Al Hafner

Mastering Rahway’s Reputation & Their Most Exhilarating Year to Date

It’s all too easy to be a fan of this hard-rocking band of ‘brothers,’ The Slumlords of New Jersey.

Longtime readers will recognize the name Tim Louie as being one of our longtime contributors and former columnists (RIP, NJN). Others may see his bass-playing self and think to call him Chigger, which is what his bandmates and friends in the music scene call him. It does not matter how you know him, though, because this local rocker is nothing short of legendary as an Aquarian mainstay, a certified #GirlDad, a supporter of the arts, a radio aficionado a lá his humble Z100 beginnings, and a rockstar. Did we say that already? Because, he is a rockstar. We’re pretty certain rock and roll is in his blood and heavy metal makes up a good part of his DNA, but since joining NJ’s own Rahway, the rockstar status took off.

Rahway (the band) has been around for quite some time, but the infamous Chigger joined the band in the late 2010s and turned everything upside down. Alongside Nick Hade (vocals), David (guitar) and Steve Cardenas (drums), and an army of Central Jersey fans, Chigger turned the intense hard rock energy of the group up 10 notches. Their reputation would see a shift, their legacy a turn for the better, and their music a sort of improvement that only true passion can create. With a new EP that dropped this fall, hundreds of thousands of streams online, and a fanbase that is as blistering and tight-knit as the band itself, 2023 is about to go down in Rahway history. With that knowledge, we had to ring Tim Louie down in Florida for a conversation that would tie this amazing year up with a pretty leather bow.

The key takeaway from our 45 minutes? For the fans and local rockers? “Come to the December 6 show,” Louie highlighted. “It’s a free show with Josey Scott from Saliva. That’s the big one. We finally made the college charts this year, which was great. I saw that we debuted at No. 27, which is good, and we just want people to buy Sounds of Spanktown.”

[A/N: Other than the below conversation, we can help Rahway out on the latter note there – purchasing Rahway’s new EP is essential. Mr. Bass Player here told us that his favorite song on the EP is only found on the physical edition! “There is a song that’s on the physical CD that’s a bonus track called ‘Cage the Animal.’ You won’t find it on Spotify. We re-recorded it, remixed it, and remastered it.”]

Sounds of Spanktown is quite the eye-catching title. Did you know going in that it was going to be the name of the EP? From what I have gathered you have always seemingly shared the history and respect of Rahway, the town and city, hence the band name itself, but did you know about the 300+ year old battle and get inspired in some way?

When I got into the band, these guys had no direction. Since we were Rahway, though, I wanted to focus on Jersey. I mean, everything had to be Jersey related. I was doing an interview like this once and they asked, “What’s the best way to describe the band?” I said, “Oh, we’re the Slumlords of New Jersey,” and it just stuck. Mike Orlando, our producer, was just like, “That’s a badass title. Why don’t you just use that?” So, we use that for the last EP title and it exploded. It kind of helped put us on the map. Then I said, “What are we gonna use next? What are we gonna do to stop that? How do you top The Slumlords of New Jersey, which was like a great, great title, right?” My manager goes, “Hey, you ever hear of Spanktown?” I go, “What’s Spanktown?” That’s funny, right? Every time you hear it, it’s funny, and my guitar player hated that as the title, but he’s coming around to it. He’s starting to like it a little bit. Anyway, my manager goes, “Look at Google,” so I Googled it and it was the original name of the town of Rahway. I’m like, “That’s it! That’s the title!” We didn’t even have a working title before, so it was tentatively titled because we weren’t sure to call it that. Eventually I just stuck to my guns. I said, “Listen, this is a good talking point for all interviews. People will think it’s funny, but then when you tell ’em the history aspect of it, they’re gonna be like, ‘Wow, that is pretty cool!” Then, we just stuck with it, we took the real sign of Spanktown and we just added ‘Sounds of’ to it. We gave a history lesson as well as a CD cover!

How did you know which songs off of the EP would become singles?  Because my favorite in particular is the album closer “Oughta Know,” but I like the idea that people have to go through “Carry You” or “Drowning” to get to it. It makes the payoff of listening to the song worth it… at least to me.

I’m not a fan of ballads, so it really hurts to have to play that song and you probably won’t hear it live [Laughs]. I think you heard it at the CD release party, but that was it. That was the only time we’ll ever play it.

There was a bit more energy on stage than in the recording, though, but I think it’s a good closing number. How did you know which songs were going to be released ahead of time rather than just become a deep cut?

Well, we actually sat down with a radio campaign guy. He went through the songs with us and said, “This should be your first single, second single, third single,” and that’s what we did. We just followed his advice and shot videos for every single one.  If you look at them, they just got progressively better, too. I think that my favorite video for the shoot was definitely “Drowning,” because we shot it at a haunted mansion in Staten Island. It was a legit haunted mansion where the hair behind my neck was sticking up. We all felt things. You get chills. I was in a room full of dolls filming my section, so it was pretty scary.

