Rock drummer Billy Alemaghides reinvents himself as a Long Island business owner
Billy Alemaghides may not be a household name, but the Bethpage native accomplished plenty as the drummer of two prominent Long Island rock bands. The first group, Coward, made its self-titled album with Jerry Finn – who worked with blink-182, Green Day and The Offspring – for Elektra Records, and its single “I Don't Care” got some MTV airplay. The next band, Diffuser, recorded two albums for Hollywood Records, and had songs on the soundtracks of Mission: Impossible II and Freaky Friday. The frontmen of both Coward (Shep Goodman) and Diffuser (Tomas Costanza) have since written and produced music for prominent artists in addition to doing A&R work for major labels.
Now the proprietor of Long Island Geese Control, Billy is now based in Nissequogue. He plays music for fun in his off time, some of which involving his children, Mason and Avery. Billy tackled Q&A for No Place Like Long Island, going into depth about his past, present and future. For more info on his company –- which currently employs a dozen trained dog handlers, including a wildlife biologist -– click on over to www.longislandgeesecontrol.com.
You played drums in two bands signed to major label deals, Coward and then later Diffuser. What were some of the Long Island venues you played a lot of shows at?
BA: I was in a few bands prior to signing deals with Coward and Diffuser. In fact, a band I was in from 1992 to 1995, Scapegoat, featured Sheppard – lead singer from Coward – on bass, and Tomas – lead singer in Diffuser -- on guitar. Over the years, I played pretty much every place there was to play on the Island, I think. Some were big like Spit in Levittown), Roxy Music Hall in Huntington, Sundance in Bay Shore, Mulcahy’s in Wantagh, CPI in Hampton Bays, Industry in Island Park...a bunch of medium-sized places like February’s in Elmont, Right-Track Inn in Freeport, Spark’s in Deer Park, J. Parkers in Middle Island...and a slew of tiny bars like Mr. Beery’s in Bethpage. There are dozens of venues that I can’t remember anymore. I played as much on the Island as I did in Manhattan throughout the years.
Growing up, did you go to a lot of concerts on Long Island? Did you have a favorite venue?
BA: I went to a bunch of concerts growing up. They were almost exclusively at the [Nassau] Coliseum, or MSG, as it was the 80’s and I was into hair bands and metal. I remember seeing Dream Theater at Sparks in 1992. That was mindblowing. If I had a favorite place to see a show, it would have to be Jones Beach Amphitheater. When I was 10, my mom took me to listen to Men At Work there. No tickets. We actually sat outside and listened. They were my favorite band before I got into heavier stuff like Iron Maiden and Quiet Riot.
Do you remember the first concert you went to on the Island?
BA: The first concert that I was allowed to go to was Ratt at Nassau Coliseum. I remember everything about that day. It was a Friday. November 8th, 1985, to be exact. It was cloudy but mild out. My mom actually accompanied me and two of my friends. We sat in section 308. At 12 years old, I left that arena knowing what I was going to do, presumably for the rest of my life. That’s right, damnit – sell bootlegged concert merchandise in a parking lot! (laughs)
I wanted to go to see Motley Crue there a few months prior, but wasn’t allowed. My neighbor bought me a concert tee that night that I wore until it practically fell off.
Looking back at your music career, is there a highlight or an accomplishment you're most proud of?
BA: As far as my biggest accomplishment, I would have to say that getting signed to two major labels would’ve been my answer 10 years ago. That, or being escorted by security off of the Playboy Mansion property for drunkenly jumping from a tall hill into the pool, stark naked, in front of a thousand people at a record company party…I digress.
I really thought that getting signed was the be-all/end-all. When I was in Coward, I recall signing the contracts in a posh law office in New York City. I actually had to abruptly excuse myself to go throw up down the hall, I was so nervous. I really thought that was it. I had finally made it. When we signed with Diffuser, it was a whole different story. No bidding war. No luxurious Manhattan high-rise to sign in. Waaaay less of an advance. We were FedEx-ed the contracts and signed them in the Seaford deli that my bass player was working the counter at.
Looking back, being able to tell my kids that hard work pays off is what I see now. I rehearsed nearly every night with the bands I was in. Barely any social life. I miss being able to sit in a room with a bunch of guys and come up with authentic music that was from the heart. Playing in a band can be really hard with all of the conflicting personalities, but is one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever had.
I actually walked away from the scene when we were given a green light to record a sophomore record with Diffuser. The band quickly replaced me and went on to tour Japan; my only regret was not waiting until after that. I was so sick of the business aspect of the music industry that I knew I had to get out. All the record companies cared about was churning out hits, rather than cultivating and supporting bands that might have something different to offer sonically, or needed to tour and develop a following organically. Some bands we toured with even provided mega-hits for their labels, only to be asked “What have you done for me lately?” the next time around…Toadies anyone?
The thing I am most proud about nowadays is the fact that I walked away from that shitpool when I did.
Are you still in touch with some of your old bandmates?
