SXSW Watchlist: Hurricane Bells

While his longtime rock band Longwave takes a short break from the music world, Steve Schiltz has been working hard to make a name for his new project Hurricane Bells.  This band/side project from Schiltz has been in the works for a few years and just saw a debut LP, Tonight is the Ghost, drop late last year.  That album, while similar to Longwave in some aspects, tones things down just a bit and the songs feel a lot more like a solo record.  Schiltz has since put a band together and plans to stop in Austin during our SXSW music festival.  We had the chance to email Steve a few SXSW oriented questions before his band makes it into town.  You’ll see a musician who is passionate about the industry and hopes you don’t know him as “that band on the New Moon soundtrack”.  Follow the jump for full interview.

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Hurricane Bells – Tonight is the Ghost

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

Many may not remember the band Longwave, the band that bubbled just beneath the breakthrough success of bands such as Kings of Leon and The Strokes.  Working hard for years, differentiating themselves from their contemporaries, they sort of disappeared.  Yet, all along, they continued to create vibrant music with creative guitar work.  Why does this matter?  Well, at the heart of Longwave is Steve Schiltz, the core songwriter for Hurricane Bells.  He’s been collecting demos and working on fleshing out the first full-length under the new moniker; here we have the story behind Tonight is the Ghost.

One of the things you’ll enjoy the most is how soft Schiltz’s vocals are throughout his recordings, with old band and new.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of Albert Hammond Jr., but you can rest assured he has got much more range than the aforementioned character.  It’s this pleasant delivery that makes Schiltz the perfect person to go into the singer/songwriter sphere of things.

Alas, the music isn’t too far off from where you usually find him. “This is a Test” reminds you immediately, for those that are familiar, with Longwave, albeit a less grand version.  You can even tell in the harmonics of the guitar as they stretch out into the atmosphere where he’s coming from, but you can’t blame a guy for relying upon what he knows best.  Such are the opening moments of Tonight is the Ghost; he doesn’t clearly step out of the shadows of his own career.

Yet as the record progresses, you can find yourself seeing the variance in the craft of writing that Schiltz must have endured when recording this album.  “Tonight I’m Going to be Like a Shooting Star” is the first moment when he doesn’t seem to completely revolve around his writing of the past.  It’s a more direct approach to writing, as simple as it gets for this chap.  And in such a fashion, you won’t find yourself surprised when that slide guitar comes around the bend in “Freezing Rain,” though this has a different effect than the country-fied version used with so many other band across the globe. And in this moment, you realize why you really like Steve’s tunes.

The great thing about both Hurricane Bells and Longwave is that you can always clearly hear the vocals.  In a world coated with lo-fi tendencies and indecipherable lyrics, it’s rare to find a singer who puts it out there so plainly for the listener.  Subject matter is personal, and yet ultimately relatable, which allows for that connection between musician and audience, something lacking in a lot of modern musical movements.

As you would expect, the album is generally successful, though not too far off from where you find Steve in his day job.  Luckily, I like Longwave a whole lot, and so any new tune from the great Steve Schiltz never hurts these ears.  For fans like me, and music fans looking for something a little more pure, and a lot less contrived, you’ll find joy in Hurricane Bells’ Tonight is the Ghost.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/04-Tonight-Im-Going-To-Be-Like-A-Shooting-1.mp3]

Download: Hurricane Bells – Tonight I’m Going To Be Like A Shooting Star [MP3]

Hurricane Bells

171Not really sure how we originally missed Hurricane Bells, the new solo project from Longwave lead singer/songwriter Steve Schiltz.  The band/side project of Mr. Schiltz just released a debut album on Vagrant this week called Tonight Is The Ghost and we’ve really been enjoying what we hear.  Before we make some time to give the album a proper review, check out this single “This Year”.  It starts as a bit of a slow burner and then builds up into a poppy little tune that should sound nice to your ears.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/thisyear.mp3]

Download: Hurricane Bell – This Year [MP3]

New Music From Longwave

longwave01NYC band Longwave are celebrating their final show of the year at Bowery Ballroom on Saturday by giving away a free song each day this week.  Yesterdays new and previously unreleased song was called “Disappointed” and it’s been getting heavy rotation in the ol itunes.  Be sure to check the band’s website each day this week for more previously unreleased and new tracks.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/disappointed.mp3]

Download: Longwave – Disappointed [MP3]

Ume – Sunshower EP

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Austin’s power trio Ume is set to release their second EP to the masses. The band has been heralded by many as a powerful group, set to break down the doors of the local scene with their sheer energy. Can they do it on record?

