River City Extension is a band out of New Jersey formed by singer-songwriter Joe Michelini in the fall of 2007. Taking a year and a half to carefully finalize their line-up, the band went into the studio to record their DIY EP, Nautical Sabbatical. The record was released by the band in 2009. Describing themselves as chamber punk, they have toured with bands such as Cake, Robert Randolph, and The Avett Brothers. Their first full length effort, The Unmistakable Man, was released in May, 2010 to wide acclaim and review. I first saw them perform at BOMB Fest this summer. I was told they were the band to see that day. And that was true. So true. This band will have you dancing and singing with complete abandon.
What follows is my discussion with frontman, Joe Michelini:
lsg: So, I want to talk about your band. There are 8 of you. How did you bring everyone together and select the players and put that together?
JM: I started using the name River City Extension as a moniker for myself to play music under thinking one day I’ll start a band. I didn’t set out with the intentions of starting a band. But the first players that I started working with in the band were our drummer, Mike and our cellist, Jenn. I knew Jenn from when I was little and Mike was an acquaintance from high school. Everyone else in the band is an acquaintance of a band we played with or someone we know or someone that we’ve played with. So we started meeting people at parties and taking shots in the dark. There was no wrong answer at that point so it was kind of like, “Hey do you want to join my band” and that was about it. We started playing gigs together. We rotated members a couple of times but only one or two members rotated. And I think when we added Samantha our singer and Patrick our keyboardist it kind of became clear to me that that was about enough for right now.
lsg: What’s in been like since you started in 2007?
JM: The last 4 years have been just a blur. Totally. You kind of..I still do not have a full understanding of what’s going on when people say things or I talk to people. I don’t know the further you get with music and life, you realize that everything is about perspective. So, what you thought you knew was wrong and it’s so hard to…it would be so difficult to explain to myself 4 years ago what this year was like. Because it’s wonderful but it’s not what I thought it was. It’s not a better or worse thing. It’s that you start to understand things about music and being a musician and being a writer and about the music industry and about shows and about bands and about touring, you know. It’s just kind of been a blur. Everything changes every day so living outside of the moment or putting myself outside of the moment mentally it just. My reality outside of the moment is a temporary structure that more than likely will get broken down by an email the next day and you find out things are not happening the way you thought they were happening and it’s kind of exciting, you know.
lsg: So “The Unmistakable Man”, when I listen to it, I get this Mexican/Mariachi influence. Maybe it’s the horns for me.
JM: I’ve always had a fascination with country music, blue grass, the south, and south of that. I like to dance. I like music that moves you; music that has spirit and life to it and I find that a lot of the world music has that. It was also a product of circumstance. We had a trumpeter and I was writing songs that called for that and it just sort of happened. But a lot of it was appeasing my fascination with the south and international culture and music.
lsg: I love this album. From end to end. And I’m going to ask you in a second about your favorites but before I do that I really want to talk about one song in particular “Today, I feel like I’m evolving”. As far as I’m concerned, it is really for me as near a perfect song as you can possibly get. I mean from the first time I heard it, it hit my heart. I still sometimes have a hard time listening to it and not crying. It’s just so heartfelt and amazing. Please tell me about that song.
JM: That’s very sweet and wonderful. I’m so happy to hear that it affects you in that way. It makes me feel like I’ve done my job correctly, you know, which is to communicate an emotion with you and other listeners. That’s awesome.
That song, I think that I was going through a mildly meaningless breakup with a girl that I was seeing at the time that I was so head over heels infatuated with. There wasn’t a whole lot of substance to it but at the time I thought I was in love with her and you know, whatever. And I could feel her pulling away from me and that is such a bizarre and complicated feeling and it makes you…its one of the loneliest feelings in the entire world and there is nothing holding you up and it feels like you’re standing on shaky ground. When you are seeing someone and they are kissing you and telling you exactly what you want to hear and you know that there underneath the surface there is no substance to it but you subject yourself to it and try to be a part of this reality that doesn’t exist. But when you sit down at the end of the day and think about the things that actually do exist and how this is going to affect you and eventually hurt you. It’s like watching a wave crash in slow motion. You know what’s going to happen but you can’t move because your feet are stuck in the sand up to your knees and it’s your own fault because you’ve been standing there and you’ve been looking at the water for hours, for days, for years now and you are stuck and you are going to drown, inevitably. And that’s what that song was about and about other things that were going on in my life at the time. A friend of mine had passed away from Cancer and that had a big impact on me and I wrote this kind of sad, pieced together love song. I haven’t heard from her since.
lsg: Well it’s a tremendous song so thanks for that.
lsg: So, I love that one but what are your favorites? Do you pick favorites?
