From Downtown
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From Downtown

Band Rock Punk

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"Out of the Basement, Sparked by a Scream and a Dream"

Only the occasional hiss of bike tires on asphalt broke the serenity here one quiet Thursday recently. But, if you listened closely in one pastoral cul-de-sac, you might have felt a fierce throb beneath the manicured facade. That would have been the punk band From Downtown practicing in the basement of Steve Silvermans house.

Going back to at least the 1950's, teenagers have armed themselves with attitude and electric guitars and retreated to garages and basemets to assualt parental sensibilities. But there's a keener urgency among today's garagistes. Every young band wants to be like Matchbook Romance, a group of high school students from Poughkeepsie, NY, discovered by Epitaph's chief executive, Brett Gurewitz, who found their MP3 online. Many bands, though, find themselves teased and led on by CD labels, and end up feeling eternally on the verge.

But if the sounds have changed since the days of Chuck Berry and Brylcreem, the impulse remains the same for the musicians who blast distorted chords off garage walls: they want to be like their heroes.

For the five members of From Downtown, their beacon is the Bouncing Souls, a New Jersey punk unit that commanded the main stage when this past summer's Warped Tour hit Randalls Island in New Your City. It's that left-of-the-dial devotion to punk and the Souls that nudges From Downtown weekly to their makeshift underground studio, past the Costco-size packs of paper towels and the towers of canned food.

By 7:30 on this particular night, Downtown's singer, Evan O'Gibney, who at 18 is the band's "annoying baby brother," seemed anxious to get going. And Squid, Steve Silverman to the world, tuned his bass and talked about how his parents possessed the remarkable abilith to sleep through anything. "I wake them up when we're done."

Both Mr. SIlverman and Mr. O'Gibney are recent additions, coming via want ads posted on internet sites like garageband.com and soundclick.com.

As Bob Guerci and Greg Aronne, the band's founding members and elders at 23 and 22, got settled, the drummer, Steve Svenda, rummaged through black bags emblazoned with band stickers searching for an unbroken stick. Posters on the walls and the T-Shirts they wore identified the band's punk allegiances: Dropkick Murphy's, the Ataris, Bad Religion, and, of course, Bouncing Souls. Mr. Guerci even has a Souls tattoo. "I fitst saw those guys play when I was in eighth grade," he says.

First, they thrashed through a round of old favorites. After half an hour, there was a break for the fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies provided by Squid's mom - did Mrs. Cleaver like punk? - before an attempt to recover last week's new song. But the equipment balked, cookie grease made Mr. Guerci's strings slippery, Mr. Aronne's amp channeled mysterious sounds, the the arguments started: "Does anyone remember how it went?"

But those things happen when you don't practice every day. The band's biggest challenge, besides rembering songs, is getting together - which also means coping with schedule conflicts and desertions: Mr. O'Gibney replaced Matt, who never made it to practice, who replaced the old singer who decided to devote himself to college and teh martial arts. At least no drummers have, a la Spinal Tap, spontaneously combusted.

In between tuning and stabs at recapturing the magic of near-songs from weeks past, discussion turned to a coming gig in New York City. That led back to another ill-fated city gig, a night that ended with the band drinking Rheingold in a parking lot sitting on the equipment they'd hauled to Brooklyn. The club owner refused to let them play because they hadn't sold the required 30 tickets.

But to forestall growing up and the threat of a "real" job, the band has to get signed. Sometimes, the goal seems so near that one phone call could put them on a plane to California. Other times, it seems so distant that a couple backstage passes to the Warped Tour are "totally awesome."

The waltz wiht music companies can be both exhilerating and exasperating; some talent scounts contact hundreds of bands a month, but don't sign any of them. A few weeks ago a nibble from the "mouthpiece" of an artists and repertory person at an unspecified major label, sent Mr. Guerci, from Belford, oscillating between euphoria and paranoia. "Could someone be playing a cruel joke?" Mr. Silverman wondered. Mr. O'Gibney, from Monmouth Beach, dashed around his house shouting: "I'm selling my car! I'm quitting my job right now!" His grandmother burst into tears, he said.

From Downtown remains unsigned, but still thrashing. In a perfect world? "We'd be signed to Epitaph like the Souls," Mr. O'Gibney said - and singing on the main stage of the Warped Tour. - Deirdre Day-Macleod - The New York Times


Discography

Self Titled EP (2004) - 1. Punk.Drunk.Love 2. That Summer 3. Earth Angel.

I'll Drink to That (2005) - 1. Friends Don't Let Friends... 2. Content With Mediocrity 3. That Summer 4. No Regrets 5. Punk.Drunk.Love

Punk.Drunk.Love and That Summer have been played on a few college stations throughout NY and NJ.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

It all began in a basement with two guys jamming on guitars. Greg and Bob began laying the foundation for From Downtown in 1997, by writing catchy songs with breakdowns and hooks.

Fast forward to a few years later, 2001. With the songs maturing and the sound, still raw, but taking shape they seek out and enlist then high schooler Steve Svenda to play drums. After spending some time playing shows and writing songs with singer Hank Goodhue, the band realized that what they were doing with the current line up had peaked and they could go no further. After a 3 month hiatus they came to the decision to part with Hank and reinvent themselves.

Enter Evan and Steve (or Squid as we'll later call him). With Bob moving from bass to rhythm guitar, From Downtown now had the depth they were looking for. After many sucessful shows with this line up in place, they decided to call on friend Tony Lasardo, formerly of Bigwig, to record and produce their first EP.

The release was small and very low budget, but it showed a lot about these 5 men. They showed a lot about themselves and what their all about, and an image took shape. An image of 5 guys who drink, party, rock, and are rooted in friendship.

Many, many shows later, as the buzz around From Downtown began to grow, they decided to go into the studio, the REAL studio, Big Blue Meenie in Jersey City, to record what would be their finest work to date. "I'll Drink to That" is a strong showing for this young band.

With many shows and touring planned for this new year From Downtown is rapidly gaining acclaim from some big names like The New York Times, Nitro Records, and Drive Thru Records.