Gotta Start Somewhere: The Academy Is… member Adam Siska’s first gig
No matter how successful entertainers become, they'll inevitably always remember the first gig—whether it was disastrous, wonderful, or absurdly strange. Gotta Start Somewhere embraces these nostalgic moments by asking established entertainers to retell the first time they ever graced a stage. In this edition, The A.V. Club caught up with The Academy Is… bassist Adam Siska before he and the rest of the guys open up for those old men in Kiss at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre Sept. 3.
Adam Siska: My first real performance was in 1998 in Fox River Grove at my fifth-grade birthday party. I sang Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” from the Top Gun soundtrack, on a karaoke machine for about 30 or 40 guys in my basement. I even took my shirt off and got on top of my pool table.
The A.V. Club: How did that go over?
AS: My friends made fun of me for years. They wanted to do karaoke to either Wu-Tang Clan or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, but I was way more into Top Gun. I’d just seen it for the first time, and I was that age where every time you see a new movie or TV show, what you want to be changes. I just really wanted to look like Tom Cruise, be Maverick, and have the love scene set to “Take My Breath Away” be my future.
The other thing about that night was that I stayed up all night raging, drinking root beer and eating Cheetos. I had indoor soccer practice the next day, puked all over the field, and had to go home.
AVC: How did that performance influence your later works?
AS: I always knew I wanted to sing, but I didn’t have a good voice. I can’t even sing “Danger Zone” on key, so in eighth grade I picked up the bass. I had small hands, so it made more sense to me, playing one note at a time rather than chord formations. Everyone had guitars and was starting a band, but I was the only one with a bass. Thus, I was automatically the best bass player in town.
AVC: What was your first show playing bass?
AS: I started a band called ODUS, which was the second most popular band at Barrington Middle School, Station Campus. A Rage Against The Machine cover band named Klop, after James K. Polk, was the most popular band, and they were much better than us. I was actually in that band, but I got kicked out because I didn’t know how to play.
The night before my eighth-grade talent show, which was held in the lunchroom-slash-auditorium, I got a few guys together, learned how to play Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and that was ODUS.
AVC: How did it go?
AS: We had a kid who couldn’t sing and didn’t know the words, so he just mumbled the lyrics off a piece of paper. It probably sounded pretty similar to Nirvana’s live performances, considering Kurt Cobain was on heroin most of the time.
Also, our guitar player was super-nervous and couldn’t play the song’s solo, so I just sang the solo into the mic while playing bass. We didn’t even finish the song, but we got some fans. People liked us for being the underdog.
AVC: Did you win?
AS: No, of course not. The kid that won lip-synched Queen’s “Bicycle Race,” and had a bunch of friends ride around him on bikes. He got a standing ovation.
AVC: Were you at least better than Klop?
AS: Klop played right after us, and they were much, much better than we were. They played three songs: “Bulls on Parade,” “Testify,” and Bush’s “Machinehead.”
Actually, the drummer from Klop was in The Academy Is… before we were The Academy Is..., our very first test run. He came to practice one time after having eaten mushrooms, and he couldn’t play. So, we fired him, got a different drummer, and that’s how The Academy Is… started.
AVC: When and where was the first The Academy Is… show?
AS: It was April of 2003. I was 15, and Nick Scimeca, who’s a partner in the bar Angels & Kings now, was in this band 504 Plan. He offered to let The Academy open for him at the Culver Academy in Indiana. It’s a weird private boarding school and everyone in the band said it reminded them of Hogwart’s.
AVC: Whoa, Indiana? Your parents let you drive there?
AS: I was a sophomore at Barrington High School and everyone else in the band was seniors. They had cars, and my friend Jimmy drove me in his mom’s Jeep Cherokee, which was a total beater. The CD player would completely turn off every time you went over a bump. We had to take five different cars, because we had so much gear and no van. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. I’m sure I forgot important pieces of equipment.
Actually, I’d just gotten my first real bass amp with my mom’s credit card at Guitar Center in Arlington Heights. I used that thing until two years ago when the wheels fell off.
AVC: How’d the show go?
AS: At that point, we only had two or three songs, so that’s all we played. The show was in a weird upper level of the school’s gym, and people had no idea who we were, of course. I remember them waving their hands back and forth, throwing up horns, and headbanging. That felt bizarre and sarcastic to me, but apparently they liked it. We thought it went well enough that we should keep practicing and play again. By June were playing regularly at VFWs all over Chicago with Fall Out Boy.