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FOREWORD: Space Needle composer Jud Ehrbar never got the respect he deserved as one of the ‘90s most adventurous progressive rock avatars. But due to his permanent New York underground stature, I was able to speak with him on several occasions before and after New York gigs. I found his cosmic escapades riveting. But after ‘97s The Moray Eel Eat The Space Needle, Ehrbar settled into a backup role as drummer in band mate Anders Parker’s solo project during the next decade. This article originally appeared in HITS magazine.

(I’ve also included an Aquarian Weekly piece that follows.)


Despite the deceiving Space Needle moniker, this trio does not live in Seattle, where the famous pinhead monument of the same name reaches skyward. Instead, Space Needle features Northport, Long Island natives Jud Ehrbar (arrangements-drums) and Jeff Gatland (guitar) with upstate New York pal, Anders Parker (guitar).

Formed during stints in Poughkeepsie and Providence, this valiant trio plays the gamut from sweet pop ballads to freeform instrumental excursions. They rely on drifting, extended improvisations at live shows, mesmerizing awed fans with their musical ability and cohesion.

In ’95, Space Needle dropped the sophisticated requiem, Voyager, what some call the Dark Side Of The Moon of modern rock. With the recent release of the moodily kaleidoscopic The Moray Eel Eats The Space Needle, they move further into a sophisticated noisy Jazz direction. But do not be scared off, fans of ardent pop. The elegant “Never Lonely Alone” and the gorgeous “Love Left Us Strangers” are tenderly affectionate ballads that leave Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Toni Braxton crying on their ill-deserved Grammys.

Ehrbar’s musical inspirations include Eno’s Another Green World, Velvet Underground, and ‘70s prog-rock. He’s a musical chameleon able to fit into any popular style he desires. On the night of this ’97 interview, he was backing up the band, Long River Train, at lower Manhattan’s Pink Pony while band mate Anders Parker just happened to play an introspective acoustic set right afterwards. By the way, along with Anders’ brother John, who I’ve shared a few cocktails with in the past, Ehrbar and Parker also coexist in delectable indie pop band, Varnaline.

Since Space Needle’s mind-expanding experiments are sometimes difficult to grasp, have you ever encountered much jeering while on tour?

JUD: We had this guy from Little Rock, Arkansas, who must’ve surely disliked us. I had my drums set up near the foot of the stage and this redneck stood two feet in front of me and held his middle finger out for a few minutes. I just continued playing.

Rednecks are probably lost when you go beyond the third chord. What was your most confounding song on The Moray Eel?

JUD: The last track, “One Kind Of Lullaby.” We had been doing it live, playing it heavy and bombastic. Jeff (Gatland) said it sounded like a bad U2 song. So we had to reinvent it. It took several tries to figure out a better arrangement.

Has Space Needle ever been completely lost during one of its improvisational jams?

JUD: That can be a problem. But it’s also when we sometimes create our best songs. It’s really horrible and frustrating to be flopping through. It’s the worst feeling being onstage and sucking – which we’ve definitely done.

Has Space Needle played any real sleazy dives?

JUD: Well. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the shows we have and the clubs we play. We love New York clubs such as Mercury Lounge and Brownies, but… Hey, Anders, what was the name of that one place in the Midwest?

ANDERS: Oh, it was in Omaha. Either the Iron Cage or the Cog Shop. They had shitty flat beer and there was a cold straight-edge punk crowd. We went over quite poorly as you’d expect. And the sound system was bad. But the people working there were very nice.

What’s the toughest part of touring?

JUD: We all get along well. But we’re usually drinking quite a bit and it dulls the nerves. We’ve had some equipment problems. We’ll show up with broken equipment after doing a crazy show the night before. That happens when you pack up drunk. The next day you do a sound check and it’s like, ‘Jesus Christ, what happened to my drum kit?’ Sometimes we’ll show up and our guitars will be broken.

What will be the singles from Moray Eel?

JUD: “Never Lonely Alone” backed with a 10″ remix of “Love Left Us Strangers” by Paul Riordan. He’s from L.A. and was an engineer for the Geto Boys and Scarface. There’s even a demo version Anders did of “One Kind Of Lullaby.” I did “Never Lonely Alone” by myself on four-track. I didn’t try to make it as slick as “Love Left Us Strangers,” which we made with every intention of getting airplay. “Love Left Us Strangers” is a look at a failed relationship that was doomed from the start while on “Never Lonely Alone,” I wrote from the point of view of somebody who is a loner that goes to movies by himself. It could never be about me. At the time, I realized listeners might get tired just hearing me relate my own personal experiences.

