We’re back with another Crucial Tracks feature – this time it’s talented musician Vic Lazar, who we met during college at the University at Buffalo. Vic played in the the legendary Buffalo hardcore band Union, as well as fronted many of his own indie leaning bands, including Grey In-between, Vox H, Knife Crazy, Patrons of Sweet, Maceo Ruez, and his latest band, Some Gifts.

Vic grew up in various locales around New York State before ending up in Buffalo, NY for college. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and two sons. With that all said, it’s time to dig into some crucial tracks with this prolific songwriter and axe master…so take it away, Vic…

More than songs, a point in time.

I am 47 years of age. I grew up in the pre-digital era, pre-streaming, pre-computer age. Admittedly, I was late to the digital party. I did not get my first cell phone until 2006 (I was 30) and did not get my first PC (a used 2004 MacBook) until 2011. I used computers of course as needed for doing college projects, papers and emailing, but they were always on someone else’s machine and/or a public computer. Being a parent of two boys currently aged 6 & 9, I must admit a twinge of jealousy for how easy they have it nowadays. A song that I kept hearing them play ad nauseam was “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, a ubiquitous anthem from their 1985 album, Songs from the Big Chair.

I did not realize this until the 4th day of hearing this song, seemingly in a loop because of how much my kids love this song, that I loved this song too and coincidentally around the same age. This song was my entry into the world of “modern” sounding rock. It had classic sounding synths, electronic drums and searing electric guitar solos, all these things appealed to me at that age of 9. It was surreal to hear this song and both my kids singing the lyrics and dancing to it, just like me and my sister Rose did when we were kids.  

Another overlapping song was “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne. Luke (my younger guy) was watching a video on YouTube and the famous guitar riff by Randy Rhodes was playing in the background on a loop, I caught myself running out and decreeing, “Luke, that’s one of my favorite songs! Wanna hear Daddy play it on my guitar!” His reaction was one of the cutest things ever, he screamed “of course Daddy!” and thus I played him that signature riff on my acoustic I had handy. It sounded nothing like the fuzzily distorted electric original, but it did not matter, he heard the notes and was convinced I wrote it, that it was my song.  Eventually on one of our forays to the park, I played the original track, lyrics and all and he was blown away. We both sing along now at the top our lungs to “Crazy Train.”

Music has been a major component of my life, anyone that really knows me can attest to this. I was honored to be asked to contribute to the new project Crucial Tracks created by my good friends Jason and Chris, it got me thinking about the past and how much music has played a role in my development.  My kids have greatly impacted my life and sharing some music together is one of my favorite experiences as a parent thus far. My mother passed this Spring, it was sudden and unexpected. It was devastating and I am still not quite through the grieving process, some days are better than others, but regardless she is always in my thoughts. Music was a major bonding force for my mom and I, some of the most important memories I have tie back to specific songs. Here are a couple that really matter to me. 

My mom had an incredible record collection. In hindsight, her albums spanned many decades, ranging from the 40’s on through the 80’s; holiday albums, showtunes, Motown, classic rock, disco and even some progressive rock. The album that was my first “love” was Rubber Soul, the Beatles were my introduction to emo. I was heavily affected by them, the harmonies, the soothing tones, the lyrics being laden with feeling, chock full of anguish, joy, sadness, they ran the gamut. “In My Life” was my mom’s personal favorite and of course it became my favorite. I still get weepy when I listen to this song, it still fills me with all those feelings and makes me feel closer to mom.  

My early exposure to the Beatles was followed by none other than Tina Turner. Her Love Songs album released in 1984 was one of my mom’s later official vinyl purchases, she had other Tina Turner albums, she loved her earlier stuff, but the song that she really influenced me with “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” This song’s soothing melody and keyboards were such a nice aural experience on her old Fisher Hi-Fi. I listened to this song a lot, so much so that I memorized every lyric at 8 years of age. I would ask my mom what some of the more mature lines meant, with her not really knowing how to field my inquiries. She would just say, it’s kind of hard to explain, but let’s just say she (Tina) was smart and would not take any man’s crap. My mom was so funny and honest.

In 4th grade my mom enrolled me in guitar classes at my school. She offered me a choice, guitar or piano and since Drums were a nonstarter, guitar it was. As a reward for good grades in the middle of my 4th grade year, my mom bought me an electric guitar and a small starter combo amp. I was in bliss, the amp was a 10-watt Gorilla amp, it had a distortion knob, and this was the start of my guitar odyssey, an obsession that would live on to this day. One of the most important lessons on guitar didn’t happen in the classroom though, it was at my cousin Vito and Michael’s basement in Long Island during a trip that was for one of the holidays when I was about 10 years old. It was the first time I would be exposed to Black Sabbath; the fateful day my brain’s little wires would be hijacked by heavy metal. They sat me down on a cozy chair, placed headphones on my ears and pressed play on the record player, the song that blasted me into out of space was “Iron Man,” an iconic anthem that evoked such incredible imagery, I was hooked.

I spent a good chunk of that visit playing their drums and guitars in the basement, playing along to the album again with the headphones on full blast, learning the song one note at a time, my cousins jaws dropped, seeing that I was able to learn it by ear and my fingers were able to form the power chords, they screamed up the stairs to everyone to come see, I became a bit of trick pony that day. Mom would make me bring my guitar to all the family functions, showing off the newest songs I was able to learn at home. The next milestone on guitar was learning one of my favorite songs, still to this day it is top tier to me; “Barracuda” by Heart, a tune that both scared and thrilled me. The eerie sounds of the high-pitched harmonics, the triplet strumming with the syncopated galloping kick drum, all these elements still strike a nerve when I still listen to this song, same as it did when I was 10 years old.

