FOREWORD: I haven’t heard from the Rosenbergs since Mission: You, a fabulous ’01 power pop entrée that created quite an underground buzz at the time. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.


Rosenbergs frontman David Fagin’s self-effacing wit surfaces quickly when I discover he’s busy with another call before we begin our interview.

“Maybe I should call later,” I tell him.

“No. I’m not busy. I’m just a typical loser who likes to hang out and watch porno,” he quips.

Born and raised in suburban Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Fagin and his band of “hard working road dogs” may be the most influential figures on the current underground pop scene. Strangely, that may have more to do with their business acumen than record sales.

Unlike typical artists out for the glory of a major record deal, the Rosenbergs have drafted a new model for the record industry. They’ve signed with maverick guitarist Robert Fripp’s independent Discipline Global Mobile label, where they’ll be guaranteed full ownership of their recordings and a much higher royalty rate in exchange for DGM getting a percentage of concert revenue, merchandising, and internet distribution. As a value-added bonus, the Rosenbergs will give away one free CD of Mission: You with each purchase.

“It won’t hurt us financially one bit,” Fagin confidently mutters. “We’re hoping buyers will give the free one to friends to share their music file.”

Furthermore, Napster is featuring the band on their front web page and is set to sponsor the Rosenbergs upcoming tour.

So what’s all the excitement about?

The Rosenbergs do more with bright, shiny guitar licks and magical harmonies than most power pop charmers. Hopeful teen-driven lyrics rife with melodic appeal penetrate the surface with youthful vigor. But there are just enough dark tones to keep Mission: You sounding ‘East Coast,’ specifically South Jersey/ Philly (like antecedents the Hooters or Smithereens).

The fun-tastic “Sucking On A Plum” and the synth-drenched dynamo “Paper And Plastic” open up the set with a determined immediacy. Bursting out of the speakers with full-on emotional impact, the shimmery “Houseboat” may well be the finest pop song to come out of Jersey since the Smithereens “A Girl Like You.” Its resonating guitars, sparkling harmonies, and spiraling synth clusters crescendo in sheer ecstasy.

On the dark side, melancholic self-doubt mires the otherwise punchy “A Little Lie,” a streamlined rocker aimed at some deceitful ex-lover. Closing Mission: You on a subtle, pensive note, the epic Brit-pop-influenced ballad, “Overboard,” shows off Fagin’s sensitive side.

Could Fagin, guitarist Joe Mahoney, bassist Evan Silverman, and drummer Joe Darone be the next ‘big thing.’ Time will tell.

Despite recent success, Fagin lost his girlfriend and claims he’s “currently homeless, crashing out at my sister’s pad or a friends’ place.”

How does Mission: You differ from the Rosenbergs debut?


DAVID FAGIN: Ameripop started as a collection of demos and had a charm that could never be replaced. It served its purpose and we’re hoping to get it re-released through Rykodisc.

How’d you decide on the unlikely moniker “The Rosenbergs”?


Basically we’re named after my friends grandfather. I was over her house and he was talking about skiing and playing racquetball over the weekend. I was hoping I’d be that cool at eighty years old. So we took his name.

The vibrant “Sucking On A Plum” is a wonderful lead track. Its refreshing spirit sets the tone of the album.


You got it. That’s what we were trying to do. We picked a song that starts off with big guitars, big drums, and big vocals and shows what direction the record would be heading in. That’s what we aimed for.

There’s an adolescent sincerity that infiltrates your best lyrics.


I guess it just comes out. All I know is there’s a child in all of us. Being in the music business and playing in a band makes you an eternal adolescent. I used to write really dark ‘why did you leave me’ ‘girl dumps guy’ lyrics, but in a down kind of way. Some girl who thought one of our records was cool asked ‘Have you ever thought of writing a song about going to get a slice of pizza?’ I said ‘No.’ All my songs then were like six-minute epics. That was a catalyst that took our songs in a more tongue-in-cheek direction. We started writing about going down to the corner store, sucking on a plum…whatever. That made it more fun. It was a weird, strange transaction from those first demos. We were a different band five years ago. The songs were verse-chorus-verse melodic, but were darker and less enlightened. Now we bounce around like monkeys.

