The first time I heard Last Days of August was in the spring of 1984. The fact that the Nassau-based quintet didn’t officially form until early ’97 might make that pretty tough to believe, but let me explain.
When I put the band’s new self-titled Fadeaway Records debut in my CD player last week, I had every intention of staying put here at the ass-end of the 20th century. Then I felt the accelerating heartbeat produced by Joe Corvo’s pounding drums and heard Sal Montemaggiore’s soaring vocals pleading, “Don’t say I’m like you/You don’t know what runs through my veins.” I knew I’d felt that throbbing beat and heard those words before.
It was on a gray afternoon 15 years ago, May 23 to be exact, and the person with the pummeling pulse, mouthing that line was me. I had just spent the better part of my 10th grade trigonometry class in the woods behind Great Neck North High School, getting my kidneys formally acquainted with a perky cheerleader’s two-inch heels.
Between kicks, she told me that I was no better than anyone at the school. When I could breathe again, I answered with words eerily similar to those echoed by the band I wouldn’t hear for another decade and a half.
What was our fight about? She was a cheerleader, I was a new-wave biker chick. We didn’t need any more reason than that. What I did need was some common sense— I forgot that all those splits, cartwheels and dance routines build muscle. She beat the crap out of me.
Listening to the Last Days album, I could almost feel the cheerleader’s shoe against the small of my back again. As I let the songs have their way with me, even their names— “Wishful Thinking,” “Cheating Distance,” “Paper Hearts & Broken Glass”— seemed to take on significance, becoming chapter titles to the book chronicling my sour existence as an alienated teen. Maybe that’s what makes Last Days’ brand of emo so powerful: Its ability to transcend the here and now with melodies and phrases is so intricate and intimate, the listener has no choice but to internalize them. It is music meant for the personal soundtracks of anyone who has ever doubted, despaired or desired.
“Our sound is definitely different, and that’s intentional,” explains bassist Mario Leston, 22, who is from Island Park. “Bands that have been around for 10 or 15 years are ones that refuse to write the same stuff over and over again. And we would like that to be said of us at the end of a decade.”
While the band— which also includes guitarists Josh Chaplinsky of Oceanside and Phil Capone of East Meadow— has not exactly reinvented the rock ‘n’ roll wheel, it has transformed the landscape at the crossroads of art rock and hardcore, where emo resides. Formed after Capone and Chaplinsky met up at Nassau Community College, the group has opted to replace the melodramatic songwriting so common to the genre with multi-layered rhythms, interweaving melodies and abstract, poetic lyrics.
Since it is not just the music produced by the local emo scene that is fraught with feeling, but also the relationships between the bands making that music, Last Days’ break from emo tradition has essentially branded the band outcasts from a group of outcasts.
“Last night I was told that I was in the most hated band on Long Island,” smirks Capone, 21.
Like many other indie bands, Last Days must attempt to bridge the chasm between staying true to their artistic beliefs and doing what they must to flourish financially. What gives this outfit an edge is the fact that it has already been relegated to the fringes of emo existence, where it has the freedom to bring several different influences into the mix.
This “carnival of sounds,” according to Capone, may allow them to break free of the genre’s confines and appeal to a larger audience. After all, if hardcore bands can be seen as castoffs from the mainstream, emo bands castoffs from the hardcore scene and Last Days a castoff from the emo scene, then the group has got a chance at coming full circle.
“I would be content working a crummy job for the next handful of years and still doing the band, if we could stick to our music and just have fun with it,” explains Chaplinsky, who is back at the Borders in Westbury now that the band’s 22-city national tour has ended. “But everyone wants to take the band as far as possible and be famous. That’s the ultimate goal.”
As long as the cheerleaders of the world continue to grind their heels into the spines of misfits, and as long as those misfits continue to turn to pop culture to make sense of their situation, Last Days has got a pretty good shot.
“There are some writers who publish mystery or horror stories and their work winds up in the mystery or horror sections,” states Chaplinsky. “Then there are other authors who write those same types of books, but for some reason they don’t get pigeonholed or categorized in a genre. For the most part, it is the books that are just considered general fiction, which are the ones that encompass all aspects of life, that stand out and are remembered. That’s what I want Last Days of August to be.”
Last Days plays noon Sept 18 at the Wrong Way Inn, 198 Broadway, Amityville, 516-798-9132 and 7pm Sept 20 at Ground Zero, 1884 Newbridge Rd, Bellmore, 516-826-9395. Contact: www.angelfire.com/ny2/lastdays.