That perfect interview
by Pete Crigler
Over the course of just about a year, I've collected close to 40 different interviews through email and over the phone for my third book but there was always one in particular that I really wanted to connect with.
When I was about 9 years old, I heard about a band called For Squirrels out of Florida. A month before their major label debut Example was to be released, singer Jack Vigilatura, bassist Bill White and tour manager Tim Bender were killed when their van blew a tire when travelling from New York back home. Drummer Jack Griego and guitarist Travis Tooke were seriously injured. They eventually recovered and hit the road in early '96 when their Cobain-dedicated single "Mighty K.C." ended up getting some major radio play.
Soon, the band changed their name to Subrosa, recruited a new bassist and retreated to Canada with producer Nick Launay to record an album of gloom, depression and determination. The album, Never Bet the Devil Your Head, came out in the summer of '97 and promptly sank without a trace. After being dropped by their label, the band ended up going their separate ways around 1999 and the members scattered.
Bassist Andy Lord and guitarist Mike Amish joined Rain Phoenix's band papercranes, Travis Tooke went underground until 2007 when he released his first solo album and then formed a new project called Helixglow while Jack Griego went back to civilian life. From the time I discovered the band in 2002, I had wanted to get to know more about these guys, like long-lost brothers, in some weird fucked up way.
Finally around 2016, I started doing some snooping on Facebook and eventually found Jack and Andy Lord. Andy wasn't very forthcoming but by 2017, I had reached out to Jack and explained to him what I was trying to do and that I would love to include For Squirrels in this book. Finally in early 2018, just after I had shoulder surgery, Jack and I set a time for an interview. I had gotten all my questions together and was completely excited as I had always felt that interviewing one of these guys would be my ultimate interview.
The time came on 02/19/18 and I called Jack at his office in central Florida. I began my recorder and basically started going through his musical history and how he initially came to join the band. All the while, I was able to geek out and tell him about how much I loved both records and what certain songs had meant in my life. Finding out his musical background was a lot of punk rock helped me to appreciate the drum work on two of my favorite tracks, "Superstar" and "Long Live the King." The latter took on even more weight when discussing Vigilatura screaming "I love you" at the top of his lungs at the end of the song; the song is about his father and the relationship they had. Talk about heady. When it came time to discuss the crash, I declined to press him about it in gory detail because I'm not a vulture and I didn't want the interview to come across as morbid. Came to find out that Griego didn't know anything about the crash as he was unconscious throughout.
After expressing what his feelings were, we moved on to touring. It was during this time that the band encountered issues with their record label Sony. The label wanted them to keep the name and for a time, they did until they felt they had enough material to move on. Thus the change to Subrosa. Getting an insight how cathartic it was to make NBTDYH made listening to the album even more impressive and eye opening.
Ultimately, Jack left the band due to wanting to do other things than rock ‘n roll. The band talked about getting back together for a few shows last year but couldn't get their schedules and family time together, but the door is still open for a few local gigs.
Jack couldn't believe how much passion and love I had for this band but was grateful and appreciative of it. He knew that I knew my stuff and wasn't just some wannabe. After the interview was over, it took me forever to come down from my cloud of euphoria. Everyone else around me didn't get because they've never heard of this band but for me, it will be one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. Whenever you get to interview one of your all time favorites and they appreciate the love and devotion you have for a certain type of music, then everything you've ever gone through, all the sacrifices and bullshit is all worth it, no matter what anyone tells you.
PSF: When did you become interested in playing drums?
JG: I grew up listening to, rather than the standard '80's type stuff, I was getting introduced to the late 70's Ramones, Sex Pistols, cross over into early punk, you know, Minor Threat... All the good stuff. That was kind of my background, so in high school that's the kind of bands we put together. It turned from punk, into hardcore, into crossover, into speed metal.
PSF: When did you initially come to join For Squirrels?
JG: When I was coming out of high school, and I decided that I didn't want to work in a warehouse driving a forklift, this was before I went to Gainesville. I sold my mega drum kit that had two base drums, eight toms, 15 cymbals. I decided that I got to give that up because I need to study. I met my soon-to-be wife who happened to work right next to a record store. That record store was Yesterday Today. In Yesterday Today, there was this young gentleman by the name of Jack Vigliatura who worked there. My wife had befriended the owner, Scott Moodey, who was the manager of the store. She talked to Jack, and they happened to be looking for a new drummer, because their drummer quit. One thing led to another. I had a vintage '60's Slingerland kit that I still held onto. One thing led to another, and I joined the band. Oddly enough, the owner of Yesterday Today, ended up managing us. Richie Ulloa owned Yesterday Today in Miami, and then opened one in Gainesville. It was a very weird circle of events that led us to where we ended up being.
