“We’re psyched”: with a staggeringly fine new album in stores and a summerlong tour looming, these Garden State soon-to-be-heroes are gonna make you believers, one fan at a time. BLURT investigates, with special cameos by Rosalita (the van, not the gal), and The Boss (Springsteen, not the day job employer).
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It’s a tough gig being a band from New Jersey.
Every city you hit on tour, you’ve got some jackass giving you his best Sopranos “Fuggedaboutit.” People name check Bon Jovi and a slew of awful ‘80 hair metal bands (Skid Row! Trixter!) when talking about your state’s musical pedigree and conveniently forget that Springsteen is not only a native son, but also chose to stay in the Garden State.
So it’s with the pride that can only be earned when the rest of the country is laughing at your expense, that The Everymen (quite possible THE best band you aren’t listening to yet) spits out the names of New Jersey’s favorite sons and daughters in rapid fire (“Martha Stewart, Ricky Nelson, Meryl Streep, Danny Devito,” and on and on) on “NJHC.” The track comes midway through the band’s latest record, Givin’ Up On Free Jazz (Ernest Jenning), and nails it with the line “The list’s insane… Almost too much for one state.”
And that right there is the beauty of this band; fantastic musical chops, a great sense of humor, and plenty of self-awareness. It’s like a gorgeous girl who also happens to quote Arrested Development at the drop of a hat and, by the way, is really into metal and old Power Pop bands.
Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, the founding member of the one-man-turned-nine-man/woman band, was cool enough to answer some questions via email recently, talking about the group, their van, getting A.C. Newman to guest on a song, and loads more. Oh, and being a Jersey band, I had to ask if they have a Springsteen story? Fuck yeah they’ve got a Springsteen story! (OK, it’s not a great one, but come on. You got a Springsteen story? Didn’t think so.)
BLURT: You have nine members. That has got to mean everyone gets about $10 after the money at the door is split. Did the band start out with that many members?
MICHAEL VENUTOLO-MANTOVANI: No. For the first two years or so we were a two-piece. The band was kinda born out of this 7″ I made while I was trapped down the shore. See, I was visiting my parents who were living just outside of Atlantic City at the time and we were hit with a fuck of a snowstorm and I just couldn’t get back to Jersey City – where I was living at the time – because the roads were just so whacked up. So I holed up in my parents’ basement where my father, a killer musician in his own right, has a ton of gear. Guitars, drums, recording action. So I just started bashing away, writing these little two minute pop jams. But I don’t know the first thing about recording so it ended up sounding like the lowest lo-fi you could imagine. The intent was just to keep them as demos and figure out where to use them down the road, as at that point I was still playing in another band that didn’t have much place for two-minute pop jams. But as it turned out, I ended up absolutely loving the way the demos sounded. So I scratched together a few bucks and self-released our first 7″ as Sarin McHugh And The Everymen.
From there, of course I wanted to get out and play those tunes in a live atmosphere so I recruited Stephen Chopek through friends of friends and knowing that he was one of the most in-demand drummers around the Jersey City scene. So we did that for a long while, just the two of us bashing away as loud as we possibly could. I played through two amps and generally cranked up as high as I could. From there, we got Geoff (Morrissey) to play bass. I knew him from college and he came to see us one night. After the set he told me if we ever needed someone on bass, he’d be the guy. So we were three. From there we got our hands on Scotty Z and his blazing sax and after he joined, he recruited his brother Jamie on bass, moving Geoff over to guitar.
[DEEP BREATH] After that, we got Catherine (Herrick). She and I were coworkers and one night we ended up at a karaoke bar together and the minute she took charge of that mic I knew she had to be in our crew. It was a revelation for me. So after some pestering she finally relented and now here she is. After that, Stephen’s touring schedule with some other bands became a little hectic so we hired Jake Fiedler to fill in when Stephen couldn’t play. Jake was the long-time drummer in one of my all-time favorite freakout crews, Ex Models. Then after years and years of us bugging him, Thomas Barrett joined on keys. He and I played in a band together prior to The Everymen so I knew what a special musician he was. He’s since left to focus on his own band (Overlake. Check ‘em out) but he’s always got a spot with us. Last but certainly not least we dug our claws into our brassman Will Hoffman who used to play with the brothers’ Zillitto in a crew called The Porn Horns.
Phew. There you have it. Long-winded. But you asked.
Who in the band has the most surprising taste in music?
I think all of us will throw you for a loop in one way or another. Scott is a huge Louis Prima fan, I have a very healthy experimental and noise side, Jamie’s really into zany shit like Zappa. But we’re all kinda all over the place. I mean, during any given van ride you can hear shit like Jack White, Black Breath, Future Islands, Iron Maiden, Sleep, Pat Benatar, Dinosaur Jr., blah, blah, blah. But I think if we had to pick one who’d shock you the most, it’d be Catherine. Here’s this sweet little thing, soft-spoken little gem that she is, and then BOOM! she schools you on Thin Lizzy or Dio or Def Leppard or really deep new stuff like Prince Rupert’s Drops or EMA or Mount Carmel. The girl loves the rock. And you probably wouldn’t tell that straight off the bat. You’d probably guess Belle and Sebastian or the Comet Gain (whom she both also loves).
I was (and still am) a huge fan of the Jonathan Richman tribute EP. Any plans to cover another artist?
