~ The Road Trip ~

In April of 2017, I departed from my home in Columbia, Missouri for a 10 day solo road trip where I drove nearly 5,000 miles.

I had been feeling complacent, bored, and most unsettling of all, I was comfortable. Having recently graduated from college, I was working full time as a candy maker at the same job I’d had since 2009. I was doing nothing productive to achieve the escape from the midwest that I’d so desperately been searching for for so long.

I knew I wanted to leave. I had known that since I was 17. I needed to go somewhere new, but in all reality, I had no idea what life was like anywhere else. It’s clear to me now why none of my family left Missouri – it’s safe, it’s quiet, it doesn’t challenge their way of thinking, and it’s conducive to a very normal life.

I wanted no such normal life.

So I took corrective action to finally accomplish something for myself and not for my family. I needed to do something that would make me happy.

From Missouri, I drove 13 hours to Colorado Springs, CO and stayed with my aunt. In the valley below Pike’s Peak, the winds that night were tremendous, but I had no idea what was in store. I departed the following morning and the winds persisted as they had the night before.

Western Colorado is immensely beautiful and navigating the winding ups and downs of the roads through the Rocky Mountains has a way of making a man feel quiet small.

Crossing the state line into Utah exposed an entirely new kind of barren, beautiful landscape. I arrived in Moab, UT some ten hours later and perused around Arches National Park. Despite the mild winds, brutal April sunlight, and sand in my eyes, I explored.

UNTIL.

I was approached by a park ranger at a trail head who instructed me that the park was closing early for road construction and that it was imperative that I depart immediately. Rude.

~ The Old Man ~

IMG_6121Astonished and dumbfounded that I had actually reached my journey’s first landmark destination, I arrived at my campsite which was technically an RV Resort, but my classic Ford Focus and one-man tent were prepared to keep me safe in a desert sea of pick up trucks, camper trailers, and RV’s.

Taking a moment to decompress and set up my tent, a mid-60s man hobbled out of his RV and locked eyes with me.

Now, I’m rather extroverted and enjoy talking to strangers, but having driven 23 of the last 48 hours, I was ready to eat, sit quietly in my folding chair, and listen to that week’s episode of the Unbelievable Podcast.

His demeanor was pleasant, as was the conversation, and then out of nowhere this strange man says,

“You’re gonna wanna put down some rocks. It’s gonna get windy”.

“Okay? Thank you. Please walk away now, Sir.” – This is what I wanted to say, but after all, I’m not an asshole and kindly thanked him.

He persisted.

“You hear what I’m saying’ to ya? It’s gonna get windy“.

Okay, weirdo. You said that already. I thanked him once more, he walked away, and I continued constructing my tent.

THANK GOD.

I resumed my business and I turn around to

*THUD…THUD…THUD…THUD*

This old man had left my company to go retrieve boulders. Bear in my I use the word boulders specifically because the made the ground shake as he dropped each of them at my feet.

“I told you… [his tone shifts]…it’s gonna get windy.”

“Wow, thank you so much! I’ll be sure to place these on my camping stakes this evening”.

Awkwardness be damned, my compulsive midwestern politeness always get the best of me.

He walked away and I continued with my night.

Over a kerosene camping stove, I cooked dinner, opened a cold one, which was kindly provided by the RV Resort General Store, and read a book while watching the sun set over Arches National Park. IMG_6141To this day, it’s one of my favorite photos to look at.

I feel like it could have been the cover of an Eagles record, right?

That one little cloud in the sky still reminds me of that whole trip.

I was traveling through a completely unknown area, by myself, but no matter how scared I was, I was there.

 

~ The Sandstorm ~

As it turns out, Mr. Creepy Old Man was completely right. It did get windy. So windy in-fact that there was a sandstorm with 60 mph winds that persisted for five hours.

Now, in hindsight, it would have been really easy to just get into my car and ride out the storm. But no, my stubborn ass pulled the blankets up higher, and I tucked deeper into my sleeping bag while I simultaneously learned that my tent was NOT weather proof…nor was it sand proof.

The winds blew so hard that my tent was practically breathing in and out to prepare for each 60 mph gust as the air pressure around me was rapidly changing.

Scared for my life, I just gripped my blankets and spit the sand out of my mouth. (But honestly, it was everywhere and it took me two full days and two showers to get it off of me.)

~ The Dream ~

During this stressful, hellish night, I had a dream about my mom.

My mother Christa Schilb passed away from terminal cancer in June of 2004, and I have had several dream about her in the past, so this was not totally out of the ordinary, but what happened this time shook me to my core.

My mom and I sat together in a nondescript location and as dreams go, it seemed like we had been sitting there talking for a while.

Aware of my conversation, I took the opportunity to ask my mom what I apparently considered a very important question.

