There are few things you can count on in Long Island. Luckily, musical diversity is one. The punk and hardcore underground in Long Island continues to be a place of variety and genre-bending sonic output, and that variety has made for some truly great albums and shows over the years. These days, Somerset Thrower continue that legacy as they blend driving post-hardcore grooves with the melodic sensibilities of alternative garage rock, all the while recognizing their own place in the Long Island hardcore punk scene.
Punknews. Mike Musilli sat down with the band to talk about their upcoming LP, Godspeed, and more. On top of that, you can also check out a full album stream of Godspeed below. The LP comes out this Friday, August 24th on Dead Broke Records, and you can pre-order it right here/. You can catch Somerset Thrower at their record release show this weekend, and on a fall run of shows with Iron Chic on the bands’ way down to The Fest.
How did Somerset Thrower come together, and what’s behind the band’s name? Frank: All of us were playing in bands that had recently broken up and were looking to start something new. We were all living on Long Island at the time and hanging out anyway so we said, “Hey, let’s do this.” Tim and I came up with the name while we were watching a Beatles documentary in my room. There’s no real meaning behind the name. We just thought it was a weird reference and it ended up sticking.
John: Somerset Thrower came at a time when I had stopped playing with Polygon and Agent had gone a bit dormant. Before we got together, my now wife and Tim worked together at a Starbucks on Deer Park Ave and I would go in there and talk to him while I was waiting for her shift to end. Tim and I had been around each other for our entire teenage years, but we never really became friends until we started seeing each other at this Starbucks… even though we had been going to the same hardcore and punk shows since we were like 13. But, I had stopped going to as many hardcore shows when I got to be 17 or so, which is why I never really connected with Tim until later on. It’s kinda funny to think about now how we’d both be young teenagers (we’re the same age) at a Kill Your Idols show or something but never connect until later on when we would talk about George Harrison or Radiohead or something more “normal” like that. So we became friends that way and even after my wife left that store I would stop in there and bullshit with him on my way to or from work.
So yea, at that time I had stopped doing Polygon, Agent wasn’t really as active as they were, and Bastard Cut had kinda slowed down as well. So Tim and I both found ourselves in a position where we had been out of a band for the first time since we were kids. I remember not having a band for a few months and thinking “is this it?”, “am I done with being in bands”. At that time, I was like 24 or so, and that just didn’t seem OK to me. I mentioned feeling this way to Tim and he was having similar thoughts so we kinda just looked at each other one day and said we should try playing together. Similar to my relationship with Tim, I had been around Conor and Frank before – at the same shows for years, etc. but weren’t really friends, like I didn’t have their phone numbers or anything. So Tim introduced me to Frank and we had a few practices. At first Tim was going to play guitar and we were gonna get a drummer. When it became pretty obvious that there were no drummers around that would play with us, Tim committed to being our drummer and he asked Conor if he would play bass with us. We had all been sharing the same practice space anyway, so it was easy to just pick a night and start jamming. So that’s basically how I remember it going down. It was about 6 years ago I think, but Tim probably remembers the precise dates.
Given the band’s pedigree (Agent, Halfway to Hell Club, Polygon, etc.) your sound seems at once a continuation of those bands but also very different. Was there a vision for the band’s sound coming into things? Frank: I don’t think there was ever a true vision of what we would sound like, just whatever came out. We all grew up going to Punk and Hardcore shows on LI so I guess we kind of adopted that sound to a degree. We just wanna rock, ya know?
Conor: One of the most important and exciting things about starting a new band is how your perspectives and styles tend to mesh and develop your overall sound. I don’t think there was a specific band or sound we went after. The most integral part, and I think this applies to most bands, is when someone will have a part that you tool around with together and in developing upon that one idea or part, is where you’re likely to start finding your sound. We wrote several songs that we never released in the very beginning, they weren’t bad by any means – I just look back on them as a jumping off point or a precursor.
Tim: When starting, there was never any mission statement set out for a “sound” that we were going for. But the initial songs we wrote did have more a rock/post hardcore vibe to them that felt like a natural progression from all of our previous bands.
John: I don’t think we really had a vision, but we all had some riffs and ideas that were similar in a way. The really early songs were a little more dissonant and “loose” for lack of a better term. We even had an instrumental song for a while, hah! But they all kinda fit into the post-hardcore realm I suppose. The only band I can really think about talking about specifically is Fugazi…but I mean that should be everyone’s reference when they start a band.
We actually have like 5 songs written and recorded that we completely scrapped and no one, besides Anthony “Tone” Corallo who recorded them, has ever heard them. I think that was the time when we were really finding our sound. Not so much conversationally, but through writing and playing together. Tim had only just started playing drums seriously and Conor was somewhat new to the bass as well, so we literally learned how to play together in the first 6 months or so. Growing up with hardcore and punk, that’s always going to be a part of how I play or approach songs, regardless of what kind of music I got into after. I think the same is true for the rest of the guys. So we essentially wanted to find new ways to use those sounds and ideas, and it took some time before we were happy with what we came up with.