What artists have you been listening to recently?

JUD: While I’m not deeply immersed in it, there are a few Bay Area DJ’s sampling things that I enjoy. Dr. Octagon, DJ Shadow, and even Goldie have put out some refreshing stuff. There are also some great songwriters not necessarily from the indie rock scene which I really like, such as Joe Henry and Freedy Johnston.

How’d you get together with Sean Thompson in Long River Train?

JUD: I was just filling in on tour. But I’ve played with Sean up in Poughkeepsie when Anders and his brother, John, were starting out with me. We’ve been friends for some time.



Space Needle incorporate the avant-garde post-rock talents of percussionist-arranger Jud Ehrbar and guitarist Jeff Gatland, Northport, Long Island natives partnered with Varnaline frontman-guitarist Anders Parker. Together, this progressive trio rarely plays live. And when they do, instead of merely rehashing track from its Eno-esque space rock debut, Voyager, or shimmering sophomore set, The Moray Eel Eats The Space Needle, they either remit droning electronic orchestrations or blurry Jazz-related excursions.

“When I first started recording, I had no equipment. It was frustrating back then. I had all these expansive ideas but I couldn’t put them down. Maybe some of what we do is over people’s heads, but we have a fan base who know songs like “Where The Fuck’s My Wallet?” (a fascinatingly grueling 13-minute lead track on Moray Eel) from hearing it at earlier dates. If we worry about intimidating audiences, then it defeats the point of what we’re attempting to do,” Ehrbar explains as we sit on a couch downstairs at Knitting Factory before Space Needle’s alluring 45-minute set.

Whether or nor it’s risky to put an extended instrumental jam in the premier spot on an album is hardly the issue though. At the core of Moray Eel lies two tenderly crafted ballads concerning broken relationships. The warmly impassioned “Never Lonely Alone” fits contemporary radio like a ‘90s version of “Every Breath You Take.” And the synth-based soft-toned “Love Left Us Strangers” is one of the better moody contemplation’s in recent years. When Space Needle spruce up guitar fuzz and apply blurry sonics, they come up with the delicately murmured “Old Spice.”

When asked what the trio may perform on this cold January night at the Kntting Factory, Ehrbar looks up and frankly states, “I’m honestly not sure yet.”

Ehrbar’s cosmically esoteric material seems influenced by the Mahavihnu Orchestra and other Jazz-rock pioneers. But he’s also intrigued by ‘70s prog-rock legends, King Crimson, Yes, and Pink Floyd. He even recruited Yes album designer Roger Dean to draw the cover for Moray Eel.

Happily, Ehrbar’s not confined by the art for art’s sake gothic indulgences and lyrical pretensions which led to the downfall of prog-rock. Instead, he’s interested in the idiosyncratic introspection’s and eerie settings the relic style once relied on at its base.

Live, Space Needle break down the barriers separating noise from music. Lingering moods fluctuate unexpectedly and abandon formal patterns, resulting in enigmatically beautiful sounds.

As Space Needle slowly break into an improvised expedition so unstructured and atmospheric it took a few minutes to realize they weren’t just warming up, the crowd remained awestruck and mesmerized. The addition of Ithaca, New York violinist Max Buckholtz gives each instrumental a delicate tension. Then Buckholtz sat with his legs crossed and eyes shut at the edge of the stage, meditating while Parker and Gatland applied sonic guitars to Ehrbar’s hypnotic-to-frenetic percussion.

On Moray Eel, Buckholtz’s icy glissando battles back clustered drums on the teasing “Hot For Krishna.” And his galactic digressions give the exotic strip tease “Hyapatia Lee” proper soft porn imagery. His drifting passages somehow recall classically trained violinist Jean Luc Ponty’s celestial ‘70s solo recordings.

“We’re not good enough to be a Jazz combo so we do our best to make use of what instruments and skills we do have, “Ehrbar humbly and honestly insists. “Soemwhere down the road I’d like to maybe do soundtrack music. I think the Reservoir album I made by myself last year touched upon some of those ideas.”