Thanks dude! So stoked you dig it. Actually, yeah, ideally that EP is ideally the first of a series. We’ve just been so focused on Free Jazz that we haven’t really had time for much else. But I have a whole slate of them in my head. Definitely wanna do the aforementioned Louis Prima, Gin Blossoms (don’t judge. y’all are gonna have to pry New Miserable Experience from my cold dead fingers), Eric’s Trip and some others. Maybe someday it’ll be as cool as Fucked Up’s Zodiac Series. We’ll see.
How was the writing of Givin’ Up on Free Jazz different than how you approached New Jersey Hardcore?
Night and day, dude. New Jersey Hardcore was such a solitary commitment on that part and such a speedy one at that. That record was a lot of ways just me making a record alone. Stephen played drums, Catherine sang on only one song – as she had just joined the band – and Scott hit the horn a bit. But I did all of the guitars, all the bass and most of the vocals. We hadn’t yet solidified as a unit and our record was made in a matter of a few weeks. With this record we had had this current lineup for over a year, we all were in a groove, we all knew how we worked with one another and I made a very conscious decision to stretch the process of making this record out over a long period of time. I wanted to let the songs breathe and develop and see where they ended up. It wasn’t so much revision as much as it was addition, ya know? So much of the depth of this record comes from that. Had we made it in a week or so we may never have had a glockenspiel or I never would have thought to lay an acoustic guitar under everything or we may never even have built such strong horn parts. A lot of that just comes from taking the rough mixes home, sitting with them for a few weeks and going from there. I mean, so many ideas and opportunities arose from simply taking our time… which brings me to your next question
A.C. Newman shows up on one song here. How did you get him involved? Did you always intend on having someone guest on that song?
No! That was one of those fantastic natural and organic things that just happened during the process of creating our record. It was something that just fell into place during one of those voids between sessions. When we put out New Jersey Hardcore, Carl’s wife had gotten her hands on a copy and really enjoyed it. I forget how it came about but she told me back then that she really loved it as did Carl. I’d sent some early Free Jazz mixes over to them just to give them a taste of what was coming and she had responded that both she and Carl were loving what they were hearing so I just asked if he wouldn’t mind guesting on the record. Of course I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Carl’s (I stand by the fact that his first solo record is the best Matador release ever) and I think that his voice is just so undeniable and so unique so it was such an amazing treat when he said yes.
This is your first record for Ernest Jenning Record Co. How did you connect with the label?
I’ve known Pete (D’Angelo) for a while now. I used to look after a band who put out a record with EJRC a few years ago so we worked together back then. At first I didn’t think he’d be interested in Free Jazz so I hadn’t sent it over… or maybe I did and he just ignored me? I don’t know. Haha. But then he ended up at one of our shows and I guess for him everything clicked. He sent me an e-mail the next day to the tune of “Tell me what I need to do to put this record out.” Something like that. So pretty much right then I was sold. His enthusiasm was unmatched by anyone else we were talking to and to me that’s the most important thing, ya know? I’d take a deal with these guys who are gonna make us their priority rather than deal with being the small fish in a pond with a ton of others competing for attention blah, blah, blah. So far it’s been a great place to be.
You have a pretty exhausting tour schedule and will be touring for most of the summer. Is it difficult to find time to tour or have you all quit you day jobs at this point?
Quit is a strong word. Well, yes. Some of us have quit our jobs. Our aim is to tour as much as humanly possible between now and whenever it is we make our next record so we can’t really do that around work schedules, ya know? Now’s our time. We can’t sit around doing two week tours and weekenders here and there anymore. We’re the kind of band that needs to go out and make fans one by one. And that’s the only way that that’s gonna happen. So yea, we’ve mostly left our day jobs or put them on hold or taken leaves for the time being. But most of us are picking up some side gigs. Working from the road. Freelancing. Rosalita (our big beautiful van) is like a rolling office space. Hopefully it’ll keep our hands busy, our bellies full and our minds sane. [Wait a minute – the band has a van called ROSALITA?!? Do tell! – Boss-fan Ed.]
So every just about every Jersey band I have ever interviewed has a Springsteen story. Any of you guys have one?
All tall tales I tell ya. Legends. I mean, mine’s pretty boring but one time in high school I was shopping at Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank. I was flipping through CDs and I look up and who’s on the other side of the rack from me but The Boss. I was very uncool and stared too long. He looked up and smiled and I shot my gaze back down into the racks and I think ran out the door. Like I said, I was very uncool. Our next Bruce story will be better. That’ll be the one where he invites us on stage and lets me sing “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” with him.
What’s next for you guys?
Touring. Like I said, we just need to play as much as possible right now. The number 250 is in my head. If we can do 250 shows between now and next June, I’ll be happy. Right now we’re gearing up for our big US tour this summer. Pretty much all of June and July we’ll be out there. Then home for two weeks and then back out for a two week run in August. That’ll be straight west and back. Out and back on Route 80. Home for a bit more then another three weeks in September. That’ll be mainly east coast. Up and down.
Then in late October through the end of November we’ll do another US run. Ideally. Unless any bigger bands want to take us out on tour. Then we’ll do that. Obviously. But just have fun. Play shows. Make friends. Try and sell as many records as we can. Drive around. See the country. Have an adventure that few people are lucky enough to have.
I can’t wait. We’re psyched.
Photo Credit: Kenneth Bachor