Who are some of your early influences?

I was a late bloomer. When I was thirteen years old it was Styx, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Kansas, and Rush. Then I got into Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance. But I never was a metal head or hung out with the burnout’s. I was into Ratt and Dokken by seventeen. I discovered REM in ‘90 when Out Of Time came out. Then I went back to Murmur. That’s when my taste switched to Lindsay Buckingham, Mark Knopfler, and Screaming Trees. I got into Springsteen’s Born To Run in ‘87. A lot of people thought I listened to underground pop by 20/ 20 or the Shoes. But I never got into that until a few years ago. Recently, I started listening to a lot of female stuff, like Jonatha Brooke, Aimee Mann, and Juliana Hatfield. My favorite pop album of all time is the Posies’ Frosting On The Beater. I live for that record.

Do you enjoy local pop bands like the Wrens, Grip Weeds, Thin Lizard Dawn, and the Candy Butchers?


I love Howie from Thin Lizard Dawn, but they broke up. We’ve played with the Grip Weeds, Mike Viola & the Candy Butchers, and Fountains Of Wayne. I was primed for pop when Oasis and Fountains Of Wayne hit big. It took me a long time to write good songs. We searched around for a deal and were wondering why all our friends were getting signed instead. But everything happens for a reason. We saw each of them get dropped and pushed back. Nada Surf and Superdrag had lawsuit after lawsuit for a couple hundred thousand dollars in lawyer fees. The Honeydogs went four years without a record.

The major labels have been fucking off artists for decades. They offer secretaries and office staff health benefits, but not their lifeblood, the artists. Corporate heads are always twenty years removed from what the fuck is ‘street cool.’


Absolutely. We’re not naive enough to think they’ll go away overnight. There will always be the artist that wants to sign on the dotted line for money up-front. They don’t care about a full-time career in music. In this day and age, you should think twice before you sign a crappy contract. With the internet, there’s a little union. They can’t keep bands segregated from one another.

Let’s hope the charade is over for the majors. When those shitty kiddie bands go away they’ll be clueless as to what to sign. That’ll be the deathblow.


Those bands probably had to sign away their entire lives and future earnings to Clive Davis. They’re basically puppets. What we’re doing with DGM and Rykodisc might create an alternative. We still own our music. Our ex-manager wanted to put up twenty grand to start making the record, but we didn’t want him to have a say in what songs we recorded. He’s a great guy, but he was definitely Modern Rock radio hit-oriented. He would have taken this record in a different direction. So he pulled his money out.

We were sitting there with no money or studio to make a record until we found someone on our e-mail list who gave us money to put a deposit down for the studio time. We recorded in Big Blue Meanie in Jersey City. They were so nice. We recorded well over $100,000 worth of time and they only took about half. They said, “we really like your band and the record so forget about the money.” Plus, we had time to make the record we wanted to make and to see what would fly. Without our producer, Dan (Iannuzzelli), it would probably have come out like a clusterfuck. He let us change lyrics, re-arrange choruses. Plus, we were going through ridiculous shit on the road. I had problems with my girlfriend. Our drummer’s father was dying of cancer. Our guitarist had financial problems. Evan had problems at home. Dan kept his wits about him and put it together like a ringmaster.

Do you think there will ever be a Jersey scene like Hoboken had in the early ‘80s?


We like to play outside the New York/ New Jersey area. We’ve found everyone’s jaded. The Crayons and the Setzers – before they broke up – are really good bands. But a lot of people are in it for all the wrong reasons. The best pop scene we’ve seen is in Camdentown, England. We were hanging out with Blur, Supergrass, and Travis. Places like that are few and far between. These days it’s a vicious circle. There’s so many clubs, but 98% of them have shitty sound systems. Even in New York, the owners of some clubs would rather fix up their boat than put $2,000 into a PA system to respect the musicians. We were on the road last year for a long time and only got to meet a few guys who could walk the walk.


