We've been playing together in bands since we were teenagers. Actually Artie, Sal, and I were in a hardcore band named Sarcasm and we've known James from the same scene. He was in other bands that played with us. Then over the years we were involved with varying musical projects together. Then this one started in about 2000. We just did recordings on our own. We had our own home studio. We'd put together a six song sample CD and it ended up getting around. It eventually ended up getting to Carson Daly and the guys at 456. Then after that, this was before 456 was a label, they started talking to us about it and we started getting prepared to record the record. Then we spent the last year recording with Howie Beno and then we just finished it up in May. Since then we've been looking to get a tour together and right now we're towards the end of our present tour with Kill Hannah.
All of you guys are from Staten Island.
Yeah, we all grew up in the same neighborhood. I've known Sal the longest. I've known him since I was 13 years old. Then I met Artie and his brother Mike who is playing guitar with us now and did some production for us on both our demos and the album. Yeah, we're all neighborhood. That's what's been nice about the last few weeks. We've just been going to all these places we have never really been through before and not too far. A place like Philadelphia which is only a two or three hour ride from us. We knew it was a lot bigger and never had a good reason to so this is a good reason for us to get out and see Philadelphia and Boston.
You have quite a fanbase in New York City. Have you noticed it growing a bit as you travel around the country?
Yeah, in Chicago we met up with a few people who have been paying attention to us for a while and it seems like something is building over there. In Boston too. We met up with some people who had heard of us and heard our stuff and were familiar with it which is very surprising to us because we're just used to our own scene in New York. We've heard from a couple of people on the message boards but it's great to finally meet them. Put a face to people who have been listening to us before we even knew it. In Chicago I met up with a woman who is from Omaha, Nebraska and she was saying that she really loves the stuff and she's been following us for the last year. She had even heard the demos I guess over the Internet.
That's the cool thing about the Internet. You get introduced to all sorts of music that you wouldn't otherwise know about.
Right, right. People find us that we never would have expected. A lot of times that's the first question we ask them. How did you find out about us? Some of them found out about us through a band called Onesidezero because we're friends with one of the guys in that band, Bob, and he's been a big supporter of us. That was one channel that helped us and Kill Hannah is really helping us a lot. A lot of their fans are contacting us and finding out about us through them. That's really cool too.
You guys were the first band to sign on the 456 label.
Yeah, like I said, we really started with them. They're an independent label. They're small. They only have a few bands. They have Last Of The Famous, Vast, The UN, and a variety of different artists and I think what their aim is, is really just to get good music out there. I'm sure that's the goal of every record label but 456 to me doesn't seem very genre specific. They're just looking for something that's good which I always like because I don't like being pigeonholed into just one category. I know I like a vast array of different types of music so I'm glad that our label embraces that too.
With some labels it seems to be more of a money angle. Other labels just want people to hear good music. It depends on who you end up with.
Right. Yeah, I was glad we didn't end up with a label that tried to mold us into something that we're not. They've really worked with us throughout the whole thing and we bounce ideas off of each other and we just incorporated them really as collaborators. I guess I was sort of expecting a dictatorship from a record label saying ďokay, youíre going to look this way. Youíre going to act this way.Ē 456, they really work with us on those things which is really great.
Absolutely. Who wants to be told what you have to be?
Right, right. I know in my experience with other musicians and their dealings with record labels, thatís been the case. This was a few years ago and I always feared that about signing to any record label. I really had faith in us as people and our creative decisions and I was worried that a record label would not find that valid. 456 really did. They really respect our opinions. They really shoot everything off of us and what we disagree with, we disagree with. Itís a really healthy creative process because we just go back and forth. When we disagree with something then they come back with something else and vice versa. I feel like weíve just incorporated more people on our team and theyíre working with us side by side which I think is a really effective way of getting stuff out there and getting people to like it and getting the best product out there.
You guys came about your band name out of something that you read.
Yeah, itís a character of J. D. Salingerís. Actually heís most famous for Catcher In The Rye. This character isnít in Catcher In The Rye but heís in every other book that J. D. Salinger has written. Itís just a few stories. Itís about a somewhat dysfunctional yet extremely intelligent family. We found that a lot of the characters in this family resemble our own feelings, resemble our friendsí feelings, and it was something that we really connected to. It made sense for us to name it that because our band isnít about J. D. Salingerís stories, itís more about the spirit of what those stories were.
I find it admirable to run into a band that is literate, likes to read, and likes to read literature. Thatís cool.
Yeah, thank you. I just hope we donít come off as nerds.
No, you come off as intelligent, literate people. We need more like that.
In other interviews Iíve done, Iíve kind of gotten that ďoh, this is a band of smart guysĒ. We like reading books the same as we like watching movies. As we like listening to music. Itís a form of entertainment. However it gets to us whether it be a book or a movie or anything else weĎre peeping, I donít think there should be any question about it. Iím very glad you feel that way.
