To understand just how asinine use of the term 'emo' has become in the alt-rock press, listen to Rye Coalition's latest noise-punk garage rawker On Top. Then, read how often writers are still tagging the band with that insidiously erroneous label.
The recycled Zepp riffage, the scream-on-pitch lyrics and the sheer dirt bled into On Top's is nothing like the dashboard confessions or girly-boy musings most sane people identity with the 'e' word.
'People are still calling us emo! Now they call it 'classic emo,'' says Dave Leto, drummer for the New Jersey-based band. 'You know, 'melding the best of AC/DC with, like, Fugazi.'
“I mean, c'mon, I like Fugazi and all, but... It's just weird, because I don't think Fugazi was ever really emo, anyway. When I think of emo, I think more like Dashboard Confessional. I guess it's just easier to call everybody one thing.'
Leto's incredulity is validated by the sonic assault of On Top, the band's third full-length release since their initial five-song demo came out in 1994. Further proof is the album's engineer (not producer): Steve Albini.
'With On Top, we wanted to get as close to live as possible,' says Leto, who formed the band with singer Ralph Cuseglio, Justin Morey and Jon Gonnelli. Herb Wiley joined later to form what they like to call the sound of 'The Hard Luck Five.'
'So we figured we better deal with the best, and Steve gets the best live sound,' Leto explains. 'We wanted it to sound like what it's like to stand in front of us and hear us play. So that's why you've got the panning, the separate guitars in each speaker. We wanted it to be distinct. If we did it all in one, you wouldn't be able to hear who's doing what. It would be too much.'
Mixing the best of Raw Power,-era sloppiness and the garage-prog dexterity of At The Drive In, Rye Coalition are indeed best experienced in the flesh. It's music with the inherent immediacy of a shot of whiskey and Bud chaser- funneled through a beer bong. The crowds at Rye shows seem to agree, says Leto:
'Lots of drunk people. Lots of yelling. Everyone seems very happy to see us. I don't know. I think they're just drunk.'
But even if the band's fans don't seem particularly evolved, at least their music has shown signs of obvious growth.
'In the past, it used to be one person writing a song, they'd bring it in and teach it to the others,' he says. 'But lately, we've got to spend more time writing together. We used to be so rushed, so we did a lot songwriting at home, alone. But now we've got more time to sit and play with each other and come up with stuff. It actually feels a little more natural this way.'
So natural, in fact, that On Top was recorded in just one week.
'There are still what you call 'major indie' bands who would never think of doing an album in only a week,' laughs Leto. 'You know, 'we need months and months.' I don't get that.'
'Maybe we were just better prepared to do this album,' he continues. 'But I think any time longer than that is just time spent ruining your album. Like, 'oh, we need the sound of a train here, and here the sound of a Camaro peeling out, or a 15-piece bagpipe orchestra goes here-Please. What the fuck is so hard about it?
'If you've got five people in a band who are each responsible for doing their one thing, how hard is it to get them to do it in a week?'