“Mom, what’s your favorite kind of wine?”

Stupid question. Not, “what happens after we die” or “Have you and John Denver gotten to hang out yet?”

My Mom responded with two words, Elena Rose”, and the dream ended abruptly.

Damn.

I woke up and the sun was rising. The storm had passed, and there was a full inch of standing sand inside of my tent that had blown through my mesh windows all night.

Shoveling the sand out with my hands just so I could into my bags, I sat completely in awe of what I had just experienced. I pulled out my cellphone and Googled “Elena Rose”

SPOILER ALERT!

Elena Rose is not a type of wine. How cool would that have been?

Turns out, Elena Rose is the name of an Italian author who wrote a book titled Ti guardo da quassù“.


Funny how our stress dreams affect us so deeply.

Roughly translated to English, “Ti guardo da quassù” means:

“I’m watching you from up here” ~

OKAY. I WAS FREAKED OUT.

Without a real idea of what had happened, I hastily packed up my tent, my sand packed bags, and left Moab, Utah for my next destination. But I had no idea that it was possible to be so thoroughly weirded out and simultaneously speechless about a dream.

~ The Song ~

I wrote the song “Elena Rose” loosely referencing the events of my night in Moab, Utah. It’s a powerful, heart wrenching song, that I rarely perform live due to it’s volume and the raw strength it takes to belt the high noted chorus.

“Oh, Honey Baby, Oh, Elena Rose. You said you loved me so long ago. Tell me again and I’ll let you in my heart. Oh, Elena Rose.

When I was a little kid, long before my mom passed, she called me “honey baby” when I would get hurt or if I was sick. To this day they’re the only words where I can still hear her voice in my head. A small, and clearly affective memory.

It’s been 14 years since she passed, and it’s been 14 years since I’ve heard her say she loved me, but this dream felt like such a clear line of communication from her.

Maybe I’m grasping at straws. Maybe I’m drawing conclusions to broadly.

Who cares.

Elena Rose is for my mother Christa Marie Schilb – she was a songwriter…and so am I.

 

 

 Lot 56 at The Blue Note on May 17th, 2012

 

“As the audience trickled in, the members of LOT 56 quietly prepared for their set in the eighth annual Battle of the Bands at The Blue Note […] The four member band – made up of Aaron Schilb on lead guitar along with Ian Meyer on lead vocals and keyboard, Joel Pruitt on drums and Ben Morgan on bass – started their set for a screaming crowd”.

– Ryan Henriksen, Columbia Daily Tribune – May 22nd, 2012

I remember it so vividly. My high school band “LOT 56” arrived at The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri for our one-year anniversary performance.

The four of us had played live no more than ten times in that first year together. However, each of us being a part of different social groups, we garnered a fan base from each of the schools in which we attended.

462518_3406493114945_1333580670_o

I was nervous. But nerves be damned, my excitement and anticipation took control as I prepared to play the biggest show of my life at that point. My friends and (shockingly) family filtered into the venue and waved up to the stage from the floor and I ripped into (what I wanted to be) a scissor kick.

Lights growing a deep forrest green and vague background music came down as I allowed my guitar to feedback into the amp – we always opened our shows with a trashed intro leading into a song I wrote called “OtherSide” (which for you music theory nerds is in 9/8 transitioning into 4/4 and alternating back and forth).

18486309_10211268974934184_4407968344183550024_n
Photo by Ryan Henriksen, Columbia Daily Tribune. May 22nd, 2012

At this point, I’m going to spare you all of the track-by-track breakdown I could do and instead I’ll cut to our second to last song.

We closed our set (before the encore) with a song called “The Day Before”, the first song I wrote at age 16. Something special happened during that song.

A song about a girl that I had a crush on. How cliché. What’s even more of a cliché was that I was too nervous to tell her.  Now, what did NOT happen was that girl coming out of the woodworks after hearing my song and immediately falling for me. This night was a dream come true, but not like that.

The Day Before is about getting over yourself because, well, life is weird; it’s about embracing the weirdness.

Following the guitar solo, during the last chorus, we dropped all of our instruments and sang the words a cappella in four-part harmony.(What I find impressive now, some 8 years after I wrote my first song, was that I managed to write a melody and subsequent four part harmony utilizing a tritone in each part. I didn’t know what that was at the time. But cool for a kid, I guess.),

My life changed forever during that a cappella chorus.

“The thoughts in my brain are scattered like beans, yeah on the floor, yeah on the floor. The words in my dreams are weirder than the day before, weirder than the day before”

 “The Day Before” – Lot 56

I can still see the glowing faces of the audience singing along with music that I’d written. I could see the happiness in their eyes. I could feel the palpable joy radiating from them.

I have footage of the moment I decided to be a professional musician.

