But, come on, credit where credit's due--right? Like, it's kind of cool how commercial rock radio sucks a little less lately, right? The White Stripes couldn't make it happen alone. After all, Creed has Jesus backing 'em up. (No songs, just footprints in the sand.) And that was kind of cool when what's-his-name wore the Yeah Yeah Yeahs pin on Saturday Night Live, kind of like when Cobain pumped the Meat Puppets tee.
"We've definitely got to thank those guys," acknowledges Longwave front man Steve Schlitz. "I mean, I don't know where we'd be if we hadn't gotten the call from Ryan [Gentles], their manager, to open a few dates. We weren't sure we'd ever make another album, and then..."
A little background. Since the release of their second LP and major-label debut, The Strangest Things, Longwave has reigned as one of New York City's most hotly tipped young bands. Their songs' sneaky hooks and big, shambolic arrangements set them apart from the trend-jumpers and suggest that Longwave is a band with ideas, and therefore legs. The Strangest Things is the album Schlitz says he thought he'd never make.
A little more background. For more than a few years, Longwave was one of those bands duking it out for support slots at little Manhattan clubs and constantly on the cusp of failure. Sure, in 2000 the band--at that time, Schlitz, guitarist Shannon Ferguson, bassist Dave Marchese and, on drums, some guy named Jeremy--had released one well-received, super-indie LP, Endsongs. Some labels started taking note. They played some shows booked by Schlitz. But then nothing much happened, except Jeremy split. Drummers are for some reason an endangered species in New York City. Things looked pretty dim.
Then, 'round about the time Schlitz was getting ready to call it quits, move back home to Rochester and gear up for a life of quiet desperation working in the Kodak factory, he got a call from an old high school buddy, Mike James. James had been playing drums in a couple of covers and undistinguished punk bands upstate and was pretty much at the end of his rope, too. Read the last sentence again. Playing drums.
Schlitz--a former high school valedictorian and no dim bulb--put two and two together and wasted no time convincing James to pack up his kit and move to the city.
"Mike coming on board was huge," Schlitz notes in his typically self-effacing way. "He was like the magic, uh, something. Mushroom, or--anyway--things immediately started to get a lot better. We were about to break up--the old drummer had quit because he just couldn't see the band going anywhere. Then Mike moved down, and within two days, the Strokes' manager called me on my cell phone and asked if we wanted to open these two shows for them that weekend."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
"Well, then about a month later," Schlitz recalls, "we went on tour with the Strokes, by which point RCA, our label, started to get interested, and we had managed to get Dave Fridmann interested in producing something for us. So we got back from the tour, borrowed money from our girlfriends and before we even had a deal in place, went up to Dave's studio in Fredonia and made the record. It all happened really fast," he adds, "once it started happening."
As music cognoscenti will recall, Dave Fridmann is the erstwhile Mercury Rev member who also makes a habit of coaxing dreamy, orchestral beauty from the likes of the Flaming Lips, Mogwai and the Delgados. He is not, to put it mildly, the mastermind of the Lower East Side garage-rock scene. And the fact that Longwave spent their salad days daydreaming that he might produce one of their records points a finger toward what sets them apart from some other bands that have hitched wagons to the Strokes' star.
"A friend of mine who does a lot of mushrooms told me he thinks the album's pretty psychedelic," Schlitz reports with enthusiasm. "That was his word--'psychedelic'--which coming from him I take as a huge compliment."
"Psychedelic" is also a pretty accurate description of The Strangest Things, albeit not in that annoying never-ending-jam hippie way. Rather, magic drummer James' kit-pounding barrels songs like single "Everywhere You Turn" straight out of Joshua Tree-era U2 into waves of shoe-gazing guitar feedback. There's just enough grit in the rhythms to make the Strokes connection logical, but Longwave has turned down the Television in their jaggedly catchy guitar hooks and vocal melodies and tuned into a more Psychedelic Furs-y brand of rock melancholy. The album manages the neat trick of sounding new and familiar at once.
So, at long last, after so many brushes with the Kodak factory, Longwave has it made. Right?
Schlitz isn't so sure. He's even got a backup touring drummer on speed-dial in case any Spinal Tap-like disaster should befall James.
"Well, the industry is fickle, you never know..." He sighs.
True enough--but it's more likely truer that Schlitz simply comes by his lachrymose musical persona naturally.
"I guess I think of myself as a disaster-prone person," he admits. "Like, this weekend--one of the first nice weekends we've had this summer--I decided to drive out to the beach with a few friends. And the car broke down halfway there! So it's frickin' hot, and we're, like, in the middle of nowhere..." Another sigh. "I don't know. I should be more positive. It wasn't all bad; we broke down in a parking lot, so at least we weren't going to dehydrate. There was a convenience store."
Maybe Longwave isn't that lucky after all. Maybe, when you look on the unsunny side all the time, the success you've earned just starts to feel like luck instead.