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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Bringing Real Life music into Second life music scene and succeeding. The Follow - Orion Baral Reporting



The Follow is a Rock band from Columbia, MO consisting of three members; AJ Darkwatch, Powers Avon, and Troy Shoreland. Accidentally forming a band and performing together in real life since 1998, they discovered Second Life from a friend and have been performing for fans ever since. Getting to know these three great people during this interview I can see the true friendship and respect they have for each other. Now please enjoy the interview as much as I had sat down with the three of them.

Orion Baral (OB): Thank you all for taking the time for this interview. Can you tell us about yourselves and what musical background you each have?

AJ Darkwatch: My musical background throughout school was in a much higher register than a bass guitar. I played flute during concert band and marching band through middle and high school. I didn’t dream of playing the bass guitar until Troy’s Mom mentioned that he should just teach me how to play since The Follow had been without a bass player for a time. While Mat was out on the road tour managing another band Troy decided to give me some lessons so we could surprise him at the first Follow rehearsal when he returned. I think I knew 3 songs and could not dare take my eyes off the guitar neck. It reminded me of learning how to drive and not being able to look over and turn the dial on the radio - ha haa! 

Powers Avon: I’m a drummer because of Peter Criss of the band KISS. I bought my first vinyl record at our small-town Walmart. It was KISS Alive II and I bought it simply because of the photos of the band on the back cover. I had never heard their music before.

Troy Shoreland: My musical background started with FM radio and my fascination with the album covers of my brother’s classic rock vinyl collection. I loved listening to all his records and seeing the artwork. My grandfather was also really into music, and he’d whistle nearly everywhere he went, and that put me at ease. Gramps was always very encouraging. My Mom used to play American Top 40 on our drives to the summer lake cabin. This was during the 80s when all the New Wave meets rock stuff was hitting the scene. It was a great time for music and a great time to be a kid.

OB: Love hearing your history, and Powers,  you are talking to a Kiss Army Member here. Seen them in concert 6 times and one of the unmasked tours too. Now, tell me can you define what music means to you?

AJ Darkwatch: Music is a way to share a message and emotional connection with others.  I like the way a song can change your thoughts and evoke memories and create moods.

Powers Avon: Music is memories, a vessel for communication, and magic that stirs the soul.

Troy Shoreland: Music is like a lifelong friend. It’s a rocket ship for the stirrings of the soul and expression for the spirit. Music can, in one instance, you can be drawn in for a quiet personal moment, and in another moment, burst alive in an energetic culture-shaping movement.

OB: I love how no matter how you each describe it, it comes down to the same thing, music is an emotional connection for each of you. Now how we all met tell me how did you discover Second Life? 

AJ Darkwatch: I remember exactly where I was standing in the old rehearsal space when Mat first showed us his computer screen. I didn’t have much exposure to video games growing up so the graphics and navigation mesmerized me. I remember a show early on where I was required to open a door to enter the venue which was terrifying.  I still laugh when I try and change clothes and I  end up wearing a box. 

Powers Avon: I used to work at a radio promotion company and became good friends with the owner. He was DJing in SL and suggested I create an account. Once I went to my first live performance, I was hooked.

Troy Shoreland: One of Powers’ friends, Trick, turned us on to Second Life over a decade ago now. I was skeptical at first but quickly realized what a special and unique community resides in SL.



OB: It had been a debate for a long time and that is that many professionals and gamers using Second life for various reasons. Do you consider SL as just a gaming platform or an extension of your real life?

AJ Darkwatch: I consider SL to be an extension of RL because of the interaction that we have had through the music jams we have gone to across the country. Once you make a RL connection - even if it is just through voice on a sim - your mind can go beyond the imagination of the avatars.  

Powers Avon: It’s a living, breathing piece of art created by some extremely talented people all over the earth. One element that I’m drawn to the most is the live music community. My experiences there are just as real as an experience in my local music venue. I’ve had some deep conversations with friends in Second Life which I treasure.

Troy Shoreland: When I heard there were Second Life Jams in real life, I was sold. The idea of getting to meet some of the very same people you see at an online show in real life, even as an introvert, that really excited me, as it creates a lasting memory and deepens those connections and relationships. I love that.

OB: SL truly is an amazing place and a unique global platform.  Was this band formed in real life or did you all meet within Second Life and then decided to play together?

AJ Darkwatch: The band developed in real life through friendship and a shared interest in music. Even though I didn’t join the band for a few years- I got to experience the first songs being written and the first recordings of originals and many covers of U2 which was a significant influence in the beginning days.

Powers Avon: We formed by accident in real life during the fall of 1998.

