Tom himself did not know this, so he laughs when he hears of this for the first time.
“That’s sick! It’s from Warped Tour, probably,” Tom tells me. “That McDonagh jersey, that was the year of the Winter Classic. I’ve lost two bets in the history of my life with my friends. We always bet jerseys. I’ve only lost twice and I’ve won about 15 times. The McDonagh jersey was for the Winter Classic against the Flyers. That picture was in Philly, against my friend Carl. I’ve won like three or four jerseys from Carl because the Rangers always beat the Flyers, which is sick. Yesterday I wore a Jimmy Vesey on stage.”
On Saturday, April 1 there was a concert Gramercy Theatre in New York City, where Stray From The Path, along with the Architects, played two back-to-back shows. Williams, a founding member and guitarist of the band, is now a Los Angeles resident, but relishes coming back to the city, the home of his beloved Blueshirts.
“I grew up on Long Island, Suffolk County,” explains Williams. “I was born in ’87, so by the time I was conscious of what’s cool and what’s not, was in 1994. It was Mike Richter with the split save on (Pavel) Bure. It was Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Steve Larmer, Esa Tikkanen, Mark Messier and Alexei Kovalev. What other team would you like? My dad is a Rangers fan, so I became a Rangers fan by default, like a lot of people do because of their parents. In the ’90s, the Rangers were the coolest team ever.”
Aside from wearing Rangers jerseys, Williams also has a more permanent tribute on stage: a homemade placard made from a jersey he’s had since childhood, of one of his idols, No. 11.
“I cut it up and staple-gunned it on my amp. I used to have two amps, I had a Mike Modano one too because you know, America hockey. And probably because he was in the Mighty Ducks movie (laughs). I eventually got rid of that one, but kept the Messier one. Hopefully (Messier) sees it one day. ”
Hockey is such a part of Williams’ life, that he even has hockey tattoos on his leg.
“My first tattoo ever is on the back of my calf. It says ‘Mike Richter 35.’ It’s a bad tattoo. I got it in like a garage in Augusta, Georgia. The guy was like ‘who’s Richter?? Why do you want a guy on the back of your …’ and I’m like ‘just put it there, all right?'”
It doesn’t stop at the Rangers. Williams also has Hawks and Leafs logos, and plans to complete the Original Six collection eventually. There is no doubt that hockey is his favorite pastime.
“I used to have dreams of having a closet filled with hockey jerseys. That’s literally what I have now, a walk-in closet and on the left, I probably have 100 hockey jerseys,” Williams says. “I probably have 30 Rangers jerseys. I’m trying to get every team. The last one I’ll ever buy is an Islanders jersey, just to complete the collection. My whole bathroom is Rangers-ed out. I used to live in New York and my wife lets me have blue walls and white-and-red stripes across the top.”
As Williams took a trip down memory lane, he fondly recalled a meeting with Rangers legend Adam Graves at a charity Toy Drive at Bryant Park around Christmas time in 2008, around the same time the band released their album Villains, the first to be sold widely in stores.
“We were very excited about it. And very young, I was 19. So we go, and my mom bought me an Adam Graves jersey,” Willams recalls. “She knew I was going to meet him and I could get it signed. So sick. So I go and meet Adam Graves and we were like ‘yo, would you take a picture holding our CD and we’ll post it on our (site)‘ and he said ‘I would love to do that.’ He takes a picture with our CD and says ‘man, this is really cool, this is a real thing.’ And I’m like ‘yeah, it’s a real thing. It’s in stores and stuff, we’re really excited about it.’
“And then he moves on, we move on, meet some people. On our way out, I feel someone tap me on the shoulder, turn around and it’s Adam Graves. He says ‘hey man, I just wanted to say good luck with your band. It looks like you got a good thing going.’ I don’t even know what I said to him. I’m still getting chills thinking about it. I grew up watching that guy, you know? I was like ‘… thanks!’ and then I left with Drew and I said ‘can you believe that he just did that? He walked like 50 feet to tell me that.’ That meant so much to me.”
In fact, it left such an impression on Williams that he now pays it forward to fans attending his shows.