FOREWORD: Here’s a great local Jersey crew I’ve been friendly with since ’96. I remember taking Jerry Mac Donnell out to look for a place when I did real estate by day. Unfortunately, the owner thought it was wiser to rent to an old lady instead of a few young kids.

But it sure took the Wrens a long time to get the respect they so rightly deserved ever since they started home recording in the mid-’90s. Their formative ’94 debut, Silver, showed promise, but ‘96s splendid Secaucus, admired by underground plaudits, failed to connect beyond cult status. Happily, ‘03s masterful The Meadowlands reached a wider audience that paid concert dividends. Since each member maintained a regular job when we hooked up to promote The Meadowlands, that’s undoubtedly the reason the release of their fourth LP has been delayed.

This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.

Maintaining integrity, purpose, and a sense of humor while defying the adverse temptation to call it a day becomes the vexing dichotomy many ripened musicians face. Against all odds, durable New Jersey quartet, the Wrens, persevered. Despite getting kicked out of the basement-flooded house they rented (accounting for the domicile title to ‘96s 19-song masterwork Secaucus), fleeing to Fort Lee for five years (sans married father, drummer Jerry Mac Donnell), and receiving lukewarm response by shifty label scouts, the vexed combo managed survival. Moreover, the closely-knit crew hadn’t dropped new material since ‘98s nifty Abbott 1135 EP and thereupon defiantly erased fresh tracks seemingly readied for release at a drunken ‘02 celebration.

“Do you quit your dream or continue to push forward? You don’t have to be a tortured artist to feel neglected. Our active reality is we have real day jobs,” singer-bassist Kevin Whelan surmises as we pound down two-for-one beers at the back patio of teensy Avenue A bar, Boxcars.

Seven years his senior, brother Greg Whelan (guitar-vocals) insists, “In the early ‘90s, it was hard to get a gig. Everyone wanted to hear punk-metal and we played geeky rock. We thought someone would discover us at every show.”

Befriending the band during their Secaucus daze, I feel a part of the Wrens admirable history, having conducted an earlier interview at the dank home studio built inside their former humble abode and later taking Mac Donnell out to look for rental housing prior to their Fort Lee move.

Way back in ’89, the Wrens first unveiled a formative demo and tried to open for new wave leftovers the Fixx, but the gig was up when Randolph club Obsessions cancelled the date due to lackluster ticket sales. Lady luck finally struck when Grass Records’ Camille Sciara got them signed, garnering fair attention for ‘94s commendable debut, Silver. As utterly timeless as better known post-Nevermind underground benchmarks including Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville, PJ Harvey’s Dry, Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand, and Jack Logan’s Bulk, the sprawling 23-song, 68-minute marathon hints at the compositional brilliance and melodic intrigue its impending sequels would expedite. The anxiously fastidious “Napiers” and siren guitar blaster “Darlin’ Darlin’” carry the torch passed on from local suburban ‘80s minimalist pop legends the Feelies.

Highly independent mutually bonded brethren, the Wrens truly exposed genuine bohemian spirit on the fertile Secaucus, a veritable magnum opus that disturbingly slipped below media radar. Distressingly, Grass folded into mega-millionaire Alan Meltzer’s Wind Up Records (responsible for ham-fisted rockers Creed), which stopped promotional support because the band rejected one-sided contract terms.

Guitarist-singer Charles Bissell admits, “After Secaucus, we made Abbott 1135 for Camille’s short-lived Ten 23 label. We were finished with our label and needed money generated so we could tour. So we decided to put out an EP. People latched on to the story songs so we figured out what we needed to do. The EP was like one giant story told five ways with different perspectives and characters.”

Initially slated for longtime advocates Richard and Stephanie Reines’ bustling Drive Thru Records, but wary of MCA’s corporate distribution, the Wrens overdue The Meadowlands finally found refuge at trusty chum Cory Brown’s tiny Absolutely Kosher. Trading the naïve innocence and playful insouciance of Secaucus for the assured candor and structural cohesion of its intricately detailed long-play follow-up, the Wrens once again stepped into public access.

