Who’s next?

OK, we’re moments away from an underground rock bum-rush of the mainstream, one that will fill music biz hunger (read: not fan hunger) for the stupid Next Big Thing. Which means, of course, lots and lots of faceless and dull-looking white dudes preening at you from every magazine stand the world over, and even more tuneless chirp filling myriad iPods, hard drives and CD changers. Sounds downright horrible, doesn’t it? Well, it is.

When this happens in the coming months — and clearly the Shins and the Stripes have already forged a beachhead — Longwave ought to be poised to reap something. See, don’t ever confuse them with the thousands of tuneless or faceless combos crisscrossing the country in 15-passenger Ford vans playing to bored faces here, there and everywhere, ’cause, simply put, Longwave doesn’t suck.

Hailing from New York, they’ve been lazily and inaccurately lumped in with the Strokes, though their sound is influenced far more by the hazy English dream pop of the mid-’90s. Fill their songs with velveteen warmth, plush, thick chords swirl, caper and swoon like your first salty-sweet schoolyard kiss; dramatic (but not pretentious) sonic flourishes and a certain chunky elegance underscore melodies that actually have staying power. In a rock-critic word, the stuff shimmers.

They’re about to release There’s A Fire, the follow-up to their RCA unveiling, The Strangest Things. The new album is helmed by underrated UK pop producer John Leckie (Adverts, Radiohead, XTC) instead of indie “it” producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, Flaming Lips), who manned Longwave’s major label debut.

“We were going to do the record with Dave Fridmann again. What happened was our record label — they weren’t going to force us to not work with Dave — but they asked if we had even considered anyone else. And we hadn’t really,” says singer-guitarist Steve Schlitz. “Immediately we thought, ‘Here it comes. They’re going to make us work with someone that did the last Matchbox 20 album.’ We were all cringing, and he said, we could approach John Leckie. And we were like, ‘Oh, whoa. Yeah, OK.’”

Leckie, a 30-year vet whose first work was with the Plastic Ono Band and on Pink Floyd’s Meddle, brought an old-school aesthetic to the band. They recorded on a 16-track tape machine, not onto digital, and Leckie helped the band explore an even more wide-open sound.

“We tried to make the dynamics wider. There are some songs that are really, really quiet with no bass, and then do the Led Zeppelin trick where there’s suddenly really loud and crazy bass, and then it’s back again. We just tried to play with that kind of stuff,” Schlitz says. “In the end it seemed like John was the perfect choice for producer because there was almost this classic rock aesthetic — a total disregard for the idea that we’re on a major label and they’re looking for radio songs.”

“We just tried to really push every idea as far as we could and have each song have its own little life, as opposed to the last record which seemed — I still like it, but there’s definitely a little more of a same-y feel through the record than this new one,” he says.

Though they finished the album in November, it isn’t due until May or June. Longwave assumes part of the blame for the later release date as they struggled through the departure of their rhythm section. Bassist and original band member Dave Marchese got the boot (yep, personality differences) and drummer Mike James, a friend of Schlitz’s growing up, tore his rotator cuff, making touring impossible.

The new guys? Well, now they’re a quintet. They’ve added a pal, former Sea Ray keyboard-guitarist Jeff Sheinkopf, plus ex-Mercury Rev bassist and Fridmann protégé Paul Dillon, and drummer Jason Molina (whose brother is in Mercury Rev).

“Yeah, we owe Fridmann a lot,” Schlitz says, laughing. “It was a difficult thing to go through at the time, but in the end it’s all worked out.”


Friday, March 18, at the Blind Pig (208 S. First, Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555) with Minus Story and OK Go.

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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