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Meet Steve Schiltz of Hurricane Bells
Hurricane Bells I Photo by Mayumi Nashida
Huddled in the gloom of his apartment in Brooklyn, Steve Schiltz, lead singer of the indie rock band Longwave began writing songs that didn't really fit with his current band's guitar heavy, rock aesthetic. These were mellow songs that were meant to be played in the quiet of the late evening hours. So Schiltz created Hurricane Bells, named after the big, heavy bells that are hung in trees to warn of impending doom. Well, at least stormy weather.
In between tours, Schiltz would began writing, recording, and mixing what would become his debut solo album Tonight Is The Ghost. And by solo we really mean solo. Everything on the album from the vocals, to the guitar, to the drums, are all Steve. The tragedy of it is that if someone records an album in their living room, it's very unlikely that the world will hear it, no matter how good it is without a major stroke of luck.
The stroke in question was delivered by director, Chris Weitz, who decided to put Hurricane Bells' "Monsters," a track that didn't even make it onto the record, into this tiny little film called New Moon. With the sheer might of the Twilight franchise behind it, Schiltz' side project was launched into the stratosphere and he quickly had to find a band, a label, and start touring. We called him last week when he was lost in the wilds of Texas somewhere near Lubbock. Here is some of what was said.
Where were you last night?
We played a rodeo!
Yeah! We've been traveling all over Texas. It was kinda scary though. The rodeo was run by this guy called Joe Commander.
Seriously, that was his name?
Yup, and get this I think he was the sheriff. He was wearing a pistol in any case. He came up to us and said that this was his show and he didn't want any trouble. He said if we wanted to smoke weed we could do it in the back of our van if we kept our heads down, but if we got caught, he couldn't help us.
Yeah, so needless to say nothing got smoked yesterday. We're headed for the race track today.
Are you going to bet?
Hell no, I'm going to try and ride one.
That sounds like fun. So tell me, when did you first pick up an instrument?
When I was ten I started playing the drums. I had a band with my friend Phil Mables, but one day we messed up the insulation in his attic and we were both grounded for a month. During that month I started playing the guitar and by the time we got back together, I was better at it than he was so we switched.
How was this album recorded?
It was recorded in between tours at my apartment. I played everything myself and recorded it all on a laptop and then had it mixed it at my friends place.
Hurricane Bells I Photo by Mayumi Nashida
What is your writing process like?
I don't know. It's kind of like you foll around and don't think too much about it and eventually something good will happen and you'll have something to work on. The most challenging part is finishing the damn thing. So how do you know when it's done? How do you stop yourself from tinkering with it forever?
Well some people do write a song forever. It's really hard to decide that it's done. No one can tell you that but yourself. You start off with a wide open field of possibilities and then you narrow them down one by one until you've focused yourself on one point. Then you're done.
How does it feel to have your song so deeply wrapped up in this Twilight movie?
It's only been good. If that song hadn't been in that movie, I would have put out the record myself and no one would have heard of it. I would have sold maybe five hundred to a thousand records and done a week's worth of shows on the East coast and that would have been it. The Twilight thing has brought tons of attention. I mean, it was a really good soundtrack. Would I have rushed out to see the movie if my song wasn't in it? Probably not, but movies really wield the power of the dollar. The amount of money behind that movie is just staggering.
If you recorded the whole album yourself how did you convert the record into a live show? Was that tricky?
Well, not really. I mean, a live show isn't going to sound exactly like the record. I just want to have a good time and play a couple of songs with my friends. Besides I think when people go out to see a show, they want to see something different.
That's true. What inspired your song "This Year"? Where were you when you wrote that?
I wrote that on Thanksgiving in 2005. It was just a bummer kind of day. There is a personal back story behind it which I don't want to get into, but basically I liked the idea of writing a song about a bummer that was getting better. So the song is about that concept.
I really dig the "Monsters" video with all of the shopping carts getting their revenge. How involved where you in the music video process?
I'm pretty involved. There's this guy called Bill Moldt who lives in Syracuse who made this video for "This Year" and didn't tell me about it. He just sent it to me. And I really liked it. I watched it like three times in a row, so I figured well this guy isn't asking us for money. So we let him do the "Monsters" video. He's also going to do the "The Winters In New York" video too. He's great.
So I have to ask you about this video of you with a bunch of school girls in India singing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" How did this come about?
(laughs) That was a good day. We were invited by the American consulate over in India to play some shows. For whatever reason they had decided thtat they wanted to bring over some indie rock bands. I guess they initially asked The Hold Steady, but they said no and they made it down the list of indie rock bands to Longwave, but not all the guys could do it. So we pitched them Hurricane Bells, and they went for it. It was awesome! The trip was like a vacation. We played eight or nine different cities and the video you're talking about came from wandering around Pondicherry, which is in the South East part of the country. Apparently the French had a colony there. Anyhow we were walking by the water and Ashton, our singer, met the school girls and somehow told them that we were musicians. So they wanted to hear us sing. We had no guitar, no drums, no nothing, so we figured we'd sing the Shirelles' song that we do sometimes. So we did and then they did this sports clap that they do. It was so amazing. I didn't understand a word they said.
So what's the plan for this year? Are you going to record with Longwave or stick with Hurricane Bells?
I'm focusing on Hurricane Bells right now. I will be releasing a new EP in July and then a five song remix EP of songs from this previous album. I've already got most of the songs ready for the next album, and I'm going to start recording songs in early fall. Hopefully the album will be out in January or sometime in the winter of next year.
Hurricane Bells - "Monsters" Music Video from Hurricane Bells on Vimeo.
Sounds good to me. What's the worst show you've ever done?
I think it was the first one I ever did. I played it when I was ten with Phil. We played this Safety Patrol party in the school gym and this girl I had a crush on, Melissa Melendez, was going to be there. So we played a couple songs and then Melissa came up to us and asked us if we knew "La Bamba." And we didn't, and she was so disappointed that she went to the opposite end of the gym and started dancing to this boom box that was playing George Michael and never paid attention to us again. It was the worst show ever.
Oh man, that's awful!
I was crushed! However, I have since learned how to play "La Bamba." So Melissa, if you're out there looking for me I've got it now. I've got all you need.
(laughs) Because that's all we're really looking for in a man.
Okay last question, if you could sing with anyone in the world, who would it be?
I really like singing in Ashton.
You're just saying that because she's in the car.
Not at all! She's a damn good singer. I've sung in bands before with people who can't sing well and it's always a bitch harmonizing, but with her it's effortless.
Well thank you for talking with us.
Be sure and check out Hurricane Bells tonight at the Echo with Obi Best. Doors are at 8:30pm. Tickets are $12.
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