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An Oral History of LI Music Scene’s Class of ’02-’03
Early in the millennium, around 2002-03, the underground music “scene” that had been steadily building for so many years on Long Island finally reached its watershed moment, thanks in no small part to the monumental records released during that period. Ten years ago, for both aspiring young musicians and their frenzied fans, Long Island was the place to be.
After years of LI’s punk, emo, ska and hardcore bands packing VFW halls and bowling alleys—including seminal, often-overlooked outfits like Kill Your Idols, Mind Over Matter, Inside, Neglect, Silent Majority and Clockwise—a new breed of bands had started to materialize, ultimately centered around the “Big Four”: Glassjaw, the Movielife, Brand New and Taking Back Sunday (with the latter perhaps the most commercially successful of the LI crop).
While the histories of these bands—and the tangled web of interconnections between members—are far longer than the space afforded here, 2013 seems the perfect time to take a look back.
This past year the recently reunited Taking Back Sunday toured behind the 10-year anniversary of their wildly successful Tell All Your Friends record, released in 2002, the same year as Glassjaw’s last proper full-length, Worship And Tribute. It didn’t stop there: Brand New’s game-changing Deja Entendu dropped in 2003, as did the Movielife’s final opus, Forty Hour Train Back To Penn, and that’s just mentioning the “Big Four,” and not the countless other acts you’d catch at the Downtown or the Vanderbilt back in the day.
Thus, to take stock of where the LI scene was a decade ago, and how it’s changed since, we tapped members of some of its most influential bands, who share their unique perspectives on a milestone period for Long Island music.
Alex Amiruddin (Guitar, the Movielife, 1997-2002; Guitar, Wiretap Crash, 2011-present)
Gary Bennett (Guitar, Kill Your Idols, 1995-2007; Guitar, Deathcycle, 2003-2009; Guitar, Black Anvil, 2007-present)
Larry Gorman (Drums, Glassjaw, 2000-2004; Drums, Head Automatica, 2003-2006; Drums, Asobi Seksu, 2009-present)
Mark O’Connell (Drums, Taking Back Sunday, 1999-present)
Brandon Reilly (Guitar, the Movielife 1999-2003; Guitar/Vocals, Nightmare of You, 2004-present)
O’Connell: I just remember getting into Eddie [Reye]’s van and going from city to city playing shows every night. I also remember thinking, “We can do this. We can become a really big band if we just keep on playing with the enthusiasm we are playing with.” I just knew something big was going to happen. We could feel it.
Amiruddin: Prior to 2002, the scene was an exciting and creative thing to be a part of. Both the bands and shows were diverse and people came out regardless of who was playing. Heavier bands played with the more emo, indie and punk bands. I made friends with people from all over the Island and it was a really good feeling.
Bennett: For me, the local scene was becoming a place I felt as if I had even less in common with than before…It had little or nothing to do with what Mind over Matter, Neglect, Berzerkers, Silent Majority and Clockwise were doing, yet in a lot of ways, it grew out from Silent Majority, Clockwise and Glassjaw.
Reilly: I have very warm memories of those days. It was such an exciting time. I’ve never been quite certain of the reason, but it always seemed like kids all across the States were so perpetually drawn to anything that the Long Island bands were doing. Kids wanted to move to Long Island just for the scene and what we had, and in fact, many of them did just that. Ironically, I was doing all I could just to get out of Long Island.
I remember leaving college in ’99 after only completing a half semester and then exclusively touring, writing and recording essentially 11 months out of each year for about four years straight with the Movielife. It was a great adventure, yet exhausting, and I look back on it not understanding how I achieved that sort of lifestyle. Surely, I had youth on my side.
O’Connell: At that time, [TBS] was just starting to tour full-time. It was a really special feeling. One crazy memory that I have is doing a tour with Brand New. In the beginning of the tour, we were playing to 150 to 200 people max, and what we were doing blew up so much during that time, that on the last show in Worcester, Mass., we played in front of 4,000 people.
Bennett: K.Y.I. had made the decision to stop touring as hard as we were…We all formed side projects—S.S.S.P., Celebrity Murders and Deathcycle—and all three bands were an attempt to be more extreme than what was currently going on here on LI.
Amiruddin: Around 2002 and 2003, I had quit the Movielife and was trying to find a different path outside of music. I still played in bands, but I didn’t have the same drive to be in a touring band that I had prior to forming the band. I cherish my experiences and memories from my time in the Movielife, but grew disenchanted with the new direction of the music, and my friendships with the other guys in the band suffered for various reasons.
