If Longwave's second album, There's a Fire, sounds a little spooky, it might have something to do with the bats. The band recorded the disc at Allaire Studios, a live-in mansion facility in New York's Catskill Mountains, and found the place teeming with nocturnal wildlife.
"I'd be up in my room sleeping, and I'd wake up in the middle of the night and hear all these flapping sounds, and there would be bats flying around the bedroom," singer and guitarist Steve Schiltz said. "I'd have to open the window, leave the room, and close the door behind me until they could find their way back out."
The image of a winged rodent frantically banging against the walls in an effort to escape is an apt metaphor for Longwave's frustrating past year. Between the release of their 2003 major-label debut, The Strangest Things, and their 2004 EP, Life of the Party, the band battled over musical direction and personal differences and nearly broke up. Two members left prior to the sessions for There's a Fire: drummer Mike James stepped down allegedly because of a shoulder injury and bassist Dave Marchese was fired after manhandling his singer.
"He pushed and shoved me in Seattle, and that was a big moment," Schiltz said. "Even though we had to finish the rest of the tour, I knew in my head he was gone. There had been lots of fighting, but for it to turn physical was something I couldn't accept. Even if the band was going to break up, I'd rather have that than play music with someone who's going to become violent."
Longwave brought in drummer Nic Brown, who had filled in for James on tour, for There's a Fire, and Schiltz and guitarist Shannon Ferguson tackled all the bass parts. "It was enjoyable to make this album just because there wasn't all this internal tension," Schiltz said. "I had almost forgotten what it was like to be in a band without constant arguing."
There's a Fire is sonically richer and more textural than The Strangest Things. It employs a wide range of song craft and touches on a broad spectrum of emotion that's frequently pain-stricken and sometimes haunting. The urgent yet ethereal title track sounds like a cross between Echo and the Bunnymen and the Strokes. "Underworld" is more evocative, blending fey Sigur Ros-style vocals with acoustic guitars and rumbling sound effects. And "We're Not Gonna Crack" is a garagey rocker with tumbling drums, surging guitars and crackling noises resembling a radio rapidly scanning the AM band.
"Our last album was made with a lot of straight beats and simple melodies, and if we had done that again, it wouldn't have been as fun or as interesting," Schiltz said. "So we tried to make the most of what we had and experimented with a lot of different techniques without compromising the songs' melodic path. The whole album is about destruction and perseverance, and I think its sound really communicates that."
Longwave planned to work on There's a Fire with Mercury Rev member Dave Fridmann, who produced The Strangest Things, but their label wanted them to partner with someone with a more commercial track record. At first they protested, then their record company suggested Englishman John Leckie, who has produced albums by Longwave favorites Radiohead, the Verve and the Stone Roses.
"We always knew he had something going on because of all the brilliant records he's worked on. But we really realized how great he was when we were working on the record's last song, 'Underneath You Know the Names,' " Schiltz said.
Longwave initially didn't want the track on the album, but Leckie saw the song's potential. "None of us was too excited about it, but we kept playing it, and over our headphones we could hear John saying, 'Play it slower.' We thought, 'Oh my God. What's the worst thing you can do to a song you can't stand? Make it slower.' So we did it slower, and we hated it, and he stopped us two more times to slow down even more until we were thinking, 'Man, this is the worst song ever.' Then he called us in and played it back. He had put this crazy reverb on Shannon's guitar and made the drums sound different, and we were like, 'Holy crap! This is totally great.' "
When There's a Fire was finished, Longwave had the unenviable task of finding new bandmembers. Instead of holding auditions or searching for seasoned players, Schiltz hired friends who seemed unlikely to cause trouble. For the band's current tour, Jason Molina plays drums, Jeff Sheinkopf is on keyboards and guitar, and Paul Dillon plays bass.
"Jason and I grew up in Rochester, [New York], so we've known each other forever. Jeff was in a band called Sea Ray that I really liked, and Paul used to tour with Mercury Rev. Playing live with these guys is great. Everyone is totally on the same page and we all get along really well. Which is something we haven't had in a long time, if ever."
For more on Longwave, check out "You Hear It First: Longwave."