After halting touring with As Blood Runs Black in 2016, Sugarman spent his time caring for his mother, who was terminally ill with a brain tumor. He spent the next several months watching after her while putting together his solo debut, [ Inside/Out | Part 1 ].
“I left As Blood Runs Black and was in a situation where I had so much trauma and daily grief going on in my life, so I needed a musical outlet,” Sugarman says. “I needed to say things musically because I don’t have words for everything that I feel, and music is the only way I know how to do that.”
The guitarist was supposed to be touring Europe with Ice Nine Kills right now, but their tour was canceled over the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, he’s been spending his time working on releasing this album, creating an upcoming podcast, teaching guitar lessons online and working on a variety of projects with Ice Nine Kills’ bassist Joe Occhiuti, who he now lives with.
He’s even created an online guitar community called Sugarman’s Lesson Lounge. With hundreds of members and counting, Sugarman is fostering a free community using a Facebook group and Discord where guitarists can pop in and discuss their techniques.
The Ice Nine Kills guitarist caught up with us to explain the journey of putting the record together and what it felt like to finally move forward from it.
You joined Ice Nine Kills last year, reigniting your love for sharing music with other people. How did you get the job with them, and what was it about touring that made you realize you wanted to share your music with people again?
Spencer [Charnas, vocalist], I think it was February 2019, hit me up on Instagram literally right out of the blue. I had been hearing about Ice Nine Kills. I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing shirts or hearing the name come up, so I was seeing Ice Nine Kills everywhere I went.
He hits me up with a message saying, “Dude, you’re the sickest shredder I’ve ever seen. Are you interested in doing any touring?” I had never spoken to the dude in my life, and we immediately hit it off. Once he found out that my uncle was in Friday The 13th Part 2, I think that solidified my role in the band. [Laughs.]
I left As Blood Runs Black around 2016 because my mother’s brain cancer got so bad that I wanted to stay at home and be her caregiver and spend as much time as I could with her. When the Ice Nine Kills thing came about, I had sworn off touring pretty hard, and I decided that there was a reason this opportunity fell into my lap.
The second I got out on tour, I recognized immediately [that] the demographic that loves Ice Nine Kills is a fanbase that struggled. It’s a fanbase of people that have gone through things, and it’s a fanbase of outcast people who are different and have found common ground in the community that is Ice Nine Kills, and I think that is beautiful.
At the same time, I recognize that my album was quite literally a journaling process of the six months leading up to my mom dying. I recognize that the struggle I went through put into music could be something that other people can come and grow from and understand. Ice Nine Kills to these kids is like medicine. I want to be able to provide that with the music that I make in general. I found that the second I started touring full time again, that connection with people reacting to a live performance or giving someone a hug and a photo after the show, those types of actions that go the distance are the types of things I want to be able to distill in my music.
How did you end up getting all of the guest features for the songs together?
The way that the collaborators came about was all spontaneous, organic and natural. Being a guitar player in bands, I’ve been really lucky enough to have some really awesome friends and make powerful networking relationships that played a role in getting these collaborators really excited to do this.
I had Angel Vivaldi, who is a very well-known instrumental solo guitar player. He randomly was stranded in Los Angeles. His plane was delayed for several days, so he stayed at my house, and I had the beginnings of this idea, and we happened to write a song that was perfect for this. He was very aware of my mom and supportive of my mom. We spent time in my mom’s room quite a bit when he was at the house when she was at this point paralyzed and unable to speak. It was very tough, but having Angel be there, who actually had a relationship with my mom, to kick off the first collaboration for the record was very profound for me.
Track five, Ruben Alvarez from Upon A Burning Body again happened to be in Los Angeles. He was filming a video for Upon A Burning Body, and he and I go back 10 years. My old band actually took Upon A Burning Body out on their very first tour ever [around] 2007, and since then, me and all of the dudes in the band have been super close. When they got to L.A., they hit me up to hang out, and Ruben came over, and we just started writing a song, and I thought it should be on the record.
The album was obviously written at a difficult time with your mother’s health and passing, but how does it feel to finally put it out and be able to move forward?
