Every now and then, a band that’s been dominating the local market starts to catch fire on a much larger scale. Of course, we want to call them our hometown heroes, or our best-kept secret, hoping to say we knew them before they were stars. In this case, I am talking about a group called Gates, who had a huge 2013 touring with The Gaslight Anthem, and are gearing up for an even bigger and better 2014.
I recently had the chance to talk to guitarist Ethan Koozer and vocalist/guitarist Kevin Dye about Gates’ new music, the recording process, life on the road and more. The transcription is below:
For those who don’t know much about the band, can you give us a little bit of history behind Gates?
Ethan Koozer: We’ve been a band for a little over three years now. Mike [Maroney, bass], Dan [King, guitars] and Dan [Crapanzano, drums] were in a band together called Bears & Bright Lights. When I moved to New Jersey from Arizona, they were one of the first local bands that I was introduced to. After we had gotten together a few times and played some new material, it only felt right to change the name. We settled on the name Gates and soon after had our first and only member change, parting ways with our original singer. Oddly enough, Kevin, originally from Michigan, saw a post that we had up on absolutepunk.net in regards to looking for a new singer. He was in the process of moving to Brooklyn so timing and placement worked out perfectly. We played once or twice and immediately knew that we were exactly where we wanted to be.
Things seem to be picking up for you all like rapid fire lately—getting signed to a label, going on mini-tours, etc. I guess life is good for Gates right now?
EK: Gates life is definitely getting more and more interesting as things progress. In all honesty, I never expected Gates to ever be in this position. It seems like there has been constant movement and growth for the last year or so, and there is nothing more humbling. We have been blessed with an amazing team of people behind us and we will never take that for granted. Pure Noise Records has been incredible, the bands we’ve been able to share the stage with are some of our biggest influences and we are having more fun now than ever before. It certainly doesn’t come without its ups and downs but I wouldn’t trade this for the world.
Kevin Dye: I wouldn’t change anything that has happened in my life, and I’m extremely humbled and gratified to have been given the opportunities we’ve received over the lifespan of our art project. Life is good, and I love being in this band. These opportunities are incredible, but we absolutely need our fans to support us to keep continuing to do what we do. Without our fans coming to shows, donating to our art by buying a CD or a shirt, without all of the people who give us extra cash on the road, without any of that support, bands like us cannot exist. We all have jobs, so every dime we get from Gates goes into creating cooler content for us and for our fans. And we would love to continue to do this because it means so much to all of us in our lives to be able to achieve our visions for the music we write. I know a lot of bands who feel the same way. Support your favorite music because no matter where they are in their career, they need it.
The new music is awesome. Can you tell us all a little bit about where you recorded?
EK: Up until recently, nothing has ever changed with our recording process. Kevin, our singer, has engineered everything we have ever released. It not only benefits our band, but it has been incredible to watch his talents grow as well. The only difference now being that our latest re-release of You Are All You Have Left To Fear was remixed and mastered by Mike Watts at Vudu Studios on Long Island. That whole experience was beyond mind-blowing. We released the EP originally last spring but the remix brought new life to the songs. It’s almost like the record is just now being finished. It’s exactly how we always pictured it and we couldn’t be any more ecstatic with the outcome. Being able to include the bonus track, “Skyline,” on the tail end of the record, was definitely a highlight for us collectively.
KD: “Fear” was recorded in Mike’s parents’ house. The drums were tracked in their dining room with eight mics—I only had a Digi 002 I/O at the time so this was the max— two of which were hanging from the banister in the foyer to get a room sound. The bass and guitars were tracked in the basement and I did all the vocals in my old apartment in Greenpoint. I originally mixed it myself, but seeing as mixing your own band is one of the hardest things someone can do, once we were given the opportunity to have it remixed, we jumped at the chance. Mike Watts is one of the reasons I became a sound engineer, so working with him was and continues to be a dream. We’re hoping to co-produce the next record together and I can’t wait to hear what we can come up with sonically.
What would you say you enjoy more: recording or playing live?
EK: Those are completely different worlds for me. I personally love recording more than most things. The entire process from pre-production to microphone placement to achieving specific tones to the actual tracking is absolutely incredible. It’s where your songs and all of your hard work materializes. In terms of being a musician, your albums are what come to define you and become your most accessible product. Regardless of format, the music will always exist. On the other hand, I feel like Gates is a live band. In my opinion, a listener won’t really fully understand our band until they see us live. We deliver everything we’ve got every single time we get on stage and I like to think that shines through.
KD: Recording, 100 percent. I’m biased being a sound engineer though. I agree with Ethan and just love hearing a song materialize and trying to create something people will want to listen to over and over again. Even the way I write involves recording a basic idea and then adding layers and layers on top of it. I just love creating those sounds. There have been shows though that definitely rival the feelings I get in the studio.
