Teen band reunites to help a friend in need

Musicians Robert Grote, Nick Kostoff, Aaron Zurn and Ben Willis recently entered Popside Recording Studio in Troy with producer Micah Carli to recapture a piece of their youth.

The original plan was to record songs from their old band Stailer, which they formed in eighth grade.

The longtime friends soon discovered the real mission was to help a childhood pal rebound from a brain injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sustained during his extended time in the United States Marine Corps.

“We played all through high school, until the age of 20,” Willis said. “Around that time, Aaron decided to join The Marines. After more than a decade of serving several tours in the Mideast and suffering a substantial brain injury in the process, Aaron has returned home.

“We initially wanted to go in and record these songs for our own satisfaction,” he said. “We were so young back then, we never got good recordings of the songs. Then when Aaron got back to town about six months ago, we got the idea to try to get him involved.”

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The problem was, because of long-term memory loss, Zurn didn’t remember the old Stailer songs. In fact, he still struggles with many daily tasks.

“It’s different because my hand-eye coordination doesn’t work as well as before,” Zurn said. “I tell my doctors my biggest fight is multi-tasking. I can’t do that as much anymore so imagine that in songs. Like putting toothpaste on a toothbrush in the morning sounds easy to people. They do it with muscle memory, but it requires thought and I have to do stuff. It’s a meticulous process.”

However, when Zurn got in the studio and heard the music coming through the speakers, he was inspired to pick up the bass.

“Miraculously, we handed him a bass guitar and he started playing each song,” Willis said. “Because of the muscle memory in his fingers, the songs came back to him. It was awesome to see him be able to do that. Now, this recording isn’t about us anymore — we’re actually doing it for a reason.”

Zurn is optimistic playing music will have a positive effect on his rehabilitation.

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“It feels good to get back onto something you did before,” he said. “My doctors told my wife and I to start to find things we love again, just for that four-letter word, PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think getting back on the guitar will have a huge impact.”

When Stailer’s EP is released next year, proceeds will benefit a yet-to-be determined veteran’s charity.

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