Steve Schiltz – lead vocals/guitar
Dave Marchese – bass
Shannon Ferguson – guitar
Mike James – drums
One era that stands out in pop music history was the timeframe of around 1988/89 until about 1995, with some synth-pop left over from the eighties, the birth of Brit-pop and bands like Ride and Blur, and the meshing of the two by groups such as Chapterhouse and Ocean Blue.
The layering of wispy guitar effects and beautiful vocal tracks could make one weep with emotion. It was the wall of sound: that culmination of drums, guitars, and pedal effects that would overwhelm one into closing their eyes and immersing themselves in a pool of lusciousness (which was dangerous if you were driving or operating heavy machinery at the time).
I’ve often longed for those days when I see so many mediocre acts getting all the attention, and feel a need to escape with a warm sense of nostalgia by popping in a House of Love CD. So when I heard a recent track on a CMJ compilation, my ears perked up as I half expected to see either the name Ocean Blue on the track listing, or a possible new project led by their lead singer/songwriter, David Schelzel.
That was not the case.
I was pleasantly surprised to find it was actually a New York outfit, Longwave, made up of an amalgamation of musical backgrounds from each member, from Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana, to the Doors and Kiss type rock, Motown soul to the Sex Pistols.
The result was Longwave’s major label debut, The Strangest Things, which in my humble opinion, is one of the best releases I’ve heard so far this year.
Upon further listen, they expand beyond my initial expectations, into a world filled with their own brand of atmospheric instrumentation, fluid yet raw vocals that take a turn down a vocoder tunnel on tracks “Meet Me At The Bottom” and “Can’t Feel A Thing,” sheets of gorgeous guitar on “Tidal Wave” and “The Ghosts Around You,” then seductive bass and bubbling drums to add that spice of beat to every song.
Through this connection and that, they were able to land an opening gig for one of today’s more popular art rock acts, who are included in almost every Longwave press clipping, so I’m purposely not mentioning them here. After getting exposure on the road and the ear of one of RCA’s A&R reps, Longwave has not only landed in major label land, but fully deserve to have the spotlight shine brightly on them via their own musical merit.
As the foursome makes their way through the deserts of Arizona, I have to bring up with Steve Schiltz, their singer/guitarist, the whole Ocean Blue similarity of sound in their opening track, “Wake Me When Its Over.” I guess I couldn’t say they were inspired by any of the other bands I mentioned, since he didn’t know who the hell they were.
Steve: No, I’ve never really heard of any of those. I may have heard of them, but not their actual music.
KO: You guys seemed to come from different backgrounds musically. How did you come together with the sound you have now?
Steve: I don’t really know. I mean, we don’t really talk about it. It’s just one of those things where we just come together with simple, yet powerful bass drums with guitars that have those effects on them, which leads to what you were saying.
KO: So are there any special tools of the trade you guys use?
Steve: We don’t have anything too crazy. Just some guitars with delay pedals…standard effects really. I would say that if we spent time thinking about the effects, we spend a lot more time thinking about the arrangements…the notes that we’re playing and why we’re playing them. It’s almost like the effects aren’t a real major focus. Hopefully it’s all part of larger picture.
KO: How was it for you to evolve as a vocalist, considering this was the first time you’d been in a band as a lead vocalist?
Steve (laughing): Yea, yea, it’s hard singing.
KO: It’s something I avoid unless I’m in my car, ’cause I don’t like to torture my friends.
Steve: Well exactly, that’s how I felt too. It just kinda happened where I started writing songs and I was in bands as a guitar player. I guess I met people who were interested in the songs I was writing and we got into this “what am I doing/what are you doing/what are we going to do” type of thing. So it made me think I just needed to do this. I was totally untrained and it was just a matter of “I’m the lead singer of the band, and there you are.” It was for no good reason other than I might as well be doing it.
KO: Did you ever take any vocal lessons?
Steve: I never took any lessons until right around the time we were recording the record. I did it because, I don’t know, it just seemed like something I should do. We had a little bit of money to do the record so I thought it might help. But I don’t know if it really changed anything.
KO: Do you do the majority of the lyric writing?
Steve: Yea, I do all of it.
KO: Although there’s not a lyric sheet with the CD we got, you can actually decipher the words. What a concept.
KO: One song in particular that I found interesting was “Meet Me At The Bottom.” Not to sound fluffy or anything, but it’s really beautiful music where the vocals come together so fluidly with the guitars…
Steve: Thank you! That’s amazing you say that. I’m sorry, not to interrupt but I saw Low one time and I thought, “What beautiful music they’ve made.” I always thought that would be such a compliment for anyone to think of us that way.
KO: Well, there you go. What makes that song so provocative is the whole ying and yang of it, where you have those luscious vocals singing “You got me by the balls.” The contrast is ear catching, so to speak.