Gorman: I remember mostly skipping school and going to shows.
Reilly: It was wild. It baffled me a great deal, and I still look back on it pretty dazed…[But] as far as Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Glassjaw are concerned, that was a much higher level of fame and success. It’s hard for me to put the Movielife into the same category as the truly famous Long Island bands.
O’Connell: It came so quickly, that I didn’t really have time to have a reaction. I just remember thinking that this is crazy, and how could this actually be happening to us.
Amiruddin: I was really excited, but I was definitely overwhelmed with all of the attention. I liked being part of something that people were excited about, but I was a little weird when it came to being the center of attention. I would probably appreciate the attention more now. [laughs] I think I’m a little more well adjusted now than I was.
Bennett: When hard work pays off for anyone, I’m glad for them. Eddie Reyes of TBS is my friend. We met at Wilson Tech when I was in 11th grade. He was in Mind Over Matter back then. He gave me a demo and introduced me to all these new hardcore bands…I was in Clockwise with Ed for two years. TBS isn’t my thing, but I’m glad my friend was able to succeed and buy a house from playing his guitar. He’s earned it.
Reilly: I’m not sure why certain scenes and particular types of musical genres all of the sudden explode and ultimately fade away. I’d like to think the stars just align sometimes, or pandemonium, perhaps?
O’Connell: Maybe it’s because what we were doing was special and original, and there was no other music at the time that sounded like that. When all the bands would play shows together, there was also a competitiveness to be the best, which made each band better and better.
Gorman: I think like most things, it just became a focal point for labels to cash-in on.
Bennett: I don’t know…Right place, right time? Hard work? Perseverance? All those things, I guess.
Amiruddin: I think it was due to the strong scene and work ethic of the bands. Relentless touring, label interest and talent formed some sort of synergy that spread. My band worked damned hard and sacrificed a lot to do what we loved. Not every band worked horrible temp jobs to save enough money to tour across the country and play in front of five people and have half of the shows canceled, just to do the same again when it was over, for years.
Present-Day LI Music Scene
Amiruddin: There is a great band called Playing Dead that I like a lot [featuring original TBS drummer Steve DeJoseph]. Iron Chic is great, too; They are becoming very popular on LI and around the country.
O’Connell: I make beats with a friend of mine, Kenny Truhn. He is a really talented engineer, singer, songwriter and producer. He has his own band, and has a very original sound, which is why I like him so much. I definitely think people should check him out.
Bennett: I will give a shout out to Polygon; they remind me of Sunny Day Real Estate. There’s a band called GANGWAY! who play real good hardcore punk. Primitive Weapons is from Brooklyn, but all those guys used to play in various LI bands. They are really awesome. Wiretap Crash is great.
O’Connell: [TBS] are going to start writing a new record in February. We are actually renting a farm in West Virginia, so it is just us five together, with no interruptions. We are all pretty excited about it.
Reilly: I just continue to write and record music for myself and Nightmare of You. We’ve slowly been releasing songs throughout the last few years. I’ve also been playing a few acoustic shows here and there, along with mini tours and a couple shows in Italy, where my wife is from. My main focus as of the last two years has been on my 18-month-old son. He finds a way to make sure that every moment of mine is accounted for.
Gorman: I’ve been playing with a band called Asobi Seksu for the last four years; I’ve also been working at a studio called Astoria Soundworks with A.J. [Novello], who used to play in Leeway, Both Worlds and is currently in the Cro-Mags; and also with Pokey, who also used to play in Leeway, and is currently the drummer for Agnostic Front. I’m right where I belong: back where I grew up and discovered hardcore music, chilling with all my heroes and peers, very content.
Bennett: Black Anvil is almost ready to record our third release for Relapse records. It will be called Hail Death!…Deathcycle will play the Acheron with Catharsis in January…I just quit Sheer Terror after a year of running around the world with them again…I’m much too focused on Black Anvil and that’s where my vibe is, mentally. My last show with Sheer Terror is December 30th.
Amiruddin: I’m playing in a band now called Wiretap Crash with George [Reynolds] from Mind Over Matter. We have an EP [Hand Over Fist]. They’re a group of some of my best friends…We all just love to hang, with writing and practicing as a way to justify the hang. We aren’t really a band looking to be rock stars. It’s all love.