Daino Statement Hi everyone, I’ve got some pretty terrible news to share. For about 6 months in 2019 I played guitar touring with Be Like Max. During that time I was gaslit, emotionally manipulated, harassed, and ultimately assaulted by singer Charley Fine. I want to address this situation with the gravity and sensitivity it deserves so I will attempt to explain my account with completeness and transparency. That means this will be very long and at times graphic. But I don’t want to leave any confusion or vagueness. I don’t want to spend forever clarifying details and being forced to revisit this over and over again – I’d rather try to get it all out in one go. It has unavoidably affected my songwriting; and in the near future as we start playing new music live and eventually release new recordings I want to be able to talk about it as art, and not merely as the product of horrible circumstances that must be constantly explained. My hope is that by including such intense detail others might learn from my situation and I might finally be able to move beyond it.
Many may be aware that Charley Fine did not have a spotless record to begin with. To summarize in woefully inadequate terms, in 2014 he engaged in homophobic bullying of a gay man online and encouraged his fans to join him. This particular incident follows the band to this day, although most repercussions felt have long since passed. I feel it would be inappropriate to comment directly about this incident since I was not involved nor close to the people that were at the time, and as I will detail here, my familiarity with what did occur was embarrassingly low and colored by Charley’s own warped accounting. I will do my best to fill in context where needed, but for anyone who requires more background info about that, OC Weekly wrote an article detailing those events a few years ago and it is still accessible online.
Over the years following those events Charley would apologize many times, directly and generally, professionally and casually. His apologies were commonly critiqued as insincere and yet many fans and musicians alike accepted those apologies, “forgiving” him or at least reconciling that he was growing and correcting his past wrongdoings. I was in the latter camp, a position into which I now can see I was emotionally manipulated. I thought “Of course he feels true regret, of course these apologies are sincere.” For I had witnessed him break down and cry about it to me outside a house show in North Carolina, and have a debilitating panic attack about it in a parking lot in Downtown LA, and again at a McDonald’s outside Tacoma, WA. My suspicion is that the primary way he maintained so many allies over the course of that controversy is that he let others see these intense, intimate moments of vulnerability – such that it would seem ludicrous to discount him as insincere. Do I believe he is sociopathic, simply faking these emotions for strategic gain? No, I believe his emotions are genuine, but out of extreme narcissism he, at least subconsciously, uses these moments to take focus away from those he hurts and redirect it towards himself.
The second way he has maintained support is by controlling the narrative around those initial events and limiting what information circulates. I fell prey to this methodology too. Again, I’m embarrassed to say I had little direct knowledge of the actual incident in 2014. It was years before I even saw screenshots of what happened. We did a tour with Be Like Max in 2015 and at that point the most context I had was more or less that a fan said something homophobic and they didn’t stop it soon enough. Anything beyond that was “it’s just a bad game of telephone, nobody knows what actually happened.” That was the talking point that was of course propagated by Charley himself. The first time I saw him break down and express regret over the situation he told me through tears, verbatim, “All I did was like a stupid comment. I was drunk.”
For a long time I thought that was the real story. As time passed I came across other accounts that revealed Charley had not just “liked” homophobic comments but used misogynistic language directed at the victim. That was the first time I realized the initial incident was worse than I had thought, but at that point Charley’s regular standard-issue apologies were including more specific information about his own actions, so my prevailing thought was still “I don’t think he had hate in his heart, I think he was just an immature 24 year old moron who is learning to be better.” I don’t believe that view was uncommon.
By the time the OC Weekly article was published I had finally publicly come out as Bi and for the first time I saw the exact screenshots of what had happened online in 2014. I called Charley and told him I was shocked at how bad it was, at how much worse it was than what I thought had happened. He told me on that call that he wasn’t denying anything, he hadn’t ever denied any of it, that he was sorry for all of it and that he always had been. I tried to articulate that he had always given me the impression his offenses were much less serious, much less directly nasty, combative, and yes homophobic. He told me that he never tried to hide what he did, only apologize for it, and was surprised to learn that I had only just now seen the exact context because he had been honest about it for years. I felt foolish. Like I had called him in anger about something that wasn’t real. Of course I didn’t realize it then but this was the first time Charley started gaslighting me.
Over those years of gradually learning more about what happened, I think I fell into a sunk cost fallacy of forgiveness. I forgave Charley little by little for each new thing that surfaced from the past. And he gaslit me by making me feel like he’d already been honest about it and I’d already forgiven him.