Steve: It’s weird that you mention that particular song as far as the words, because we actually cut a verse on that song. There was another verse. I guess lyrically, it was better with that verse in there. But as an overall idea, it was better for it to be shorter. I just wanted to be direct.
KO: A lyricist can have a million different inspirations, and the listener can interpret a million different meanings from a song. But out of curiosity, what was your thought process when you were writing that song?
Steve: I was one of those nights were you go out very, very late, and you end up coming home when the sun comes up. We were out in the Bronx at this one place that just had a lot of drugs and really shady characters. It was like…the bottom. The next day I was waking up and I just had that in my head still. That’s where it started from, but I don’t know that the whole thing’s about that.
KO: Well again, when people listen to music, it’s always open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of it. Someone can take a verse you’ve written and connect it to something personal in their lives. That’s how they make your songs their own.
Steve: Yea. And hopefully there’s not going to be songs where all I’m doing is writing directly what I’m thinking. That would be boring for someone else to listen to. Not everybody has my life or my girlfriend or whatever. You know what I mean?
KO: Absolutely. There’s too much of that already. A lot of love gone bad kinda stuff like, “I love you. I hate you. I can’t live without you” kind of crap.
Steve: Well, it also depends on how you write it. If you write, “You left me. I hate you.” That’s pretty one-dimensional and you’re not going to want to listen to it very many times.
KO: What’s amazing is, that’s what they end up playing on the friggin’ radio over and over. So you don’t want to hear it, and put another CD in. At the same time, I think that we’re seeing a lot more bands coming into the fray right now that have a lot more substance to them. They’re getting support from their labels to tour and get press. Now the radio stations needs to get with it and start playing them as well.
Then we lost each other as they made their way through the desert and into an area with zero reception. After we got back on the phone, I wondered how they were passing the time in their tour van with nothing but boring scenery surrounding them.
Steve: We just keep punching each other to stay awake.
KO: So you gotta be playing some tunes. What do you guys have in the CD player right now?
Steve: I think I have Born in the U.S.A. In Shannon’s CD player, I think he has the Flaming Lips. Oh no, he says he has Dark Side of the Moon. Our drummer has Nebraska.
KO: Speaking of the Flaming Lips, how was it to work with Dave Fridmann?
Steve: It was amazing. We’re getting ready to do another couple songs with him.
KO:What did he add to the making of the finished product compared to how you guys sounded before?
Steve: First of all, just the sound itself was really great. He was really creative with the drum sounds and with my vocal sounds, which is something we really wanted. The first record we did, we did ourselves, and we were happy with it. But now we were able to make the record we wanted, with whatever kinds of instruments or effects. He never said, “You can’t do that.” Nothing or any ideas we had were ever too crazy for him.
KO: Well, I think he would have to be pretty open-minded after having produced Flaming Lips in the past. They’re certainly not very conservative or average by any means. That’s what I love about them.
Steve (laughing): Exactly .
KO: I’ve noticed that the trend is turning as far as the whole “indie versus major” thing goes. After the whole merger and acquisition stuff took place with all the majors years back, many bands went back to indies ’cause they were basically getting screwed. Now I see bands like yourselves going to the major labels to further your career. How has the whole process been for you?
Steve: It’s been really good. There was no issue with losing our credibility or even losing creative control. We were very fortunate to get a very good contract and lawyer. Everything we do is at least, if not fully in our hands and RCA cannot legally override us on anything, which is important. Also, it seems like RCA just “got” the band. The A&R guy thought it was a great idea that we wanted to do the record with Dave.
KO: Who was the A&R guy?
Steve: Joe McEwen. He’s signed Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Belly, Primal Scream.
KO: Wow. No wonder he liked you guys. He’s got great taste. That’s good company to be in.
Steve: Yea, he was right up our alley.
KO: So when you make it to Denver, will this be your first headlining tour?
Steve: Yes. And we’re very excited about it because that means we can play a whole set.
KO: You can’t play a full set when you open for other bands?
Steve: Right now we’re with Mooney Suzuki and the Ravonettes. They’re great bands and great people, but we’re very limited to the amount of time we can play.
KO: There was something that caught my attention in all the press clippings…an article in Fader that I can’t really read except for the headline, “Whatever you do, don’t buy them shots.” What’s that all about.
Steve (laughing): It was silly. It was just when Shannon was talking about how he threw up on a bar once, and a guy put his hand in it. We just thought it was a funny story.
KO: So no Jager on the road, heh?
Steve: Nah. We’re not real big partiers.
Okay, so they won’t be on any Jagermeister tour with Saliva any time soon.
Instead, Longwave is forging their own path now, away from the coattails of other alternative acts. With a new headlining tour and an amazing debut on RCA, I’m hoping that the music scene embraces them with open arms. Then someday there will be another band just coming out, using their opening slot for Longwave as a way to get recognition.
Check out Longwave’s full set at the Climax Lounge, Tuesday, April 15 and listen to a few sample tracks from The Strangest Thing on their web site.