“Violent. In a good way.”
That’s how I tend to describe Jersey City/Kearny/Hoboken crew Life Eaters to the un-informed. The guitars are loud and abrasive, the drums are lightning quick, the stage is awash with beer by set’s end and frontman Mike Sylvia is soaked clean through with a combination of sweat, alcohol and sometimes blood after he finishes thrashing his way through a set.
The stage is no barrier for Sylvia, as he often makes his way into the crowd, scream-singing is hardcore-inspired vocals directly into the faces of people both aware and completely unprepared for the energy Life Eaters bring to whatever room it is they’re playing. Backing Sylvia are Gregg Leto on drums, John Feuerbach on bass and Romel Espinel and Eric Mason on dueling guitars and together the crew provide a wall of sonic pain, impenetrable yet at the same time completely embracing.
One part Black Flag, one part Scream, one part AC/DC, one part MC5, Life Eaters put the gas pedal to the floor and don’t let up until the songs run out. They provide some much needed respite in today’s overly choreographed, style-over-substance music scene. They bring the rock. They bring a lot of it. And they bring it hard. What else do you need?
I spoke with Life Eaters’ frontman, Mike Sylvia, recently.
You guys are a pretty new group, no? Explain to me how you got this group together?
Yea sort of, We have been slowly building up for some time. Originally, Romel Espinel and Eric Mason played in No Pasaran together for many years, after they broke up they were finally available to entertain one of my hair-brained schemes, a new band. We needed a drummer and Romel suggested Gregg Leto who had played drums in Merel, Rye Colaition, as well as the Jeff Humphrey Trio. Eric and I didn’t know Gregg at the time, so we were psyched when he said “yes”. I was working at Maxwell’s back then, and there was a waiter there named John Feuerbach who had just transplanted here from Nebraska, He told me he played bass, I invited him to come up and play with us and he fit right in, the chemistry was there from the start so we jut ran with it. We started playing some Descendents and Hot Snakes covers at first and it seemed cool, so we sat down started writing some songs, before long we had a band. I suggested the name Life Eaters, and we were rolling. Eventually, Eric was no longer able to commit to being in band with work, school and other adult responsibilities, so we parted ways, and Gregg suggested his old band mate Jon Gonnelli to replace Eric. Jon was one of our favorite guitarists, so when he agreed we were all psyched. Gonnelli was into it from the beginning, and it clicked instantly. He got the old songs down and brought his own flavor to new ones we were writing.
What’s everyone’s pedigree? You guys come from any other notable bands from around the area?
Haha too many. As previously mentioned Gregg has played drums in the legendary Merel, as well as Rye Coalition, and The Jeff Humphrey Trio. Romel used to be in No Pasaran as well as They Fought Back and old Kearny punk band Dog Tired before that. Johnny Nebraska was in some bands back home and now plays in Desir, Decir as well as Life Eaters. Jon Gonnelli plays in The Black Hollies who recently released an amazing new record and was also in Rye Coalition with Gregg as well as a cool band called Holloyss when he lived out on the West coast for a time. I played in some short lived bands in the area, but mostly i co-run Killing Horse Records.
What are you guys working on now? Anything in the pipeline we should know about?
We have finished tracking our first full length and are currently in the mixing stage. We have been working with Mike Moebius at Moonlight Mile recording in Jersey City. Mike is a great guy and we all have worked with him in some capacity before. so he was a natural choice for us. We are into the same kinds of bands as Mike, so we can communicate well together and express different ideas because we have that same common denominator, which is great. Mike makes things real comfortable for us so we are excited to be putting out the record on Killing Horse possibly sometime this summer.
Without naming any other bands, describe your sound to me?
A little cock rock, a little Detroit, a fair amount of 80’s/90’s punk with a sprinkling of some metal guitars.
Ok now who are three bands people say you sound like?
Oh boy… that’s tuff! Sometimes we get Thin Lizzy because we have a penchant for guitarmonies. We have one song that sounds like either The Cult or Early Danzig, but mostly we don’t sound like anything like any of those bands.
Who are you favorite local artists?
