Dena Tauriello: You Gotta Believe
By Billy Ramirez, Photos By Paul Storey Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s September 2005 Issue
In a slightly different world, Dena Tauriello would be playing softball right now, and you certainly wouldn’t be reading about her. A four-year-scholarship softball player at Penn State, the drumming bug bit Tauriello at age eight when she met Karen Carpenter. It was a chance encounter, and a life-changing one at that. “Oh my god, it was obviously life-altering because she inspired me so much. My parents had been listening to their music and I got into it. I loved her voice and I loved her music and I found out she was a drummer when I got to see her in concert. My dad finagled a way to get us backstage and I got to meet her briefly. It was unbelievable. She did a solo piece during the concert, and just watching her on stage playing, gushing, smiling, having a great time, and being amazing at what she did, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
As a young girl, Tauriello raided her parents’ kitchen drawers in search of a suitable makeshift drum set. “I did the pots-and-pans thing. I drove my parents crazy. We had this one little drawer [where], for whatever reason, my mom had chopsticks and all kinds of random stuff. I’d grab chopsticks and I’d take out pots and pans, lay them on the living room floor and wail on them.”
After cutting her teeth on the pots and pans, she moved on to a relatively quiet practice pad for a year. Tauriello graduated to a proper drum set when her parents gifted her with some vintage Slingerlands. Although she tended to put off her lessons, she would play along to records by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, The Beatles, Rush, and Billy Joel. By age 12, she was in her first band, and while in junior high school, got her first taste of recording in a studio. “We laid down maybe four originals and did some gigs and made a little bit of money. Not much, but it was experience. Then I went off to college and that was that.”
Tauriello headed off to college without her drums, and drumming slipped into the back of her mind. She would briefly reunite with her kit the few times she visited home during the school year, but wouldn’t play with any regularity until she graduated, when a neighbor asked if she was interested in doing a church theater show. She did the gig, but drumming again took a backseat to other priorities. “It left my consciousness for a while. I don’t know why I allowed that to happen, but it just happened. I was focusing on what I could do with my degree and how I could make money and that kind of stuff.” Tauriello took a coaching job at her old high school, and it could’ve been the end of her story. Nevertheless, the drumming bug’s bite mark would not go away.
“A year later, an old high school friend asked me to audition for her cover band, so I went down and got the gig. That started the snowball back into music – one thing led to another, other opportunities, other original bands. I started working in New York City and in New Jersey. I met a lot of people and got a lot more exposure and more opportunity and eventually met the girls in Antigone Rising.”
Tauriello auditioned for Antigone Rising in September 1998 and became an official member in early 1999. When vocalist Cassidy joined later that year, the band had locked its lineup into place, but hadn’t yet committed to doing music full time. “When I first joined the band, I was still working at a music store and then I shifted to a corporate gig for about two years,” Tauriello explains. “I was at Prudential and there was some overlap with touring and my day job. I scaled back and applied for an alternate work schedule, as I like to call it, which is basically a part-time arrangement. I had a little bit of time off and I would work my days off around any long weekends, because at first we were just doing some college gigs or stuff that was out of the area on weekends. Eventually, I made a decision and stopped working at Prudential because I wanted to do music.”
Ultimately, the entire band decided to drop everything and pursue music as a full-time gig. “Cassidy was a firm believer in ‘leap and the net will appear.’ We weren’t going to be a band until we made ourselves a band, so everybody quit their jobs and we bought a van even before we had a string of gigs. We decided to invest in that and kind of make it happen.”
As determined as Tauriello was to make it, the change from a steady paycheck and benefits to driving endlessly in a van across the country was not easy. There is never a guarantee that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. “There’s no formula. It’s so subjective and it’s a little scary. You just never know what’s going to happen. You’re left hanging a lot month-to-month. You don’t know what you’re making and you’re kind of hand to mouth for much of the time. It gets a little scary but when you believe in what you’re doing, it’s easier to persevere. I always believed in this band.”
Jason Flom, founder and president of Lava Records, also believed. He saw the band play at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey and signed them to a record contract the very next day. Antigone Rising was selected as the band to kick off a joint venture between Lava and Starbucks called “Hear Music Debut” that was created specifically to introduce new and developing artists. The album would be available exclusively at Starbucks and the band was ready to break through. The next step was to record their live album, From The Ground Up, which was built from the ground up in a very short time.
“It came together so quickly, we got the call from management in mid-January  and didn’t have much time to rehearse and get it up and running. We hired a percussionist [Nir Zidkyahu] and a pianist to come in and play with us to give it a little more texture. It really was a lot of work and not a lot of time. Right when it was time to record it, we weren’t super tight and super polished. We were a little raw still, which is good because you get the really nice moments. I think it was exactly right.”
The normally unflappable Tauriello was sweating bullets before the show, and for good reason. A bad show could have dealt a harsh blow to her career. “It was extremely nerve-racking and was easily the most nervous I’ve ever been during a show; and I typically don’t rattle during a show. All I needed to see was the label’s reaction. They were sitting next to the Starbucks people, and everyone was sort of holding their breath to make sure everybody was happy because we didn’t really get any input on preference of songs. They wanted it unplugged and acoustic in nature and we’re a rock band so that was a bit of a challenge. Inherently, some of what we do is singer-songwriter, really mellow, beautiful ballads, but that’s not all we are. To make a show around that, but still tip off that we’re a rock band, was a bit of challenge. We were a little nervous and wanted to make sure everybody was happy. When we saw Jason backstage he said, ‘Oh my god, that was amazing!’ and we were very happy.”
Having a record deal on a major label has allowed Tauriello to breathe a little easier, and she’s thankful for the support the band has received. She also knows this is only one stop on the long road to success. “It feels more secure than it ever has because you have a whole staff of people who are pushing for you and working their butts off to try to make this happen as best as it can. There’s comfort and security in knowing that, but it’s still as subjective as before we had the record deal. It’s still scary as it was, but it’s nice to have that support.”
In a way, Tauriello’s life has come full circle. She once was a little girl affected by the magic Karen Carpenter created, and now she’s taking on a bit of the influencer role. “We did a show last summer when we were on tour with Dave Matthews Band. We were on a side stage, but it was nice because we had a nice cross-section of people seeing us. There was a cute little girl who was no more than seven or eight who asked me to sign a pair of sticks for her. I always think of Karen in those moments and how cool it is to hopefully inspire people who want to do it.”
Check http://www.antigonerising.com for recent video of the band.