“I’ll meet a kid. ‘Hey, you’re Jack right?’ ‘Yeah, how do you know that?’ ‘Well, we talked hockey last time’ and they are wowed. I make an effort when people really care about my band, like I care about Adam Graves. He made that little effort that left such a lasting impression on me. I want to do that. I want to be that guy, ’cause (Graves) literally is a legend.”
Who is Williams’ favorite Ranger of all-time? Though he holds a special place in his heart for No. 11 and No. 9, his No. 1 is No. 30.
“That dude made the Rangers a team again. He put them on the map. He was a 7th-round pick and he won over the city.”
If you ever meet Williams, be sure to ask him the story of his Henrik Lundqvist Team Sweden 2XL jersey hanging in his closet.
The Rangers are even a source of happiness for Williams on an off day.
“I don’t even really tell a lot of people this. I’m a very happy person. I have a wife that I’ve been with for 12 years since high school, never been with anyone else. I have a band that is doing very well that I’m in with all my best friends. I have a very good life,” he reveals. “But, you know, everyone gets into like a funk. If I ever feel bad, I watch two videos that I have on my phone. First one is Marty St. Louis, scoring that goal against the Canadiens over (Dustin) Tokarski’s shoulder in overtime. And the other is Brian Leetch telling Adam Graves they are retiring his number. And those two videos just make me feel way better.”
Fans of Stray From The Path have caught on to Williams’ hockey passion and often share in it with him while on tour.
“People will randomly come up to me at a show like in Colorado and say, ‘good set bro, trade everyone but McKinnon, right?’ Yeah, I guess, you know rebuild, right? People will come up to me and talk hockey from their region because they know I know it. I do the band’s social media so I’m always commenting to people and I’ll do things like ‘we’re in Chicago, shout out to Corey Crawford!’ Just random stuff.”
Hockey will always be a part of Williams’ life, but music changed it forever.
“I was big into sports as a kid and then I found Rage Against The Machine and it was just over, I just fell in love with that,” he remembers. “When Stray was a local band, we had two guitar players. That original guitar player (John Kane), still a good friend of mine, he taught me everything I know about playing guitar. I just fell in love with it. Seeing people come out for your band, it’s addicting. It’s like, ‘wow, these people like it, I wonder how many other people would like it.’ And then we just got to do cool things. And after years of doing it, the fun didn’t wear off and we started getting paid for it, and I’ve been to like 40 countries now.”
And the most interesting place he’s visited?
“Japan. We just went in February. They appreciate the music so much, they are very polite. Here, in between songs, they will yell stuff at us. In Japan, after a song, they clap, then silence. We’re up there talking to a dead silent room. They’re just polite. I love sushi so I was eating that like crazy. I’ve been to England a million times, Germany a million times. Going (to Japan) was like ‘whoa, this is nuts! This is totally different.’ And the show was nuts.”
The band enjoys fan bases in different countries all around the world, including lands they never thought would discover their music.
“(One day) out of nowhere, I get an email from Rolling Stone.” Tom recalls. “‘You guys are really popular in India, so we want to put you in our India Rolling Stone issue.’ A guy from India calls me at 3 p.m., and we’re just talking and he’s like ‘when you guys exploded in your 2013 release…’ I’m like ‘exploded? We sold like a thousand copies in America of that record!’ It’s just funny, now we’re gonna go. I guess we’re going to India now.”
Through all of their success and high points, there is still one item on Williams’ bucket list.
“I’ve always wanted to hear the Rangers come out to a Stray From The Path song at warm-ups. I would take hearing one of my songs at warm-ups or a power play. They always play Rage Against The Machine or Pearl Jam or Bush or The Hives, you could throw one of ours in there, you know? It works. It’s happened to some of my friends. This band The Story So Far from the Bay Area, Sharks fans, and the Sharks come out to one of their songs. The Kings, the band is called The Ghost Inside. I want a Stray song at The Garden so bad.”
Follow Stray From The Path on Twitter @strayfromdapath
Tour info: http://www.sumerianrecords.com/tour/listing/artist_id:16