An Interview With Longwave

By Omar Kasrawi, February 22nd 2020 Interview

Photos and Interview by Omar Kasrawi

May of 2018 brought the first new Longwave show in nearly a decade – a band that helped define the New York rock and roll sound of the early 2000s. And more than a year later, the band dropped its first new album since 2008’s Secrets are Sinister. The band used a mini-tour supporting Blue October, to bring If We Ever Live Forever to the masses, culminating in a sold-out Webster Hall show. They’re currently on tour at the moment.

I spoke with founding members Steve Schiltz (vocals/guitar) and Shannon Ferguson (guitar) to get their thoughts about getting the band back together after a long hiatus, recording at Schiltz’s studio, and what music gets them going these days.

The following is edited for brevity and clarity. The band play Bowery Ballroom tonight.

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Omar: I’ve spent a lot of time with this new album and it was around a minute and 20 in, when that bassline kicks in. And shortly after that, the guitars come roaring in, and it kind of feels like, “Okay, this is a Longwave record.” Were you guys trying to recapture that sound that has been so associated with the band?

STEVE: Well, see the thing about that song in particular…it was something I had started by myself and we had, we kind of made it into a Longwave song. I think Christian’s bass is the last thing we did on it.. we had done everything with this scratch bass and [Christian Bonger’s bass] really made it….

SHANNON: There’s definitely a push to make it sound like the band. I know Steve really likes that song. And he likes the intro a lot. I like it, too, of course. But I think he liked it because it didn’t sound like Longwave. Especially in the beginning…he said, “You know, let’s do something new.”…And I think that, me and Christian, especially, wanted to make it more like the band. You know, I do think it was my idea to push Christian to the bass. Christian didn’t want to play the bass on that song.

STEVE: Chrisitan had thought I did a fine job on the bass…

SHANNON: Steve’s a great bass player, but Christian’s really, really amazing. It makes a big difference having Christian on it.

STEVE; It’s also better just because that bass originally wasn’t intended to go all the way to the end. I just recorded it. No amp, you know, I was just fucking around here. So yeah, Christian had the Marshall set up…as soon as he started playing and it was like, yeah, well there, we don’t need that other thing now.

O: So Christian’s in Vietnam. Shannon’s in California. And Steve and Jason in New York. How did that distance affect the creative process during recording? Were you sending files across the Internet?

SHANNON: Very old school I mean, we probably could be sending demos around and stuff, but we didn’t really do it that way…I think I was the only one out of town.

STEVE: Christian was not in Vietnam at that time Shannon was the only guy out of town. Jason also has moved upstate, and he was still in town, too. So it was three of us still living in New York. Shannon…would fly in.

In the beginning, we weren’t expecting to be recording a record at first. We were seeing if we wanted to play and what it sounded like again, cause we hadn’t played in like, eight years or so. But what ultimately happened was that I just recorded every single thing that anybody played that was kind of interesting.

Shannon would be messing around the guitar and he’s got his amp up…I would just have the mic on the guitar the whole time…he’d be playing and just fucking around with a peddle of mine early on, something he just found…And then I would go, “Oh shit!” And I pull up Pro Tools and there it is, and I’d just recorded it and a lot of little loopy things and things on the record. The little noises and stuff were from that.

In the old days, you would lock out a studio and just have everything to set up the whole time and usually, you can’t really afford that kind of luxury anymore. But I have this place, and if I was willing to step over everybody’s shit for a little while, like here on the floor…then we could just leave it all set up. And I had very recently made it so that we could record everybody. So it turned out to be a really cool way to have done it…it wasn’t started like that, envisioned like that, it just happened to kind of be a cool way to do it. But once everyone would leave, that was it….I would sit there and mess with this stuff and kind of go through and edit things.

O: So what was the impetus to get the band back together again?

STEVE: Shannon had asked me … God, seven years ago now. So more than a couple of years ago, we went out drinking one night, had a good time with each other, and then, you remember that Shannon? You asked me, at Rosemary’s in Williamsburg. And he said, “You know, I think we should get the band together.” And I said, “Oh, God, OK.”

So I went into the bathroom, came back and I said, “Shannon you need to know, I haven’t told anybody this yet, but my wife and I are pregnant.” So, you know, that kind of stopped it for a while…I called Shannon up maybe two years after that. four, five, I don’t know how many years after that. And I said, “I hit a wall.” I do these like TV commercials for a living. And I’m lucky to have that kind of work. And it’s good work….It’s creative…I get to play guitar. I get to do all my own instruments. And I had hit a wall and I called him up….I need to do something else, too. And I said, “Do you still want to get the band back together?”