“Sugar” is also a great song with a great video. Actually, it was the first song I heard from Rahway! It came at a really weird time, too, in Summer 2020.

The video for “Sugar” was a concept that I came up with because at the time everyone was on Zoom. We had so many songs, but we couldn’t get in a room together because we were on lockdown. Originally, “Stone” was supposed to be our first single, but I said, “You know what, guys? I have an idea. Let’s take the hook of ‘Sugar’ and send it out to a bunch of friends, celebrities, rockstars, and musicians, and have them sing the hook.” We did that, so when the hook comes and the chorus comes, you see boxes of people singing it with us – PJ Farley from Trixter, Danielle Monaro from Z100. Greg T. from Z100 and KTU. (I used to work with those guys!) Don Jameson is there. Dr. Dave from a Black Rose Rebellion is on there. All of our fans sent in videos, too. We got everyone to sing the chorus! We were so overwhelmed with the response that we had to cut some people out of the final video, because we couldn’t fit them all!

Your fans are everywhere now, too, so that’s really cool! Rahway keeps expanding. You just did a show in Florida and you have another show here in Morristown coming up. What about these live shows is special for you and the band? The Aquarian seems to know Rahway as a live band more than anything.

Yeah! I think it helps us connect to our audience. Nick, our singer, calls our [concerts] family reunions, because a lot of times it’s the same people coming to see us. When there are new people coming to see us, they’re like, “Oh, I wanna be part of that family reunion!” Then they end up coming again, and the crowd just keeps getting bigger and bigger. When I was playing with them at first, we were playing to 10, maybe 15 people. Now it’s so much bigger; there were like 200 people at Debonair [Music Hall] for our album release show. That was all for us! Something is definitely happening here.

Definitely. You can see that with the streaming numbers, as well, which have been blossoming greatly. That is why we wanted to do this feature on the band at the end of the year, because it clearly has been your year and everyone has noticed it.

Absolutely. We [just played] our first show in Florida. We have played in Virginia. We have played in New Hampshire. We play the Northeast a lot, of course, but not so much the south. That’s changing.

Both as a longtime fan of the local scene in Jersey – going to concerts and making friends on bills you’re on – and also as a musician who is having people come to see you, do you think that New Jersey crowds are some of the best? At least, in terms of the give and take between the audience and band?

I want to say that when they’re there, they’re great. They’re not as supportive as they used to be, which is tough, but it’s the nature of the beast, right? If you get them there, in the room for the show, they become super supportive. If Jersey fans really love you, they’ll bleed for you. We’re getting there. [Laughs] I don’t think they trust us all the way yet, but we are definitely getting there.

I understand that. The New Jersey music scene has shifted a little bit over time, but some bands, like yourself, are finding those diehards still – the ones that roll with you.

They’re starting to! As a writer of the scene I’ve seen many different entities of it. You know, there was a time where the bands were supporting each other. Now it’s not like that. I feel like a lot of the bands get jealous of each other. They don’t support it like they used to. Then again, a lot of us grew up and had kids, so it’s tough to go out and support your friends always. The change could be because it’s not as easy as it used to be. There also aren’t that many young bands that I know of that are out there doing what us older guys are doing and have been doing.

You make a good point about the people who do get older within the scene. Many get different jobs, have kids, and just different priorities overall. You, Tim, seem to balance that very well. You have two absolutely adorable little rocker children!

[Laughs] I do, thank you.

Are they into the music and the band yet? Or do they have their own taste?

They’re all Disney. They love Disney songs. I will say that my youngest, every time she hears like Rahway, she starts dancing. My other daughter saw videos of me performing and she goes, “How does Daddy play?” And she’s sitting there throwing her head back. It’s great [Laughs].

That is precious! They will turn into little superfans soon enough. Rahway is a band that showcases appreciation well. There are seemingly really great relationships within Rahway as well as around it. I think that is helping you flourish more than ever.

For sure, and I have a super supportive wife. She’s a metal fan, also, so it’s like our kids are destined to be metalheads.

Everyone in the band has a good support system around them, and as far as the band goes, we’re brothers. At the end of the day, we fight like brothers. We write like brothers. We eat like brothers. The camaraderie is there and it’s real. We did an interview with Don Jameson right before our CD release party and he goes, “I like interviewing you guys ’cause you are like a band.” I’m like, “Oh, uh, thank you? We’re a real band, you guys!” [Laughs] He’s like, “No, you can tell it’s genuine. It’s not like you guys don’t like being out there together. You guys are a family. You can tell – and you don’t see that with bands these days.”

He’s right with that statement, and I think that is something that we love seeing with you guys when on stage. You literally and figuratively play off each other well. It’s a balance of personal and professional as friends and musicians. I do commend you for that and I’m glad other people notice it, too.

Dave and Steve and I, we all grew up listening to bands like Mötley Crüe and Van Halen and Zeppelin and Kiss. Those guys – when they were playing back then – were struggling to get their music out there, struggling to make it, but they were brothers. That’s what we grew up admiring, so I guess that’s the reason why Rahway is like that.