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Monsters & Little Things — A Conversation with Niagara Falls Metal Legend Joe Caferella

Updated: Mar 10

(EDITOR’S NOTESFor more than two decades, Joe Caferella has been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the world of WNY metal. Having been a founding member of the Niagara Falls heavy metal band, STEMM (whose music has been used by the UFC since 2002), singing with Klear, and now releasing material under his own name this year, his music has been a stirring and empowering tie for so many of those who found themselves in need of a larger family — a family found, suffice it to say, when gathered in support Joe and his bandmates on stage. Joe — who will be independently releasing his new single “The Little Things” on March 22 — was kind enough recently to share his wisdom and walk us through his musings on life, music, loved ones, and the journey itself.)


1120 Press: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. To start, let’s get a bit of the origin story: you’ve been active within music for the majority of your life. What was the road like that brought you here?


JOE CAFERELLA: I was born into music. My father was in cover bands and such. I remember being three or four years old and being brought to the bar to see my dad. I recall watching him play around the house with his friends, and eventually the guitar was being handed to me. Rock and roll, you know — even my mom wasn’t necessarily listening to softer, pop music.


1120: What has life looked like recently? Additionally, how does the daily balancing act work for you between solo work, bands, music publishing, the farm, and family. That’s a staggering workload. How do you manage?


JC: Well, I left corporate life about eight years ago, and I decided never again. I began working with the UFC more, at one point, being invited to a music conference out in Los Angeles by a mutual associate. From there, more opportunities developed to the point of being able to meet with larger companies and music libraries, like Sony, and start selling to them directly. So, from this, dealing with Sony, finally being able to get out to L.A. and Nashville, and working with these companies one on one, this has put me in a position to start my own company in music licensing, which will be launching in April.

 

In terms of the farm (Knotty Reelz Farm), I drove truck for many years in food distribution, and it was really through that, and seeing how flawed the industry was, that had inspired me to want to raise and grow my own food. We started out just for ourselves, with 10 hens and one pig. With that and beginning to bring our meat to barbecues and friends’ houses, it started to grow, and now we’ve just sold out of our nine pigs we had for this year. (It comes down to dividing our time) from the farm, our AirBnB here in the Finger Lakes, going solo in 2024, and releasing music, independently.


1120: Again, you’ve had quite the prolific career, spanning more than 20 amazing years. But to zero in nearer to the beginning, we’d like to talk about STEMM for a moment. Having borne witness in our youth, and as recently as the Songs for the Incurable Heart reunion at the Rapids Theater, STEMM was an entire movement. From “Face the Pain'' and the UFC, touring, and taking radio like 103.3 The Edge, by storm, it must have been an exhilarating time. How did you process all this? What was it like to experience these moments?


JC: Definitely. It really all came from the fans, and being personal with them. Lots of bands just hang out backstage, locals and nationals, and they just never get out there. Ninety percent of the time, we were out in the crowd, connecting with people. When we started, we’d be at high school football games handing out tapes, ‘Do you like Korn…? Soulfly…? Then listen to this!’ Because of that connection, when we started doing our own shows in Niagara Falls, it grew and grew, from 10, to 80, 100 to 500 kids coming out to these shows, to getting kicked out of music halls! Then seeing these kids grow up.

When it ended in 2012, we thought that it would just fall off, but it never did. One time, I recall, our guitarist ran into a DJ from the Edge, and they actually asked us to call off our fans, and ask them to back off! How would we do that?! How about you just play what they want to hear! (Laughs) 

 

Of course, the UFC had a huge impact as well. In addition to ‘Face the Pain,’ they used like 25 of our songs in their productions, and people were naturally like, “who is this band?”


Really though, we just love our fans, we had thought it would fall off, but it didn’t. I think that comes from more than flyers, and Facebook. We got down in the trenches.


1120: By contrast, surely there were less rosy days, in the beginning as well as throughout. It must have been absolutely daunting and overwhelming at times. What was the opposite side of life at this level of intensity? How did you steady yourself, finding solace, and powering through the immense obstacles you were facing?


JC: Of course, you have four other guys, the road crew… it’s like a marriage with four people — you’re married to who they’re married too, and all of those relationships, those other egos, and you have to be patient with them, and friends, and family.