The band has never shied away from cover songs, live and recorded. How did you end up going with “Stumbleine” as a cover on the Falling Swingers EP? Frank: “Stumbleine” was Big Daddy’s (Tim) idea. No one wants to hear a cover that sounds exactly like the original so we fucked with it a bit. The dude from Ataris probably disagrees.
Tim: We love playing covers in general, including playing two of our friends’ weddings as the house band. When the band first started we were messing around a cover of “St. Ides Heaven” that never quite worked out, but we liked the idea of taking a mellow or acoustic song and putting our own twinge on it. I was driving to work at 4am when “Stumbeleine” came on shuffle and I thought it might be easier for us to try that as a cover instead of Elliott Smith and right away we liked it. I think it just happened to be right around the time we were recording Falling Swingers that we threw it on there, but I’d definitely record and release another cover again.
John: We used covers as a way to fill out our sets early on when we only had like 4 or 5 songs we were comfortable playing live, so it has always been a part of what we do. I love playing covers. All the bands I was in before Somerset were opposed to doing covers, so I was psyched when we started playing and everyone was on board. As a kid going to see a new band, a cover would always draw me in or hip me to a new band. I remember The Heist covering Inside Out and getting stoked as a 15 year-old kid just getting into hardcore. Or discovering Jawbreaker through Kill Your Idols covering them at the Local 7, so it was just something I always appreciated. Early on we did a cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” that was a lot of fun. It was cool to take a somewhat mellow, acoustic driven song and make it big and loud. So Tim had the idea of doing “Stumbleine” for similar reasons.
We all grew up with Smashing Pumpkins and love those records, especially Mellon Collie. So we played it a few times and it seemed to work. We recorded it because we only had 4 songs at the time and figured it would be fun. We haven’t recorded any covers since then, but we have played a couple weddings and done entire cover sets at random shows. Big shout out to Mark Kluepfel for being the official 5th member of “Coverset Thrower” – he lays it down on the keys and hits the high notes.
Despite dropping your first LP on Aug. 24th, Somerset has been an actively recording band for a while now. What is the writing process like for you all? Frank: Usually one of us will come up with the main idea for a song and the rest of us will write around it. Sometimes we’ll meld our separately written parts together and that, my friends, is when the true magic happens.
John: A lot of the songs start with Frank. He will come to practice with an idea or send us a scratch recording on his phone of something he did at home with an acoustic. We’ll then work it out once we’re in the room and flesh it out. Tim comes up with a rhythm and some drum parts, Conor writes the bassline, and I will try to compliment the melody and what Frank is doing on his guitar with my guitar. Conor and Tim also bring a lot of songs to the table in a similar way and we put them together once we’re in the room. With a Conor or Tim song they’ll often write some of the “hooks” on guitars and they’ll teach me how to play them. There’s not a lot of ego in the room, which I think is what makes it work. I have no problem playing a guitar part that any of those guys come up and we are generally open to hearing everyone out. I have a lot of fun finding ways to use unique guitar sounds or effects after the songs are completed, even if it’s in a subtle way.
Tim: Writing usually starts with someone coming to the table. 75% of the time it’s Frank, with either a riff or a complete song. But everyone else will help flesh out the idea or help arrange it a little differently.
The lyrical content on Godspeed reads as very personal (“Burn Through Witches,” “Grace in Heaven,” “Come One, Come All,” etc.) while the song titles seems a bit ironic/sarcastic. What is your approach lyrically? Is there a thematic element to Godspeed’s lyrics? John: That’s something Frank can speak to more specifically – he’s the lyrics guy. As far as the song titles, Tim has a list of about 50, or more…probably more, stupid things we’ve said to each other over the years that we think would work as song titles. I personally think it’s important to have a sense of humor and not take yourself too seriously all the time, which is why I always push for the tongue in cheek song titles. If it can take a topic that may be a bit heavy, like addiction or something, and lighten it up a bit, I think it’s generally a good thing. Some of the titles are lifted straight from conversations we’ve had; others are references to silly pop culture stuff or movies we love. It’s one of the ways we have fun with the band.
Frank: I write how I speak, I guess. Lyrics are secondary. I tend to start with melodies, which morph into random words, eventually leading to some sort of concept. I usually realize halfway through writing what the song is actually about. There’s no real coherent theme to the album. Each song is about something different; whether it be life, death, depression, money, religion, Trumpers, etc. (Does this guy know how to party or what!?)
Conor: Frank’s got a real attitude problem, a little wise ass, that guy.
So the LP was recorded almost entirely with Tone (Anthony Corallo of Sheer Terror). What was it like working with him on the LP? How smooth was the recording process for Godspeed? Frank: Tone’s been a good friend of ours for years and recorded some of our first songs back in 2013(which were never released because they weren't good). He also did the demo, as well as some other cool LI band’s records. It was super comfortable working with him because we’re all tight. We recorded all of the music and some vocals at John’s house in Deer Park, and the remainder of the vox at Tone’s. I’d show up, he’d pack a bowl and we’d get to it. He was also very generous with his bottle of Fireball. Due to conflicting schedules the process took longer than expected, but we’re happy with how it turned out. Tone is the dude!