Troy Shoreland: Powers and I talked during Cross Country practice about getting together and playing some of our favorite U2 and REM songs. Out of that, we wrote a couple of originals and became hooked on making music.



OB: You really don’t hear that a lot that three separate people form a band in real life and THEN come to SL. That is so interesting and great to hear. What is your part in the band and which instruments do you play?

AJ Darkwatch: I play bass guitar and foot keys which can be keyboard sounds or individual samples. I also sing backing vocals.

Powers Avon: I play the drums, percussion, and other sounds.

Troy Shoreland: I sometimes think my main role is technician, ha, because we’re always tweaking things and trying to fix something out of sorts. Though, when not lost in tech space, I also play guitar and sing.

OB: Are there any musicians who inspire you? What qualities do you admire about them?

AJ Darkwatch: I am inspired most of the time when I watch a live performance in person. It can be a local regional band or a national act. There is something about seeing it live that makes you want to go home and practice to hopefully get better at your instrument. I also enjoy hearing the musicians speak and I can appreciate when things do not go off with perfection. There is something in the struggle to make it seem real. 

Powers Avon: Ha! This would be a full article and that’s if we just talk drummers. I admire musicians that are technical with their craft and those who can free flow. I love introspective lyrics and a song that just gets your body moving. I admire musicians that are chasing the music. 

Troy Shoreland: There are different eras of inspiration, for me. In the early days, I was inspired by Tom Petty, the playing of Elliott Easton from The Cars, and loved the sonic landscapes and diversity of Steve Stevens from Billy Idol. In my high school years, I was much more influenced by The Edge from U2, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, Peter Buck from REM, and Marty Willson-Piper, and Peter Koppes from The Church. In more recent years, the influences have been mostly acoustic singer-songwriter artists like John Butler Trio, Ben Howard, Tommy Emmanuel, Calum Graham, War On Drugs, and Xavier Rudd.



OB: That is great to hear, I love learning what inspires musicians. What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?

AJ Darkwatch: The best advice I have heard was from Troy telling me to go back to a piece that I am learning and not just keep repeating it in the same setting. There is something about going away for a time and returning to help commit it to memory.  

Powers Avon: Learn to read music. I still haven’t.

Troy Shoreland: One of my mentors once told me a story of a kid who was just learning bass guitar, and the mentor was what we’d consider a master at his instrument. When the boy told him he was learning Bass, the master player knelt down at the kid’s level, looked him in the eye, and excitedly said “Dude, you like to play bass too!?” They were two kids in a candy shop talking about Bass. It made the kid’s day, probably his week. The takeaway for me was to always keep wonderment in our lives, and allow it to be a genuine connecting point with others.

OB: Now with hearing the advice you were given, what advice would you give other musicians interested in performing in Second Life?

AJ Darkwatch: I would say to enjoy the experience and be as professional as you can but remember that it is the connection with others that is the most rewarding accomplishment you can receive. There may be mistakes or technical difficulties but we can be grateful for the time and opportunity and the ability to create experiences.

Powers Avon: Try not to let the tech side of things get in the way of the music or the fun. If you are considering performing in SL, I recommend that you do it.

Troy Shoreland: First, would be to keep it fun and enjoyable. Ask for help from others in the community when you’re stuck, especially in relation to the tech stuff, as it can be a little overwhelming until you get a feel for things.



OB: When you are dealing with three different artists on one stream, what would you do if there was a mistake during a performance?

AJ Darkwatch: We all stream together in one room so there is usually laughter or eye-rolling. We have played together for a few decades so we have learned to keep things rolling and have fun with things and keep our attitude going in the right direction if possible.

Powers Avon: Point and laugh at AJ for hitting the wrong foot key while she’s playing bass and also singing. Ha! How does she or Troy not have a hundred mistakes each set with all they are doing. Seriously though, we just do our best to recover and figure out where the others are in the song.

Troy Shoreland: The band meets as a group at our rehearsal space, where we play and transmit the stream inworld. It’s also where we write and work on our new material when we’re not gigging online or out live in person.






OB: Truly great that you all are easy-going and able to have fun and laugh at each other. Do you follow a process or ritual before a performance to get rid of nerves or performance anxiety?

AJ Darkwatch: One thing that helps me is to have a setlist prepared a little early so I can at least play the beginnings of the songs.  I feel like it is like going to a file cabinet and rummaging through to bring them to mind.

Powers Avon: We’re usually running around fairly frantic before many shows…practicing,

tweaking, learning right up until the last minute.

