Trapeze Artist Alec Kossoff (Wings Denied) Talks Choosing Heavy Metal Instead of Running Away with the Circus

When his band and his career as an NBA stunt dunker blew up at the same time, Wings Denied’s drummer had to make a choice.

As a child, I always had a passion for music. I would pull myself up in front of the TV and dance to whatever was on MTV or VH1. When I was four, I would walk around with a boombox on my shoulder, blasting Michael Jackson’s Bad on cassette, and then I would pull all of the pans out from under the stove and play drums on them, driving my parents crazy. But even music and my passion for it did not serve as a complete outlet for all of my energy, so my parents decided to enroll me in gymnastics to help channel the rest of it.

I had a knack for gymnastics and I really loved it, so I continued taking classes. At age five, I was put into an advanced class, and by age seven, I was competing on the boys’ team at the Chelsea Piers sports complex in New York City. All the while, my love of music was keeping pace with my gymnastics career, and at age nine I asked my mom if I could trade away the kitchen pots and pans for a real drum set. My mom, mindful of the fact that New York apartment living was not a conducive environment for drumming, instead placed a piano on my musical altar. They hoped that I would fall in love with piano and forget about drums, but they were wrong. Although I enjoyed banging on the piano keys under the watchful eye of my teacher Bill, in my heart the piano was no match for a set of drumsticks.

The Ozzfest 2002 compilation album was the beginning of my heavy metal odyssey; I was turned on to System of a Down and thereafter my musical voyage continued with stops at bands like Coheed and Cambria, Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold. After this initial period of exploring the genre, I moved onto heavier bands like Lamb of God and August Burns Red. Soon I was banging out strains of “Warmness on the Soul” by Avenged Sevenfold, and “One” by Metallica on my piano.

In ninth grade, I finally asked my parents again for a drum set, and they bought me an electronic kit. This was probably the biggest mistake they ever made. Whenever I was home, if I was not at gymnastics or taking piano lessons, I was playing drums through an amp with my speakers blasting my favorite songs. Soon thereafter, I joined my first band, Edge of Madness, and my drumming skills developed as we practiced. I also took lessons to learn different styles of drumming through high school and college.

During the summer of 2007, while I was still playing shows with Edge of Madness, I found myself at a Pennsylvania camp called Island Lake, which happened to have one of the better entry-level circus programs in the country. The ensuing years, from 2007 through 2012, were a blur of drumming, trapeze flying, and gymnastic training. Eventually, I was on a professional track for flying trapeze, and my drumming skills had matured remarkably. I floated through drum solos with the greatest of ease; I was truly a heavy metal kid on the flying trapeze.

There was a sort of parallel between my trapeze life and my drumming life. I moved to Washington, D.C., for college at American University but I continued to pursue a career in flying trapeze, working for a company called Trapeze School New York. After a year of school, my band Edge of Madness had broken up, but I wasn’t ready to end my musical career. I met Zach Dresher, Wings Denied’s lead guitarist and founder, in the school cafeteria, and he sent me the first Wings Denied demo. During that same year, I got a job offer to work for the NBA as a “stunt dunker,” which meant I jumped off trampolines and slammed basketballs through hoops whenever there was a break in the game. All of a sudden, while working for a troupe called Air Elite, I was also dunking basketballs in major sports arenas nationwide for teams like the Washington Wizards, the New York Knicks, the Toronto Raptors, and colleges along the East Coast. This jumping job allowed me to perform in front of tens of thousands of people on a weekly basis, while I dreamed that one day Wings Denied would be performing in front of even larger crowds. Now I was drumming, dunking and flying. I soon landed my first professional trapeze job in Virginia, and I was getting offers from various circuses to travel the world with them.

But finally I had to choose. I just couldn’t pursue everything as a full-time career; something had to be my number-one priority. So the big question is, why music? All of the guys in Wings Denied got together and had this conversation on our last tour. We all wondered, why were we all so set on being traveling musicians? The other four guys came to the consensus that the adventure of playing live music and touring the country with your best friends is the main reason to pursue this career. That is a very large reason why I continue this pursuit, too. However, with my other jobs, I can take an adventure pretty much anywhere in the world, working for a circus or with Air Elite. What it comes down to for me is the simple fact that music is such a visceral experience that inspires, hopefully, anyone and everyone who listens to it. I know people who are incredibly passionate about trapeze, and I know people who are incredibly inspired by trampoline dunking, but the way music reaches people is absolutely incredible and personally rewarding. This ability to connect with people on a different level, to have an impact on someone’s life, is the reason I continue to play music, and pursue it above all else.

Alec Kossoff is the drummer of Wings Denied, as well as a trapeze instructor at Trapeze School New York and a dunker at Air Elite. You can follow Wings Denied on Twitter here.