John: Yea, we worked with Tone on every track except for the song “Eject” which was done on an earlier session with Phil Douglas. Shout out to Phil – without him I think there would’ve been a whole lot less recorded music coming out of Long Island. We recorded Godspeed at a house in Deer Park that I was living in at the time. The house had a spare room that we practiced in for about a year or so and that’s where we wrote the bulk of the Godspeed material. Tone expressed interest in working with us, so we took him up on it. He’s one of my oldest friends and we’ve always had a great relationship, so it made sense.
So when it came time to do it, we just moved his recording gear into my house where all of our equipment was anyway, so it was a relatively smooth process with only some minor hiccups. Like all projects, it took longer than we anticipated and was not without its petty arguments and lost patience, but all in all, I am really happy with the record. I think it sounds great – Tone did a great job engineering and mixing it, despite us driving him insane with text messages and emails. It’s the happiest I’ve been with any recording I’ve ever been a part of.
Tim: Anthony Corallo is a saint. I wouldn’t call it “smooth” in that we had to break up the recording process several times to accommodate both Tone’s and our individual schedules, but I love the way it came out.
Somerset has played a very wide palette of shows from Sheer Mag to Incendiary, and lots in between. Where do you see the band fitting in, in the underground? John: I’m not really sure where we fit in and I actually like that a bit. We have been lucky enough to play shows with a ton of great bands of all genres as you mentioned. There’s definitely a part of our collective history that stems directly from hardcore, so bands like Incendiary and Backtrack have been very receptive to us. Plus, some of our best friends are in those bands, so there’s that connection as well. There seems to be a vague ensemble of bands that do a similar thing to us, the 90’s-style guitar-driven rock stuff has been a thing for a while now – so I guess we would fit in there as well, although we don’t play many shows with those bands. I like the fact that we can play a shows with a band like Incendiary and then play with a band like Iron Chic and not feel out of place in either scenario. When I was first going to shows, a punk band would play after a ska band or before a hardcore band and it wasn’t strange to me – it more the attitude and the ideas that connected the bands.
Conor: We all came up in a scene that was inclusive and demonstrated a lot of crossover between genres, I think there’s less of that now, unfortunately. One band that embodies that was Kill Your Idols. They brought people out from different scenes and could play on any show and you’d feel right at home. I would like that for our band.
Frank: I don’t! But that’s cool, right? I like going to shows with diverse lineups. I enjoy all kinds of music and wouldn’t want to see the same band four times in one night…unless it was Fugazi or something. Stop being boring, people!
Tim: It’s hard to say. We all came up going to hardcore shows and are still tight with people who play in hardcore bands, but we’re definitely not one ourselves. We usually find ourselves being the least heavy band on a hardcore show or the heaviest band on any other show. And that’s fine! LIHC forever, baby!
Frank, how did you come into doing work with the FREE Players Drum Corps? What kind of experience has that been for you? Frank: They love a good plug! I had been working in special education for a few years and found my way to FREE’s Music and Theater Program in Bethpage where there is a multitude of talent. I became friends with the Director and fellow LIHC kid, Brian Calhoun, and he asked me to be a part of it. The people I get to work with are incredible. They just got back from Drum Corps International in Indianapolis. They are the first differently abled group to compete at the event. Go check them out!
Most underrated/overlooked band from Long Island? Any era. Frank: Garden Variety.
John: They are by no means overlooked or unappreciated but I think that On the Might of Princes was a really, really special band and put out some of the best music from Long Island that I can think of. Everyone in that band was immensely talented and they wrote some incredible music. I feel really lucky to have been around during that time as a teenager and see them play. They were a huge inspiration then and still are.
Tim: Garden Variety or On the Might of Princes.
Conor: Fellow Project is criminally underrated and probably one of my favorite live bands.
One book that everyone should read. Tim: Jailbird by Vonnegut.
Frank: How To Clean Practically Anything.
Conor: I finally crossed Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre off my list, that’s a good one and perhaps the most nihilistic and pretentious choice I could give.
John: Despite having an English degree I am not much of an avid reader, so I’ll just pick the last book I actually read multiple times – Petty by Warren Zanes. Tom Petty is the coolest motherfucker ever and it depresses me on a daily basis that he’s gone. I first read this book a couple of years before he died and it catapulted my obsession with him even further. It’s a good read, there’s a lot of great stories in there. It might not be as cool if you’re not a huge fan of is, but then again you might not be as cool if you’re not a huge fan of his.
Mets? Yankees? Sports are for jock bros? Frank: Knicks!
John: I’m a huge Mets fan – have been since childhood, and yes I have struggled with seasonal depression since childhood as well! Sports are cool. I’m not sports-obsessed, but I played baseball & basketball growing up and definitely tune into WFAN on occasion during my commute. Tim is a huge Yankee fan, but we’re both Jet fans so we can bond over defeat in that regard. Frank and Conor go with the Giants and I’m not sure if they care too much about baseball. Conor and Tim also are big Rangers fans, while Frank and I are more Islander guys…so we’re pretty divided. The Knicks are probably the only NY team we are all fans of, sadly. Conor: Living a few stops from Citi Field has made more a Mets fan I guess.
Tim: Yanks bro. Sports are for jock bros, and I identify as one!