FOREWORD: I first heard of the Rapture when I was vacationing in Philadelphia, New Year’s Eve 2001, when a local college station claimed their EP was the number one album for the year. Their highly danceable tunes placed electronica and acid house elements into rockist structures without sounding overwrought or trendy. ’02 single House Of Jealous Lovers became their calling card. I interviewed the Rapture’s Vito Roccoforte in ’03 to promote their upcoming Echoes LP. ‘06s Pieces Of The People We Love was not quite as fascinatingly resourceful. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.


Growing up in a poor La Mesa neighborhood twenty miles east of San Diego beach, Vito Roccoforte met Hawaiian-born future band mate Luke Jenner in elementary school. They’d hang out, collect baseball cards, and by eighteen, started playing instruments.

Initially inspired by regional 91X alternative rock discjockey Mike Hollerin, who’d lived in England, then garage-soul mecca Detroit, before hitting sunny Southern California, the duo began listening to ‘80s Brit-pop obscurities Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order, and Jesus & Mary Chain, subsequently forming impervious dance rockers The Rapture.

Their debut single, “The Chair That Squeaks” backed with a cover of Psychedelic Furs’ “Dumb Waiters,” was recorded after tracks for Gravity Records ’99 EP, Mirrors, which had darker keyboard-driven tunes, less danceable rhythms, and more of a Krautrock feel, were already released.

Roccoforte explains, “We were into German bands Can, Kraftwerk, and (British fusion tape-loop experimentalists) This Heat, but Mirrors came off way noisier than that and was recorded in our friends’ living room. We were living in San Francisco then but had San Diego friends with little studios. So we’d book mini-tours going south to Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and then San Diego. Gravity Records was the main hardcore label. We were the first non-hardcore band they offered studio time. At the same time, another friend started a label and put out “The Chair That Squeaks” in ’98.”

Moving temporarily to Seattle for six months, percussionist Roccoforte, guitarist Jenner, and bassist Christopher Relyea got signed by Sub Pop Records, decided the Pacific Northwest wasn’t to their liking, bought a used van with a few thousand dollars advance money, and hauled equipment and records to New York City. Though the Big Apple offered no immediate job security, happily Brooklyn-based noise-rock band, Black Dice, put them up in their house.

“If we made $100 a show, we thought we were golden,” confesses Roccoforte. “It took awhile for shit to happen. We had no money, planned poorly, and were homeless. I’d sleep in the van sometimes. It took three months to get on our feet. By September ’99, I finally had enough money to live in some guys living room. I built a wall out of bookcases and made my own space. Jimmy, our bassist then, left when we reached New York so we had no functioning band. We were miserable, but I liked the city’s energy. At the end of ’99, Luke, a new bassist (Mattie Safer), and me began doing shows. In Spring 2000, we did the Out Of The Races and Onto The Tracks EP.”

Recorded in one day using few overdubs, the penetrating EP efficiently cross-pollinated urban dance culture with chic ‘80s new wave signifiers, girding chunky metronome rhythms against jaunty guitar cadences. Retaining a pure independent rock aestheticism, The Rapture uncannily cracked freeform college radio while concurrently swaying foot-shuffling discotheque patrons to catch the mighty buzz.

“It’s weird. The two worlds are becoming closer, especially in America. When we play live, we’re rockers, but doing dance songs. So the indie kids get into it and it’s not a huge shift,” Roccoforte concurs. “We’ll get kids at shows that like dancing, but the difference in the audience isn’t that obvious. However, we played the Winter Music Conference in Miami at the Ultra Festival and that was pretty extreme on the dance side.”

Oddly, the peripheral Out Of The Races exodus, “Caravan,” leaned towards prog-rock aspirations, a proclivity left unexposed by ‘04s sensational full length, Echoes.

“I’d love to explore that side again,” Roccoforte confirms. “That was made in our baby stage. It’s interesting. People either love or hate “Caravan.” But “Confrontation” moved closer to Echoes with its sniping guitar riffs, dense percussion, and spare setting.”