It is one of the most therapeutic, cathartic feelings I’ve ever had. I cannot tell you how synchronistic all of this shit feels. It was done three years ago, and I shelved it because I couldn’t work on the songs for the life of me without losing it. I’m sitting here, and I decided [about] six months ago to put all of these things in place to make it happen. I’m sitting there waking up on Mother’s Day feeling absolutely devastated, and lo and behold, 500 CDs show up on my doorstep that I have to put up and sign. For that to show up on Mother’s Day felt so real to me.
It’s such a powerful thing to be able to hold this in my hands after not being able to hold my mom’s hand for three years. It’s a powerful thing to feel her presence when I’m doing this. The artwork, the release, there’s something so real about holding it in my hands and having to send it out to people for them to make their own opinions on. I truly believe that a musician’s job is to conceive and give birth to the thing, but you’ve got to throw your kid out into the world.
You also do guitar lessons online, and I think a fair amount of people are looking into learning an instrument since the lockdowns went into effect. How have things been for you with lessons since the pandemic started?
Read more: As Blood Runs Black, “Vision” video premiere
I have been doing social distancing-styled lessons on Skype for over a decade now, so I’m prepped and ready to go. It’s been awesome, the fact that one minute I can teach someone in Kuwait and the next minute teach someone in Ohio or Japan or Mexico all in one day is really a blessing to have the ability to do. The amount of people that I’ve had reaching out to me to start guitar is something [else]. I’ve never seen such a wave of new musicians.
I think there’s something incredible about that, and there’s also something terrifying about it. Fender guitars discovered that electric guitars for the first time in the history of electric guitars were losing in sales to acoustics. They threw away a ton of money to figure out what was going on, and what they discovered is that within the first year of guitar players picking up the instrument, they quit. They went further into the research and discovered that clearly it was the teacher’s fault. If a student is heading down a path that is not fruitful, of course, they’re going to step off the path and do something else.
When I look at it now, it’s a world of interesting and hungry people who are being presented lessons with teachers who don’t understand the way to deliver this stuff. There’s a huge responsibility to teachers right now, and I take that shit so seriously. I don’t have a single student who has come to me and quit. That’s something that for being a teacher for over a decade and to have that success rate, I think is cool.
It’s about, “What do they need today that excites them and challenges them at that moment?” I think a lot of teachers are messing up with curriculums. I hated school because I was told what I was supposed to learn when I was supposed to learn it. I’ve been teaching for over a decade, and in the beginning, I would spend hours building a curriculum for every student, and we would spend time going through that. Over the years, I learned [doing] that is what allows a student to excel. I just want to say to anyone wanting to learn guitar to do your due diligence and make sure you’re not prescribing to someone that’s going to send you down the wrong path.
This is obviously a difficult but rewarding record to be putting out, but because it’s titled as Part 1, what can people expect from Part 2?
I have a series of songs that I wrote directly after my mother passed away, and then I have a series of songs that was written in the time between that and a series of songs that were written more recently. There’s this part in my mind where I’m thinking that Part 1 will be music written from within the tragedy, and Part 2 will be written outside of the tragedy, looking back and looking forward.
I have not chosen the songs yet. I might scrap all of that and do six brand-new songs that happened three years later, but the thing I know for a fact is that [ Inside/Out | Part 1 ] is within the tragedy, and Part 2 is outside looking back and looking forward. As far as I know, musically, it’s going to be really technical. It’s going to be really emotional. It’s going to be another story. Some of the songs I’ve written already are some of my favorite songs I’ve ever done.
Adrián Terrazas-González from the Mars Volta did flute and saxophone solos on one of my new songs already. That’s one of the coolest things ever because sax is one of my favorite things in the world, and Mars Volta are one of my favorite bands in the world.
I don’t even want to start talking yet about the collaborators on the record, but there’s a lot of very cool songs and a lot of big artists that are already on board. There are some very cool plans for how I want to release this on Patreon. I’m fairly certain I will be doing that again. As you saw with [ Inside/Out | Part 1 ], nothing I do is conventional or standard.