And he had just moved to California, because. you know, none of it was an easy thing to do. It wasn’t like, “Hey, come on down Tuesday, we’re going to mess around,” OK, well, we look at flights and see how much it costs to come out here. So. But the good thing was that whenever, when we finally did get together, it was with Christian. And Shannon will attest that really kind of, that all of a sudden it was everybody’s a little bit better now because Christian’s so good and everyone really focused when they came. I was worried…people are just gonna want to take breaks a lot…But when we were here…everyone was focused and doing it…four or five times of doing that. And then we basically had the record.

SHANNON: It wasn’t a struggle. It was pretty easy once we got together and started working on a song. It felt pretty natural. You know, I think we took a long break. But all of us have played, been playing with each other in different formations for that whole time.

STEVE: That’s true. This is like the fifth or sixth or seventh band that I’ve been in with Christian now. And Shannon, it’s like the third or fourth for Shannon, Christian’s been in all of our bands. And the second time he’s been in Longwave.

I think all this is to say I can only speak for myself, but maybe you might be able to understand. And once you have kids, and three of us have kids, now your time gets really scarce…And so I really felt like when I had this time when we were all getting together, it was very important and we were going to make the most of it. And again, speaking only for myself, at our age. We’re in our forties now, I’m so lucky to have enough guys, to have a band that wants to do it. And it’s good, right? Like most, most guys at this point…have lost interest or your friends don’t want to do it or… It’s very lucky to have it at all.

O: What did it feel like stepping back on stage for that first gig in nearly a decade at Mercury Lounge?

SHANNON: I think that was the most nervous that I had been, and I could tell Steve was nervous too, for a show in like maybe 15 years….But then, you know, the backstage of the Mercury is actually in the basement. And when we came into the crowd and it’s completely packed, full, I just felt really at ease. It was good to be playing again. Maybe a little rusty for me but OK.

STEVE: Same for me. I remember thinking the same thing. What had changed for me that I knew that to kind of stay away until, like, I had to have my own little space. So I remember that show, I went off by myself and I got dinner, and not that I didn’t want to see the other guys, but I couldn’t deal with it before the show, all of our friends and people that I wanted to see. It was just a little overwhelming and kind of emotional….I remember walking up and walking through…to get ready for the show. And I looked in, and the room was full and I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be fun!” You know, it’s not going to be nervous or weird or whatever. It’s actually gonna be really fun.

SHANNON: I have a lot of confidence in Steve and the rest of the guys. So…once they start playing it, it’s easy to get excited. So there’s a lot of time on stage where I’m not actually playing. So I get to listen and it’s like, “This is amazing. You guys really rocked it!

O: One of things that has always stood out to me about Longwave songs, is that so many feel like they could be the track to climactic cinematic moments.

SHANNON: Well, I mean, as far as the band’s sounding sometimes like every song is the last song of a really cool movie. You know, I feel it. I feel like that’s always kind of been a part of the band. I think that Steve always kind of brought that kind of drama to the band. Like you listen to the first record, Endsongs, it sounds like every song could have ended any John Hughes movie. And I think that’s why I wanted to be in the band. It’s a great thing to be able to pull off in songwriting.

O: And you’ve both been working on creating musicals scores and music for commercials since the band went on hiatus, has that changed or influenced the creative process going into the new record?

SHANNON: I think that it affected the recording the most., I noticed, and I’m not sure that Steven noticed this, but sort of getting back to Steve’s studio and where we made the record. I know it’s like an increased amount of efficiency….to be able to make fast decisions. And I think that that just comes from doing all those scores. But maybe just getting older, too. I don’t know. But I feel like, just all of us, we debated the songs and the parts much, much less than we have on any other record.

STEVE: You know what? I forgot about this, but Omar, what we would do, especially when we’re writing stuff together for this record, you’d be in this room, have this thing kind of half written, definitely not finished yet, but we liked it. And didn’t know how to finish it. What we would do…because I had it all miked up, We would record it and then we’d listen back. And it would sound good, right? Like sound coming through the speakers like everything’s miked and it sounded pretty good….made it really easy to say, “You know, I don’t think that section works,” or, “What if it was twice as long?” and rather than [rerecord] it, I would just chop it in like a second and then I’d play it again for everybody and we’d say, “Oh, that doesn’t work”….”Oh, that’s right, that’s right.” And then we chop…I would do it in the machine…one thing about doing that stuff is it makes you really fast. You have to be fast right, with the software. So it was actually much faster to do it that way than it would be to just play it again…into your iPhone voice memos. And when it’s all done, you hold it up to everybody and listen back….I especially like even knowing that it’s possible to do that now. And that’s that comes from doing so many edits for scoring things.

