Philadelphia will always be the city I consider home, but prior to moving here eight years ago, I spent four of my more important and formidable years of high school in a small North Jersey suburb called Ridgewood.
I grew up in Reading, PA, where I followed my closest friends’ bands in various genres ranging from indie rock, post-rock, metal, and hardcore. But, when I was 14-years-old I moved to Ridgewood, NJ in Bergen County, just a short trip across the river from New York City.
Ridgewood is where I discovered my love and passion for music — it is there that I began to understand the value of truly great art and where my tastes in music began to take form in a variety of different ways. The place might not mean much to most people, but Ridgewood defined a time in my life where my teenage angst was at an all time high, and music was my only escape. It is a unique little corner of North Jersey that few people may know has produced some great bands over the last decade. Buddy Nielsen, lead singer of Senses Fail, is a Ridgewood High School alumnus, for example. More recently, indie rock bands like Real Estate and Titus Andronicus have gained an overwhelming following, while Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile’s solo act, Ducktails, has gained some traction over the past year.
But, one band in particular has truly spoken to me and represents the genre’s of music I have surrounded myself with for the better part of the last decade. Prawn formed in Ridgewood in 2007, where they self released two EP’s, a full length, and were later signed to Topshelf Records in 2011.
They’re easily typecast into the emo genre, but with all the ingredients of a post-rock collaboration with flairs of indie rock and emo tendencies, Prawn cannot simply be pigeonholed into just one genre. It’s ironic that Prawn would form just one year after I moved away from Ridgewood and back to Philadelphia, because we very well could have passed each other in the hallways of RHS.
I had many friends throughout high school that were involved in different bands spanning several genres — some were acquaintances with members of Prawn. Their lead singer and guitarist Tony Clark and drummer Jamie Houghton were both a grade behind me in school, however, our connection through other musicians and the North Jersey music scene made me feel as if I knew these guys, regardless if we were only vaguely acquainted.
More recently, it has been through their music that I not only remember my time in Ridgewood fondly, but has also made me realize that through music, we are all really connected in one way or another.
Last month I had the privilege of seeing Prawn play live here in Philadelphia at The Fire on 2/9/14. Dozens of kids trekked through the 4-plus inches of snow and piled into the small, yet intimate venue. Prawn put on an explosive and enigmatic show that got the room moving. They opened their set with a new song just released via a split with Joie De Vivre — “Why You Always Leave a Note” — a clear step forward for the band, having an almost subdued, melodic, and less aggressive feel to it than their previous works. Toward the middle of the song, a rhythm section reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky circa The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, filled the air with temperamental, almost atmospheric guitar riffs that play off each other in a way that feels both sweeping and intimate all at once. The ending formed into a beautiful crescendo of drums, guitars, and vocals with Tony singing: “Tell me, how you can bury your head between the space that fills your fears and feeds your dreams?”
Although their set was relatively short with current label mates ‘You Blew It!’ headlining the show, Prawn gave everyone that traversed through the blizzard-like conditions a fun and memorable performance that coincides perfectly with the guys behind the music. Tony thanked everyone for bearing the cold and snow to watch them perform, but there were no “thank you’s” necessary. For a band performing at this level of distinction, the pleasure was entirely on this side of the stage.
PRAWN @ THE FIRE – SHOW GALLERY 2/9/14
Photos: Tim O’Donnell
I had a chance to speak with drummer Jamie Houghton about what it is to be a band from New Jersey during this so-called “emo revival.” Here’s what he had to say.
So I wanted to ask in particular about Bergen County, and the Jersey music scene in general, how had growing up in that area influenced the way you guys write and create music?”
I think I would just have to say, from the get go, being raised in an area like this, there’s certain houses and whatnot, and a bunch of kids that are lucky enough to take music lessons or have their parents buy them instruments. There are a lot of kids that are able to play. From our experience, when you start playing music by yourself, the next thing would be playing with other people. It’s just kind of an area where it’s pretty easy to do that if you have a passion for it. There’s really not that many “kids” that are trying to do it. In our experience, we’ve all been playing together since we all learned our instruments, we just kind of grew up learning how to play instruments, learned to play together and that’s kind of how the band started. Jersey in general, the scene is really spread out. Living in the suburbs, it’s kind of tough, there’s no real music spots to play at, but everyone tries to stay in contact with each other, but I feel like a lot of Jersey bands have to branch out into other states if they want to plays shows.
