“I’m 28 and know I’m still young by some standards, but I recently came to a crossroad posed with the dilemma of either I’m going to make music or not. Well, I don’t want to go through life wishing I had. So, here I am. Here we are.”
-John Budnik, 2016
It started in 8th grade, when John Budnik was invited to watch his friends jam after hours in the band room of Palmer Junior Middle School. With one friend on a drum kit and another wailing on a metallic green Squier Fender Stratocaster, John was in. He went home and had his dad start teaching him how to play guitar. A few weeks later, John’s dad called him out to his car after he got home from work and popped the trunk. Inside was a Squier Fender Bullet and a 25-watt Fender amp. You’d think the rest is history, but it’s not.
John pretty much spent 10 years writing and playing songs in his bedroom. Sure, he had gigs, but they were small and mostly by happenstance. The first band he was in, “The Nightlies,” was famously asked to play at the high school senior awards night. They were juniors. School administration nixed the performance due to their class status. So, they recruited the senior, who had originally invited them to the ceremony, to be their newest tambourine player. The band rocked the socks off those proud parents with a cover of Modest Mouse’s “Float On.”
In 2015, John’s partner, Grisha Stewart, encouraged him to start participating in Schwabenhof’s open mic nights. Perched on a hill in Wasilla, Alaska, it was at this Bavarian-themed dive bar, where Grisha started singing with John and they met the three other band members. John was paired with Cody O’Mary on drums for his set one night. A few open mics later, a mutual friend suggested they all convene over at Cody’s house to jam. When John saw the address, he realized it was down the street from him. Now, in Palmer every residence is “just down the street,” but it ends up Cody lived only a few houses over from John. This easily facilitates jam sessions.
John met Brice McDaniel briefly at Schwabenhof, but Brice disappeared to Hawaii for a multi-month stint. When he returned, he ended up living with Cody, who he met in prison. That is, they are electricians in the same union and were both dispatched to work on the construction of a correctional center. When John and Cody would play, Brice just naturally joined in and proved he was the lead guitarist.
Steve Thomas and Cody met in high school guitar class. They hung out for the first time at a Megadeth concert where it was noteworthy that a guy there had weed that smelled like dog poop. (This should tell you something about the sense of humor these guys share.) Steve and Cody have been jamming forever and wanting to do something with it. The John Budnik Band is the opportunity for them to share their talents.
The five members function under a championship concept—they are part of a group of “champions” that all contribute to and are vital to the survival of the group. John’s role in the band is to be the primary songwriter. He says, “People keep diaries and journals; I sing mine.” His sincere, genuine lyrics and musical foundation give the other four members a framework to build up a sound that is distinctly theirs. “I want to throw out a concept for a song and let them put their fingerprints on it to make it their own,” John says. He also encourages the members to take charge of and define their roles.
In the end, they want to have fun playing music for people. They want to play music that makes the audience get off of their chairs and dance. Music that energizes people. Music that resonates with the molecules in a person’s soul, prompting them to say “I’ve been there.” And, if they can make enough to pay for food and shelter, they’ll take it.