Once the June 2014 issue of ESM hits surf shops later this week, you’ll know how much we love Belly of the Beast, the debut full-length from New York rockers The Montauk Project. For now, just imagine the classic crunch of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath mixed with the Seattle grunge of Alice in Chains and the psychedelic heft of Kyuss — in other words, these guys know how to bring the heavy, groove-laden rock. EasternSurf.com chatted with drummer Jasper Conroy about the band’s East End roots, its formative time spent gigging in New York City, and what the future holds for these hard-working, hard-charging musicians. Oh, and visit their website The Montauk Project to vote for them for this year's Vans Warped Tour.)
ESM: Tell us a little bit about how The Montauk Project came together?
Jasper Conroy: The Montauk Project is myself on drums, Mark Schiavoni on guitar and vocals, Jack Marshall on lead guitar, and Chris Wood on bass. I’ve lived in Montauk for the better part of my life and the other guys are from surrounding towns like East Hampton and Sag Harbor. After college, we were playing music all over the place: a couple of the guys were playing music in Florida, I was playing music in California and then New York City, but we all moved home about 3 1/2 years ago and started jamming in the middle of the winter. There’s nobody around out here then, so we just turned it up to 11 and rocked.
ESM: How would you describe the band’s sound?
JC: Basically rock ‘n’ roll. People have said grungy, Seattle-ish rock; some people say it’s kind of Zeppelin-ish. We just like to write music and rock out.
ESM: We heard a lot of Alice in Chains on songs like “Good as Gold” and “Conquest.” Does everybody come from that same sort of ‘90s background?
JC: Yeah, we grew up listening to Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam… We just started playing what we like to play. We had another original member who was a little more classic rock-oriented, but he left the band because he didn’t like the direction we were going in. We try to bridge the gap between super jam rock and heavy stuff — it has a Sabbath influence, too, with heavy bass drum grooves and screaming guitar over it.
ESM: Is Belly of the Beast the band’s first recording together?
JC: We cut a four-song EP in 2012 with some friends of ours in Bushwick. It’s very different than Belly of the Beast, though, which is more the grand scheme for what we wanted to do. We basically gigged a lot and made enough money to buy the tools to record it in our home studio in Montauk. We did it entirely ourselves with Matt King, our buddy from Southampton who went to school for audio engineering, between May and November, and then got it mastered with one of our boys in New Jersey. It’s definitely a milestone for the band.
ESM: Are you guys distributing it yourselves?
JC: We used CD Baby to print it and put it everywhere: iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, all those digital media platforms. We’re working on getting it on Pandora — we met those folks at SXSW this year and they seemed to take a liking to us. We also sell CDs at shows, and we’re trying to get radio play, too. We have a guy who does Internet radio who plays us all the time, and you can hear us out here on the local radio stations like WPPB, as well. We’ve got a guy working on getting us on a radio station in Seattle, too.
ESM: You guys play in New York City a lot. How much has your proximity to the Big Apple helped the band develop?
JC: Everybody and their mother is in New York City trying to do the music thing, so we view it as a way to get ourselves out there, which we’ve been doing for three years solid. We just played Mercury Lounge for the first time, which was kind of a big deal — that’s the sickest stage we’ve played on in the city. We’ve been working our way up to getting there, and we’re fortunate because a lot of people that live out here go to the city in the wintertime. So we have our fan base in the city made up of people from Montauk and the Hamptons. We had a killer sold-out house at Pianos for our album release in March, too. People seem to receive our music pretty well there, which is working in our favor.
ESM: How extensively have you guys toured, and how far do you plan on touring in the near future?
JC: We went to SXSW [in Austin] for the first time this year and ended up playing five shows, including one at the House of Vans, which was awesome. We went to Philly last weekend, and we’ve played all up and down Long Island, but ideally we’re going to play other places soon. We’re just trying to make the right opportunities happen. It’d be sweet to go to Europe and play — that’s a pretty big goal for the band.
ESM: Do you all have day jobs?
JC: Yeah, we do, which makes it harder to just up and go tour. Mark’s been running Flying Point Surf & Sport for a decade, Jack’s a guitar teacher, Chris runs a AT&T store, and I’m a carpenter.
ESM: How entrenched in The Montauk Project in the city’s local scene? I know you’re performing on June 28th at a photo exhibit organized by James Katsipis.
JC: In terms of people doing what we’re doing, we’re the only people in our age range, which was mid 20s, rocking and putting on shows. But Montauk has changed so much in the last few years that it’s hard to say how we represent the town. Memorial Day weekend was insane; we left for the city to play shows because of how insane it gets here. It’s kind of a shame, to be honest. But we’re still out here in the middle of the winter just rocking out, which is partially what the name The Montauk Project signifies.
ESM: So clearly you have lots of local pride.
JC: Yes, but it’s two worlds: the duality of life in January-February and then June-July-August is so different. A lot of coastal towns are the same way, but it’s newer to all the way out east here, whereas five years ago it was a little more manageable. The waves get so crowded these days. But maybe I’m just turning into an old guy [laughs].
ESM: Even young people can admit that almost all lineups are more crowded in the summer.
JC: Most of the people that live here year-round will say the best time is the off-season — the waves are great, and the only thing you have going against you is the weather. But that’s really good for the music. As an artist living in the city, you’re super-saturated with pop culture, so you inevitably become influenced by other musical trends. Out here, we’re a little disconnected, so the music is more influenced by our natural surroundings than by what people are doing. The flow of the ocean sort of determines how our lives flow together. Being isolated is good for the artistic side because it allows us to focus on what we’re creating. Our ultimate goal is to get our music out there for people to hear. We’d like to tour the world as a band.
THE MONTAUK PROJECT TOUR DATES:
6/6 Swallow East Montauk, NY
6/13 Pianos Showroom New York City, NY
6/21 Memory Motel Montauk, NY
6/25 Revolution Amityville, NY
6/26 The Surf Lodge Montauk, NY
6/28 Atlantic Terrace Montauk, NY
7/4 Swallow East Montauk, NY
7/10 Café Wha? New York City, NY
7/12 Amagansett Parade Amagansett, NY
7/15 Stephen Talkhouse Amagansett, NY
7/20 Great South Bay Music Festival Patchogue, NY
7/25 Knitting Factory Brooklyn, NY
7/26 Swallow East Montauk, NY
8/12 Stephen Talkhouse Amagansett, NY