Back in the early '00s, Longwave was one of the most touted acts in the resurrected New York rock scene. But sonically, the band's brooding guitar atmospherics and throttling post-rock fury set it apart from peers such as Interpol and the Strokes. Longwave wasn't afraid to incorporate some uncool mainstream influences — vocalist/guitarist Steve Schiltz name-checks U2 and R.E.M. — and it dodged the celebrity status that came with the time and place.
A decade into its career, Longwave continues to operate on the fringes and doesn't earn much critical respect. However, it's never abandoned a knack for creating concise pop songs that sound injected with steroids: Last year's Secrets Are Sinister starts with "Sirens in the Deep Sea," a song that begins with light, jangly chords and tambourine before it's enveloped by a tidal wave of fuzz guitars and distorted, sub-low bass. From there, Sinister contains a barrage of noise-laced, energetic pop songs. "No Direction" features space-age guitar squalls and raspy vocals overdriven with distortion, while echoing vocal melodies on the mid-tempo "The Devil and the Liar" shuffle along with shimmering ambience.
RFT spoke with Schiltz just before Longwave left for a U.S. tour opening for Bloc Party.
B-Sides: It's been a while since the last Longwave record. You guys went through a lot of changes career-wise. How do you think that affected you personally and as a band?
Steve Schiltz: It was tough. We had a deal with RCA Records that basically was just over. It wasn't any real blowout. I guess it would be cooler if it was more dramatic and we went up to the label and threw chairs around, but it wasn't like that. Our A&R guy took us out to dinner and he was like, "Look guys, you're a million-and-a-half dollars un-recouped." In a way, it illustrated what was wrong with the way things were going at big labels like that at the time.
In what way?
Just to put that much money into our little indie-rock band was kind of ridiculous. But from our perspective, it's turned out great, because through that deal we were able to buy gear and we were able to live and work for a while, put some records out, and now it's kind of all calmed back down. We're on a small label again [Original Signal Recordings], and we're able to record ourselves and do things. It just took awhile to figure it out.
Was the new record influenced more by Britpop and shoegaze music? It feels a little more pop-oriented and atmospheric.
I'm always kind of surprised by that. But it's not bad, it's just that I always think of shoegaze stuff as music with a lot of echo and reverb on the guitars. A lot of times it seems that when we don't put that stuff on, people say it more. It's like when you read about Loveless, the My Bloody Valentine record, Kevin Shields always says that it wasn't really that many guitars. People's perception is often one thing, and the actual execution is something else.
But you have to admit that some of the sounds on Sinister are really huge, right?
Well, there are tricks. Like with a lot of [guitarist] Shannon [Ferguson]'s parts, he does play with the echo on, and I would ask him to do his main part and then do one completely dry — and maybe even one more pass that's somewhere in-between. Then you pan things left and right and you have this huge sound all of a sudden. So even though he's just playing one part, it ends up filling up a lot of space. On some of our earlier stuff, we would just add endless overdubs of different guitar parts and things. This time I think we wanted each part to have a bigger impact. It's like Daniel Lanois says: "Less things, all very loud." We were just trying our best to take that advice to heart.