Monday, January 7, 2013

The Recoys

The Recoys began in the Cleveland Park area of Washington DC. Singer Hamilton Leithauser and drummer Hugh McIntosh had attended school together since the 5th grade. They had hated each other until the 9th grade. It was not until the summer before their sophomore year of high school that they met guitarist Pete Bauer during a local rock show in Fort Reno Park. (At that point, Pete had already befriended Mike Sheahan and Damon Hege, who would later become the Recoys' second and third bassmen respectively. Still, the band was a long ways away.) Throughout high school, Hamilton, Hugh and Pete experimented with music and in other ways with Washington D.C. fixture Harrison Martin (brother of Walter who would later prove a key figure in the bands career). It wasn't until heading off to college that Hamilton and Hugh decided to rename themselves the Recoys, convince Pete (who had taken to locking himself alone in the dark for days at a time) to leave New York, pick up the guitar again, and move to Boston.

The first Recoys recordings were produced in the summer of 1997. Hamilton had been out of the country for a while, which gave him the chance to write a few songs. When he returned, he immediately recruited Hugh, and the two spent a day in Hugh's basement with a 4-track. The result was four bad songs. One, however would prove its worth and go on to become the Recoys classic "Modern Art Museum."

Pete, Ham, and Hugh enrolled at BU, and met fellow student Dave Pole during the first month. Since Dave was known in cafeteria gossip circles as "Hugh 2," Hugh asked him to join the band as a bassist. Things did not go as planned and Dave was quickly fired.

Days before their first show, the Recoys realized fellow Washingtonian Mike Sheahan would be the perfect replacement for Pole. Sheahan, a junior at Northeastern University, was a guitar virtuoso who spent his days emulating Stevie Ray Vaughn and Slash. Moving to bass and playing with a bunch of garagish-sounding mods was not his first choice, but he soon grew to love the band. During the same period, Hamilton took to dating Mike's sister, Nicole, which was also not Mike's first choice. But Mike swallowed his frustration and realized it was all for the best.

The Recoys first show took place late one Sunday night at Cambridge's "TT the Bears." A few friends were kind enough to come support the band. Such crowds would be a staple of their three-year career. Despite the low turnout, the boys were very nervous. Mike had to be coaxed on stage by the others, and Pete vomited out back just as they marched on for the first song. But as the show proved far more satisfying than their high school incarnations, the boys were more determined than ever.

The band played out around Boston for the better part of a year. They received one piece of press: an interview with Boston's Northeast Performer Magazine, titled Lock in with the Recoys. It was also during this period that they first played New York. This was to truly give a taste of what lay ahead. After months and months of long-distance pressure on the Continental, Noel finally offered 11 pm on Easter Sunday. The boys jumped at the chance.

That weekend the band also made its second recording. Hamilton's cousin Walter Martin had invited the Recoys to stay on his couch and record with his eight-track. Martin's recordings would be used as a demo and released on cassette tapes. Martin would continue to be the band's biggest supporter in the following years.

Following this first weekend in New York, Hamilton and Hugh decided it was time to move down permanently. But first it was time for a decent recording. Briefly the boys returned to Washington to record at Don Zientara's Inner Ear Studios. Two jam-packed days brought 5 new songs to tape. But as the boys had no idea what they were looking for, the results were mixed. While engineering, Zientara pointed out that some of the songs "just seemed crazy." Hamilton and Zientara were forced to mix the project alone as the rest of the band had become obsessed with a board game in the other room. Nonetheless, the band was convinced it was finally happening.

In the summer of 1998, the Recoys rented a Uhaul truck, piled all four in the front cab, and drove to Manhattan. Together they had rented the tiny 2-bedroom apartment on east 7th street infamously known as "3000." The shower was a step up in the kitchen, the beds covered all floor space, and the air conditioners kept blowing out the power. The rooftop parties were legendary. Perhaps the biggest problem was the influx of visiting friends. On weekends, 3000 was a refugee camp. 3000 set the stage for such events as Dracula Halloween, Damon's scarring his face on the roof, Pete punching a hole through Ham's door because he was mad at Hugh's girlfriend, many viewings of the Kurt Russell sci-fi thriller "Stargate," and a surprising amount of trash talking. Most evenings during this time ended up in their Williamsburg practice space or at the Cherry Tavern on 6th street. Three out of four Recoys were jobless that summer.

Being unemployed, Mike could usually be found that summer watching b-grade comedies and smoking cigarettes in the bedroom all day. Favorites included "Mitchell" and "Christmas Vacation." Not surprisingly, Mike's long-held dream was to work in a video store, and he was ecstatic when he was hired around the corner. But as it turned out, working was not for Mike that summer, so after three days he had a friend tell his boss his sister had died and he would never be coming back.