Helping The Rapture gain early acceptance was the developing Brooklyn scene spawning Radio 4, Interpol, Walkmen, and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. Lower Manhattan’s now-defunct Brownies gave these disparate artists timely exposure. Opening for Radio 4 at that Avenue A club one night, The Rapture came in contact with James Murphy, the soon-to-be DFA proprietor alongside partner Tim Goldsworthy. Although Jenner and Murphy originally butted heads over the specific sound they sought to create, the meritorious union proved fruitful.

Concerning the prolonged struggle, Roccoforte says, “It was more of a personal conflict. They’re both very controlling people. But without those great producers, we might not have gotten that great DFA drum sound. James and Tim recorded Radio 4’s Gotham, Primal Scream’s “Blood Money,” some David Holmes tracks, sundry remixes, and assembled LCD Soundsystem. So we got to record at DFA’s renowned Plantain Studio.”

On-stage at a packed Roseland Ballroom in March ’04, The Rapture dressed casual and maintained a hard-working blue-collar ethic, discarding flashy modern dance glitz for flaky pale-faced exuberance. Wearing t-shirts and jeans, these stylish chameleons jumped from the bouncy bleat-beat bass-throbbed “I Need Your Love” to the expediently elastic “Echoes” (with its fleeting vocal break-ins), sustaining a loose-limbed carefree attitude galvanized from constant non-stop touring. The majestic intoxicant, “Heaven,” with its naked choral count-off intermittently breaking up its jarring tribal rumble, served as a major highlight.

As Roccoforte pounded skins with tom-toms and drumsticks, Jenner thrust himself center stage, aiming pleading sentiments directly at the crowd, flinging the mike side to side. Atop muscular grooves, Jenner’s aching, serrated tenor flailed like The Cure’s Robert Smith. For the dirgey piano turnabout, “Open Up Your Heart,” Jenner struck a few Jesus Christ poses.

Roccoforte admits ‘80s no wave denizens such as ESG, Delta 5, and Liquid Liquid seep through The Rapture’s overall oeuvre, but claims that connection took time to develop. Echoes’ minimalist disco-pop masterpiece, “House Of Jealous Lovers,” molds these spectral influences into an instantaneous hip-shaking anthem. Its fascinating video, constructed by animator Shynola (check out Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”), captures the band jamming inside superimposed flyers modeled after old punk show ads, seizing the attention of MTV2.

He recounts, “For lack of a better term, I was seriously into those bands a couple years before we started writing Echoes. We wanted to go a few steps further to find their broader based influences. We used guitars so it came out like Liquid Liquid. It was more of a subliminal or subconscious thing. A band like Public Image Ltd. was drawing from dub music. I liked no wavers DNA and Arto Lindsay’s full on Latin take. So we draw from all those influences. But with Echoes, we really tried to make straight up house music. The vocals to “Olio” sound like The Cure, but we were trying to emulate early Chicago house records with the 909 drum machine and 202 bass machine.”

Then again, techno-derived ecstasy-riddled late ‘80s Madchester hipsters the Happy Mondays also proved to be effectual instigators. Just listen to the drug-addled acid house provocation “Heaven” for solid proof. But what The Rapture may have benefited from mostly was the British rave scene’s uplifting devotional unity. Deciding to give co-writing credit to each member proved advantageous since many bands prematurely break up over publishing rights. This even split gives recently acquired saxophonist Gabe Andruzzi, sparsely utilized on Echoes, equal footing.

“We decided everyone in the band works hard contributing beyond songwriting. Sometimes Luke comes in with melodies or I’ll come in with a bass line or drum beat and we’ll write around that. It’s always different,” Roccoforte admits.

Now that they no longer need to live like destitute out-of-town vagrants and have experienced a modicum of international fame, hopefully The Rapture’s less volatile lifestyle won’t negatively affect future endeavors.

Roccoforte insists, “We’re different people now. Our personalities change. We’re never too comfortable and always push ourselves. I’ve been into ‘80s funk lately, like Sexual Harassment’s stripped down “I Need A Freak.” I’m on a huge Prince kick, too. I just saw him on an awards show with his band and they were great. He’s an amazing musician. And I’ve been feeling Michael Jackson’s classic pop dance music from Off The Wall and Thriller. It’s awe-inspiring.”


