WHEN DID YOU START PLAYING?
"My dad bought me a guitar in 1977 when I discovered Ace Frehley and KISS. So he came home with this wooden guitar that sounded nothing like Ace Frehley. But I played it everyday and I am still playing everyday"
SO YOU WERE ENCOURAGED, AS A KID, TO PLAY?
"Very much so."
HOW OLD WERE YOU?
"Probably 6 or 7. But I didn't really take lessons till I was 10. I took professional lessons from the age of 10-11. I stopped 'til I was 19. So now I've been playing (consistently) since."
HAVE YOU ALWAYS PLAYED IN BANDS?
"My first band, I was about 23-24 years old. I met this kid, taught him how to play guitar, and he got good real fast, and we started a band. We played for a couple of years and it was a lot of fun."
"I think all of us are good musicians, not to sound like an egomaniac. When I think something sounds so good, the other guys are there to let me know that it could be better. That it should be the best. I really like that. I like the work ethic. Especially Gino Pini. When I get done playing a song, and I'm like, "wow that was so great", he'll be like "no, you know you missed that note in the second part of that song, so let's work on that again." I like that. I like that he keeps me humble, keeps me working hard. That's my favorite part about this band."
WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM OTHER BANDS?
"A few years ago I might have said we we retro. I guess we are retro, but now with all these bands playing top 40 and more bar friendly songs, I think we stuck to our roots. Now it's almost like they're retro and we're not, sort of. I like that our music that isn't supposed to be accepted in all these bars, is being accepted 'cause we work so hard at it and I think it's pretty good."
DO YOU, OR THE BAND, WRITE YOUR OWN MUSIC?
"We have a lot of originals. About half of our songs are originals. We don't play all of them but we do continue to write. We improvise a lot, which is very fun. We record it and come up with ideas and they become songs."
IS IT HARD TO WRITE A SONG?
"Not the way we do it, because the way we do it, is we just jam."
SO YOU ALL WRITE TOGETHER?
"We do. Usually we come up with the music first which starts before practice when we're just warming up and we just go off and do a ten minute jam and say "this is a good idea" and next thing you know, it's a song."
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MUSICAL EXPERIENCE SO FAR (BOTH AS PART OF A BAND AND AS A FAN)?
(As a fan): "Probably, and I don't know if it's my favorite, but it's my most memorable: the first concert I went to. It was in 1984, maybe '85. It was KISS- without makeup (unfortunately). I remember getting in there and I had never been to a concert. I didn't know what to expect. And here there's 20,000 screaming people and out comes KISS playing "Detroit Rock City" and it kind of changed my life. That was amazing. And now I've been to thousands of concerts and I still feel like a little kid when I go (to concerts). I still get excited like it's my first concert. I love live music."
(As a band): My two FAVORITE moments (once I was in the band) was the first time we played at Dobb's and the first time at Pennypack Park. Dobb's, having gone there for so many shows, my favorite bands having played there, the history of that place... great bands played there (Pearl Jam, Nirvana). The first time I got on that stage and the curtain lifted up, it was the most exciting thing I ever felt in my life. Pennypack Park, there was a ton of people. When I got in this band, I aimed for that show the whole time. When we got it, it was such a great experience."
"I told my wife I was never gonna get in a band, unless it was in Chowder. And that actually worked out. I always liked Chowder's music. First time I played with them was in front of 700 people at Katmandu. [I was] scared shitless. But we only played five songs and it worked out really well. That was exciting."
HOW LONG WAS CHOWDER A BAND BEFORE YOU JOINED THEM?
"I've been with them almost 7 years and they've been a band for probably 11 or 12 years. Jason (Cowden) and Chris Griffith (former drummer) started it. They had another bass player John, who was very good but when Gino came into the band, he changed the band. Jason is an amazing player, but Gino upped the level a lot. I thought they were really good, and that's why I told my wife that it was the only band I ever wanted to be in, and then I got to be in the band. The first song we ever played was at practice and it was "Elizabeth Reed". They asked if I knew it and I told them I practiced that all the time. So we played "Elizabeth Reed" and I was like, "are you fucking kidding me?! This is the best band of all time!" And that's when Gino said to me, "you missed that second part". So I was in love instantly cause it IS a great band.
WHY WAS THE PENNYPACK PARK SHOW SO SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
"Because it's just special. The whole neighborhood goes there. It's a beautiful stage. I walked on that stage as a little kid, pretending I was Ace Frehley. I'd get up there and air guitar away. I dreamed about getting on that stage one day and sure enough I got the chance. It was magical."
WHAT'S YOUR DREAM VENUE, IF YOU COULD PLAY ANY PLACE YOU WANTED?
"It would've been the Spectrum, but it's not there anymore, obviously. The Spectrum was where I had seen the Grateful Dead 25 times, I've seen KISS there, I've seen Rush. I've seen all my favorite bands there. So the Spectrum would've been number one of all time, but it's no longer there. That's sad."
ANY OTHER PLACES?
"I like to play anywhere. I'd like to play every stadium in the country, but I don't know if that'll ever happen. It probably won't at this point but Spectrum was number one. Always will be."
WHO WAS YOUR BIGGEST MUSICAL INFLUENCE?
"At an early age, Ace Frehley was my world. I'd dress like him on Halloween. He made me play guitar. He changed my life. I came from more R&B when I was a kid in Norristown. I heard a lot of Michael Jackson, I loved The Jackson 5, The Commodores when they were still in their prime in the '70's. And then I hear Ace Frehley for the first time and that changed everything for me. That was it. After that, there's Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia. They're all my heroes. I wanna be as devoted to music as they were, to be something special."
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO COME AWAY WITH AFTER SEEING A CHOWDER SHOW?
"I want them to feel as good as I do about the music. When I play something good, I get really excited. It's like a high that no drug could give me. And I want people to be entertained. I'm there to entertain myself first, but I want to entertain people too. I want people to be happy because I want it to make me happy. If it's not making me happy, it's not worth it for me or them."
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU'D HANDLE FAME?
"That's tough to answer. I can't control myself in a small venue, I couldn't imagine what it would be like with thousands of screaming fans, groupies and hangers on, drugs, alcohol, partying, the hotel room...I just don't know if I can answer that question. If I might be alive that long (with that level of fame), I'd like to say that I could maintain myself, to maintain composure, but I'm not sure that I could."
DO YOU THINK IT'S DIFFICULT TO FIND OTHER MUSICIANS TO PLAY WITH THAT COMPLIMENT EACH OTHER WITHOUT FIGHTING OR EGOS?
"Musicians, as a whole, I think come off as egomaniacs and there is a lot in music. I've never been an egomaniac. I don't think I'm as good as a lot of these people. And I've been lucky to play with a lot of really great musicians. The Paul Baroli's (of Steal Your Face), and my band Chowder. I love my band. At the same time, being in a band is like being in a marriage. It's hard enough to be married to one person, and you're now married to say, four people. It's not easy; you're gonna fight, hassle each other, complain, bitch, moan, disagree, but the end result is that the rewards are amazing. It's an amazing high if you can deal with the bullshit. If you wanna soar with the eagles, you gotta slop with the hogs. It can be rough."
Check out Billy and the rest of the band Chowder here.