Note To Self is your debut album. You mentioned that you used Howie Beno who has worked with Ministry and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
We hooked up with him through John Davis, the president of 456. He thought that we would be a good match and I think he was right. Howie taught us all a lot as musicians. I think he cleaned us up a bit. We were, I donít want to say overly sloppy, but we were so involved in the compositional process of it that Howie made us focus on the performance of it and the execution of it. It really shed our songs in a new light to us. He was a good outside opinion and very valuable. I canít wait to do something else again with him. Heís a great producer. Heís a great guy. Heís become a great friend too.
It took a year to record the album. A lot of people brag about finishing their albums in three months or two weeks. Do you feel that taking a little bit longer to do yours added more quality to it?
I certainly hope so. We really worked in layers. We just put things on top of things. Laid down drums. I must have laid down a thousand guitar tracks. Then we incorporated a string quartet. Put live piano. We really went all out for this. I really like the end product and I think it required that much time to do it. In dealing with the small budget that we had and the people that we had available to us, thatís what took long. We had to do this a lot on our own. 456 only has a limited amount of funds to give us. Plus we were all holding down day jobs while we were doing it too. I was a high school teacher and I was going after work to record. James and Artie and all the other guys were working too. We were working around those schedules so I think thatís one of the reasons why it took so long too. We were just bogged down with work.
I notice you use a lot of piano music in your songs and you went to different studios to use specific pianos.
Yeah, we went to Right Track on 49th Street to record the live piano. It was a beautiful studio. Most of where we recorded was a small room on 30th Street but for the pianos we went to this really luxurious place. I heard Britney Spears recorded there. I guess itís pretty big. A lot of the songs started on the piano because James really starts off the ideas with piano riffs and then we build the songs around them.
I got a kick out of some of the song titles. ďCar CrashĒ, ďChemicalsĒ, ďCPRĒ. What kind of thought processes are going on?
Thatís Artie. I canít really say. When we start working out ideas, Artie will just sing something along with us. We donít know what it is until much later. James and myself being the instrumentalists in the band, we discover lyrics much later on. We experience them with everyone else. Sal our drummer works more with Artie and they work on vocal progressions and lyrical ideas. In my view, Artie is just someone who improvises and just refines it and then he talks to us about the ideas. The songs and things about the titles and he really puts a lot of thought and energy into it.
I admire that.
So do I because I couldnít do it. Itís funny when we talk about music like I wonít know lyrics of songs. I can hear a song about 500 times and I still wonít know the lyrics, yet thatís the first thing he pays attention to. I think thatís the first thing that most people pay attention to but itís just funny that Iím so distant from that. Every once in a while, Iíll catch a quote that he says and Iíll say thatís a really cool quote, and he says thanks man, seven months after he wrote it.
I thought I was bad about stuff like that. Tell me a bit about Note To Self.
I think the song I dig the most right now is ďA Drive ByĒ. Thatís the one where I think we really started working together as a band. All of our ideas are equally distributed in that song. That song came into the studio only half completed so we worked on it amongst ourselves and with Howie and Ron Winter who is a big part of this. He was the assistant engineer. It developed into something that none of us expected it to. Thatís what I liked about it. It was just a happy accident in a way. I remember with that song giving it to Ron to do some sound design stuff over it, I told him I was thinking we should do something with very minimal drums and just very ambient. He came in doing the exact opposite of that. I was listening to it and I was like this is a lot better. Iím glad he didnít do what I said. Thatís a favorite of mine on the album. Another one is ďAbrasion UncommonĒ. That I think is a trademark song. Thatís another song thatís been around for a while and it pretty much stays true to the original. Our original demo version of it. I think thatís just because we hit onto something there that didnít need to be refined much.
Sometimes you come up with songs that are just the way you want them and sometimes someone elseís input improves them.
Yeah, I I think itís important to be open to both of those options. Youíve really got to think about whatís good for the song instead of who came up with what. You really have to suck your own ego out of it and itís a difficult thing to do. You just have to let it happen and then hope for good results. When you just allow those things to happen, you remember what was valuable about the original version and whatís valuable about the newer version. You weigh those pros and cons and thereís this whole sitting with checks and balances in this band. I think it ends up in the right place.
You were talking earlier about how you got your stuff in gear and you wanted to find a good tour to go on. How long have you guys been on tour?
Actually we just started September 18 and we played The Metro in Chicago with Kill Hannah. Then we went to Asbury Park, NJ, then Philadelphia, then back to NY for the weekend, and now weíre on our way to Pittsburgh. We just played in Cambridge last night. Itís a new experience for us so weíre just getting used to this whole routine of getting around but itís so much fun. Itís so much fun doing all this together as friends.
When and where does the tour end?
This leg of the tour is ending tonight in Pittsburgh and then I think we have some down time for a little while. Then weíre going to see whatís coming up next. All most of us are thinking about right now is going home and sleeping for two days.
You donít do much sleeping on tour.
No, we stayed at a Super 8 motel last night and got about three hours of sleep. Two of the guys stayed in the van too. Nothing luxurious going on.
Definitely not the rock star lifestyle yet. You donít get to stay in a $200 a night room and trash it.
Nah. We were thinking about things like that and I think we can only afford to destroy hotel stationary. Anything else is far beyond our budget right now. Weíll tear up a few pieces of paper and then feel bad about ourselves. Feel like weíre living the rock lifestyle.
Abbreviated style. Any other thoughts or comments?
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