The fertile musical landscape of New York City is awash with countless bands clawing their respective ways toward the elusive big time. Odds are long that any will experience a fleeting moment of commercial viability, but that doesn’t stop the musically inclined masses from tuning up and turning on. The result is a vibrant bar and club scene glutted with contenders, pretenders and assorted string benders, all vying for the big breakthrough opportunity.
Past history dictates that most indie bands which cross the plateau to mainstream success do so based upon the adage, Better to be lucky than good. Yet to survive in Gotham as a hard rock act, a band needs to be lucky and good ... damn good.
One of New York’s finest up-and-comers, Acquiesce, has already cornered the market on damn good with its power-chord-driven style, and is now working on expanding its growing fan base while attracting the attention of the majors. PopMatters caught up with the principles behind Acquiesce, Brett Kohart (vocals, guitar) and Dan “Lil Angus” Sweeney (lead guitar) to discuss the rough ‘n’ tumble life of a New York band perched on the cusp of greatness.
Acquiesce won’t give in as they take their big rock sound out of New York.
PopMatters: How did the two of you come together, and how was your musical vision shaped into the reality of Acquiesce?
Brett Kohart: Dan and I first became friends at about eight years old and started playing together in high school. I think our vision was most shaped by a group called the Bogmen, a Long Island band that was very influential to us. With practice and ambition it became a reality.
PM: The Acquiesce signature sound is built around Dan’s lead work, which is reminiscent of fellow Gibson SG players Angus Young, Tony Iommi, and early Pete Townshend. How difficult is it to balance that “big guitar” with songwriting that is best described as cerebral rather than clichéd?
Dan Sweeney: The typical Acquiesce song actually starts with Brett coming to me with his endless amount of ideas, and then we start building from there. I definitely like to bring the rock when it comes to our music, but sometimes the song calls for a more melodic part. It’s really about making a killer song above all else.
PM: With New York experiencing a musical renaissance several years ago courtesy of the Strokes and Mooney Suzuki, how do you think Acquiesce fits into the overall scene, and how do you distinguish the band from the countless others on the circuit?
BK: I think we offer true rock and roll to New York. There isn’t any gimmick or crazy attitude, we just like to play. Our sound is unique and very loud, and it definitely sets us apart from the scene.
DS: It’s basically just good time rock ‘n’ roll. We like to look out at our audience and see them with their hands in the air, shouting out the lyrics back to us. There’s always been kind of a party atmosphere at our shows dating back to the very beginning.
PM: The band has become a proven ticket mover, evidenced by repeated sold-out gigs at New York clubs like Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge, as well as several top-tier venues in L.A. The success thus far has come through word-of-mouth, reputation and a focused plan of self-management. How do you think the band will reach the next level, and do you believe you can continue to do it as an independent entity?
BK: I hope that we can keep up what we’re doing and really expand it to the rest of the country and beyond. What we’ve accomplished so far, though, is great. I don’t see anything that can stop the momentum that we have at this point. We would love to have some real support, but it isn’t killing us. The right people and deal will find us. We still have done very well. A lot of bands would love to be in our shoes.
PM: Coming from New York City, with its rich tradition of organic rock ‘n’ roll, talk about performing in the sizable shadows of artists like the Ramones, the Dolls, et al. and what New York bands continue to serve as influences.
BK: We don’t consider ourselves in anyone’s shadow. I think it’s an honor to even be mentioned in the same sentences or conversations as those artists at this point. We have a lot of respect for New York bands and bands that are paving the way.
DS: New York is an incredible place to start a band because living in the East Village you can go out basically any night and run into musicians, producers, and promoters who are trying to do the same thing that you’re doing, and there’s just a great vibe. Some of the more recent New York bands that I’ve really dug are, of course, the Mooneys, Radio 4, and White Light Motorcade.
PM: As with most bands, you’ve experienced several roster changes. How does the current line-up differ (musically/sound-wise) from those in the past, and how do you describe the current musical direction?
BK: Well, the biggest change in our band is with the rhythm section. It really was swapped with experience. We wanted to establish a killer rhythm section, so we went out to find the best that we could, and I think we got them.
DS: The musical direction is remaining the same. Different players obviously add a different feel to songs, but overall we’re not changing our focus as a band in any way.
PM: What is the biggest challenge the band presently faces?
BK: The biggest challenge the band currently faces is this studio experience we’re in right now. We’d like to think that there isn’t any pressure, but there is. There’s a lot riding on it and we really want to deliver.
DS: I’m not as worried about the in-studio experience as much as what we’re going to do with it afterwards. It’s nice to play sold-out shows in New York every time, but we know we have a really good live show and we need to take it on the road, which is a very expensive thing to do.
PM: The current trend for indie bands is to concentrate on releasing frequent EPs rather than staggered LPs. With several EPs already on the Acquiesce resumé [including the critically acclaimed Shattered] will that strategy continue?
DS: We’re in the studio right now laying down tracks and we’re doing enough for a full-length but we haven’t decided yet what will come of them. I think that indie bands are currently releasing more EPs because it’s just cheaper to get them done in a short amount of time. Being able to get them out quickly also gives the listener a better snapshot of exactly what the band sounds like at that moment in its career.
PM: Any specific major label acts whom you’d like to catch an Acquiesce live show?
BK: We’d like to play with anyone, but bands like Kings of Leon, Jet, Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, are all very cool. There are a lot of bands coming out that I think we would match up well with.
PM: Realistically, where do you see Acquiesce by the end of 2005?
DS: Europe. It just seems that it’s the place to be for new music now. We hear it’s a whole lot easier over there to get people to listen to new music. The DJs will play what they think is good instead of what they are given, and the crowds at shows come to see a new band that they know nothing about and have a good time instead of crossing their arms and standing in the back. We’ll see. Regardless, I think the rest of this year is going to be a very special one for Acquiesce.