So here it is, my first blog post for Arcane Ritual! I would say my first blog post ever but I did have a Live Journal for like 5 minutes back in early 2000. Does anybody remember Live Journal? Is that still a thing?
(Disclaimer: This get's a little heavy but I promise it will lift you up at the end. I don't plan on making most of our entries this intense but like most origin stories, it's the struggles and trials that shape us into our best selves.)
Anyway, for my first post I thought the best place to start would be the beginning of my journey as a musician. As in “How the hell did I get here?” See the thing is if you had told me when I was 10 years old I’d get the chance to sing in a band, become a dance performer and perform internationally then pick up fire dancing in my 30’s, I’d say you’d lost your mind. Why would I say that?! Don’t most 10 year old kids have such outrageous dreams? The answer is yes. And it’s not that I didn’t have those dreams, but from where I stood at that time it was simply never going to happen…but why???
I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. For those that don’t know Wikipedia outlines it as a “millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with non-trinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity” Further to that “They believe that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent, and that the establishment of God's kingdom over the earth is the only solution for all problems faced by humanity…” Hence the relentlessly knocking on people’s doors all the time and bugging the shit out of you on a Saturday morning when all you wanna do is pick out your eye boogers and for once wake up at your own pace. There are a lot of crazy, oppressive, conflicting ideologies and failed armageddon predictions that I won’t go into. Bottom line is, it’s a cult. Growing up I was not allowed to celebrate any holiday, birthdays, etc. And any extracurricular activities like singing, playing music, doing sports, and whatnot were considered worldly and sinful. Growing up to become a fire artist, belly dancer and lead singer of a metal band was positively and absolutely OUT of the question!
(Pictured below: Baby Teresa and Mom in a photo booth.)
It was an oppressive upbringing with lots of guilt and shame over pretty much everything that makes a human tick. I’ve always been really creative and curious, like a lot of kids. I used to write a lot of stories and poems and make up my own songs and dance routines in the backyard when no one was watching. While my mom was busy taking care of my brother and sister (who were 18 months apart and both in diapers, yikes!) I would switch the channel to MTV and watch in awe of all the crazy music, costumes and dances I would see. I secretly LOVED it! But I also felt a great deal of guilt over it, because I had been told all my life that these pursuits were bad and sinful. The word ‘worldly’ was thrown around a lot.
Now, I don’t want to totally bash my parents while I bring all this up. They thought they were doing the right thing and did their best. My mom used to make sure we had our own coloring kits and a trunk full of dress up clothes so we could perform bible plays. So not all creativity was stifled. But it was a stressful time for everybody, mom and dad included.
Anyway, let’s fast forward through all that to when I was about 14 years old. I was really butting heads with my mom and like most teenagers, I wanted to start having my own identity. I started really questioning things like “Why can’t I do sports or sing in a chorus? How is it betraying god?" and "I get great grades, I go to church, study the bible and do everything I’m supposed to. These activities wouldn’t change any of that. Why???” It became hard for my parents to give a good answer that wasn’t rhetoric because that is all you get in a cult. My objections concurred with other questions popping into my mom’s head, plaguing doubts if you will. By some stroke of luck my mom went to the one elder (the JW version of a priest) who himself had doubts and had begun digging into the dark origins of the organization. He let her in on this secret and it all unraveled from there.
We ended up leaving the cult when I was almost 15 and it was such a massive shift. It was tough, confusing, frustrating and left us all feeling completely lost in the world. Being JW’s had completely encompassed our lives and for me and my siblings it had strongly shaped our identities since we were born. For me there was major conflict, suddenly all my aspirations were available to me, but I was scared. I also felt like my entire life had been a lie. All the things I missed out on, the bullying I endured at school for being so weird, all the shame I felt over who I was as a person. It felt like my life ended and started all at once. Not exactly great timing for a major life crisis to overlap with puberty! Sadly, things at our house got worse before they got better.
But, despite my fears I wasn’t going to just sit around. I started wading into the waters of what the world had to offer. I tried sports for a while, then art club and other activities. But I just couldn’t relate to anybody. I always had this idea of what it would feel like to be ‘normal’ but I just couldn’t connect with the people or activities I tried. Everything felt so shallow and I felt too weird for all of it. Like no matter what I did I’d always be tainted by my early life experience. I had no basis for what ‘normal’ should feel like.