Fast forward now, heavy metal was a big part of my musical journey, and one of the moments that sticks with me still that involved music and my family was a trip we took from Queens to Troupsburg, a town in southern tier of New York which we would end moving to during the summer before my 7th grade year. During this trip my dad let me put my newest tape into the stereo of the 78’ Thunderbird and it had a feature where it would flip the tape at the conclusion of the side. The trip took 7 hours, it felt like 7 days, the tape played the entire trip, it was Skid Row’s self-titled album, my dad never popped it out. This explained to me overhearing him singing “18 and life, you got it…. 18 and life you know” in the house the next day, which coming from a Romanian with a very thick accent, was pretty god damn funny. He would ask me, “who is this Ricky, anyway?”

During the next decade my taste would broaden and my love for metal evolved. During my high school years friendships would impact my musical taste and I would end up eventually influencing friends with my taste. It was not until 10 grade that I would hear Prog Rock again, the stuff that I heard early on mom’s Fisher Hi-Fi would be some of the same stuff that would be played at my good friend Dave’s house. The most memorable song that still to this day remains one of my favorite tracks of all time is “Runaround” by Yes; pop sensible, yet classy and artsy, all the things a prog rock anthem ever needed.

Later in 10th grade, another band would enter my life that would change me forever. Nirvana was being played on a Canadian video channel called Much Music before they hit big in the states. I had heard the big hit like everyone else, it was impossible to avoid, I loved it too and just like everyone else, I bought the tape. Or so I thought, but in fact, I did not buy the right tape. I bought a different one, because K Mart sold out of Nevermind and I purchased the only tape they had left, a collection of B-sides and previously released originals and covers on smaller labels called Incesticide. This album to this day is still my favorite release by Nirvana and “Aneurysm” is one of their best songs in my humble opinion.

Grunge crashed down on me like a 50-foot wave, I was the perfect age for it, 15 and full of small-town angst. A privileged white kid for sure, but I was open to learning about the struggles of the world, the inequalities that existed and the struggles others faced. I did have empathy at an early age, thankfully due to how I was raised. I was susceptible to music that had meaning, songs that were about something and thus my entrance into hardcore and punk music.

In 1994 I left home for college and at the University of Buffalo I discovered Hardcore. While unloading my car into my dorm I met Keith Brown, who would later become one of my best friends and cofounder of my first hardcore band, Union. Keith and I shared so much common music, it was such a bond for us, my first memories of that Fall in Buffalo are with him playing acoustic guitars, singing along to Violent Femmes, Janes Addiction and even our own silly made up songs. We later ended up linking up with fellow UB alumnus Mike Jeffers and my initiation into hardcore music would commence.

The first hardcore song that really resonated with me was “Firestorm” by Earth Crisis, the pummeling riff and drum cadence, the palpable anger of Carl screaming “A FIRESTORM TO PURIFY” it all culminated into a new noise that would become a crucial piece of my musical puzzle.

Musically, the latter half of my college experience was spent entrenched in indie rock. While still loving hardcore, I became disillusioned with scene politics and the hypocrisy of a lot of the people who were preaching hardcore values, while being quite the opposite. I gravitated towards like minds who made music that was for weirdos, the art freaks, the stuff that really excited me to listen to. One of the first big doses of this came when my sister Rose started booking shows and giving my bands opportunities to open some of these shows. A band that really left a big imprint on me was a Boston based band called Helms. I opened with a solo set for Helms during the winter of 2000 at Mohawk Place and it was one of the best shows I had ever seen. This song still holds up as one of the best songs I have ever seen live.

I started channeling a lot of the things I was hearing into my own songcraft. It was not until probably the formation of my band Maceo Ruez in the Fall of 2000 that I felt like I was able to properly articulate myself and infuse my influences into the music I was making. I started purchasing music again voraciously, just like I did when I first got into college and some of these first purchases still stand the test of time. I spent a lot of time at New World Record, Home of the Hits and Record Theatre, these places were a hub of discovery, they were places where not only would you purchase music, but you would discuss music. And on the off chance, you might even get to see a live in-store performance. One such chance happened for me in the summer of 97’ at the old location of New World Records. I was able to see Toronto based singer-song writer Hayden Desser perform there, it was one of the most intimate memorable live shows I have seen, and it instantaneously made me a fan. His songs were sweet, darkly humored dirges, simultaneously sad and funny, it was this contrast that made such an impact on me and led me down my own path of lyrical honesty. His song “We Don’t Mind” is a great example of how simple chords with just the correct dose of genuine feeling is all you really need.

My journey of music continues, I harken back to the things from my early days. I still discover new things and old things I somehow missed along the way. The most recent experiences with my kids getting into some of the songs that I grew up loving as well proved to me how it is one big cycle and that good songs have staying power. There is undeniability to a good song. And of course, taste is subjective, but I will always swear by those songs that have led me to where I am, those artists that helped cultivate my perspective and even my abilities as an artist in my own right. It is more than just a song to me, it’s a place in time that I can travel back, a good song can transcend me. Good songs can be therapy.  

Listen to this issue of Crucial Tracks

Find this issue’s playlist on Apple Music and Spotify.


Thanks to Vic for sharing his Crucial Tracks! You can find Vic online:  websiteInstagram. (And of course his music on Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify.)

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