PSF: What was the music scene in Gainesville like at the time?
JG: Are you kidding me? It was fantastic. We had Bill Bryson, (who) was really the innovator, even today, he's really the godfather of the Gainesville music scene. As a matter of fact, recently he just purchased Florida Theater, and is now booking medium-to-larger shows. He used to own The Covered Dish, which was the place to play in Gainesville. We were all devastated when it closed. The bands that came through there, Green Day and Five-Eight from Atlanta, Descendents, there was just such a mixture of music. Less Than Jake got their start there. The Gainesville bands would obviously play there. It was just a really awesome time.
PSF: How did you guys come to record Baypath?
JG: With Baypath, the guys probably already had most of that put together before I joined the band. They gave me a demo cassette, and that was kind of, "here, this is what we're playing." So I memorized all that, put my own drums to it, and things like that. I think we wrote a couple other tunes...
PSF: Was Van Gogh one of those?
JG: Van Gogh was one of those. That was a really late add. That was kind of a, "hey, we needed an extra song," and they just kind of put it together. Bill White was an amazing musician and songwriter, as was Travis. Those guys really pulled some money together, I think it was $1,500 to be able to do that. We did it at a local recording studio, I don't even remember the name of it. We just did it. We pressed, I think, 1,000 of those. At some point when we started getting label interest, we got signed to a label. They took a couple of songs off that. I think they did a couple demo CD's, with a couple of songs on them, (but) didn't have the whole record. That was totally self funded.
PSF: When did the labels start coming around?
JG: Man, now you're pushing me. I'd actually have to look at my own bio information to figure that out. I really couldn't give you a date. It happened fairly quickly. We went down to, played a lot at the time, down at Miami. Richie Ulloa contacted some of the folks in the industry to have them come by and see a show. One thing led to another. We went up to New York and did a couple showcases, and finally got Sony 550's interest. During that time, we actually played in front of Clive (Davis) up there. That was a weird experience. They setup a show inside of an empty room, in a building full of studios. We were standing there, waiting on stage, waiting for it to happen. He walks in, and here we go, one, two, three, right into the music. We played two songs, and he walked out the door. Apparently, we didn't impress him.
PSF: What was it like signing with Sony? How do you feel about that now?
JG: The industry eats you up and spits you out, (it's that) type of industry. I don't think it'll ever get beyond that. Nowadays, it's certainly a little different, because of the social aspect of music, and being able to distribute music digitally. It's certainly a lot different than back then, when it was heavily marketed. It was hard merchandise. I'd have to go through an education seminar on how it is now compared to then.
PSF: What were the sessions for Example like?
JG: That was awesome. We recorded that at Compass Point in the Bahamas. That was an amazing time. We were hooked up with producer Nick Launay, who has an extensive resume. We got along really, really well. The place that we were staying, it was like a villa in the Bahamas. It happened to have an outer building that was a recording studio. You wake up, you go to the beach, you go to the pool, you visit the studio whenever that call time was. Everybody would put down the basic tracks and then do the solos and the special effects, and they needed to redo the drum track. That was a lot of fun. Then we mastered it. I don't remember the place where we mastered it, it was in South Beach.
PSF: Did you guys pick Nick, or was he selected by the label?
JG: The label came with their suggestions of producers. Initially, our management got to chime in on that, and it got down to a short list. We narrowed it down to a couple, and had a conversation with them. He had the personality that worked best with us.
PSF: What was the inspiration for songs like "Superstar," 8:02," and of course "Mighty K.C."?
JG: "Mighty K.C." is pretty straight forward, we actually put that together the week that Kurt committed suicide.
PSF: That song is still haunting to this day.
JG: Yeah. It's funny. That song, it was fun to play until it was just overdone. The weirdest thing was, I remember watching NBA basketball on TV, and all of a sudden, when they cut for a time out, you can hear a song in the background, and I heard it and I was like, "holy crap." "8:02," that came from Bill. That's his energy. That was a lot of fun to make. "Superstar," that was kind of Travis' baby. They would come with riffs and ideas and things like that, then I would put a framework of a beat to it. Then Bill, being more a conductor base, would really work out the framework of the song, where the bridges need to be, things of that nature. We worked pretty well together.
PSF: Was it difficult for you and Travis after the crash?
JG: Oh, sure. You had a lot of survivor's remorse. Particularly more certain from him, because of how long him and those guys had been together. He wasn't unconscious afterwards. He had an elbow injury. I was unconscious, I was being life lighted out of there, I didn't get to see the carnage.
