Happy on a Sliding Scale
Rivington Street on the Lower East Side in New York City has always been a place where people would end up after coming from far away to realize their dreams. A hundred years ago it was the immigrants seeking a new life in the tenements that line the thoroughfare; in more recent history, it has become home to artists, musicians, and creative types chasing their goals. For the band who takes their name from this street (they have their rehearsal space there), Rivington is their reality check. 'New York is a place people move to in order to pursue a dream or a goal, or to get away from a hometown they never felt comfortable in,' says Rivington lead singer Paul Schneider. 'New York is a melting pot for those kinds of dreamers and misfits. You come here thinking everything's going to happen. Rivington Street is where people really end up. It's populated by lots of struggling musicians. Usually, one of three things happens. They either make it and move out, or they get stuck in some sort of purgatory of rehearsal, bad day jobs and small local gigs and never go anywhere, or they fall into a pit and buy drugs daily from the local vendors. We've pursued each of those routes.' Keeping reality firmly in check, Rivington are set to release their debut album on their own Semaphore Records label. The road to this point has hardly been without it's bumps and hurdles, however. After circulating a self-produced seven-inch single, a 12-song demo, and playing numerous live gigs, the band signed with Sony 550 in 1998. After recording an album, a combination of corporate label merging and bad luck left Rivington without a label deal before their album had even hit the streets. Undaunted, they managed to walk away with the completed record in hand and decided to release it themselves. Happy On A Sliding Scale (the album title cribs a line from the second track on the record, 'Guard') sails the seas of power-pop with hook-laden grace, combs the depths of classic rock and modern rock with it's net of timeless songwriting bonded with edgy, guitar-driven music beds. You can hear bits of Schneider's favorite bands and artists coloring the songs (The Beatles, Sebadoh, The Pixies, Elvis Costello), while drummer Dave Snyder's steady rhythms often evoke stirrings of some of his idols (Stewart Copeland, Jon Bonham). That's not to say that Rivington doesn't stand on it's own two musical feet. For all that it sounds immediately familiar and comfortable, the album begs repeated listens to hear something different and new, to explore the nuances, both lyrical and musical. It's lush, poppy, full of hooky melodies and edgier rock, at once pretty and in-your-face. Happy On A Sliding Scale was produced by Ted Niceley (Shudder to Think, Girls Against Boys, Fugazi). Rivington formed in 1996, when the brain and brawn of the group (Schneider and Snyder) started playing together. A shifting list of guitarists and bassists have rounded out the line-up since, but Paul and Dave remain the constants behind the music. They met when both were going to school in Manhattan; Dave played with Ruth Ruth for a while in the mid-'90s. Both had wanted to be musicians since they were small. Dave began playing drums in his teens and actually studied be-bop and jazz for a period of time before concentrating on rock drumming. Paul originally started playing piano ('I was not great at it, but some of my teachers taught me theory which ended up being more helpful for what I do now than being a great player,' he says), and switched to guitar later. The two have found they have a similar methodology and mentality when it comes to the music they make. 'Paul writes the structure, the chords and melody,' says Snyder. 'He'll come in with that and we'll cut parts out, add parts in. It makes it sort of democratic. I think that's been the most fun, working together in that way, because we know each other really well. I feel really lucky with Paul on that level; we have a very clear, comfortable relationship. He asks for my opinion, but I try not to impose it.' Paul's songwriting itself shifts, depending on his muse at the moment. 'I can rarely come up with just lyrics,' he says. 'I usually get a riff or snippet of music or a melody and lyric together. It can come any way and I just have to beat it into shape. Writing is therapy, but it's also a weapon. A lot of creative stuff comes out of some type of pain or revenge or a need to put things in a certain way. It becomes fodder. It becomes a useful thing instead of some sort of personal torment.' The torment is there, veiled in words glossed by an often sunny pop musical sheen. For all that the lyrics ooze frustration, failure at relationships, indecision, and fear, the music often props up the melancholia, shrouding it in happier tones, prettier sounds. Galloping through pure power-pop pleasure ('That Day,' 'Disintegrate,' 'Keary'), crunching through bigger classic rock ('Guard,' 'The Score,' 'May'), tripping through psychedelia ('Love Can Fly'), or strolling through ballads ('Indecision,' 'Varicose,' 'Cocoon'), Rivington seems at home on any street. 'I'd like the listener to be moved, to have a connection,' says Schneider. 'I'd like for it to be beautiful but also to be rocking. It's rock and roll, hopefully with an intelligent, emotional thing coming through. I think people who like pop music, but they don't want it to be too wimpy and they don't necessarily relate to Limp Bizkit - I think we might strike a chord with them.'