By Patrick Faulkner
Nearing their one-year anniversary, the Elisabeth Irwin high school band Last Shelter released their first EP entitled ‘EP 1’ on January 6. Featuring LREI students Ray Figliulo and Max Rubenstein, Last Shelter will play their first live show since the release of the EP on February 18.
But the final product did not match what some band members had imagined. “I wish it was like I envisioned,” Figliulo said about the EP. Figliulo, among other band members, found the final production to contrast what he had intended.
The band formed after Figliulo and Rubenstein met guitarist Jason Ross through the School of Rock music program. The band would soon add bassist Victoria “Vicky” Park and keyboardist Gavin Caine.
“I saw Jason and Ray talking about some songs and stuff,” said Rubenstein about forming the band, “so I went up to Jason and was like, ‘Are you starting a band’? But they kind of put it off for a little bit because they didn’t want to tell me. They had this other drummer… but he was too far out in Jersey so he opted out.”
Over the summer of 2016, the band decided to record an EP. The EP was recorded at producer Steve Kellner’s house in New Jersey. Kellner is a friend of guitarist Ross and has a studio at his house where he mixes and masters recordings.
While Kellner had a vital position in the production of the EP, his official title was ambiguous. “I don’t know what you want to call it,” Figliulo said. “He had a lot of control over the process but I wouldn’t call him an official producer.”
Besides Kellner, the band made the EP with no outside help. While this could have been a difficult task for a high school band, the members were dedicated to completing the EP.
“Other than the band and the producer, his parents and his dog, it was really just us,” Rubenstein said. “We took the initiative to do this by ourselves.”
Figliulo and Rubenstein shared a similar vision for the album. Both being influenced by a variety of bands from Radiohead to Wilco, they pictured an EP with enough roughness to sound raw and rocking while maintaining a clean feeling that does not sound like it’s trying to be rough.
“I said I wanted it to be like a Wilco record,” Figliulo said, “in the sense that it sounds tight and clean but there’s still some element of roughness to it.”
Rubenstein agreed. “I wanted it to sound like something really raw.”
The two added that they like how the band sounds in live performances because of the energy and excitement. Live performances also have an innate element of “rawness.”
“That’s when our real soul is in the music,” Rubenstein said.
Figliulo added, “Our live shows are much louder and rougher [than the EP].”
After they mixed the EP, though, a much different sound came out. The rough and rocking sound that the members had strived for was replaced with what they felt was a poppy sound with clean, robotic drum sounds and an overall lack of raw emotion.
Figliulo had a strong opinion on the production. “I personally didn’t want it to sound that polished….I wish it was like I envisioned it, or at least like our live shows.”
“I don’t want it to sound like a robot is on there,” Rubenstein added about the production, “It sucks because it’s not what I really wanted it to be.”
The production was difficult throughout. Rubenstein said that in trying to explain what they wanted to Kellner, they had difficulty conveying in words the intangible “rawness” that the band strived for.
After the first demos came back the band gave advice to Kellner on how to continue. Rubenstein said, “We gave [Kellner] songs–like this one should sound like it’s off OK Computer–but he sort of catered to a sound that we really did not want.”
Kellner told a different story, though, claiming that the band and he worked well together to achieve a sound that everyone was pleased with. Kellner said via email, “We worked closely together to make sure it came out how we all had wanted it to.” He said his goal for the album was to “capture their sound and showcase their true talent.”
Figliulo admitted that the band was also at fault for the sound of the EP because he wanted a sound that could not be made through production.
“I won’t entirely blame the producer for [the sound],” he said, “I think the songs themselves weren’t up to par with that of a Wilco or Radiohead record, but that’s what I wanted.”
The EP was not for nothing, though. Rubenstein and Figliulo added that they both gained from the experience.
“It’s definitely over-produced but I think it’s good,” Rubenstein said, “I don’t dislike it.”
Figliulo added, “It’s kind of cool to say you did an EP. It’s on iTunes. That’s kind of cool.”
Kellner was the happiest with the final product. “I am very satisfied with the end product. I think the songs came out bigger than we all had imagined.”
While “bigger” is a somewhat vague term, it seems to encapsulate the intangible element that the band felt was out of place. While Kellner was going for a grandiose pop sound the band wanted a more basic and raw sound.
While the album was not all the band felt it could have been the band was satisfied and relieved to release the EP. Figliulo explained why he is content with putting out something that he believes does not portray his full potential.
“I don’t think it represents the kind of music that I want to make in the future,” he admitted, “but I think for a high school band recording something, I’m satisfied with it.”