Reliant more on delicately entrancing acoustic gems than fast-paced romps, The Meadowlands’ ethereal soft focus dreamscapes divulge deeper revelations in a compelling manner past endeavors only attempted. Incisively thoughtful lyrics and technically brilliant production replaced the adolescent exasperation and amateur DIY enthusiasm of yore.

“The House That Guilt Built” gushes ‘It’s been so long since you’ve heard from me/ got a wife and kid that I never see,’ an opening salvo which may only specifically ring true for Mac Donnell. But the overstated melancholy of the next couplet, ‘I’m nowhere near what I dreamed I’d be/ can’t believe what life’s done to me,’ toils in the nagging anguish most spurned artists endure.

“Jerry was a busboy at a casino. His wife got pregnant and he decided to step it up. We didn’t see him much during the making of the record. He laid down his tracks, left, and that’s what we used – the same drums from five years ago,” the younger Whelan explains.

“Which is why it took so long to write a record,” his older brother comments. “There’d be five, six versions. Your hands are still tied when you have to use the drums, but you change the melody and chord progression, especially now that it’s an entirely different song. It was a completely backward way to do things. You could lose your perspective after awhile. We try to mix in different songs and have the whole record tie in.”

It’s a trilogy,” Bissell jokes before seizing seriousness. “We changed “Miss You,” which went from a loud cock rock guitar explosion to a demure thing with much better vocals. Then, we did that to all the songs.”

Kevin adds, “It was crazy. We worked on the songs for four years, changed them almost completely, and said ‘fuck it.’ We thought what we’d done was a piece of shit. We’d lost perspective on what we wanted to do. But no one could tell we drifted up our own butts.”

As per The Meadowlands’ titular Garden State swamp roots, Greg infers, “It’s about writing what you know and the shit that goes down in our home state. We give so much credit to Jersey, but we get no respect. (The small town bruised romanticism of) “Thirteen Grand” celebrates Jersey. We talk about Cape May (where the Whelan brothers originated). “She Sends Kisses” (a neo-Classical respite) is about South Jersey. There’s one (the ticking dirge “13 Months In 6 Minutes”) where I’m meeting someone at Newark airport.”

In a similar vein, the jittery fuzz-toned flank, “Per Second Second,” matches perfectly inaudible blurbs to nightmarish Weird New Jersey gloom.

“That song bedeviled me,” Bissell testifies. “At the end, the guys said to make it an instrumental. It was literally a dream I had, top to bottom. Jesus pulled up from his car and I was dead and we gathered other dead people.”

“No. That’s real. This is a dream,” Kevin abruptly teases.

To roundup, Bissell’s bitter, twisted lullaby “Ex-Girl Collection” juxtaposes typical broken-hearted sentiments by fucking over the lass at hand. But fiercer still is the surefire sonic scrambler “Faster Gun,” a zooming stratospheric buildup contrasting, at least in sound, the sedate longing of “Happy” and the plaintive desperation of “Boys, You Won’t.”

Ironically positioned as warm-up act for long-time Omaha buddies Cursive, whose popularity recently surged with ‘03s magnificent The Ugly Organ, the Wrens kept a curious Bowery Ballroom crowd attentive mid-September. Though leaning on the compulsive hard driving numbers biting at the heels of appreciative fans, they varied tempos, fully surrendering to earnestly introspective sedatives when the mood struck. While the rest of the band concentrated on the song at hand with business-like acumen, wily Kevin took the edge off by acting the clown on-stage, jumping from speakers, giddily pilfering overused ‘60s rock maneuvers, and babbling quirky between-song innuendoes.

“Live, when you do the slower songs, you sometimes have to hit someone over the head to wake them up. So we rely on faster ones,” Kevin reckons.

As for future endeavors, he urges, “We don’t wanna make a Don Henley record where we’re boring people to tears,” perhaps referring to “Hole In The World,” the Eagles brooding comeback single. “We’ve moved into our next house and a large cloud has been lifted.”


