For all the gym-tan-laundry jokes and other unfortunate “Jersey Shore” stereotypes, New Jersey has an illustrious musical history: Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Bouncing Souls and The Gaslight Anthem, to name a few, all got their start in the Garden State.
Toms River folk-rock eight-piece River City Extension are seizing their rightful place in New Jersey’s musical pantheon with the ambitious sophomore album, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger,” recorded with legendary producer Brian Deck (of Modest Mouse and Iron & Wine fame) at Chicago’s Engine Studios.
Lead singer/songwriter Joe Michelini’s intensely personal compositions reach epic heights, backed by the band’s orchestral organ, horn and string arrangements. And as wonderful as the album (due out June 5) sounds, it’s a cathartic journey best enjoyed live, where River City Extension’s eight members reach a cacophonous crescendo unmatched by lesser contemporaries.
Folio Weekly recently chatted with Michelini about his emotionally far-flung songwriting, the challenges of touring with an eight-person band and the random nature of success.
Folio Weekly: How does River City Extension’s sophomore album differ from the band’s debut?
Joe Michelini: It’s only our second time making a full-length record, so our perspective on the differences is limited. But it feels like a natural process of growth; I think we sound more like River City Extension. The message is more direct. We also experimented with a lot of Americana and ’50s country influence, whereas the last record was more influenced by world music.
F.W.: What motivates your songwriting?
J.M.: I don’t really sit down to write an album — I just write as things are happening, so all of the songs are like snapshots. Some are about things getting better, some are about things getting worse, some are about moving on from bad things, and some are about realizing that something you thought was good for you isn’t good for you anymore.
F.W.: A lot of the song titles reference places: Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Oregon. Were you inspired by a romantic vision of America?
J.M.: No, it’s just the fact that we’ve been touring nationally for the past two years, and that’s new for us. So as part of my new life experience traveling America, I wanted to write about it.
F.W.: The band’s tour promo video makes traveling the country in a van crammed with eight people look fun. But it must be hard, right?
J.M.: Absolutely. Touring isn’t fun; if it were, everyone would do it. Playing music is fun. Traveling is fun. That’s why groups of people get caught up partying a lot on tour. But the actual concept of squeezing in a van with that many people and being with them 24 hours a day, getting no personal space or time? We do it because we love playing music, which inspires some really phenomenal moments out on the road.
F.W.: You’re based in Asbury Park, N.J., which has a thriving music scene. Is that community important to the band?
J.M.: I didn’t grow up here going to shows or listening to Bruce Springsteen. I love Bruce Springsteen and I love Asbury Park, but we’ve only been here for three years, and we didn’t grow up having this scene influence our music. All I can say is that I’m endlessly grateful for everything everyone in Asbury Park has done for us. We’re lucky to have supporters here who’ve championed us.
F.W.: Are you already thinking about the
J.M.: I’ve come to terms with the fact that so much about what makes music “successful” is really out of the musician’s hands. We did the best job that we could with this record, and now it’s up to you and everyone else who listens to it, along with marketing and all that stuff. And if those things come together in a magical vortex of success, then we’ll make another record. You hope it becomes less and less about chance over time, but the bottom line is, it is chance — a lot of great records have been ignored and a lot of really mediocre records have been marketed down the throats of everyone with an open mouth. So realizing that I have almost zero control over it, what we’re going to do is go out and play like we mean it and share this record with anyone who’s willing to listen. And if that leads to another year of touring and putting out records, then we are very lucky.