Singled Out: Alien Knife Fight's Flightplan

Alien Knife Fight

Monique Ortiz of the indie rock duo Alien Knife Fight today shares the moving story behind their recently released new single "Flightplan" with us. Here is the story:

As far back as I can remember I've always felt very isolated and alone, even when around others. When I was a kid (elementary school age) I had a few friends but always felt like an outsider. I was that chubby, dorky kid with glasses and bad hair that tried a little too hard to be cool and always failed (think a female version of Napoleon Dynamite). I was a latch-key kid, meaning that my parents were always working when I got home from school, so I'd get off the school bus, walk home alone, let myself into the house with my key, and make myself a can of soup on the stove. You could say my folks were the polar opposite of "helicopter parents". They taught me at a very early age how to do things on my own, keep myself busy when I'm alone, and look out for myself because they both worked so much. I would often get on a dirt bike or 3-wheeler and go riding in the woods alone, until they came home, sometimes well into the night. We really didn't spend much time together. Typically, we'd have dinner, my mother would be pissed off about something that happened at work (at the factory), and my dad would just kind of eat and put up with it. As soon as we were done, I'd go up to my room and either draw, paint, or play my bass (I was in my early teens at this point).

I'll never know for sure if it's genetic, but depression runs rampant on my mother's side of the family. I have more memories of her being miserable than happy. During much of my teen years my parents were preoccupied with my brother's drug addiction. Ronnie, who I often called "brotherguy", was my half brother, born 11 years earlier during my mom's first marriage. He pretty much took care of me when I was a baby. He was badly abused by his biological father and I suspect this contributed greatly to his drug problems. He was addicted to cocaine by the time I was 15. I have a half sister, 12 years older, who I didn't really get to know until my teens. She also developed drug problems. My sister and I were never close. I grew up feeling like an only child. During my high school years Ron's drug addiction really got ugly. There were times when I'd wake up to the sound of things crashing against the wall (his bedroom was next to mine). I'd hear him shouting at people who weren't there. I'd jump out of bed and knock on my parents door, scared and confused, saying "I think something's wrong with Ronnie."

I vividly recall my mother having to tackle him (he was 6'2", thin, muscular and a spitting image of a young Sam Elliot), pinning him to the bed, trying to get him to calm down during some psychotic hallucination induced by injecting a speedball (cocaine & heroin). I had seen him go into seizures from coke overdoses. I doubt I'll ever be able to put those memories out of my mind entirely.

My last day of school, junior year, I came home and noticed my brother hanging out by the pool. I thought it was odd because he was never home around that time. The following day I went to a BBQ at our drummer's uncle's place (I was playing in bands at this point). My boyfriend (who was also the lead vocalist of that band) drove us there. I felt a strange kind of emptiness that entire day, a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn't figure out why but I just had this sense that something was terribly wrong. I insisted that we leave the BBQ early and that my boyfriend take me home right away. As we pulled into the driveway I saw my father standing on the sidewalk, and my mother rocking slowly in a chair on the patio, and in that moment I knew my brother was gone. My dad hugged me with tears streaming down his face. I said "Dad? It's Ron, isn't it? Ron's dead."
He said "yes honey, he's gone." I don't think I touched my mom at all in that moment. I recall feeling like she didn't want anyone near her. I went to my room, put the needle of my turntable on "Alone At Midnight" by the Smithereens, and started calling friends.

My brother was beaten and killed by someone from his drug circle. We never caught the perpetrator. This was June of 1990. His body was found in a hotel room in Reading, Pennsylvania. There was very little sympathy at that time for anyone addicted to drugs, and it seemed even my parents were shamed, even though they did everything they could to get him clean. My mother was in the local papers because investigators weren't helpful, so she was trying to solve the crime herself, and it drove her to madness. I felt that in a way I had lost her too. About a decade later my father told me that the autopsy report noted a small bag of cocaine was found shoved down my brother's throat. I remember at the viewing I could easily see the damage through the make-up as he lay in his casket. The mortician was unsuccessful in covering up all the bruises on his hands and jawline.

Earlier that year I had been accepted into a month-long arts program that would take place exactly one week after we buried my brother. Even though my family wasn't very close emotionally, being away from them for a month, so soon after the funeral, not having had much time to process everything was extremely difficult for me. I soldiered through. My concentrations in this special program, the Pennsylvania Governor's School For the Arts, were painting and creative writing. We had long days of intensive classes 6 days a week. I did the best I could to channel my grief into my studies.

My brother's death pretty much destroyed our family. My parents' marriage fell apart. I had plunged into my own depression that I still struggle with today. Luckily I have never been addicted to anything. I am socially awkward and get anxiety in certain social situations. Many people think I'm rude because I just don't really know how to be around others, and I have no filter. I tend to speak my mind, bluntly. I feel safe and protected when I am writing music, performing, or doing some kind of visual art, but for the most part I always feel like an outsider, or an alien (has nothing to do with our band name).

"Flight Plan" is an allegory for one's journey to find some kind of lightness of being, find some kind of comfort, while moving through the isolation and profound sadness resulting from repeated psychological or physical trauma. It's being able to accept that some people are never going to understand you, they'll always think you're rude, or crazy, or any combination of undesirable traits, but you are going to own it, and continue marching to the beat of your own drum.

It's about finding a way to turn it into something strong and beautiful. When I wrote the first draft I was really writing it as a final goodbye, a swan song of sorts, but as Mike and I worked on the music he brought so much joy to the process, and we had so much fun recording it, that it became kind of an anthem of hope and survival to me.

Now about the actual recording: Mike and I do most of our own recording. We had an old Hammond M3 that we both played in the song. We set up a few mics and sat next to each other while doing the stomps and claps. My voice cracks a little on the song because I was getting a bit emotional in the moment. I wanted to retake the vocals but Mike insisted that I leave them. I played my "F" slide bass, which I call "Little Blue". Mike mixed the song and Cris Burns of the Austin-based punk band Pocket FishRmen mastered it.

Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself here and learn more about the group here

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