FOREWORD: Back in the late ‘90s before emo got all sensitive on your saggy asses, there were a few really good semi-popular post-hardcore bands around that could rattle some bones without crying about the aftermath in song. Promise Ring was one of ‘em. Started in ’95 by Cap’n Jazz member, Davey von Bohlen, as a side project, Milwaukee’s Promise Ring hit on all cylinders for ‘99s Very Emergency, one of the key emotional hardcore recordings of its time. ‘02s wood/water fared less well, so von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier began Maritime with Dismemberment Plan dissenters. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.

Influenced by DC hardcore (Fugazi, Minor Threat, Rites Of Spring) and conveniently lumped in with emo-core bands Jets To Brazil, Burning Airlines, and Dismemberment Plan by critics, Milwaukee’s Promise Ring gained widespread attention with their sophomore set, Nothing Feels Good. Their ascension continues with ‘99s provocative Very Emergency! (produced by former Jawbox leader J. Robbins).

Filled to the brim with swooping harmonies that tug at the heartstrings and cushion-y melodies that add tremendous emotional resonance, Very Emergency! slips gently from soft and vulnerable to loud and abrasive. Depressed post-teens will devour anthemic slacker ballads like “Jersey Shore,” “All Of My Everythings,” and the desolate “Living Around” (which offers the solemn chorus “it’s the end of the world today” and the verse “dropped a bomb on my birthday”).

On the upbeat side are the joyous celebration “Happiness Is All The Rage,” the urgent power pop blast, “Happy Hour,” and the Weezer-derived new wave ditty “Skips A Beat (Over You),” which features Tsunami’s Jenny Toomey on backup harmony. Another fave, the candy-coated kiddie-core come-on, “Arms And Danger,” is a cuddly rocker happily reminiscent of the Pixies or Jules Shear.

I spoke to guitarist/ vocalist Jason Gnewikow prior to the Promise Ring’s vibrant Knitting Factory set.

Is there a vital Milwaukee scene?

JASON: Yeah. The heyday was two years ago. (laughter) Most bands have been around the scene for years. They’re our age or older. There’s Compound Red. They broke up and then became Condition. Milwaukee is smaller and mellower than Chicago and New York City. When we go home, we’re lucky not to get surrounded by industry. On tour, with 500 or 600 fans per night, we see the affects of it. But no one knows us at home. There’s no fanfare. It’s pretty laid-back.

Does That ‘70s Show resemble real life in Wisconsin?

JASON: All those sitcoms like Happy Days and a few t.v. movies are set in Wisconsin. I guess it’s central America, the great median.

How did J. Robbins’ production affect Very Emergency?

JASON: He’s real good and easy to work with. He’s talented both musically and as a producer. Our personalities got along well. He brought out the best in us. It’s a combination of getting better and more prepared in the studio. We demoed songs and sent them to him beforehand. Instead of using big amps, he got us to use one speaker combo amps for parts we wanted to bring up, like percussion.

He seemed to bring up the vocals.

JASON: He worked on vocals for Davey (von Bohlen), getting him to do stretching exercises. I should add that Davey’s a brilliant writer. There’s a lot of artists who have the ‘eye.’ He’s one.

How did the siren title, Very Emergency, come about?

JASON: That came about as a matter of chance. A friend of ours got a phone call from someone who said, “It’s very emergency you call me back,” which was weird. When we picked song titles, we felt it was clever. The record feels ‘very emergency’ with its upbeat quirkiness. The song, “Emergency! Emergency!,” was one of the last songs we did. It was re-structured at the last second. I never thought it would turn out to be so good.

Along with your touring partners, Dismembership Plan, Burning Airlines, and Jets To Brazil, you are reluctant to be classified emo-core. Each band seems to share influences, but there are striking differences. Dismembership Plan seems to take more chances and be more experimental than Burning Airlines and Jets To Brazil, for instance.

JASON: They are our friends, our peer group. From our perspective, we just do whatever we do and let people have their perspective. Some bands are more similar or dissimilar. Your history brings you together more than the sound of your music. On a basic level, most bands do songs they think are worthy of being recorded and throw away what they don’t like. I went to a Francisco Clemente exhibit at the Guggenheim with a photographer friend recently. She was saying we know all these musicians and artists in our scene but it is possible when they are older, people will look back on their music like Warhol and Ginsberg. But those people know each other by chance. The public’s perception is different from those who created it. That’s what makes hero worship – crazy icons.