'Tidalwave," the signature
track and the first single from Longwave's RCA debut, "The Strangest
Things," is a burst of pure pop bliss that starts with the hypnotic
finger-picking of a chiming guitar.
"Take me down in a tidal wave," bandleader Steve Schlitz sings in a
distinctive and heartfelt voice. But it's only after the first chorus--"I am
everything you wanted/I am everything you need"--that the full strength of
the band's swelling sound comes crashing down, the wall of fuzzed-out
guitars contrasting with the song's jangly intro and making the tune all the
"There's a song with the line 'I'm praying for a tidal wave,' and I've
always had this idea in my head for a song called 'Tidalwave,' " Schlitz
says. "One day I sat down and it just came out.
*9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
*Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
"I definitely go through periods where I kind of feel irritable and down
and I don't know why, and then I realize that I haven't written a song
lately. It's weird--when I complete a song, it's more like I'm just happier
in general. It feels like I've been productive and I've done what I'm
supposed to do. Not because it's my job now; I just have some kind of
inclination that I feel like I should be doing that, and I like doing it,
and it just fulfills something.
"It's not like I walk around 'out of my head on inspiration,' which I
think is something Bob Dylan said one time," Schlitz concludes, laughing.
"It's one of those things where I just have incoherent thoughts and ideas in
my head, and if there's something for me to focus it on, like a song,
everything seems clearer--everything seems more like the right side up in my
life and in my outlook."
The emotional directness of Schlitz's lyrics has won Longwave a growing
following in the emo scene, though the New York quartet can just as easily
be fitted into the burgeoning renaissance of New York bands and the
so-called "New Wave of New Wave." (The group has a flair for big, bouncy,
Beatlesesque hooks in the style of the early "bubblegum psychedelia" of The
Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen.)
But Longwave isn't nearly as easily pigeonholed as some of its peers, and
its attitude is refreshingly unhip for a New York band touted as yet another
Next Big Thing in the manner of its pals, the Strokes.
"There's a lot of pride in New York right now, but I guess I'm a little
cynical about the New York revival," Schlitz says. "The first wave--the
Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars--I can see a kind of musical
thread running through that, but then you have Interpol and the Moldy
Peaches and us and the French Kicks, and it just kind of blurs. To me, it's
just kind of like the media fascination with New York. I don't feel like a
part of it, really, and I don't feel like there's a well-defined place for
"As for the New Wave comparisons, I'm kind of an R.E.M. and early U2 guy
myself. There are a lot of bands that get thrown around when describing our
music--like House of Love and the Chameleons--but I've never heard these
records. It wasn't what I was going for, and I guess I always end up feeling
a little unhip, like, 'Wow, you really had a lot of really cool records that
I don't know about!' I was hung up on 'The Unforgettable Fire' and 'Life's
Rich Pageant.' That's how I learned about music."
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Schlitz first ventured into the music world
as part of a sextet called Dizzy Monk. "It was a lousy name, and it was a
lousy band, too," he says, laughing again. The group toured, recorded a
D.I.Y. album, and signed a demo deal with Capitol Records before falling
apart. Still barely in his 20s, Schlitz decided to take what he'd learned
from that experience, move to New York City, regroup and try again.
"When that band broke up, I just felt like I had entered a void," he
says. "I felt like I needed to keep doing this. You know, I was kind of
young to think about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, or even
for the next few years. But I thought, 'I'm already doing this, this is
really what I want to do, and Rochester isn't really such a good place to do
it,' so I moved to New York City."
Longwave came together when Schlitz recruited drummer Mike James, a
friend from high school in Rochester, and bassist Dave Marchese, who was
living in Queens. The group recorded its first demo at an eight-track studio
run by Shannon Ferguson, who had relocated to Brooklyn from Petaluma, Calif.
"We somehow talked him down to recording us from $10 an hour to $0 an
hour," Schlitz says. In fact, the trio hit it off so well with Ferguson that
Schlitz asked him to join the band, even though he'd never played guitar
"I had already been playing guitar for a long time, and I thought I could
handle whatever needed to be done and as long as he just made noise it'd be
all right," Schlitz says. "I just liked his attitude, and we were good
friends, so it seemed like it was better than having some guy out of the
Berklee school of music or somebody that was totally proficient."
What Ferguson lacks in technical expertise he more than makes up for in
imagination; one of his favorite tricks is applying a children's toy called
a Mega Mouth Warper to the pickups of his guitar to create howling waves of
noise as Schlitz navigates the more melodic guitar parts and the rhythm
section provides a potent kick. At moments such as these, the band recalls
the warped invention of the Flaming Lips circa the early '90s. So it's no
surprise that the band turned to the Lips' regular producer, Dave Fridmann,
to record its debut album.
"He's amazing," Schlitz says. "We met him when we were touring behind our
first EP, and we drove like four hours out of our way--two hours one way and
two hours back--just to go meet him for 15 minutes. We liked the studio--it
was in the middle of nowhere and I liked that; I didn't want to make a
record in New York where people bother you on the subway and there's all
kinds of distractions--and we loved [the Flaming Lips' album] 'The Soft
"All those things were factors that made us want to work with him, and
I'm very, very satisfied with the record."
Schlitz's pride is justified: "The Strangest Things" is one of the
strongest dream-pop records since the heyday of Ride and My Bloody
Valentine, and the band is even better live. Longwave returns to Chicago for
two shows at Schubas, Monday with Sleeping at Last and Tuesday with Phaser.