could be 150 to 300 kids at a show. Because of the variety of genres, we were exposed to different styles of metal that we never heard of before and became fans and learned that there are many flavors in the world of extreme underground music.
Infestation, while I enjoyed the demo when I heard it, and from all accounts were very well received at that time, did have a short shelf life, as did a lot of bands in what I refer to as the “demo” era. What were some of the more noteworthy things you accomplished in the Infestation days? I think a lot of old school fans will remember, (and this is a few years before my time, but the stories stand the test of time for me) that while we did have some noteworthy bands and figures in the Buffalo death metal scene go on to make great impact, like Cannibal, like Baphomet, like Glen and the Deicide guys, but every band had followings, every band did some cool things in their short time period.
Ironically, some of my best friends to this day came from that Buffalo Underground Scene. In fact, just about every member of STEMM past & present came form an extreme band from those days. Our original drummer (Jimi Penque) was in Atrosity, Zero Tolerance & Despair, Our original bassist (Russ Martin) was in Grotesque Infection & Organism, our drummer (Danno Nelligan) in STEMM who replaced Jimi was in Eternal Torment & helped out plenty of bands in need of a drummer, TJ Frost (STEMM vocalist) was the vocalist for Baphomet, and as you mentioned in your 1st question, Alex & Mario were in Infestation with me leading up to STEMM.
As far as accomplishments, as I mentioned, we were kids. EVERYTHING was exciting to us from our 1st demo to our 1st show. It was rewarding to be on stage and have the crowd go crazy to what you were doing.
The Buffalo Underground Scene was one big dysfunctional family but we all looked out for each other. Back then, Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse bassist) would be at EVERY show he could make when he wasn’t on tour until the day Corpse moved to Florida. The same for TJ and Dave when they were in Baphomet. They would come to the shows and mosh with the fans. Even though Cannibal Corpse and Baphomet were leading the way and putting Buffalo, NY on the map, they never treated you as if they were beneath you. Usually after a show, we all wound up at some party together.
Fast forward to late 1998 and you emerge again in a new… nu? (laughs) metal band called STEMM. This was an enormous departure in almost every possible way from Infestation.
What was the catalyst in the creation of STEMM?
Well, believe it or not… Toward the end of Infestation, I was singing for a rock band similar to Alice in Chains. This was a brand new thing for me as I went from being a death metal vocalist to learning how to sing melodically… That band didn’t go to far and we started doing cover music to make money. People started freaking out as I became a better singer when we did Alice in Chains covers but people really went crazy when we did some Pearl Jam covers…
At this point, Pearl Jam had just put out their 2nd album “VS” and were hitting that “Untouchable” status. So we capitalized on that and started a Tribute to Pearl Jam called “Mookie Blaylock” (I’ll let you all do the homework on why we named the band) and I played the part of “Eddie Cheddar” for 3 years…. We packed bars and night clubs for 3 years as big as 1000 room venues but, I was not content. The money was great…But I REALLY wanted to play original music again. I wanted to play heavy again but not extreme metal. After learning how to sing melodically for 4 years, I wanted to keep things heavy but commercial to some extent.
I was and still am a HUGE fan of Max Cavalera / Soulfly, Rage Against The Machine, Korn and the Deftones. We tried our best to keep the spectrum wide open in STEMM. We could obviously play as heavy as we wanted, but we threw in the Nu-Metal tones.
MD: Almost right off the bat, you guys skyrocket into the top band in the area. Your fans, the “Stemmlins” are fiercely loyal, and legitimately have stayed loyal through all iterations of the band and even still today, almost 7 years since the final show.
What are some of the things you did in the early days, to build up your following?
JC: I wouldn’t say that we skyrocketed into anything. We struggled but we were determined. We learned a lot from the extreme metal days to playing in a HUGE money making cover band about the business but most importantly, how to draw and KEEP a fan base… We experimented quite a bit with business / promotional tactics in STEMM.
I personally am guilty of having a sick infatuation with the music industry. I was always reading books about promotion and reading interviews about how other bands promoted themselves and tried to use as many tactics as our financial budget could afford. We started off in STEMM making a 2 song demo. We printed 200 demo tapes, 1000 promo stickers, made a website, printed thousands of flyers and hit the shows, taped our flyers on every telephone pole and any local business that would allow us to put a flyer in their window. We gave everything away for free to ANYONE who complimented our shows. We would stand outside of high school events like a football game and hand out flyers and demos. We believed that we needed to have an image….Or a brand… We did whatever it took to get our name out… We used to have a joke that we should see neighborhood dogs with STEMM flyer taped around it.
MD: Subsequently, what advice can you give a band today, especially from your area, since a lot of Buffalo bands read this zine, on how to build and MAINTAIN their audience?
JC: You know, that is really a loaded question. The HONEST truth is, do you want to do this as a hobby or do you want to go for it all? It should be fun no matter which path you choose be it hobby or career path.