FOREWORD: Under the alias, East River Pipe, former homeless Jerseyite, F.M. Cornog, makes menial pay selling beautifully textured indie pop albums. In ’96, I got to speak to the shy, reluctant artist when breakthrough album, Mel, came out. Since then, he has slowly continued to release some of the most alluring neo-orchestral pop imaginable. ’99s The Gasoline Age bettered Mel while ’03s Garbageheads On Endless Stun and ’06s What Are You On were nearly as good. A vibrant storyteller who refuses to tour, Cornog is truly an enigmatic character. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Summit, New Jersey, F.M. Cornog spent time homeless in Hoboken until he was apprehensively convinced to release the 4-track tapes he had made. Much like lo-fi indie rocker Jack Logan, Cornog never planned to make his private tape collection available for public consumption. And much like reflective, low-key acoustic solo artist Smog (a.k.a. Bill Callahan), he hides behind a peculiar moniker – East River Pipe. By combining Beatlesque psychedelia, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, and vibrating modern electronics into pastoral guitar pop, East River Pipe is basically Cornog’s one man band.

Cornog maintains, “I tried working with other instrumentalists, but they approached music in a second hand manner. And I couldn’t get anything done. I have no time for lazy musicians. And much like my idols – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, and Lou Reed, I decided to get serious and make beautiful, melodic songs on my own.”

But there were huge hurdles Cornog had to leap over before achieving any credibility or indie pop stature. Cornog reflects, “I was severely depressed and used drugs as an escape to obliterate my own ego. It became a vicious cycle. I had no friends and lived in the Hoboken train station. In the winter of ’86, all I had was a green windbreaker. My father had always told me to deal with the real world or it would kick me in the ass – and at that time, it did.”

But as fate would have it, an undisclosed person gave a 4-track tape of Kornog’s work to Barbara Powers, and it became a crucial stepping stone to his success. Powers, now Kornog’s girlfriend and business partner, started Hell Gate Productions (named after the Astoria, Queens bridge).

In ’91, she released Kornog’s East River Pipe single “Axl or Iggy / Helmet.” After several positive reviews, Kornog had a chance meeting with Bar None’s Tom Prendergast at Hoboken’s Pier Platters. Prendergast convinced him to send his single to Britian’s Sarah Records.

With “Helmet” now the A-side, Melody Maker gave East River Pipe single of the week honors. Kornog was then approached by several major labels, but decided he disliked the ‘high pressure bull shit.’ So he opted for Chicago’s tiny Ajax Records and his career has been on a slow, organic climb ever since.

Kornog declares, “You’ve got to put a stamp on your own music. The whole point of being an artist is to come up with new ideas and form a foundation. You should express your own personal vision. Even a retro song like Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova,” a guilty pleasure, was well constructed. Unlike grunge heads’ heavy bummer music, I’ve always written easy, heartfelt songs apart from any scene. Some of my songs are dark, but the music makes it seem less threatening. I’m aware of what music is currently out there, but some bands don’t know the difference between recycling music and making something original out of existing ideas.”

East River Pipe received a big boost when ’96s Mel found a sizeable indie audience with depressive suburban kids and the cool underground pundits supporting them. Jangled pop tunes such as the infectious “The Club Isn’t Open” and the chimy Robyn Hitchcock-like “Prettiest Little Whore” (a sincere assertion concerning a transvestite lover) cuddle up next to the country-folk “Guilty As Charged” and the cloudy tender-hearted “Beautiful Worn-Out Love” (a song Marshall Crenshaw would die for). And somewhere between Jazz lite, pop balladry, and art rock lies the expansive instrumental “New York Crown.”

“Originally, “New York Crown” had lyrics about a guy sitting in a strip bar staring at a girl he wanted as his queen. That song reminds me of the dream-like New York skyline at night. It’s incredible, scary, and beautiful,” Cornog says. “In fact, I’m attracted to edgy street personalities like the Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy characters. They lived dingy New York City lives.”

How did Cornog decide on the East River Pipe handle?

“One day I was walking by the East River and a sewage pipe had warm, steamy liquid pouring out of it. So I just decided that I am the pipe, society is the sewage, and my contribution is my music – or my crap, if you get my meaning.”