Army veteran and musician Eli Foose (center) performing with his band, The Bansai Bills. Photo by Carly Shields.
For Armed Forces Week on BTR, we’ve discussed PTSD and the state of our veterans. We’ve talked about war lingo and front-line journalism, but what of the intersection of music and war? Sure, there are army bands and full battalions of musicians in our armed forces. There are peace songs that come from wartime and war songs that are supposed to break the peace and rally the troops, so to say, but what about the hometown soldier? What about the guitar player from high school who found himself with nowhere to go but boot camp? He had a great little band and they were going to make a name for themselves. But then life happens—or, war happens and what is a young musician to do?
BTR spoke US Army veteran Eli Foose, 22, of Lawrenceville, NJ, who was stationed in Germany from 2008-2011 and served in Iraq from 2008-2009. He is also a bassist and songwriter performing in the up-and-coming jam rock band, The Bansai Bills.
BTR: Why did you decide to join the Army instead of work on being a musician?
Eli Foose: Well, when I was finished high school, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was more like, ‘What do I do now for money and a job?’ So I went to the army. Germany was just my duty station, could have been any station in America, it’s where I trained and worked. I worked as a 13 Bravo-A cannon crew member, field artillery.
BTR: Did you bring your bass overseas?
EF: Yeah I had a guitar, but not a bass. I’ve been playing guitar longer than bass so I brought that with me instead.
BTR: Were you able to play music while serving?
EF: Oh yeah I had down time to play all the time, I was able to bring my guitar to Iraq, too, and that’s where we mostly played. In Iraq, we had all-day down time, especially if the internet was down. But in Germany, I had an eight-hour job so there wasn’t much time to sit around and play music.
BTR: Who did you play with?
EF: There was a band out there who I played a couple shows with, yeah, but mostly by myself and other musicians who were in my unit.
Private Foose in uniform. Image courtesy of source.
BTR: Did you find a lot of other musicians you could play with?
EF: There was a good amount of musicians in my unit and we would play together, mostly guitar players. I played a lot of open mics at this jazz bar in Frankfurt, it was just a free jam that I used to play.
BTR: Did you find that the type of music you wanted to play changed at all?
EF: Not really, when I was playing it was mostly like practice over there, so I didn’t change for audience. I’ve always loved the stuff that we do with The Bansai Bills and it just carried over, I kept working on it.
BTR: Were you or was your writing influenced by your time spent serving?
EF: I wrote some lyrics for a Bansai Bills song called “Wasting Away in Lawrenceville” and I rewrote some of those lyrics over top of that inspired by being in the army. It became really army related, and there was a song I wrote called “The 3 Month Blues,” which was about the three months before going back to Germany from Iraq. Now that I’m home and I’m a lot more focused on my band, I bring in a little I learned from other musicians in the army to my playing style. But as far as specifically military songs, we’re not into that now.
BTR: Did you find that playing music while you were over there made it easier? Or did it just make you homesick and miss the band?
EF: Music was my biggest form of meditation and stress relief, ya know, because it gets really stressful sometimes and the best thing I could do is sit down with guitar and just strum away. I’ve been playing bass with BB since 2005, but guitar since 2002 or 2003, so it was just easier and more comforting to have the guitar with me.
BTR: What else did you learn by being a musician and an active soldier?
EF: One of the best things I learned in the army related to guitar was that it taught me to practice. I always just sat down and made up my own stuff and friends would teach me but I didn’t have a computer or a tutor. Sitting down and practicing in the army was the biggest skill I learned as far as it relating to music.
As a soldier and a musician, the intersection of music and war can bring up some interesting moments. Looking at the lyrics to “Wasting Away in Lawrenceville,” written by Eli, and it becomes apparent how inescapable the power of being in the Army can be. Without sounding too cliché: Thanks, Eli, for serving our country and maintaining your passion for music. Definitely check back with BTR for more from The Bansai Bills and look for them at small venues throughout the tri-state area all summer.
“High School drop out with a GED,
I got a slutty ass girlfriend who’s been cheatin’ on me,
I gotta problem with booze and substance abuse,
That’s why my ass is, that’s why my ass is wearin’ ACUs
Livin’ on the streets with nothin’ to do,
I went to that party to hang out with you,
I got pretty drunk and crashed my boy’s van
That’s why my ass is, that’s why my ass is fightin’ Taliban
Three years later and now I’m out,
I finally realize what my teachers were talkin’ about,
War sucks, man and peace is real cool
That’s why my ass is, that’s why my ass is goin’ back to school”