PSF: At what point did you and Travis decide to carry on and pick up Andy?
JG: That happened really quickly. The idea of carrying on, we had worked so hard to get the record almost to release when that happened. We were like, "can't let our friends die." That's really the only reason we continued on as For Squirrels. Once it went as far as we could take it, we immediately changed the name because we weren't that anymore.
PSF: What was "success" like? Was it bitter sweet hearing "Mighty K.C." on the radio?
JG: It's a blur. It really is. Anytime you're in the middle of something like that ... I wouldn't call it 'success.' We had a moderate level of interest. Yeah. I can't imagine what the other groups do when they actually have success because the amount of press that we were doing, and radio, and calling in and talking, interviewing with publications. It was insane. To see, look at what we're doing, it was on a very modest level. I can't imagine what these other guys do, you'd be in a van, then a bus, you would wake up in the morning to do morning radio, then you'd have to get on the phone with different publications to do pressers for upcoming shows that are three weeks out. You drive in to wherever you are. It's really like the Spinal Tap, where you're looking inside your jacket and 'Welcome to Cleveland' type of thing.
PSF: Were they asking a lot about the crash?
JG: Yeah. Of course. It was the same questions. "How did you feel?" "What are you feeling?" "Why do you want to keep going?" "What's the label saying?"
PSF: And that probably just added to the anger?
JG: It certainly didn't let you get past it really quickly.
PSF: At what point did you guys decide to change the name?
JG: Once we had enough material to start looking at doing another record. We knew that we couldn't do it under the old name. The label wasn't that happy about it, even though they marketed it as "Formally For Squirrels," and put that on the CD's, and things of that nature. Every time you'd roll in somewhere, you'd see the name of the band with, in parentheses, "Formally For Squirrels."
PSF: I remember reading an article when the record came out that the first 10,000 copies had the "Formally For Squirrels" sticker on it. I have one of those copies.
JG: Oh, do you?
PSF: This must have been one of the early copies. What was it like making Never Bet the Devil?
JG: That was a blast too. We had a ball. We went to the studio, which is unfortunately now closed, and that was an amazing place. My wife and I conceived our first son there. It was snowy, the lake was covered in ice, as Florida boys, we built an igloo out behind a house with a five gallon bucket. We certainly had fun, at the same time, work is work. It was a great location, great vibe, fantastic studio. I had an awesome time.
PSF: Was there any pressure from the label at this point? Were they happy with the material?
JG: It depended on who you talked to. There were the ones who thought we should always keep the same sound, not change the name of the band. Then we had others in our camp who really liked the new stuff, then you had others who were like, "no, this sounds too grungy, this sounds too derivative of..." That always made us laugh a little bit. "You want us to be derivative of R.E.M., but you're yelling at us for being derivative of someone else?" We saw a little bit of the aeration there but not what the perception was.
PSF: What was the fan reaction like when the record came out?
JG: About like you'd expect. Anytime you're putting 'Formally For Squirrels' on, they come out to a show, we play mostly the new stuff, obviously we were playing "Mighty K.C.," and that ain't Jack singing up there. Travis has a different voice with a different range, not as clean a voice even though we're telling him, "hey look, we want it to sound as much like the record as we can." It's a completely different thing. I can tell you, "8:02" sounds a lot different when we played it as Subrosa than we did as For Squirrels.
PSF: What was it like adding Mike to the line up?
JG: Pretty easy. Those guys are all childhood friends. They grew up together, these weren't strangers we were bringing in. Mike, even today, we stay in communication, we don't talk every day or anything like that, but certainly have spoken and (through) Twitter and things like that. We still keep together. Mike brought us what he did because if you think about it, there was many layers in what we were doing. Two guitars, a bass, sometimes keyboard. Mike was able to step right in and play rhythm guitar, add a little extra distortion on some of the harder songs, be able to do the keyboard when Travis was free just to sing, or play guitar and sing at the same time. It helped us fill out the live sound, which is what that record was all about. We wanted to be able to duplicate it live.
PSF: What was it like to work with Creed?
JG: Early on, the egos weren't there. It was weird because you had two different trajectories there. When we started with those guys, we were in a bus, they were in a van. We finished a tour and went back out, and then they were in a bus, and we were in a van. It went from us headlining, to us opening. That happens. Those guys, for a while, they were cool. I don't know if stardom got to them or they'd started getting sick of it, as you're likely to do when you're touring like crazy. It was definitely a path of two different trajectories.
PSF: What ultimately caused your departure?