I provide all this context so that I can accurately describe the relationship I had with Charley when I started playing guitar in his band. I don’t want to seem like I’m shirking responsibility for ignoring all the blatant warning signs that he hadn’t changed from his clear homophobic past. I don’t want it to seem like I was totally powerless to resist his manipulation. I gave in to my own bias: I *wanted* to trust and forgive him. Not unconditionally – but it being hard-won actually added legitimacy to my desire to trust someone I considered a friend. Of course I placed a lot of blame on myself for allowing things to get this far, and I still do to a degree. This is in part because I believe, or at least would like to believe, that had I known the total truth of what occurred all together 7 years ago, I would not have given him chances he didn’t deserve. Optimistically, I think many other people who supported him would not have either, but of course it’s impossible to say with certainty – and that haunts me. The events that followed caused me a lot of shame – and unfortunately I know a lot of people can relate to me when I say it was a very long road to realize that the things Charley would go on to do to me were not my fault, and they should not happen to anyone regardless of circumstance.
Describing the following events is rough for me. Playing guitar with Be Like Max was far from a dream gig. It turned out to be quite different even from the gig that was pitched to me by Charley, just in the professional sense, but that’s not important to this discussion. I would just like to underscore that being in a constant state of financial distress and professional uncertainty further clouded my judgement when it came to taking actions to protect myself.
The first issue arose long before I played my first show with them. On the new album they had just released that we were to begin touring and promoting, there was a lyric about prison r*pe. Clearly meant to be edgy, but failing miserably and winding up homophobic. I was shocked to hear it, shocked that someone with his specific past would still be so willing to try and skirt that line. I called Charley to tell him as much, to say that I was really disappointed that this lyric made it to the final cut let alone crossed his mind in the first place – and that I wasn’t OK performing a song with that lyric. We talked for HOURS – over 3 separate phone calls where I tried to explain to him why it was a problem, why it was a problem that he didn’t recognize it was a problem, etc. He brought up issues about language policing and “censorship” and even tried to blame another member of the band for frequently speaking with “offensive” language and told me if I tried to correct all the casually misogynistic or homophobic things the other member said it wouldn’t go over well (for the record, there was never any problem with the other members). At one point Charley said if the song made me uncomfortable we didn’t have to play it – proposing a modest solution without admitting culpability, and placing the onus on me. This should have been a red flag, but you know, hindsight.
Looking back, I think I can pinpoint the moment the trajectory of our relationship shifted irreparably as when he told me “every time I try to do something with music, people just tell me how much of a shitty person I am. It makes me not want to do it anymore.” Textbook gaslighting, I had now fallen into the trap of being responsible for Charley’s mental health. If I challenged his toxic behavior too much, he would implode. He might have a panic attack and cancel the tour, as I’d personally seen him do in the past, and then that would negatively affect my professional prospects.
I’m still amazed at myself that I had at least enough foresight to say “we’ve been talking about this for hours, we can’t keep coming back to how this makes you feel or how I feel – the lyric is homophobic, fact.” I had to leave the call to meet my dad for dinner at Outback Steakhouse (amazing what gets burned in your mind about these things), and Charley took some time on his own to figure out that he would change the lyric in question. As the tours went on, he was about 50/50 for remembering to actually change the lyric on stage, fans definitely still shouted along the homophobic lyric at shows, and it was only ever briefly addressed again. Continuing the touring I endured a lot in the realm of homophobic micro-aggressions. Unfortunately, nothing too unusual, but nonetheless hostile. A lot of conversation would center on comedy or podcasting and the typical “uncensored” cishet frat boy nonsense. I might have just lost readers there but we all know how that becomes a gateway to somehow debating if things are homophobic or transphobic and suddenly the queer person has to defend their existence while the straight man merely defends a philosophical stance. I encountered enough of those mild situations to further learn that I was not allowed to challenge Charley too far or he would shut down again. Eventually I learned even more new information about the incident from 2014: the individual who did use the F-slur in that event had a much closer relationship to the band than I realized. Apparently he, of his own accord, just vanished out of everyone’s lives after the incident. There was never any public disavowal of the most direct and inarguably homophobic player in the whole scenario – very little discussion of this person at all. The cynical part of me wondered why Charley had never even taken the low-hanging fruit opportunity to make that person a scapegoat. So it seemed to me that had he not disappeared, continuing a relationship with him was never completely off the table. That’s simply my conjecture, because although I wanted to press for a more concrete resolution, I had at this point learned it would be unwise to do so.
