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It sounds like a Hallmark card or something," says Longwave frontman Steve Schiltz from his apartment in Brooklyn. "It sounds trite, but it's true: We like playing together," he says, when pressed for an explanation of how the band formed.
Surely there must have been a higher calling than it just "felt right," as the group's bio vaguely notes. Bands don't get together just because it feels right. There's usually another motive: getting laid, staving off teenage ennui, or as an excuse to fire up the old bong every night. Something. Anything. Somehow, though, you can't help but believe Schiltz; he seems so genuine and no-nonsense when he talks about where the band is coming from and where it belongs.
Longwave -- guitarist Shannon Ferguson, bassist Dave Marchese, drummer Mike James, and Schiltz on guitar and vocals -- is a rock band with humble, lunch-pail roots. "My dad actually found my first guitar in the garbage on the way home late one night," Schiltz relates. "I came down the next morning, and he had fallen asleep on the couch with the guitar just sitting there, and I thought, 'My dad's the coolest!'" Some people pick old chairs out of the garbage, to be refurbished and made functional once again. Others call it a good day when a discarded lamp is found to provide light and prolonged life as a reading companion. It speaks to the blue-collar, bootstrap values of his upstate New York roots that Schiltz's father would score a guitar that would help carve out and secure a future for his son.
Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that the sounds of another working-class musician first caught the ear of a five-year-old Schiltz. "The first record I owned was Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.," says Schiltz. "My aunt bought it for me. I had this Fisher-Price record player and used to play it all the time."
Rochester, New York, is situated on Lake Ontario, about seventy miles east of Buffalo. It's an industrial community, historically a factory town, and it gets damn cold in the winter. Schiltz explains that its natives are "good, honest people, if that doesn't sound too cheesy," and that the community consists of "T-shirt-and-jeans kinda guys that just get up and go to work each day."
The city is also home to Kodak, which employs 24,000 of its citizens -- and it was the thought of working a dead-end factory job that motivated Schiltz to play music. "I worked for a branch office of Kodak for a while. I did about 30 or 35 different jobs, and it just soured me on the whole thing. I knew that was one avenue I wasn't going to go down. So I ended up moving here [to Brooklyn]."
Longwave officially formed in 1999. Schiltz met bass player Marchese, and the two clicked when the bassist heard strains of Gotham post-punk legends Television in the songs that had, until that point, been relegated to Schiltz's bedroom. Together they found a drummer and began fleshing out ideas.
Not long after, guitarist Shannon Ferguson introduced Schiltz and Marchese to his small recording studio, where they began work on their first demos. After committing three songs to tape, they attracted the attention of Rob Sacher, owner of the small indie imprint Luna Sea Records. Sacher offered to put out their first album if they paid for it.
Longwave cut its first disc, Endsongs, in 2000 and released it in September of that year. Ferguson was enlisted on second guitar and Schiltz was drafted as the singer, since the songs were his; the record marked his first time as a vocalist. "I'd sing to myself when I'd write songs," he says. "I never thought about doing the songs in front of anybody; I'd just sing them to myself. And that was the only real singing I ever did until we started playing shows."
It was around this time that Longwave's drummer decided to leave the band. Schiltz put in a call to an old childhood friend from Rochester (James) and asked if he would complete the lineup just as they were planning to lay down the songs "Tidal Wave" and "Exit" for an EP they hoped would attract a record deal. As luck would have it, the manager of another emergent band from New York, the Strokes, offered the members of Longwave an opportunity to open a few shows for the burgeoning superstars. After hearing them play, the Strokes asked Schiltz and company to join them on the rest of the tour.
"It was when things first really started happening for them," says Schiltz. "I think it was nice for them to have us around, because we weren't like, 'Holy shit, you're the Strokes!' -- because we had known them for a while. On the other hand, it was so much better for us, because we learned so much from those guys about being nice to people [on tour]. It was real educational for us. We just got to watch them -- the way they interacted with people and the way they were in control when they played. They were just very, very confident when they played. It was good for us to see."