(Pictured below: Teresa in high school, the rebel in leather!)
I was feeling so lost... and then I DISCOVERED METAL!!! Now I’ll admit my first exposure to heavy music was Nirvana, which some argue is not metal but that’s a conversation for a different day. This took me down a rabbit hole that led to bands like Pantera, Down and Type O Negative. TON in particular was incredibly cathartic for me. I decided to pick up a guitar and start learning to play so I could start a band. I really wanted to sing but my confidence was unbelievably fragile at the time and I was convinced I didn’t have what it took to be a front woman and that my voice sucked. But you know what, playing guitar saved me. Heavy music saved me. My anger, frustration and struggle was not something I’d endure alone. Every note, every scream, every beat of the drum echoed the conflict inside me.
I threw myself into playing guitar. I brought it to school with me, bought up all the guitar magazines I could find and got myself some lessons. I worked two jobs one summer so I could save up for my first electric guitar, amp and a leather jacket. Being a metalhead and musician gave me an identity, my OWN identity. Not everyone would get it but hey, part of being a metalhead is not giving AF what people think! (It’s actually taken me years to truly master not giving AF what people think but I’ll save that topic for another blog, LOL!)
I had some failed bands in high school but started my first performing band in college. We were called Hand Over Fist, a nod to the Heavy Metal movie. We weren’t all that great but we practiced once a week and got some gigs. I started singing back up at that point and eventually realize that singing is where my heart really lay. I realized I DO have a voice, a story and ideas up the wazoo that I needed to express. So when Hand Over Fist broke up I hit Craigslist and put up an ad as a vocalist and started answering ad’s of bands looking for vocalists. One ad I saw really stood out, they said they wanted to do a cross between Type O Negative and Switchblade Symphony. Two of my FAVORITE bands, it sounded like EXACTLY what I wanted to do! So I answered it and was invited to audition. The band was called Halcyon Days.
(Pictured below: Another Photo Booth pic 20 years later and learning to not give AF!)
Auditioning for Halcyon Days turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life. Because Jarek Tatarek founded that band (yes, the same Jarek that I’m in Arcane Ritual with.) So I auditioned and waited to hear back. I knew I just HAD to be in this band, but my confidence still wasn’t great and I had no technical training, just my words, my passion and awesome hair. Well, I got the gig anyway!!! I could write a lot about what has happened since then but all you need to know at this point is Jarek and I have been working together since then. We’ve done 8 albums, played a crap ton of shows and experimented with music in ways we never imagined before. And I know in my heart that the best is yet to come!
Now I gotta say, writing all this down and putting into such a public forum like this is pretty intimidating. Up until now I liked to keep this stuff to myself, I don’t get too personal on public forums. But I’ve realized that when someone shares their story and is raw and honest, it invites and inspires others to do the same. My own artistic life has been greatly inspired by the passion, raw honesty and storytelling of others. If I want to be the kind THAT kind of artist I need to step up and do the same! So here I am, sharing my story with an open heart and open arms <3
Guys, if any of you are struggling, feeling inadequate. Maybe like your life circumstances are too overwhelming and you can’t see any way out. I’m here to tell you that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel! Our struggles help us to appreciate the good times and make us stronger people. I've faced a lot of adversity in my life beyond my childhood. My advice is to find your passion and it will give you a place to channel your pain. One question I have occasionally gotten from friends is “If you could, would you change your childhood?” At one time I would have said yes. But now my answer is no, I wouldn’t change anything. Because of my upbringing I have such a great appreciation for things many take for granted. I always do something special for my birthday when most adults are ‘over it’. Holidays are always special because I know what it’s like to be ‘on the outside looking in.’ Halloween is like a holy day for me! I’ve learned to take my struggles and turn them into learning experiences. To dive head first into my pain and make music and art. And let me tell you, if I can do it anybody can!
So now let me ask you...What big challenges have you overcome? What helped you get through your toughest times?
Teresa & Jarek in Arcane Dimension the early days!
Little gothling going to prom, a girls dream realized!
Doing artsy photo shoots, another dream come true!