SHANNON: I remember, having just the whole record kind of an easy feel to it. The other thing, as far as scoring and having all this time and having to work, kind of in a different industry for the last decade. I do feel like we’re just faster and better at writing the parts. That could also be partly because Christian is in the band.

O: I’ve lost track now, but you guys have brought up Christian as an influence on the band a number of times. That sounds like he’s some sort of special sauce.

STEVE: He’s good.

SHANNON: I mean, you can hear it on the record. Yeah, that’s him.

STEVE: You know, I played in bands with Christian on the drums. Me on the drums. Probably in three bands. Shannon, do you even know this? The reason I bring it up is that I’m not a great drummer, but when I was playing with Christian, I was like, “Damn, I sound good! Listen to me play these drums!” And it’s cause he’s just so solid…He just makes you sound so much better because he’s got it together.

SHANNON: The thing that you brought up earlier, Omar, asking us what it was like to do this again after 10 years. It’s not just that we were all playing in bands for ten years, we’ve also been hanging out for the whole time, too. It’s not like the band had a huge falling out in2009 and we didn’t talk for years. We’ve been pretty much doing stuff together. So it wasn’t that hard to come back again.

O: To me, Longwave was one of the defining sounds of the early 2000s rock scene. And that makes me wonder, who are some of the artists you enjoy listening to today?

STEVE: Shannon probably listens to the same five records still, yeah.

O: What are those five records?

SHANNON: Shannon: Well, I. I don’t get to listen to my own music anymore because I have a 10 year old. He controls the playlist in my house and he’s super into Nirvana. He likes Green Day. And that’s basically it. I played him some Led Zeppelin yesterday…Steve told me to listen to the new Spoon record. Maybe it’s an old one, Dave Friedman produced it?

STEVE: He’s done the last two. [NOTE: Friedman produced Longwave’s The Strangest Things in 2003]

SHANNON: I listened to the first one. That’s the first “newest” record I’ve listened to in years.

STEVE: Yeah, I love that Spoon record. I like The War on Drugs. I don’t find myself listening to a lot of Longwave-y type music. The last record that really knocked me out was that Mark Ronson record (Late Night Feelings) There’s a song with King Princess…that just killed me (Pieces of Us). I listened to it over and over and over and over again…There’s a few songs on that Mark Ronson record that I just love.

So I don’t know if Shannon can relate, but…I don’t usually get the awesome, transcendent feeling from listening to other people blast loud guitars and distortion and delay and shit. I’m kind of selfish that way. I like to do it but…I don’t really care when someone else does it too much.
Shannon: Yeah. Yeah, me neither. Yeah. Especially with the effects.

Steve: Again, that Mark Ronson record sounds fucking amazing. And you’re like, “How did he even get it to sound like that?” You know, one song is with the Tame Impala guy (Kevin Parker). And I’m listening to this. And I think this is just great music. And I don’t I don’t think there’s a guitar on that song.

O: That kind of makes me curious, as you say, you’re not going to search out heavy guitars, distortion. But when you sit down to write a song, is the first thing you pick up the guitar?

Steve: Yeah, it could be. It could be anything in this room. There are a lot of guitars. With Longwave, it starts with Shannon with a sound …it’s still a release to do it. “Wow listen to that!” you know. It’s not as exciting, honestly, for me to make the new sound…I get more excited when I hear him doing it.

O: So, what’s next? Besides the tour?

STEVE: There are a couple more videos there that are either done or in process for a couple of the songs on the record [NOTE: They’ve since released the video for The Trick]. We haven’t yet talked about playing anymore or writing more music together. I don’t know how that will go.

SHANNON: Actually, I brought it up a month ago. I think Steve thought I was being sarcastic.

STEVE: Oh, okay (Laughter)

SHANNON: “When are we going to make the new record?” And you laughed.

STEVE: We should, we should do it. We have stuff we didn’t finish for sure from the last record. I definitely started making a big list of stuff that was unfinished that we could start with. Yeah.

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