The last thing Anthony DiIonno of Mountain Lakes expected to find in his first semester in college was a nonstop ticket to a professional music career, but that’s just what happened.
In the fall of 2001, he crossed paths with a fellow student who was forming a rock band. Both of them had played in groups that had recently broken up, so the timing was right to form the new band, Armor for Sleep.
“Everything moved quickly,” DiIonno recalls. “I finished that semester, and after it ended, we went to Los Angeles to record our first record. Then we were whisked away on tour and I knew I would have to put my education on hold.” Overnight he went from being a college freshman to a bass guitarist for a professional rock band, rushing his life in a very unusual direction.
The Culture Shock of the Music Industry
Working in the music industry entailed rapid culture shock. “I didn’t get to sleep in my own bed for a while. I had to get used to driving miles and miles in a van and sleeping in hotels and on people’s floors every night.” But he was doing what he loved and felt “very, very lucky” to have the opportunity.
His big break also caught his parents by surprise. “My parents were supportive and apprehensive,” DiIonno says. “But they saw it was too good of an opportunity for me to pass up, and I was grateful for their support.”
What he found most rewarding was the positive impact music can have on others. That realization came with the release of Armor for Sleep’s second CD through Equal Vision Records in 2005 entitled What to Do When You Are Dead. The CD was a concept piece about a teenager who committed suicide only to realize, too late, all that he had left behind. “It’s not so much about death as it is about life and not realizing what you have,” DiIonno says. After the CD’s release, many fans came up to him at concerts and thanked him, telling him the music had gotten them through tough times. The troubles they described ranged from the death of a relative to a devastating breakup with someone they had loved. “It was amazing to have the opportunity to help other people that way,” DiIonno says.
The most difficult thing about touring was how much time was spent on the road. “We spent so much time away from home, and there are so many people I care about in the area--my mom, my dad, my girlfriend. It’s hard to leave for months at a time, sometimes going from tour to tour without going home. Once I had only one day in a six-month period at home, and that was a day I was playing in New Jersey.”
Transitioning Back to College
Fast-forward to 2009, and after eight years touring around the United States, England, Scotland and Wales, Armor for Sleep went into hiatus. During their time together, the band recorded three CDs, and had songs in the soundtracks of two movies, Snakes on a Plane and Transformers. In addition to the concept CD, the band released Dream to Make Believe in 2003 through Equal Vision Records and Smile for Them in 2007 through Sire Records/Warner Brothers. With the band no longer touring, it was time to return to college. Now in his mid-20s, he had a much different perspective on education and on life.
“I’ve learned so many things,” he says. When he left high school to go to college, he enrolled for the sole purpose of preparing himself for the job market. That viewpoint changed during his tenure with the band. “I discovered I wanted to go to school for education’s sake, not just for the future.” He realized that the process of learning was, in itself, valuable.
“I’m thankful that at 26 I was able to resume my education and get a fresh start,” DiIonno says. “I chose to go to the County College of Morris because it was affordable and I knew that I would get a great start to my education and the eventual completion of my bachelor’s degree. I was just lucky that there was such a great community school in the area.”
Last fall, he was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at the County College of Morris (CCM) in recognition of his academic excellence. “It was just great to see so many other people standing up there with me who had put their hearts into their school work.” Beginning in the spring of 2010, he is attending New York University (NYU) with a concentration in Music and Media Business.
Preparing for Life
“There are so many options that I’m really excited about,” he says. “I would really love to continue working in the music industry on the business side of it.” He feels his experience in the music industry offers him the opportunity to support fledging musicians. “I would like to help artists to be able to sustain themselves and maybe not make some of the mistakes that we made.”
After eight years on the road in a rock band, leaving that lifestyle behind was a bit unsettling. Now the culture shock involved returning to a more normal existence. DiIonno wasn’t sure what lay ahead for him. Perhaps his biggest lesson from college and from life was a sense of perspective about things to come. “I’ve learned that I don’t know what is ahead of me, but I do know that I want to take steps in the right direction to get there.” Attending CCM in preparation for his time at NYU was one of those right steps.