Pursuits of Happiness, 20 VTBJ, Fall 2020-#8

PositionVol. 46 3 Pg. 8


Vol. 46 No. 3 Pg. 8

Vermont Bar Journal

Fall, 2020

An Interview with Mike Donofrio, Bassist

JEB: I’m at home, COVID-style, interviewing Mike Donofrio via phone. Mike, we interview people who have interests and talents outside the law. My understanding is that you have an interest and a talent. So I guess we should start with your interest in music. Were you always interested in music when you were a child?

MD: I didn’t play music as a child. I had a short-lived attempt at piano lessons during elementary school. I was always interested in music though, as a listener. I have very early memories of going through my parents’ records and eight tracks and random things striking my fancy. The first record I remember being really excited to buy myself was Kiss Double Platinum when I was like eight years old.

JEB: That’s so funny, I guess I’m dating myself as older, but I remember the same thing, but it was a box of 45’s with oldies like Tan Shoes and Pink Shoelaces and Beep Beep although the house was filled more often with slightly more recent music like The Beatles.

MD: My parents had kind of a random smattering of records. I remember really liking their eight tracks of Beach Boys Endless Summer and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. I wore them out!

JEB: Oh my gosh, me too! Mine was an album but Songs in the Key of Life was my favorite and I still like to listen to that. So you didn’t play any musical instrument in high school?

MD: I was very into music in high school, sitting around and listening and talking about it with my friends. A lot of the hair metal bands came through Burlington in rapid succession during the mid-80s, like Ratt and Twisted Sister, so we went to all those shows, which was really fun. By junior year of high school, I was sort of gravitating more toward college radio, bands like REM, The Replacements and The Smiths. I used to call WWPV, the St. Mike’s station, make requests, cue up a tape, and then sit there waiting to hit “record.”

JEB: Isn’t that funny? We used to wait for our favorite songs to come on and hit record to make a mix tape-- kids don’t understand these days!

MD: Exactly. And then it’s on a 90-minute tape, so if you want to hear it, you have to hunt and peck through the tape! So to continue, I didn’t have any clear plan to start playing music until my freshman year of college. One of my roommates showed up with a bass guitar he had just acquired. Neither of us knew how to play it. He just liked the bass because he was a big Rush fan. To my friend Joe’s great credit, he was playing Geddy Lee basslines by sophomore year! But in the beginning, we would put on simple songs where you could really hear the bass—The Police were a great source—and we’d sit there and try to figure out how to play. And by sophomore year, we each ended up as the bass player in “rival” campus bands!

JEB: Wow! Talk about self-taught!

MD: Yup, I just kind of started playing without any real strong musical background nor any particular talent. I was playing these very dumbed down versions of recognizable songs, but the whole thing really spoke to me and I was becoming just much more interested in music all the time and feeling even more connected to music generally. I was also hanging around the college radio station a lot and learning about both new music and old stuff that was new to me.

JEB: So how long did you play in that band?

MD: Well, that was college where I played from sophomore year through the end of college. We got started by jumping into an outdoor music fest sophomore year. We only had about 5 songs, all covers, including the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. I was so inept, I played almost the entire song, a full step too high, because I plopped my left hand down on the wrong fret and just played the note pattern I had memorized! It didn’t occur to me to, like, LISTEN to what it sounded like!

JEB: Well, maybe it was a whole new version that sounded great.

MD: Well, it was a whole new version alright. One of my friends who was an actual musician, came up to the stage about halfway through yelling you’re sharp!

JEB: Too funny. Where did you go to college? And what was the name of the band?

MD: Williams College in Western Massachusetts, and that band was called The Mules. And I’m still hoping that at one of our reunions, we’ll be able to get it back together. I’ve tried a couple of times…. Maybe our 30.

So then I went to law school at NYU and I didn’t go in thinking about being in a band or anything. By happenstance, one of the first people I became friends with in my section first year, Matt Galloway, was interested in starting a band. He had played in a band in college and was much more of a musician than me. We liked all the same music at that time, so we were spending a lot of time going to all of the kind of indie rock clubs clustered around NYU in the East Village and Lower East Side. Great places like Brownies, the original Knitting Factory, Mercury Lounge, Under Acme….

JEB: Why not? When in NYC…

MD: Right. So we were going to a lot of shows together and always talking about music. Matt knew Jim Harwood, a drummer, and had an apartment in Brooklyn where he had the whole basement of the building, which we soundproofed...

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