From the opening minute of “East of Hercules” you can tell that the band is bent on getting right up in your face, as heavy guitar work confronts the listener. Here, the percussion has a bit of a bounce to it, which should win the band many fans, as its difficult to combine power and swing in one moment.

Stylistically, the band seems to draw a lot from the alt-girl rock of the late 90s, but they blend it with a freshness that gives the band a bit of a unique quality. A lot of bands simply rehash those old sounds, but Ume are intent upon using their influences as a staging point for their attack, moving beyond the simplistic structures of days of old

Throughout the short EP, they keep up the pace, consistently approaching their high aims. One of the better songs on this set is “The Means” as the band chooses to slow it down a little bit in order to provide some clarity to the rest of the album. This song seems to be the antithesis to the rest of the album, and it sheds their Longwave similarities, breaking entirely new ground. It’s easily the brightest point of the EP, showing the range and capabilities that the band possess.

One drawback might be the fact that the vocals don’t reach the clarity during all the songs, much as they do in “The Means.” Often the wall of guitar and energy shield the listener from attaching one’s self from the lyrics. Sure, it’s a slight misstep for a promising new act, but for a fan of lyrics and vocals, it might be a bit disappointing.

Five songs later, you can see a band growing before your eyes. It closes with the sultry “Pendelum,” moving the band beyond all your expectations. Expect a powerful live show, and a bright future from this local act. To see that powerful live act, you should all check out the band this Saturday night at The Mohawk for their CD release party. It’s sure to be a rocking good time!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/ume-ep-the_conductor.mp3]

Download: Ume – The Conductor [MP3]

Longwave – Secrets are Sinister

Rating: ★★★★½

Long ago, circa 2003, Longwave released The Strangest Things. It was an album full of possibilities; part pop album, part New York cool. Then comes 2005 and There’s A Fire loses everyone, pushing the band back to start. So where on Earth will we find them with Secrets are Sinister?

Briefly, lets journey back into the late 80s/early 90s, a time when pop music was a socially acceptable medium. Let’s face it, The Cure was a pop band; they still are. Yet, somewhere along this path, marketing interrupted creativity, rendering pop music virtually useless. In steps Longwave, circa 2008.

This album is precisely what a pristine pop album should and still is. Opening track “Sirens in the Deep Sea” is a heavy hitter, blasting guitar swells from the instant you press play, but then it drapes careful melodic vocals upon the walls of the song. It’s not the most novel approach, nor do we ask it to be, but there is not an instant where this song doesn’t immediately feel familiar and lasting.

“No Direction” keeps the pace with it’s predecessor, continuing the beating, yet this song is one of the one’s that harkens back to the band’s heyday. Most unique here are the levels to which singer, Steve Schlitz, pushes himself; it’s the most passionate he’s ever sounded.

However, it’s not all scowling guitars and walls of feedback. Let’s take “The Devil and the Liar,” for instance. It’s a calm moment in this storm of a statement; it’s also fairly reminiscent of Albert Hammond Jr, one of Schlitz’s dear friends, or at least old friends. This song clearly states that the band can play both ends, and they play it well. Similarly, you play a song like “Shining Hours” and you find yourself basking in the rays of pop goodness. It’s got a youthful edge, but one we can all identify with, no matter who we are. Longwave‘s ability to tug at any and every emotion is clearly where the band is at their best.

In trying to find a detractor here, one could easily state that there isn’t too much here that is pushing the limits of the local musical lexicon, but since when did everyone really have to go out of their way to be different in order to garner some sort of fandom. Clearly Longwave treasure those moments musically that we can all share; those moments when we realize we all love music for the same reason. That’s the secret.

You can listen to the record, Secrets are Sinister, in its entirety by visiting the band’s web site.

New Tunes from Longwave

In New York City long long ago, Longwave released one of the stronger debut albums of the decade, but they managed to go largely unnoticed. They had a slip-up on the sophomore LP, but they have a new album coming out on November 11th titled Secrets are Sinister. Here is the track “Sirens in the Deep Sea” off of said album.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/01-sirens-in-the-deep-sea.mp3]

Download: Longwave Sirens in the Deep Sea [MP3]