Do the Wrens count? They rule. I like that new Jersey City band The Money Shot. We get along well with Black Wine from Don Giovanni Records and are talking about doing another show with them real soon. Wax Darts from JC are fun. I’m a huge fan of the band Worriers from BK with Lauren Measure from The Measure (SA). Seaside Caves from Asbury Park. Night Birds rule! Then there are some of our label mates like Overlake, Wreaths and TV Sound who we are over the moon with and excited to be playing and hanging out with all the time. There are a ton of others but those are just some that come to mind.
What’s been the best show you’ve played? What’s been the worst (you don’t have to name names on this one…)?
We played a benefit for the Riverview-Fisk Gazebo in the Jersey City Heights which was damaged during Sandy with the band The Yellow Dogs. Johnny Nebraska broke his bass and the dude from Yellow Dogs instantly came to the rescue with this sweet Rickenbacker bass. He offered it up to Johnny to use, no questions asked and we were able to finish our set. We didn’t know these guys from Adam and they were really sweet and nice. We stuck around for their set and they had a really cool, original, kind of dance/post-punk/indie rock sound. When we found out that they were from Iran and were part of a counter culture that was playing underground rock music illegally because it wasn’t tolerated under the Islamic republic in Iran, and fled the country to come play music over here, we were super impressed at not only their story but their originality and creativity. About a year later we heard the story about how an old psycho band mate of theirs lost it and murdered two of the guys in the band, That really hit us, we only had that one interaction with them, but knowing what they had went through to get here and what has happened to them, makes that show a very special one for us. I don’t know if that makes that show the best or the worst, but its definitely one that we think about often.
If you could collaborate with three people that you could realistically get on the phone RIGHT NOW who would they be?
Hmm… Herb from Rye Coalition/Black Hollies, he’s the king of the Axl Rose high note. Every time I’m working on something and there’s a note I’m struggling with I’m like “someone call Herb!”. Colin, the drummer from Wreaths would be the best added percussionist. He’s a killer dancer and could shake shakers and tambourine and rock a standing snare drum while dressed in angel wings and wearing all gold or something, like in the Losing My Religion video. He could be like Pavement’s Bob Nastanovich, except for, you know bearded and dressed in gold. Joe Centenno from American Watercolor Movement would be be a great third guitarist, on top of being killer at his instrument, he’s got that guitar where the head stock looks like a snake’s forked tongue and when there is a stage light on him and his shadow bounces and bends off the wall, the silhouette of his guitar loons like a twisting screaming snake. I like that.
Describe the current scene to me? Where do bands play? Where do locals musicians hang? Is there a scene?
Bands in Jersey City play at the tiny dive bar the Lamp Post. Occasionally there are some one-off parties and shows at cool venues like the Harisimus Cemetery, or the Lucky 7’s block party BBQ. With Maxwell’s closing, all the musicians in Jersey City have is a couple small dives but Lamps is the only space that does shoes with any consistency. There is no place for touring bands to come through on any regular basis, so we are (patiently/impatiently) waiting like kids trying to go to sleep before Christmas morning for White Eagle Hall to finish its renovations and open up. Everyone is praying for the space to kick off so we can have live music thrive again in a city where there is such an interest in independent music. Now White Eagle Hall does come with some questions. its supposed to be ab 800 person room. Which is huge, they have to figure out a way to make the space accessible for local bands. Because a local band in an 800 person room, won’t be fun for anyone. Will there be a separate smaller room? Or a way to divide the room up and make it smaller? Also, hopefully they will work out a parking situation that works for everyone because in order for there to be a “scene” things need to be happening, and right now everyone is kind of just waiting.
How does this area influence what do you do?
It means we are constantly trying to foster DIY spots and experiment with new venues to try to make shows happen our way. Lot 13 in Bayonne is a cool spot that can handle what we need. We’ve put some shows together in Kearny which have been fun. There have been some basement shows and loft shows, but jersey city needs a central hub, Its own space that can foster its own identity. so that bands can have a continued reason to make new music.
Where do you see this area in five years?
Gentrified, with the only affordable rent being pushed toward the inner parts of the City. Hopefully there is an opportunity for the Arts and music community to flourish. Something has got to give.
What brought you here?
I was born in Hudson County, So were the rest of the guys in the band. (except johnny Nebraska who came out there to play music). It’s part of our make up part of our DNA.
What keeps you here?
The opportunity to do something special.
To learn more about Life Eaters, check out their Facebook.