Troy Shoreland: Unfortunately, most of the time, we’re literally working right up until moments before the gig is to begin; on the set, transitions, on the sounds, and sometimes working on cameras or other tech-related stuff. This seems to be the case regardless of how much time we set aside. However, in those times we do have a few spare moments, taking time to close my eyes and breathe and simply be present with the gang is incredibly connective and healing for me.

OB: With your own personal real-life schedules how often do you perform in Second Life and how can venues book you for a performance?



AJ Darkwatch: I think we are playing a few times a month. We would like to play more often but also need to allow time to practice and get acquainted with new gear as well as write and recording when time allows. We also hope that this year will allow for RL shows as well at least maybe outdoor events will be allowed.

Powers Avon: We are playing a couple of times a month right now. Our SL booking agent is Jenna Dirval (jenna.dirval2@gmail.com)

Troy Shoreland: I think we are performing about once or twice a month in SL, currently. We love playing and it’s always a real joy to see folks online. 

OB: There are always interesting or funny moments during performances. What was the most memorable to you either in RL, SL, or both.?

AJ Darkwatch: I used to laugh when SL was more unstable in earlier days when we would get a good crowd going and would have multiple crashes while also streaming audio to FB. We would laugh and say our RL friends would be scared off hearing us talking of crashing sims- ha haa! One particular gig we couldn’t manage to get our avatars back on so we had our SL friends get on stage and pretend to be us!! That was fun 😁

Powers Avon: We had a pint glass full of beer thrown at us once and lit cigarettes another time. I remember that. We showed up to play a venue that was “famous” for its hot dogs. There was no PA and they made their hotdogs in the hallway with a crockpot. Most SL shows have something memorable about them 

Troy Shoreland: We drove eight hours and across a couple of states to play a gig that wound up being in, essentially someone’s house, that was converted into a living room venue. We cobbled together what we could with their makeshift PA, to little avail. We ended up playing for three people, who were so high or inebriated that I’m not sure they even remember we were there. I recall sometime during the set, being on stage, playing, and it was going so bad that all I  could do was laugh. Then something changed. Like a lightbulb, smack dab in the middle of one of our songs, came an a-ha moment, and with a shift of the mind and spirit, it somehow turned into one of the best nights ever. It was a lesson about perspective, choice, and doing what you love alongside those you love... my bandmates.



OB: Those are hilarious and glad it was a pint of beer thrown and not hot dogs, that would have been a new level of awkward. So let’s wrap this up and tell me is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

AJ Darkwatch: We just want to make sure that they know we are always grateful to be able to share a show and appreciate the support that viewers have given to all musicians and artists and creators of all types. It is good fuel for the soul.

Powers Avon: Thanks for reading! We appreciate how supportive the SL community at large towards live music. We’ve benefited from your friendship, your passion for music, and your generosity in supporting venues & musicians. Thank you.

Troy Shoreland: Everyone has a one-of-a-kind unique and special voice. I'm not speaking on singing. As cliche as it sounds, life moves quickly, so do what ya believe and feel called to do. Something that brings life back to others and yourself. If it’s hard and has a truckload of obstacles, it just might mean you are on the right track... or a little crazy, haha! 

Well, there you have it, a great time I had getting to know these three talented individuals called The Follow. Check them out you will not be disappointed.

Photography credits from the following: Dylan Shenley - Sharni Azalee - Karl Bussen - Leroy Horten

Additional Information

Website:www.thefollow.com  Calendar: http://www.thefollow.com/retailshop Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheFollow Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thefollowofficial Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/thefollow Twitter: https://twitter.com/thefollow Preferred Booking contact: Jenna Dirval jenna.dirval2@gmail.com


8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interview, Orion! We sincerely appreciate you and SL Enquirer shining the spotlight on the live music scene in SL. We hope to see you and your readers this Saturday at Biology Club at 7pm!

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  2. Great interview. They are a very talented group of musicians.

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    1. Too kind Ginny. Thanks for checking out the interview.

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  3. AJ: “ I can appreciate when things do not go off with perfection. There is something in the struggle to make it seem real.”

    This really strikes home with me. As someone who has followed.. er, The Follow from the beginning I know all of the songs so well that I notice when mess-ups occur. What absolutely mystifies me is how those moments are (seemingly) effortlessly covered up by this band and anyone hearing them for the first time would have NO clue they didn’t mean to do that. Also, the music is so deeply touching and emotional. I’ve literally been listening in my car, by myself, with tears flowing down my face just feeling the music. The Cure is the only other band I’ve experienced that with. Great interview!

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    Replies
    1. Also, the community that built up in Second Life is amazing. Seeing new friends - singing along with them. Such a great aspect to a live show!

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