There was anxiety about the road too, and that went to us, our team, and bus drivers. It

was like a football team: you have a series of plays, one play you might get 7 yards, and then the next, you know the QB snaps, and it may be a turnover.


Looking at all the shows, in playing and interacting with acts such as Hatebreed, Sevendust, and Chimera. There were times we were falling asleep at the wheel and collecting change, but even these large acts were scraping by, dealing with that stress and working 40 hour weeks. So, a lot of it comes down to relationships. But at the same time, a band is a business — selling and promoting, and you know, it’s like AC/DC said, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll,” and for putting that all that together, you gotta respect some of the big artists like Metallica, Pearl Jam, Slipknot, and Megadeth.


1120: Riding that journey all the way to the present day, which presents us with some exciting turns: You have just recently released the single “The Little Things” on YouTube, which is also to be released on streaming services later this month. Now, for those who have followed along — noting your time with klear, and with STEMM’s later fare — this move to a more Americana, country-esque style was reasonably well forecasted. However, we’d love to further understand the personal journey that brought you here. Does this feel like a part of a larger journey that led to this point? An exploration of

older and deeper influences? Or alternatively, could this be seen as a sort of a reinvention, breaking new ground in a deliberate way?


JC: It’s really a mix of both, and not too many people know. So, when I had been driving truck, I had FM radio, and tapes, you know… But there were times that I didn’t want to listen to the EDGE anymore, and I just started hitting search on the radio, looking for something… anything but the same shit. Eventually I land on 106.0 or whatever it was at the time, and it’s Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” which is a really good tune. I didn’t really like country, but I knew Tim McGraw, and I enjoyed the Outlaw Country stuff, you know, it was Motley Crue in a way, rock n’ roll. Then the next song that comes on is Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”, and he paints it as if it’s the devil talking, and that comparison really struck me, and the station just stuck, I appreciated how they were telling stories, how it was fun, and patriotic; and it inspired me in a way that Pantera and Metallica didn’t.


So, I fell in love with it in about 2004, and eventually confided in our guitarist, and at that point everyone came out of the closet so to speak, and we were all jamming on tour. I had written a song around the time that didn’t end up going anywhere, but with the music library, I’d written a lot of different stuff, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Techno, and Blues… and after TJ (Frost) and STEMM played together last year, we have in fact written new material. But I was sort of blindsided by the need to do this also, but to separate it. To do it solo is different; and the fans have been coming out despite the genre, and enjoying it.


1120: The very first show we attended was STEMM performing at a roller-rink somewhere in Angola. You have been an inspiration for people; given the chance, what would you tell up-and-comers m— the ones plinking away on their first guitar, dreaming of a life in music?


JC: So, having my 7 year old, Wyatt wrote a song, and we put it together and put it out, and he laid out a beat and everything! He wants to play guitar, and drums, and the trumpet, and as a parent that’s great — it’s whatever he wants to do. Not all parents have the resources to support that, or only see music as a hobby, and not a career. But my dad backed me 100 percent, got me lessons, encouraged me, and let me be a dreamer. I try to do that for Wyatt, to let him be a dreamer, to have him want to ask for help, to show him different music. I want to do that, show him the things every guitarist should know — that there is no one way to play.


Sure, they may get picked on, or ridiculed… but I would rather him work his ass off, playing Slipknot, or Morgan Wallen, or whatever, than on the streets. If your kid wants to be a musician, then let them, and if they don’t, that’s okay, too. But they could be enriching themselves. I remember starting out, playing battle of the bands, sucking, and trying to play all these things I couldn’t, but my friends and I were growing, and challenging each other, and getter better- instead of being in the streets, getting into trouble.

 

Expect friction; that comes with it. And even today, with starting our music library, and how that can succeed; you don’t have to be some sort of celebrity to succeed. You know, I’m a dreamer. The day I say my dream is crushed, I’ll probably die. So, don’t believe the smokescreen; if you love it, it never feels like work.


1120: To conclude: We spoke a bit about your latest ventures, but to put a bow on it, what are your plans going into the future? What would you like the world to know?


JC: You can find my music on YouTube and SeeingRedMusic.com, live now, I’ll be promoting the new song, doing production, and putting out an acoustic version of the new song, and setting to work on the full music library. I’m so excited, to pump out my own music, with STEMM, and production music. I know now that it is my time. I can feel it in my bones.

 




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