So much has changed since STEMM began in 1998 to present day with the music industry – The best advice I can give is, learn as much as you can about the business…. The music industry changes these days, something that worked 6 months ago is now obsolete. I say music industry because, if you are band and you make an album, make merchandise to sell and book a show, you now just walked into the world of the music industry. In this day and age, it is all about understanding social media, how to promote and understand the language that is used in social media. (Something you promote on Facebook does not get the same response on Twitter and there are reasons for that)…. We used to walk the streets handing out and hanging flyers….With social media, you can sit on your smart phone or computer and that is WAY MORE EFFECTIVE promoting your band than passing out a paper flyer if you take the time to learn. I know musicians who are very successful financially as an independent and never played 1 show.
It’s all about being personable, being approachable be it in person or online and actually talking to your potential fans. This is not an easy business. It can be a fun business. But YOU have to put in the time and effort. There is no such thing as “artist development” in this day and age of the music industry.
MD: What were the differences in booking out of town shows, dating back to the Infestation days, through the Stemm days?
JC: Not much! (laughs) We traded shows once we knew we had a solid following. We tried to trade shows with bands that also had a solid following in their hometown.
MD: What were some of your favorite moments in Stemm?
JC: Oh man… I wouldn’t even know when to stop! (laughs) Hearing our music to this day on UFC / Ultimate Fighting Championship TV shows is just as exciting now as the 1st day we watched it happen…. I have shared the stage with bands that inspired me as a writer from Sevendust to meeting Max Cavalera and playing with Soulfly nearly every time they passed through our region…. Touring with Chimaira on multiple occasions…. Playing the Whisky A-Go-Go in Hollywood, California was a big deal to me. To be able to stand on the same stage that launched The Doors, Van Halen, Guns n Roses, Motley Crue and so many other major acts was incredible to me. The MOST incredible thing was, having so many people support us as a band. To this day, we treat our fans like family.
MD: You created one of the more iconic songs in the history of sports with “Face The Pain”. Tell us about the story of that song and how it came to be that you became affiliated with the UFC. What are some of the things you’ve gotten out of that partnership?
JC: Our relationship with the UFC was pure luck / right place / right time. A very good friend of mine (Guitarist Bruce Wojick) who at the time was in a huge rock band KLEAR from Niagara Falls asked me for a STEMM promo package. He had a friendship with someone originally from Buffalo, NY now working for the UFC who wanted to consider Bruce’s music for the UFC but, it was not heavy enough. All Bruce did was look out for another band that he respected and sent our music to the UFC. 2 weeks later, they were using our songs on ESPN “As Real As It Gets” TV show.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship used 25+ STEMM songs since 2002.
The STEMM song “Face the Pain” was written for UFC 40 Ken Shamrock vs Tito Ortiz… It was at this point where Dana White himself called me during a conference call saying “I would love a song that would set the tone for this fight. If you could write it in the mindset of a fighter in the octagon, that would be a plus for this event!”
The UFC was poised to put their brand on the map with this fight. We demoed 3 songs that week, 1 song being “Face the Pain” and 1 week later, the UFC producers flew to Buffalo, NY to record “Face the Pain” at Select Sound Studios.
It wasn’t until 1 year later, after testing several songs that the UFC producers called us to say “Congratulations! Face the Pain is the official theme song for the Ultimate Fighting Championship”
I am proud and shocked to say that the UFC still uses STEMM songs here in 2019…. None of this would have happened had my friend Bruce not looked out for us. It was a very selfless act on his part.
MD: December 1st, 2012. You performed at the Town Ballroom, in what was dubbed the Farewell Show. I know that wasn’t something you took lightly, did you honestly feel like there wasn’t much more the band could accomplish?
How important was it for that final show to bring out every era of the band, from the Louie days, to the TJ and Steve days all the way through the final 2 albums, Bloodscent and Crossroads?
JC: We were in a bad spot during that time. The tech boom in the music industry pretty much disarmed us from everything that was working for us over the years and we were burned out, not willing to learn something new.
I was upset that we were going to play our final show. 14 years of hard work and we were spinning our wheels. If we were going to play a “final show” I wanted to honor our fans who stood by our side during the line up changes over the years. It was fun having Louis & TJ on stage together as we moved through the history of the band and the perfect way to put the band into a wall at 120mph.
MD: From 1998-2012 STEMM was almost like a freight train in terms of how busy it kept you, every single day for over 13 years you were doing something involving the band, be it press, recording, promoting events, local shows, regional shows, touring… something was going on every single day, my question is, what was your mindset in the days following that farewell show? How difficult was it separating “Joe” from “Joe from Stemm” ?
JC: It was a great run. A TON of ups and downs over the years with line up changes but, our fans ALWAYS kept us going when we felt we could go no longer. It might sound a bit deranged but… there’s nothing quite like having a shit day and getting a message from a fan that our music saved their life… It kinda makes my problems go away when I read some of the things fans have said to us.
After the show, I was relieved to a point. I truly feel like we accomplished everything we wanted to do artistically. We were bummed out that we could not take things to a higher level. We managed ourselves, booked ourselves, promoted ourselves… There was countless nights when I woke up with my face on my computer keyboard because I worked until I passed out.