In the fall, Pete and Mike moved back to Boston -- Pete quickly realizing his mistake. Both would come down to play every weekend and, while Mike continued to enjoy Boston, Pete's mental state can best be illustrated by a scene at his birthday in which, during a party as his apartment, he squirmed on the floor naked screaming as guests prodded him with broomsticks and chairs.

The pressure was getting to everyone. Pete and Hamilton had entered into an unfortunate glam phase, wearing make-up on stage, silver shirts and unbelievably revealing white trousers. Mike and Hugh did not agree with this direction. In-fighting was constant. Soon after the cover picture of this album was taken (showing the boys seated on a couch on New Year's), Pete slugged Hugh in the face.

Something had to change. Pete decided to drop out of BU and follow everyone else to New York. Mike however, would not be going with him. Deciding that his heart was with the blues, Mike retired from the band, moving into a beach house outside of Boston and returning to his studies.

While he would be missed, the search was immediately on for his replacement. Ham, Hugh and Pete would not have to look far, as another Washingtonian and now local New York dirt bag Damon Hege agreed to join.

Pete vowed never to step foot in Massachusetts again.

While Hamilton and Hugh continued on at 3000, Pete and Damon moved into little spot just below the BQE, which was immediately christened "Fort Awesome." This new apartment was instantly a hotbed for Recoys activity. As their practice space was now just down the street, the band slammed into its most prolific period (the space was also the site of several scenes from Pete Bauer's avant-garde student film Superman in Brooklyn). Writing dozens of songs and opening for the older JFE boys at the Bowery Ballroom, the Recoys had never been happier.

At this point, one of the most important, influential, and detrimental characters in the history of the Recoys entered: the unique and terifying Walter Durkacz. Durkacz, who had been managing their cousin-band Jonathan Fire*Eater, approached the Recoys soon after the Bowery show. What would seem like a match made in heaven would draw itself out into a complex and unforgettable relationship. Each side did a terrific job of amplifying the others' "getting your shit together" problem. The most persistent obstacle they faced was a dying van that the JFE guys had beaten into a moving atrocity. Any and all band profits, and countless Saturday afternoons, were tossed away into keeping this thing alive and suffering. It was on one of these Saturdays that Walter first realized Damon was actually in the band. Since well after he had signed on as the Recoys' manager, Durkacz had asked Ham on at least two occasions "who's Damon?" If the van were running, and could be moved at all, the boys could often be found moving refrigerators, toilets, stoves, rocks, desks, and pieces of metal into Durkacz's Fort Greene garage. To this day the room is packed with the stuff.

In the fall and winter to come, the boys played some of their most memorable shows. They had begun to build up a sizable following in DC, playing to packed houses at the Black Cat on 14th Street. Opening for El Vez one night, they had put on what seemed to be their best show to date -- until the very last bar of the last song, when Hugh unexpectedly vomited from behind the drum set and bounded off stage. The whole thing was immortalized on home video.

It was also during Damon's first days that the band took their now increasingly manic and crazed show to Princeton, New Jersey expecting a quick 1/2-hour set, and dreaming of a big college-board pay day. When they arrived, it was explained they would have to play for at least three hours. The boys had never played for more than thirty minutes. Undeterred, they ran through their entire catalogue, and ad-libbed many covers, including the loudest and drunkest version of "Mona" ever performed -- at least until they returned to Princeton the following year. The show was an unqualified success and one of their proudest moments. Still, having not made any friends with the Ivy Leaguers in the audience, most of the boys were forced to sleep under a pool table while Hamilton awoke in a university hallway, kids filing by him on the way to class.

When friends Nick Stumpf, Matt Stinchcomb, Josh Wise, and Jamie Krents formed a band called the French Kicks, a solid and beautiful brotherly bond was born. Together the bands would rock Sarah Lawrence College annually. The after parties lasted all night and well into the next day, and are now of campus legend. The French Kicks taught the Recoys about picking up girls, and how they would never be able to.

Back in New York, Walter Durkacz, with his unique finesse, convinced Interview Magazine to feature the Recoys in their 30th anniversary edition. When the boys walked into the photo studio, they were informed that they would actually be dressed in other clothes. It wasn't too awful until the makeup artists began explaining what "look" they thought the band needed. Anxious, frustrated, and sweaty, the boys eventually surrendered their morals. That evening, after being posed, covered in vaseline, dressed in hideous leather, and treated like dogs, the Recoys watched the Fugazi movie "Instrument" was truly a low point for band morale.