JM: I think Holy Cross is one of my favorite songs on the record. I like the way that song sounds and the way that it turned out. I don’t know. I haven’t listened to the record in so long, you know. We just finished recording our second record and I think I need to go back and reference the first one to get some kind of idea of what kind of growth we’ve had. But, yeah I’d say Holy Cross is probably my favorite track on the album.
lsg: Tell me about your writing process. You wrote all the songs on Mistakable Man and you just said that you just finished the second. Did you write all the songs on the second? Is it the same sort of process?
JM: Yeah. I did. I wrote 13 tracks on the Mistakable Man. Maybe 12?
lsg: Yeah I think there are 13.
JM: You know the first track isn’t really a song. Yes, I wrote all the songs on that one and all the songs on this one. This one has 14 tracks on it and it is 14 tracks, 14 actual songs.
lsg: You are in the middle of a full tour or are you? I see you have a couple of dates on the East Coast, but is there something bigger than that going on or is it just a few intermittent dates while you are recording?
JM: The biggest thing was recording. I just got back from Chicago yesterday and I was there for a month recording the record and so that took up a ton of my time and a ton of my energy and a ton of the bands’ energy and now we are just winding down getting ready for next year. We’ll be doing the local dates we are doing playing New Jersey and Philadelphia and that’s nice. DC…we have a really good time in DC.
lsg: And I see that you are playing the Stone Pony so given everything that means and being from that area, what’s that like for you? Have you guys played there before? Is that something you enjoy doing? Is that a cool thing for you since it’s The Stone Pony.
JM: Yes, we have played there before and yes it’s an awesome thing to do. I really miss it. I miss playing locally and being with our fans in that setting and that’s what that means to me. That’s what’s going to be nice about that. It’s like a check point, you know. You go back and you try to deliver a show that’s different and helps your audience understand the direction of the band and so on and you know, helps them feel like they’re not wasting their time supporting you, you know?
lsg: You just talked about the fact that you recorded your second album. When is that going to be coming out?
JM: It should be out, I want to say April or May of next year. That’s the plan.
lsg: And I’m assuming you guys will put forth a tour supporting that record?
JM: That’s the plan. I don’t know unless something changes but I think what’s probably going to happen is we’ll be touring I just don’t know when or where or time of year.
lsg: What’s it going to be called?
JM: Um. You know…this is the question I was told not to answer!
lsg: Ok. That’s fine. Fair enough.
(JM seems to contemplate the merits of spilling the title here…)
JM: I should probably keep quiet on recommendation of my advisors. We’re going to be announcing the record title soon along with a bunch of other details about the record. Probably a track list as well.
lsg: That’s cool. I can’t wait for its arrival.
JM: I can’t wait either. It’s just been too long.
lsg: Kinda like giving birth, right?
JM: Yeah. It’s kinda…yeah. A similar 9 month process or something ridiculous like that. I finished writing the record in August and it will be out in May. (He counts the months). Oh wow. That’s a late baby!
lsg: So I’ve got one more question for you. Usually I try to leave my last question as just sort of a whimsy question. So, if there were a cage match – and this is because you are from that area – who would kick whose ass? Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi?
JM: If it were a cage match? I don’t wanna say what’s going through my mind right now but Springsteen would murder Bon Jovi. And I don’t think it has anything to do with either of them. I think it’s just a sheer body mass thing.
lsg: Yeah he does look pretty good for his age, doesn’t he?
JM: He does! He’s huge. He’s a bulk of a human being.
lsg: It’s not even right!
JM: He really is!
Indeed. I’d put my money on Springsteen too. – lsg
River City Extension plays The Space in Hamden on Tuesday, November 22. Opening for them are City Streets Country Roads, Coyote Campus, and Mon Monarch. Doors at 7:00 pm. Tickets are available via Manic Productions.
Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez aka lsg
Lover of music and the visual arts, Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez is the insanity behind lsg original photography. lsg specializes in artist and performer photography. She’s had the honor of photographing national bands such as Weezer, Snoop Dogg, A Simple Plan, Paramore, Whitesnake, Wye Oak, and The Antlers along with countless local bands and performers.
Hailing from Hartford, CT, Lisa is a life- long music connoisseur. Growing up, her mother exposed her to everything from The Stones to Simon and Garfunkel to Earth, Wind, and Fire to Loretta Lynn…and everything in between. No genre was left unexplored in her vinyl collection. She saw her first concert at 14…Rod Stewart at the (then called) Hartford Civic Center. Thirty years later, it’s still her favorite pastime.
Lisa has two kids (grown!) and a day job. Her loves of music and photography have melded into a second career. And her love of CT keeps her promoting and pushing for local artists and performers. Lisa spends the greater part of her free time seeing and shooting live bands, performers, and artists and art work…and purchasing vinyl!