Another unsurprising remnant of Charley’s past was his predilection towards homophobic mockery as a source of humor. Y’all should know what I mean, more of that frat boy nonsense like “gay chicken.” I know that other members of the band have clearly expressed to him they weren’t ok with that kind of behavior, especially onstage, but apparently to no avail. I did feel targeted by this behavior – as if Charley needed to prove he wasn’t homophobic by treating me the same as the straight guys. Or maybe it was hazing the new guy. Again this is just my conjecture as to his motives, but it’s how I was made to feel. The disturbing apex of this harassment was his practice of suddenly dropping his pants, exposing himself to me and quickly saying “Don’t look at my penis.”
All of this behavior eroded my confidence to stand up for myself and seemingly empowered Charley to further take advantage of me. It culminated when he assaulted me onstage at a very well-attended show. Towards the end of a set, he proclaimed to the audience that he had made out with every member of the band except for me. I knew what he was referring to, because I had seen him do it years ago with different band members. This was behavior that many had expressed to Charley was unacceptable over the years. So when he said on mic, to a packed room, that he wanted to kiss me, I panicked. I knew that I did not want that to happen, that I did not want to be made a prop for his public rehabilitation as no longer homophobic. I was very quickly furious that he would put me in such a situation but then honestly pretty pleased with myself that I managed to joke it off while clearly saying no. I responded into my mic something like “No, if you want a kiss from me you’ll have to DM on Grindr like everyone else.” Phew, crisis averted.
But either he didn’t hear me, or he chose to ignore me, and he started making his way to my side of the stage. I quickly panicked again; as the only out queer person on the stage that night what did this mean? I couldn’t let this happen to me. But I also couldn’t say no again or push him away because that would look bad. Look bad for who? Me? For the band? And thus my job? I was frozen, and before I could decide what I was going to do he was grabbing me and his tongue was in my mouth. In front of almost 200 people. It was horrifying. I was humiliated. I don’t really remember it but we did one or two more songs that I’m pretty sure I played totally wrong and then the set was over. I was totally shocked, he came over to me and said “was that over the line?” I said “I really wish you didn’t do that.” He said “Sorry” patted me on the shoulder and it was never again addressed. I don’t believe he was sorry, because it was not the last time I witnessed him doing that onstage, even though on that later occasion the other person did seem to consent.
But I spent the rest of that night in question in the green room, alone, freaking out. We barely got to sleep that night because the next show was like a 10 hour drive. So I volunteered to do almost the whole drive and just sat and stewed and slowly the shock wore off and I began getting furious at Charley. I wanted to quit right then and leave. But I was essentially trapped. The band had been using my van for the tour. I couldn’t just drive off and leave the rest of the guys stranded with their gear, could I? We were meeting another musician, a very close friend, flying into that night’s show, I couldn’t leave him stranded also. More shows were still booked, it would look insanely unprofessional and tank my touring career. The consequences I was imagining at the time may have been overblown but I felt like I needed to escape and there was no way I could manage it. We played one of the shittiest shows ever that night and I got too drunk. I didn’t speak to Charley for days and he didn’t try to speak to me. Tour ended, I went home, they went home, we had a month off until the next run of dates. I came back and did a few more months after that even, but our relationship deteriorated completely. This all happened over 2 and a half years ago, so why am I coming forward now? Well as I said up top, I wrote a lot of songs about all this, and eventually they’re going to get released and I want to be able to talk about them as art and not have it be overshadowed by having to explain all this simultaneously. But I honestly used to think I’d never talk about this at all and that time would just heal all wounds. That was becoming unbearable. Talking to a therapist about it started helping, talking to close friends helped further. I hope that talking about it publicly is the last step of moving “through” the experience so that I can finally begin to move past it.
I also hope others might be able to learn from this experience. I’m still sometimes overwhelmed at all the warning signs I didn’t catch until it was too late, but maybe others will be better able to recognize them and protect themselves if need be.
I’m gonna always do my best to make sure the shows we play and the scene we’re part of are not only just safe for LGBTQIA+ folks, women, and other marginalized communities, but places where we can fucking flourish. Thanks for hearing me. Hope I see y’all soon.
Be Like Max statement