I know you all have played with and met so many awesome bands in your time; anyone stick out in particular that really blew your minds?
EK: We’ve been lucky enough to play with some incredible bands. I never would have imagined being able to watch The Gaslight Anthem perform every night in a beautiful theater. That was something I will never, ever forget. We’ve formed some amazing friendships on the road and our relationship with the band Gifts From Enola defines that well. Watching them shred for two weeks last winter was phenomenal.
KD: Gaslight was obviously the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life and those guys are the coolest people. Their entire crew was so awesome too. Opening for United Nations was insane; Geoff Rickly was a huge inspiration for me growing up. Becoming friends with bands like Gifts From Enola, Prawn, Vasudeva and Owel, just to name a few.
Now, you guys kind of became “local legends” on my end, as so many up-and-coming acts always talk about how much they love Gates. Did you always hope it would expand to more than just local dominance?
EK: I don’t think we came into this hoping or expecting anything. We have all played in bands since childhood. It didn’t take long to establish our band in terms of imagery, branding and work ethic. I don’t think we even discussed what sound we were hoping to achieve. We formed this band knowing that this is what we want and we were going to work a little too hard to make ourselves proud of our work. We take every single aspect of Gates very, very seriously, and I feel like it shows. Every single move we make has had countless conversations and a ton of moving parts behind it. Although we never saw us achieving huge success, we knew that we as a band were going to shoot for nothing less. It’s beyond humbling to see hard work pay off and makes us constantly strive for bigger and better opportunities.
KD: When I walked into this scene from Michigan, I was taken aback by the sheer number of incredible bands that were playing here. These bands are still playing to no one half the time. I was and still am happy enough to have befriended such incredible bands. Three years ago, I thought with 100 percent certainty some of these bands would be super well known and the reality is that half of them don’t even play anymore. I never thought for a second that our band would be in the position we are and that those bands would not. So each and every day I just hope we can continue to exist and have these opportunities that drive us forward. It’s a blessing and I don’t bear the burden of it lightly.
For bands just starting out, is there any advice you can give?
EK: Practice and practice a whole hell of a lot. Find what you want to do and perfect it before you bring it into the world. There’s no rush in starting a band no matter how bad you want to get your music out there. There is no doubt that it is super exciting starting a band but sometimes you just need to let things marinade. It’s also important to spend your time and money on things that will benefit you most. Don’t be concerned about making cool t-shirts and taking cute promo pictures if you don’t have a solid record to support yourself on. Your music is what defines you, not what brand of vest you wear live.
KD: Before you start accumulating “Likes” on Facebook, before you take promo shots, even before you start booking a lot of shows and trying to tour, write some songs and get a proper recording of them. Do NOT have your friend do it for free. Do NOT buy recording gear and do it yourself without knowing what you are doing. I’ve heard some awesome DIY records. I’ve heard about 10,000 terrible ones. No one is going to invest any time or money into music that the band themselves did not spend any time or money on. Support someone whose passion is recording and make a good representation of who you are. I also urge anyone playing music to be themselves and to not start a band with the sentence, “I want our music to sound like X band.” That band already exists. Play with someone who doesn’t have the same tastes as you, open your mind, and just be you.
How often do you guys write? Is it a group effort?
EK: We definitely keyed in on our writing style after we had finished You Are All You Have Left To Fear. At this point in time, everything is written together. All of our songs come from the five of us sitting in a basement with our amps in a circle. We sit down, we work meticulously on parts for what feels like years sometimes. For the most part, writing our full-length record has been super fluid. All of us are in the same headspace and nothing has felt contrived. If you’re struggling on something or not really vibing on a specific song, move on. If there are issues within the song or something doesn’t sound right, spend a few extra minutes to pick the entire thing apart and get to the root of things. It took a few years but we finally found the best, most effective and efficient ways to write collectively. That, personally, is something I am really proud of saying.
KD: For the past year, we’ve written two days a week starting after work, and then on Sunday for most of the day whenever we didn’t have shows. Sometimes we’d do a few days over the weekend to work out some ideas that were on the verge of being completed. All the ideas are put up to Dropbox and we listen back to them on the days off in between, and then come back with our critiques and make changes. I wish we could write more often because there’s nothing quite like playing a part for the first time and having five very different people all agree on it. It’s a really interesting feeling. I write the lyrics on my own and it’s just a grueling process of staring at a blank page for hours or trying to change a word and ending up changing an entire verse. It’s tedious but rewarding, ultimately.
What does 2014 hold for Gates?
EK: Most importantly, we will be releasing our first full-length record. It’s not only Gates’ first full-length, but it’s the first time any of us as individuals have partaken in a full-length record. Expect to see us on the road more than ever and traveling further than we ever have before. It’s going to be a very, very exciting year for us as a band and one that we have been working toward for three years.
Gates will play at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ on Jan. 25. For more information, go to gatesnj.com.