FFO: Hard Rock, Metal
Black Dawn has remained a shining light on the Long Island music scene since the 1990s. The band has built a loyal following of rock and metal fans while weathering all sorts of shifts in taste within the music industry. With a heavy influence of 1990s-era rock, you can hear downtuned grunge and metal in most Black Dawn songs, including the snarl and bite. Check out “I Can’t Believe” for a solid indication of their ability to shred, get heads banging and butts out of seats.
With several albums and EPs comprising the band’s discography, the most recent being the stellar 2018 outing On Blackened Wings, the group has toured the greater New York area countless times and opened for internationally-renowned artists such as Geoff Tate, Ace Frehley and Biohazard, to name a few. Before recent developments, the band was slated to open for German metallers Accept and Red Dragon Cartel and thrash veterans Flotsam & Jetsam.
The performances that have been put on hold would have meant a lot to fans and the band. Musicinterviewmagazine caught up with Black Dawn co-founder and guitarist Tom Kenny. The conversation led to a one-to-one about how the band has established its base on Long Island, the advantages and challenges of opening for major headliners, how the coronavirus is another hurdle to overcome and more.
An Interview with Tom Kelly of Black Dawn
Musicinterviewmagazine: How did the members of Black Dawn meet and form?
Tom Kelly: I started the band in 1992 with the original bassist, Rob Tinari. I met Rob while we were both students at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. A mutual friend at the university introduced us to Enzo DiPaolo, who became our drummer. Enzo introduced us to his friend Matt Kotten, who became our vocalist. You can probably hear much of the elements of rock and metal from that time.
What were the local New York and Long Island music scenes like at the time of your early shows? How has it changed since then?
It was all small shows back then. We were in the dive bars of Long Island and New York City playing to our family and friends alongside bands that played to their family and friends. We all had fun, but I was thinking about playing bigger shows at the Roxy in Huntington or at the Crazy Donkey in Farmingdale. After making a few adjustments and some hard work, we have been able to finally get onto some of the bigger shows like 2,000-plus capacity venues and we were able to finally move beyond Long Island and New York City.
What are some challenges in keeping a band together and succeeding in 2020?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the touring business to a dead stop, so the key to success in 2020 is to use the time off to write new material and push your merchandise and music online. It is also a good time to research your plans for 2021. As for keeping a band together, it’s give-and-take like any other relationship. You need people who think the same way you do and who are as serious as you.
You have opened for some notable bands and performers as they tour through Long Island and New York. What was it like being on the same bill for these groups? What were some takeaways? How were the crowds different and what do you feel the reception was like?
Playing those shows was fucking amazing. We came away from those shows with some great photos and video, which we use to land bigger shows. The crowds are generally good to us and we are always striving to give them something better.
The Geoff Tate show was incredible. It took place at the Stereo Garden in Patchogue, two days after my 47th birthday in February. Stereo Garden is a 1,200 capacity venue and it was completely full when we were on stage as we were direct support for Tate. Geoff played the Queensryche albums Rage for Order and Empire in their entirety on this tour, so the show had a very big draw. I bought a new guitar, an ESP Ltd Arrow series and new clothes for that show. We were damn lucky the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t arrive sooner and cancel it. The only bad thing was that I managed to catch the flu that weekend and I was sick most of the following week but again, lucky that it happened after the show.
What do you learn from seasoned pros like Tate?
Talent, hard work and dedication play a big part in being a musician, but the last ingredient in my recipe is being a music fan myself. Following the examples set by those who already have demonstrated success before you is a good idea in any field. The pros have given me direction with respect to equipment, clothing, what to do and what not to do during a show.
COVID-19 certainly is affecting the live music scene right now. How has it had an impact on your shows, perhaps in the way of closings or reduced attendance?
The pandemic cost us a small show in Manhattan scheduled for April fourth and might cost us our May shows, too.
You performed in March at Revolution in Amityville for the Cancer Can Rock benefit. Was the size of the turnout an issue then?
We had fun, but attendance was severely hurt by news of the pandemic.
When it comes to rock and metal shows, what challenges do you encounter being the opener or supporting group?
Being a local band opening for the band that the crowd really wants to see is not easy. We are basically one of the previews that everyone has to sit through before they get to watch the movie and this is the disadvantage that we bear before a single chord is struck. People are going to decide in the first fifteen seconds of your set whether they are going to bitch and complain about you being there, or if they are going to give you a chance. If you are to have any chance of acquiring any new fans from the crowd, I feel it is essential to make a very bold statement during those first few seconds, both with the way you sound and look.
What are some of the unexpected advantages of performing in that lead, opening in a support spot?
You have the largest attendance in front of the stage and more time to feel the room. You can also tell the crowd that the band they came to see will be on stage in a few minutes and nothing gets them louder than that.
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Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.