In the fall of 1999 the Recoys were dealt a crippling blow: the older JFE boys were convinced they would open a recording studio in Harlem, so the practice space was gone. This was especially problematic because the Recoys were especially incompetent. Finding a new space would turn into an arduous process lasting through the winter. Eventually they were underneath Max Fish on Ludlow Street, paying by the hour, and using the only crappy equipment allowed in the place. It was not only freezing, but very quiet, which was a first for anyone's musical career. These were slowing days for the Recoys -- doing a few shows at the Luna Lounge and practicing for an hour or two every so often.

Still, there were a few remaining moments of greatness. With their new friend Milan Macalvey, they began to play regular shows with his band "The Chimps" at small bars around Brooklyn (notably the Kingsland Tavern in Greenpoint). One great night of Chimps/Recoys music was at the Turkey's Nest. Milan led the show off by breaking up his band mid-set and decking the drummer. The Recoys followed with probably their loudest set since the Boston days. The night ended with a trip back to their new friend Milan's apartment. In the early morning hours Milan revealed he was wearing women's underwear. To everyone's even greater surprise, so was Hugh.

Shows also followed with Milan's love project "The Lil' Fighters" (which also included Recoy-supporter and engineer Walter Martin -- who sang of the Recoys' plight in the Fighters hit "The Recoys"). As the Recoys had finally grappled a regular slot at Luna, and attendance was somewhat decent, it was decided the two bands would use the stage for a battle. Flyers went up around town for "Recoys vs. Lil' Fighters." The night was a true blow out. But things were changing. Hugh had moved into a closet uptown and was considering leaving New York. Pete and Damon would also soon separate, Pete moving in with a girl he'd met that very night during the Fighters' set, Damon just down the block from him in the Lower East Side.

As the band continued to play at Luna, a more disturbing factor came in to play. "I really started worrying about them when Pete brought a synth on stage," said Martin of the bands' final era. The band was experimenting with a weird pscyhadellic angle that no one fully understood. Things were definitely getting out of hand.

Mixing some 8-track tapes on Damon's computer, the band realized they had become somewhat of a parody of their former selves. Returning to Princeton for another college show, they found themselves playing to an empty room with only their girlfriends and a couple of frat boys watching them. Damon wasn't even there, so Walt had offered to step in on bass. Hugh had brought a bottle of Jack Daniels that was passed around between songs. Needless to say, the whole thing was a mess. The show was not without its great moments though, such as an improvised cover of Springsteen's "Stolen Car" and another version of "Mona" (which they had sworn to never play again). Still, by the end of the show, it had become increasingly clear that the band had either lost its way or had stopped caring. On the way out of town, the van's windshield wipers broke and they were lost in a torrential downpour. They were stuck in Princeton for the night, which gave them time to think about the future. While it was never mentioned out loud, an end was becoming steadily more apparent.

But they would not go down without a fight. Playing to a sold out house at DC's Garage, the Recoys carried the night with their most polished and strongest set to date. Following the Garage, they would play one last show at Luna. "Even though we hadn't said it to each other, we all know it was the final one," said Damon. The crowd seemed to know as well, calling the boys out to return to the stage multiple times. Planning to finish things off with "Song of the Paper Dolls" (arguably the audiences' favorite over the years), the Recoys weren't quite satisfied when it all came to an end. With some prompting from the crowd, they returned to the stage, Hamilton wearing an Orioles cap and looking like the seventeen-year-old kid he had been when he started the group. Leading the guys through "Shake Off Your Nerve," a loud and raucous garage rock song they had recorded with Zientara, it was clear to him that the energy had never been captured on tape.

While they remained friends, the members of the band went their separate ways. Pete and Hamilton formed a new band (The Walkmen) with the older boys. Damon remained in New York studying to be an artist. Hugh moved to Santa Fe to resume his studies before moving to China for a prolonged period of time. He has since been rumored to be in DC again.

The record before you now is culled from the band's original self-titled EP "THE RECOYS" and their work leading up to what would been their following album, entitled "THAT GIRL'S A DECOY." Unfortunately, due to lack of funding and lack of interest, this 2nd album never materialized. The title of this record, "REKOYS," was simply an alternate title the band had been throwing around for awhile in the later days.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, The Recoys.

Rekoys LP +3 (Troubleman Unlimited/Realistic)
1. Song Of The Paper Dolls
2. Shake Off Your Nerve
3. Over Your Shoulder
4. That's The Punchline
5. Let You In
6. The Blizzard of '93
7. Let's Get Educated
8. Modern Art Museum
9. Look Out Your Window
10. Roy Orbison
11. The Recoys (by the Lil' Fighters)

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