BA: I still speak to some of the old bandmates from time to time. No hard feelings with any of them. I have no interest in joining Facebook, or I’d probably talk to them more. About six months ago, a close friend of Diffuser's father passed away. We all attended the services and spent hours reminiscing at a local bar afterwards. It was really awesome. We discussed playing some dates in Japan, as Tomas is still contacted by venues over there. We would need a new record, and that would mean new songs. Who knows if that will ever happen...
Being a drummer, how do you wind up in the business that you're currently in?
BA: In 2002, right around the time I was looking to leave the music scene, my father approached me about learning the ropes of his business and perhaps buying it from him. My father started a company in 1997 called Long Island Geese Control, which uses highly-trained border collies to harmlessly chase away Canada Geese from schools, parks, golf courses and other businesses. Whenever I was home and not touring, I worked for my father’s new company. So did my wife, while I was on tour. It was also a time when my wife and I were newly-married and looking to buy a home.
Owning and running a small business like that was definitely not my life calling, or so I thought. It was a weird year for me. I had a college degree, but for something I didn’t want to do. Things just sort of fell into place that year, starting with quitting the band and taking the reigns from my dad.
What do you enjoy most about your current path?
BA: What I enjoy most about my current path is that I can make my own hours, my own decisions. Being the owner though, sometimes that means not having a day off for months at a time. I love the job I do, most of the time. The service I provide works. I don’t have to advertise. Our reputation speaks for itself. I enjoy being outside. I like being able to spend my day with a dog, driving from place to place. I can work on song ideas while I drive. Basically, I try to be the boss to my crew that I would want to work for.
What do you like to do in off time? Are you playing music at all?
BA: I always enjoyed trying to write songs. In 1995, after learning that Dave Grohl wrote and performed the first Foo Fighters record all by himself, I decided that I wanted to get into recording my music. I bought a 4-track analog recorder, a cheap microphone, an even cheaper guitar and bass, and tried to learn how to do them all. Fast forward 21 years, and I think I finally got it. I built a proper studio in my house in 2009, and write and record stuff when it occurs to me.
I sometimes record goofy songs with my two young kids, Mason and Avery. I love mountain biking on the Island. I find it cathartic. Mountain biking is like hiking super-fast. I like to kayak, and just bought a paddle board this week. In the end though, music will always be that old girlfriend.
I remember hearing that you briefly lived in Los Angeles. What is it that keeps you based on Long Island all these years later?
BA: I lived in Los Angeles a couple of times throughout my life. I first moved out there when I was 18 with the hair band I was in at the time, Romancer. Our press photo still adorns my studio. Lots of hairspray...That lasted about a year. L.A. ate us up and spit us out. Fun time, nonetheless.
Next trip was on my own when Coward broke up. I figured I would give acting a shot and drove out there by myself in a rental van. That lasted a few months before Tomas from my old band, Flu Thirteen – later renamed Diffuser -- called from New York telling me that they were on the verge of big things. He was right. Their new sound was really interesting, too. Indie-rock with big guitars and arena rock choruses. I still love listening to Diffuser.
All things considered, I learned that I loved L.A. for its scenery – both natural and otherwise -- but I could never really commit to a life there. Never felt “home.” I always missed Long Island, even when I lived in New York City when I was in Coward. There’s something about the beaches, Long Islanders and their “no nonsense” attitude. I always felt like the people I met in L.A. had an ulterior motive. Nobody seemed real… Call me crazy.
Do you have a favorite restaurant on the Island?
BA: Don’t laugh, but my favorite place to eat is probably The Cheesecake Factory. I know that sounds so cheesy – no pun intended -- living mere miles from the culinary mecca that is New York City, but with two kids? It’s loud, food is spot-on, and most important, the menu is like 20 pages long. My moods change hourly with food, so that place never disappoints.
When the wife and I can get out by ourselves, we have found a local restaurant that has a 45-day aged porterhouse steak for two that will make your eyes roll into the back of your head. The restaurant is Vintage in St. James. Seriously, even the cold leftovers the next day are amazing. Not cheap, but so worth it.
Finally, what do you wish more people knew about Long Island?
BA: I recently bought a Jeep Wrangler and got myself a 4x4 beach permit to go fishing. If you go on Google Maps and look at the satellite photos of Robert Moses State Park, they must’ve taken it on a really hot day. There are thousands of people on top of one another at the beach. Now, scroll over about a half-mile to the inlet, where people without 4x4 permits can’t go. There are campers and trucks with lounge chairs every 100 yards or so. That is my speed.
There are so many things to do on Long Island that most people, myself included, don’t even know about. This year, I am taking the kids camping on a beach. They have great wooded campsites at Cathedral Pines County Park as well. I love to mountain bike at Rocky Point trails or at Stillwell in Syosset. You can jump out of a perfectly good plane out east, go hang gliding, or kayak along any of the dozens of Long Island rivers. I wish more people knew about things like that.