I Wasn’t Sure, But Now I’m Certain - A conversation with Steve Schiltz of Longwave
Back in 2008 Longwave was at a crossroads. They had risen in popularity quickly since their formation in 1999, landing a major label record deal and touring with the likes of The Strokes, The Vines, and Ok Go. The songs they crafted had gained attention for their melodic structure and dreamy rhythms allowing for experimentation, growth, and placements in RockBand video games along the way. After almost a decade as a band they had reached a point where each member had different intentions and responsibilities. Enduring lineup and label changes, they played a show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom and had it filmed knowing that it might be their last for a while. They didn’t make any announcements or fuss, they just quietly went their separate ways.
Talks of reuniting and invitations for tours had surfaced several times over the years with a few false starts, and according to Steve Schiltz (founding member and principal songwriter) everything starting coming to fruition in 2017 with days being arranged to rehearse and work on new material. A new single, Stay With Me, has already been released, and has fans of the band once again swaying with the sounds from a shimmering guitar.
A new album is on the way next year, and the band have been enjoying a bit of a resurgence though brief tours this fall. Steve took a few minutes to talk with us about things past and present.
GPBH: One of the things that has always drawn me to your playing is the underlying swirl that surrounds much of your guitar tone. I often like to imagine it as a thunderstorm that melodies sneak through. Where did that style come from, and how do you feel it has developed over the years? When you listen to earlier recordings, what evolutions as a songwriter do you notice from 1999 to now?
Steve: Thank you, about the guitar sounds! That's a lovely description. I'm not sure where that sound comes from! for me, it was first probably U2's "achtung baby". When I was a teenager I was in a band with someone who made me pay attention to that record and I still think it's a great, fantastically underrated rock guitar record. The sounds on it are swirly, ambient, stormy. I still love it.
For our other guitar player Shannon, I think the sound developed more based on the gear he had when he started playing in the band. He'd never played guitar in a band before, and he only really owned a few pedals...a very noisy delay pedal, a pitch shifter and a vibrato pedal. Kind of weird pedals and when he played through them, it sounded....like longwave sounds.
As for the writing? I think the early longwave stuff was more influenced by our friends and the people we were around at the time. "Pool Song" is obviously influenced by the Strokes. As time went on, I think we got better at weeding out more of that. On "Secrets Are Sinister", I don't hear much of that anymore but it could be just me...
GPBH: Since the Longwave long break you’ve stayed busy with Hurricane Bells as well as countless sideman and contribution gigs (including Blue October). How has the experience of returning to the old normal been for you, and what things do you feel like you have a better understanding of now than you did 10 years ago because of these experiences with regards to the business of making music?
Steve: Right! Well, I think all of us in Longwave have a greater appreciation of the band itself now than we did years ago. I know for me, when I was doing hurricane bells stuff I didn't even want to hear about Longwave. At some point, I realized it was silly. Whatever else I do music-wise, I am still also the guy from Longwave and it's ok. It's a good band.
But the other stuff, especially with Blue October, has been very educational and I think the biggest lesson is to try and enjoy the doing of it. Blue October have a great organization. It helps to see people enjoying their work, working hard at music. Those guys are an inspiration in that way. Any band can relate to just GRINDING it out, feeling like you're banging your head against the wall. The idea is, hopefully it's not ALL like that, and you can enjoy yourself, too and try to be kind to each other.
The irony is, I think when the band is enjoying each others' company, I think the music is usually better, too...
GPBH: How has it been developing the new material now that not all of the members are local? Have the songs been presented prior to rehearsals via email or have they come about during the times that you have all gotten together? What is your favorite song of the the new batch?
Steve: Eh, it's challenging but it's been fun. Our new record is done now, and so it feels like a while ago now that we were working up new songs. I had a folder of songs in various states of completion, and we started with those. Along the way we wrote a few more together. We would just block off time, people would come into town, and we'd get together at my little studio in Brooklyn and get to work!
We would always have a an agenda, songs we wanted to get work on in the time we had. But lots of times it was just fun to go off on a tangent, and some of the songs we wrote like that are my favorites on the new record.
Um, absolute favorite? It changes! But right now I like "Dreamers Float Away", which is the b-side of the new "Stay With Me" 7". It's got a good vibe, and I like the words and how I sang it.
GPBH: What term do you feel is most often used but most inaccurately describes your band, and what term do you think should be used in its place?
Steve: Ha! Well I used to really dislike "shoegaze". This was a long time ago, now it seemed to me that indicated a lot of boring, drone-y and meandering music. Now I think it's totally cool, and I think a little drone can be pretty good.....
GPBH: You are often mentioned when the discussions of the early 2000’s NYC music scene are brought up, a time when The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were just beginning to break into the mainstream. What is one of your favorite stories from that post Y2k Rock ‘n’ Roll era?
Steve: This is not TECHNICALLY a New York story, but for my 24th birthday the band was on tour with the strokes, and we were in Dublin. This was their first big tour of the UK, and things were crazy for them. Julian, their singer, told me he wanted to have a drink together onstage, a shot. I didn't drink back then, and I refused. He then threatened to kick Longwave off the tour, which was funny because it was the last night of the tour. Anyway, I eventually agreed to the drink.
So the show is going on, and it comes to the moment when I need to go out. Julian introduces me, and gets the crowd to start singing "happy birthday" to me. A whole theater of people singing to me. We go to take the shot and it's huge. I down mine in one gulp, and Julian spits his out! Then proceeds to give me a hug and start the next song.
It was a nice way to end the tour and a great way to spend a birthday. But.....he spit his out!!! I mean, total bullshit.
Those were fun times, back then.
GPBH: Finally, what are three albums by other artists someone who is just learning about you should listen to in order to have a better understanding of your material, and why?
U2 ‘Achtung Baby’ - for the guitars and for Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno
The Pixies ‘Surfer Rosa’ - for a different guitar perspective and for the vibe
The Flaming Lips ‘The Soft Bulletin’ - for the number of times we listened to it over and over in the van, back in the day
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