After the last show, it was a sense of sadness but relief for me. I had the option to try something new….
MD: Tell me about what you’ve been doing in the years post Stemm? I know you have been keeping pretty busy on a farm with your wife and the family, but you never did stop writing music, what have you been up to, and how has that been for you?
JC: Well, my wife and I have a 50 acre farm. We have chickens, goats, 1 pig as a little homestead / hobby farm. My wife runs a horse rehome / rescue operation where we take in horses that people have fell on hard times with. We find the horses a new home, some are in bad health or in need of training. We give the horses what they need and work with them to find them a new home. We work with the SPCA as well. What we do keeps these horses form going to auction. Not many people down on their luck with their horse understand that a horse going to auction usually winds up in the hands of a “Kill Buyer” which means, the horse is not going to a new home. It’s going to slaughter. These horses have A LOT of life in them. So we take the horses, work with them and find them good homes…. That is mainly my wife’s passion. I am a good ground person but she is the “horse whisperer” (laughs)
Since STEMM, I took the advice of the UFC producers to keep writing music. I started a company called “Seeing Red Music” http://www.seeingredmusic.com where I am hired to write music for production libraries and they place my music on TV, Film and Video Games. My drummer Danny from STEMM and a few other friends work together to get these albums out for the music production libraries.
MD: About a year or so ago, the Stemm social media pages became super active, and you began reposting all your music on various platforms (spotify, Apple Music, YouTube etc) and there’s been some interesting comments about the possibility of NEW music on the way. Is that the case? When will we see some new music from STEMM?
JC: Since Danny & I have been working together doing production music, he would flip out saying I was throwing away good future STEMM songs. Our partner / co-writer / producer is Mike Hatalak who also played guitar for Trustkill Records Buffalo, NY act “IT DIES TODAY”…. Mike has been pushing for a new STEMM album for a few years…. We have been having so much fun writing, we decided to put out some new STEMM material. Problem is, we have been SO BUSY writing for these libraries, there is only so much that we can do. We do plan on having some new music out in 2019. I do not know how much material, but it will be coming 😉
MD: If I don’t ask this next question Stemm fans will crucify me… (you knew it was coming, you probably have 15 notifications right now asking the same question)
Do you even have the slightest interest in getting back on that stage as STEMM even one more time?
JC: I do miss playing. I miss seeing my friends…. I miss the fans… I won;t say that a STEMM show is a possibility just yet. We all have different lives, we don’t live in the same area / state anymore, no rehearsal space, no van & trailer and we all have jobs. So playing a STEMM show will be something that we all would have to agree to and commit to. The #1 thing we KNOW we can do is write and record music together and with the power of today’s technology, we do not have to be in a room together to make new music. Our goal is to get new music out and cross the bridge of other possibilities when we get there.
MD: You do consultations with bands now, and I think as someone who’s toured as much as you, had the success you did, that you have invaluable information you can give in a one on one consultation, but generally speaking what are some things you can suggest to bands out there today reading this, the ones that are working hard in the studio on shows, can do to elevate their current position to the next level and beyond?
JC: I’ve been in the game for 20+ years. Everyday, I feel like a new student in the music industry. I am still a fan of music. You can never stop learning. In todays world, the last thing you want or need is a record deal.
The tools are now available to ALL OF US to be successful as an independent artist. You have to put the time in as a writer, an artist and to learn about promotion and the power of social media. It can be done. I am living proof. It’s not a get rich quick deal. But it can be done. As a music consultant, I like to talk to a client and have them talk to me about some of their goals so I can help set them up with a plan.
There’s a saying in today’s music industry “If you are not willing to put the time in to learn and work to get your music out to the masses, please get the fuck out of the way for the people who are.”
The philosophy is really that simple….
MD: There’s a lot more I can ask, but hopefully we can do a Round 2, soon. I’ll just leave you with this final question…
What’s been your motivation in all these years you’ve been an active musician? What’s kept the fires lit so to speak?
JC: I have learned that I have a skill as a songwriter. No different than being an electrician or plumber. At least for now, I have a skill that people appreciate and that to me is a blessing to be able to write music and call it your job. To this day, my wife watches me squirm when people ask what I do for a living and I say “I am a songwriter” because it doesn’t feel real to me… I was a truck driver for 21 years while I was trying to also be a professional musician.
I ALWAYS have a song in my head. I have met so many incredible writers and producers in this business, my work is on hip hop, country, rock and metal.
Writing music keeps me sane, (I think) and out of therapy…
Ultimately, I don’t take orders well from anyone… Unless your name is Mrs Cafarella 😉
MD: Thank you, my guy! Thank you for the interview, thank you for the music, and thank you for all the behind the scenes shit you helped me out with over the years as I figure out my own road in this business. Here’s a link to most places you can find Joe or STEMM at on social media:
Infestation demo on YouTube:
SEEING RED MUSIC http://www.seeingredmusic.com
Linkedin – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jodahc
Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/jodahc
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/STEMMBAND
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/stemmband
Twitter – @5temm
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/stemmtech
Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/stemmband