JG: It was just time, for me. I had a two year old. I just got accepted into grad school. It was going to be hard for me to do what they wanted to do. And (it was time for) me to kind of get on with things. We had gotten dropped by the label because of the lack of interest. Because of the timing of where the music scene was going, it was going into the boy bands. I don't know if I could do that again. That was a long journey to go through the... Get the label's interest, playing out like crazy to reinvigorate a fan base. At that time I was like, "I got to do what I got to do."
PSF: I've heard through message boards that the band recorded another record that Sony said no to. Is that true?
JG: Not that I know of. I know that we had been working on some songs, and it's conceivable that some of the demos were... This was after I left, not while I was with the band did we (ever) send something to our existing label and say, "hey, are you guys interested?"
PSF: How long after Never Bet the Devil was the band dropped? Before you left?
JG: Yeah. That was when I decided to depart. We were notified.
PSF: I heard that there were, again, this is all stuff coming off the message boards, that there was a lawsuit and legal issues with Sony?
JG: No. There was some legal issues I think between Travis and one of our old managers. I don't know anything about that.
PSF: What are you and everyone else currently doing?
JG: I am living in Jacksonville, Florida. I have a 20 year old son who did have a wonderful music career, until he decided to change his major. He went through the whole art school program here, and got a scholarship to UCF as a percussionist. His specialty was marimba, but he is a percussionist. Man, if I had his talent, holy moly. I think at some point, he realized he wasn't gonna be able to go the symphony track, which really puts you more on the education track. I think he saw the effort that would be needed as a band director, giving lessons, and things like that. He says, you know what? I'm gonna go study to be a nurse. He gave that up, and he's currently studying nursing. My youngest is 12, he's the athlete, our 6'4", 200 lbs. older son, he looks like a football player. My youngest, he's all football, all the time. I spent my days and weeks coaching. Flag football, tackle football. "Daddy, take me out, I want to throw the ball" every single day. I love it. Right now, Andy and Mike are in this kid's project. It's called "Bears and Lions." They've even been on NPR. They do kid's shows and kid's festivals, and things like that. It looks like a lot of fun.
PSF: Are your kids familiar with the band?
JG: They've heard the stuff. For a while before we downsized and moved into another home, we used to have a music room upstairs. I had my acoustic kit. I bought my oldest, when he was still in high school, I bought him an electronic kit because we couldn't handle the acoustic kit. I would have fun on it. After they went to bed, I'd go up there and plug some stuff, whatever's on my iPhone, and be able to hear it and play along with it. I got to play whatever I wanted to- that's always a lot of fun. Currently, I work for US Health in Jacksonville. I'm a director of facilities of a hospital on the north side of Jacksonville. I was able to leverage my degrees, architecture and masters in building construction, and got into health care construction. One thing led to another. We just built an $85 million bed tower that we just opened in May. I was given the opportunity to build the campus from the ground up. That's what I do on a daily basis.
PSF: Do you think there will ever be a chance where you guys will play together again?
JG: I wouldn't discount it, there's a chance that we can make it happen. But I wouldn't think more than a three or four day Florida tour. We were playing it on a small reunion, this was... I want to say more than a year ago, and it just kind of fizzled out. I made a couple of trips over the Gainesville and we got together and played. It just never worked out. You have a lot of people with a lot of families, family time. It seems like you can never get more than just a weekend, even though we were considering a small Florida three or four day tour, just for fun. That didn't happen.
PSF: What do you think about alternative rock and its impact in the '90's?
JG: I really enjoy music, just in general. I tend to gravitate towards the harder edge stuff. I love a lot of the '90's stuff, it was a lot of fun. Are they derivative of each other? Maybe. A little bit.
PSF: What do you ultimately hope For Squirrel's legacy will be?
JG: I just hope people appreciate the effort that we put into it, I hope it doesn't sound like a lot of things. Occasionally, my wife will put on Pandora, she'll put on For Squirrels radio. It's always interesting to me, the other songs that come up. You hear Dinosaur Jr., you hear Toad the Wet Sprocket, you hear R.E.M.. That's always kinda interesting. You also hear Smashing Pumpkins, and things like that. I always get a little giggle out of that.
PSF: Were there any outtakes, stuff that never got released? I have a song that I've picked up off a message board called Critic's Razor that's very angry and direct.
JG: I don't think it was a song that did make it on the record. We were very detailed in what we wanted to put on the record.
For Squirrels Baypath Rd. (Self-Released, 1994)
For Squirrels Example (Sony 550, 1995)
Subrosa Never Bet the Devil Your Head (Sony 550, 1997)
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