It was a completely transcendent moment where, looking back now, I can watch myself watching them sing along with music I wrote.

~THEY KNEW THE WORDS~

We hadn’t even recorded our album at that point. They knew those terrible, horrible, amazingly cheesy lyrics from coming to our shows. It filled me to the brim with happiness knowing that I brought that moment of happiness to those people.

We walked off the stage, hastily loaded our equipment, and for the first time, I truly felt like I was living. I was the happiest I had ever been.

After those brilliant 37 minutes on stage I knew that I had to commit my life to doing that again. I knew I wanted to write better songs. I knew I wanted to play bigger shows. I knew, without a doubt, what I wanted to do with my life.

Since that day, I have fully committed my life to music.

I now live in Nashville, Tennessee, write songs with so many amazing people, perform with killer artists, and more than anything, when people ask what I’m doing these days, I can earnestly say that I am living the dream.

~In Retrospect~

Sometimes I go back and watch the home videos of our shows and can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous faces, dances, and stage antics I brought to our audiences. So many times would I get made fun of at school. “Oh my god. Dude you looked like an idiot when your band was playing”.

I never let their remarks get to me; I always responded with, “Yeah I do. But you remembered me. And my band. So it worked”. Bad press is better than no press, right? After all, these people would come to our shows to make fun of me and I STILL got their $5 door cover, so I was fine with it. I was having fun.

I was a weirdo on stage.

Now, I won’t get too sentimental and I wouldn’t dare overstate the talent of my band, but some of our material was actually pretty good. (Yeah, yeah, still biased, I hear you.) We were each students of music though; this is what we were good at and I consider myself lucky to have performed with so many talented guys.

*If you are curious as to what I Aaron Schilb was doing musically when he was in high school, the “Lot 56” album is still available on Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes, and most other digital music retailers for streaming and purchase.

PS. I still do ridiculous things when I play.

Nothing has changed.

27355932_10213382643894587_2237811521340290580_o
Pictured: Aaron Schilb rehearsing prior to the recording of “Rock & Roll Degenerate” 2018

 

“Sorry, What did you say? I couldn’t hear you.” – Aaron Schilb

I am a singer/songwriter and I am almost completely deaf.

For those of you who may not know, I suffer form a condition known as Otosclerosis which is where I experience abnormal bone growth in my middle ear resulting in hearing loss.

weird al accordion
“Weird Al” Yankovic pictured in Halifax, Nova Scotia

First signs of hearing loss manifested themselves as inattentiveness in school, “selective hearing” when my parents spoke to me, cranking the television or radio as loud as it could go, and excessive yelling. Though none of these things are out of the ordinary for a 10-year-old boy. After all, what kind of 10 year old doesn’t want to listen to a “Weird Al” Yankovic accordion solo with his radio cranked to eleven?

Despite being mostly dismissed through early childhood, I failed school-mandated hearing test – this lead to the first of dozens of doctor visits and MRI scans.

My childhood ENT specialist, Dr. Sindey Christiansen, was a nice enough man, but his bedside manner left much to be desired. He was often cold, blunt, and rude with this explanations of what was happening to me. (Telling a child that they will go completely deaf before adulthood is kind of brutal, right?) During my ear exams he would be so rough and forceful with me that I once nearly vomited from the pain.

~Many years of useless doctors visits later~

stapedectomyAt age 16 I underwent my first left ear procedure, a stapedectomy. This is where the surgeon removes part of the Stapes bone in the middle ear, drills a small hole, and implants a prosthesis that allows the bone to once again vibrate when sound hits it.

With a 90% success rate the odds were in my favor that I would once again be able to hear.

I was not so lucky. I fell into the category of the 1% where middle ear surgeries actually WORSEN the condition. The piston installed in my left ear was attacked by scar tissue and consequently broken.

And to top it all off, I experienced a post-op condition of temporary loss of taste on the left side of my tongue. This was caused by the surgeon bumping a nerve inside of my ear that controlled my sense of taste. He stated that it would return in roughly two weeks – it did not. To this day, eight years later, I still cannot taste sweets on the left side of my tongue.

Despite multiple surgies to attempt at a reconciliation to restore my hearing, I was eventually presented with the only remaining option – dual hearing aids to correct major bilateral hearing loss. 

I had just started writing music. I had just formed my first band. I had just found my first love.

Heart. Broken.

~Oh, you’re deaf? How do you play music if you can’t hear it?~

I swear I am asked this question multiple times each week and even more so now that I live in Nashville, TN which is colloquially known as “Music City USA”.

I am able to write, record, and perform music due in large to my brilliant hometown audiologist Dr. Morgan Hahn.

Because I am a musician and audio engineer, I am impossibly picky about the way things sound sonically. Getting a good mix on a song with two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals is hard. But getting a good mix of ALL SOUNDS ON THE ENTIRE PLANET EARTH is nearly impossible.