A few months ago you guys were featured in a Buzzfeed list for the “21 Newer Bands You Should Definitely Check Out If You’re Desperately Missing ’90s And ’00s Emo.” And another list titled “30 New Jersey Music Acts Making Moves” featured on fakewalls.com. 5 out of the 30 on fakewalls.com are from Bergen County. I was wondering what’s your take on this whole “emo revival” discussion happening recently? Do you feel like emo ever really went away? Is there a revival?”
It’s tough for us because I’ve always just considered Prawn an indie rock band, but I can definitely see how people can label us under emo. People are obsessed with identifying music, and why not, it’s a kind of fun way to dictate music. I don’t know if “revival” is the right word for it, but it’s definitely doing something and it’s getting a lot of traction. To me, I think a lot of the bands that are around now were heavily influenced by early 90’s, and 2000’s bands. I know our band was really heavily influenced by American Football, and bands like The Appleseed Cast and The Casket Lottery. Braid, that’s another one. To call it a revival? I don’t know… I kind of side with saying it didn’t really go anywhere. I mean, we’ve been at this since 2007, and so have a lot of other bands, so I think that’s where a lot of the bitterness comes towards people who say it’s not a revival, when it’s been around. But, at the same time, with how much attention it’s getting right now, I don’t have any issue with it. If it’s bringing more attention to great bands we’re surrounded by that are labeled under emo, that’s great.
Yeah, I always kind of thought of you guys as having more of a post-rock type feel. I feel like you guys are more influenced by post-rock than necessarily just emo or just this or just that. People love to throw around genres and label bands one way or another, you know?”
Yeah, I completely agree with you. I’ve always thought of us as an indie band that had overall post-rock influence. That is pretty crazy though, I had no idea the Jersey stuff was like that, that there was that many bands from Jersey that were on those lists, and Bergen County in particular.
You guys have been on Topshelf Records for a few years now. Being on a label like Topshelf, how has that helped you guys as far as the bands you’re surrounded by, and the bands that you tour with? Has it influenced the way Prawn creates music, or the way you go about touring?
I wouldn’t say they influence us in the way we create music, but they definitely have affected the way we tour. When we were in Europe, it was pretty crazy to see their presence over there. And they’ve been helping us with some booking stuff this past year, so definitely in that sense, we’ve been benefiting from them being out there. Before we were with Topshelf we were still playing with a lot of these same bands. Some bands were on Topshelf, or had just joined other labels that were affiliated with them. So we’re still kind of pushing and doing the same thing within the same scene, but it’s definitely given us an extra boost and probably brought pause to some other people who probably wouldn’t have given us a listen unless we had the label backing us.
What’s next for you guys? I know you just released a split with Joie De Vivre, and currently in the studio recording. Do you have a general idea of when we can expect the next album, or a specific date yet?
No specific date yet. We’re in the studio now, and we did drums, bass and guitars yesterday (2/12/2014). So if everything goes well and smoothly, we are trying to be finished recording by March because we are heading out on a month tour. We’re going down to Florida and playing the record release show for You Blew It! And then we’re heading to SXSW and then up through Chicago and back home; so that will take us about a month, and we hope to be done recording by then. So, we’re hoping to get it out by June or July, but vinyl always takes a while to press, and there are always some other factors in releasing a record. But we’re hoping to get the full-length out sometime in the summer.=
Does it have a name yet?
No name yet. We’ve been thinking of a few things, but nothing we can really hold onto yet. It will probably become a TV show name or an inside joke; when it comes to Prawn, that’s what we like to do.
*Prawn is currently in the studio working on their second full-length album set for a summer 2014 release. To hear more, check out prawnnj.bandcamp.com.