Each decade gives us different styles and artistic levels of musical creation in New Jersey. The late ’90s and early 2000s were no exceptions. Many artists that we’ve come to know started back in those heady days of rock and roll celebration. Local heroes such as Last Perfect Thing, Rick Barry, Val Emmich, The Commons and Highway 9 all came from that timeline and sparked a whole new generation of rock, country, pop and blues in the Garden State. Another band that left its indelible mark on the scene was Days Awake. Formed in 2003 and comprised of original members Chuck Schoonmaker (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Jay Cagna (bass guitar), Sarah Tomek (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Jeremy Korpas (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Safka (keyboards) and Dominic Lacquaniti (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Days Awake was a band that garnered local and major label attention in its heyday.
Not only did the band attract the attention of music industry kingpins from Atlantic and Island, but they also pack rooms like Patrick’s (Belmar) and The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on a weekly basis. Several of the band’s members have gone on to do their own thing with drummer Sarah Tomek hitting the skins for Nashville’s own Maggie Rose and landing a spot in Steven Tyler’s Nashville touring band Loving Mary. Tomek has gone on to tour and play the most elite of rooms and major TV talk shows on the planet including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Today Show, Seth Meyers and Good Morning America. B3 specialist Eric Saka is an in-demand player who has logged time with everyone who is anyone in the state and has toured extensively with several up-and-coming artists that are making their distinct mark in life. Other members such as Jeremy Korpas moved to the West Coast to continue with individual careers in musical exploration.
Their style could be best described as honest rock and roll with tons of soul, plenty of room shaking power and an extra dose of jazz-flavored intelligence. Their melding of mainstream heavy rock with luminous jamming skill drove the rootsy energy of Days Awake to a higher plane than most locals could ever hope to achieve. With appeal to anyone who hungers for club style rock music, Days Awake enhanced their status through subtlety on instrumentation, the earnestness of delivery and the belief in music’s ability to lift them above the rest. In an era where deadpan irony passes for a cool attitude and robotic beats are labeled “progressive,” Days Awake reached for something much more ambitious: heroic performances of grassroots songs that justify the hope that a night of rock and roll could change your life.
When it comes to why the band is doing this now, keyboard player Eric Safka tells me it’s simply because it’s something that they’ve wanted to do for a long time but circumstances had kept them from fulfilling their get-together until now. Timing was just never right due to geographical separation and career obligations. The band started their run as a unit back in 2003 when they played their first show at Harry’s Roadhouse on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park. Born out of a desire to see the music of former bandmate Chuck Schoonmaker see the light of day one more time, Safka and crew got it together to make this upcoming gig a reality.
When it comes to how the band came to be, Safka tells me, “I had been playing with every band I could in those early days and had met a lot of people. One of those people was John DiCapua, sound engineer for The Stone Pony. I happened to mention to him what I was working on, and he said, ‘You need a drummer, follow me…’ And we proceeded to walk over to Jimi, the club behind the Pony that now acts as its green room.
That’s where I re-met Sarah Tomek of whom I knew briefly from Wall High school and had one jam session in her in her basement with a mutual friend. I asked her to play and may have given her a demo we had done. She brought the music to her parents Joe Bop and Kiki Tomek who heard it and persisted that she need to get involved.” After that things started to roll quickly forward, Eric continues. “She came to rehearsal at The Flip Den, my old home studio/sanctuary. It was a match. Not long after we began recording a demo EP, she brought in her former bandmate Dominic Laquiniti to play some rhythm and dobro tracks and he killed it! A master of style and one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet, the addition of Dominic set us on our course. We booked our first show I believe on October 11, 2003, at Harry’s Roadhouse. It was an exciting moment I never will forget, and from that point forward the band began to evolve.”
As it developed, the band saw the addition of both Jeremy Korpas and Jay Cagna (bassist for Chuck and Eric’s first collaboration, Clad) and it became something special. Having such diverse musical influence and yet sharing much of the same, they continued to build on Schoonmaker’s great songs, mixing rock and roll, R&B and a healthy dose of improvisation and bad jokes on stage. The band began its Thursday night residency at the newly reopened Wonder Bar early on. At this time, Asbury Park was trying to regain its identity, and the group and that town was growing together. The crowds got bigger and Days Awake began to make moves outward.
Sarah Tomek texted me from the studio as to her thoughts on the music, the performance, and the band. “It has been eight years since Days Awake played together. As I listen back to the old shows, my heart starts racing, like it did on stage in my early 20s. I want that rock and roll innocence back. My goal is to bring that to the table as well as a sheer joy to everyone’s life from those heady times again, even if it’s just for one night.”
Eric continues the band’s history as he says, “For four years, we lived the life you would see in any great story of an up-and-coming rock band, from great music, dealings with other minor and major labels, in-fighting, secret romances, and strong personal stories. We were like the Bundys from Married… With Children, completely dysfunctional but also completely protective of our family. In 2007 we had our final performance in the big room at Paul’s Tavern in Belmar. It seemed a fitting venue as they also had supported us through so much. As we set up that day, calls were coming in from as far as Pittsburgh, Maryland and Boston confirming the show was on for that night. The room that night filled to capacity saw its final Days Awake performance closing the night out with the code name “October Mist,” our only time covering G&R’s “November Rain.” When we started playing it, I could see the vibe in the room—they knew it was the end. I saw grown men cry and even though that was a tough moment for all of us, in hindsight it was beautiful.
We touched people. We lived the life of a real Jersey rock band trying to make it. So here we are, the former Days Awake, scattered around the country living different lives having commit to performing at least one more time. We hope everyone can join us and share in some of that high energy from the past.”
Opening for Days Awake will be Asbury sensation, Remember Jones. Remember Jones features Anthony D’Amato and promises to bring the soulful party to the club. For more information, head over to houseofindependents.com for show info and directions.