Dr. Hahn was patient with me when I would come back to her office twice a week for nearly three years while I adjusted the EQ mix of my hearing aids and got refitted for the c-shells that live inside of my ear canals 17 hours a day.

Despite saying that if I continue to play music I’ll certainly go entirely deaf, I have to ignore these warnings. Playing music isn’t just a desire, it’s a compulsion. I actually go through deep depressive waves when I don’t write or perform. Music is the only drug that makes the blues go away. (What’s funny is when I write a blues song and it makes me happy. The blues make my blues go away™ – maybe that’s a song in the future? I’ll go ahead ™ that right now just in case.)

If you keep a sharp eye out at my live shows, you might just catch a glimpse of the tiny devices that enable me to do what I love.

~ How I do more than just “get by” with my hearing aids~

Without purging the nitty gritty details of exactly what’s happening in these insanely expensive computer things in my ears (these often cost $3,500 per ear and aren’t even covered by most insurance carriers because it’s a “pre-existing condition”) I’ll say that they have a few different settings that help me out. IMG_0382.JPG

First is an automated pre-set that adjusts volumes according to how loud my surroundings are. It filters out both high and low frequencies to help “focus” the mid range frequencies at which most people speak.

Second is a wide open pre-set that allows all frequencies to be amplified. No longer using a spectral gate to filter out “unnecessary” sounds, I am allowed to hear appropriately loud sounds. ~This is the setting I use while performing~ because it has such a wide frequency response rate which allows me to hear my guitar and voice (or anything else) while performing.

Third is my personal favorite…… THE MUTE FUNCTION.

It conveniently allows me to live in silence. And yes, I know what you’re thinking, “You’re deaf. If you want silence, why don’t you just take out your hearing aids”.

I use the mute function because it allows me to feel like I am in control of my hearing loss. I can choose to hear everything around me and be a part of the world, or if I need to focus and do work (or take a nap in the library like when I was in college), I can do so.

While in reality, no, I am not in control of my condition and it’s a possibility I’ll go completely deaf before I’m 30, it’s more of a placebo for my self-esteem to feel like I have the decision to not hear.

That choice to temporarily be in total silence gives me power. It’s the silver lining surrounding this degenerative middle-ear bone condition I’ve suffered from since I was 10.

~It’s really damn hard not to lose hope~

There are days when I wake up literally on the wrong side of the bed… unable to feel the vibrations of my cellphone alarm. Consequently I have to start some days being late, feeling rushed, and honestly, a little pissed off at myself for not laying still enough or close enough to my phone while sleeping to wake up on time.

It sucks to be reminded of my disability from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I take out my hearing aids at night.

I once left the water in my sink running all night because I couldn’t hear anything when I turned off one handle and unknowingly had turned on both the hot and cold knobs.

It’s really easy to feel sorry for myself; to wallow in my self doubt; to want to give up every time one of the batteries in my hearing aids dies in the middle of a show (yes, that has happened and it’s super funny to watch the audience try to figure out what the hell I’m doing).

But no matter what I refuse to lose hope. Hope is the only thing that gets me through the day. Hope is how I know I will get to where I need to be.

“I think it’s about hope. About offering hope and this idea that we can be, and all are, enslaved in some way. Imprisoned in some way. We’re doing it to ourselves most of the time. […] and I guess it’s that if you understand that everyone is trapped to a certain degree the movie offers the possibility that there is a place in the sun for you somewhere. There is a place that with some perseverance and patience, and a little luck…you can get there”

– Tim Robbins discussing his performance in The Shawshank Redemption on the ID10T Podcast with Chris Hardwick.

~What’s next?~

IMG_0329
Aaron Schilb recording his new album “Rock & Roll Degenerate” in CBP Studios, Nashville TN

I am in the process of recording my new album, “Rock & Roll Degenerate”, as an homage to my degenerative hearing condition. I am not a leather wearing, long-haired rocker dude. I am more of a sweater wearing, Big-Foot-On-My-Socks, hearing aid clad,  rocker type of dude. So in more than one way am I a different kind of degenerative rock and roller.

Overcoming the (oftentimes) bleak and discouraging feelings that stem from losing my ability to hear, I will persevere; I will press on.  Not being a musician has never and will never be an option.

“Come close, don’t you understand that I’m a different kind of rock and roll degenerate, man?”

**Please remember to sign up for my email list to keep up to date with my new music!

– Follow me on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

– Find my music on Spotify / Apple Music / CD Baby / Soundcloud

 

Tracking listing for my new record:

  1. Rock & Roll Degenerate
  2. Blowing Smoke
  3. Running from Redemption
  4. Montreal
  5. Alive
  6. When the Sun Goes Down