By Tessa Raebeck
Despite the hype surrounding Montauk as an ever-growing tourist/hipster destination and the tendency of audiences and critics alike to judge a band by its members’ hair length rather than its sound, The Montauk Project remains dedicated to one thing first and foremost: making good music.
Started as a jam band by three friends, with a few local gigs and a Facebook page, The Montauk Project has grown steadily in the three years since; this month, the homegrown band is purchasing its first tour van, releasing its first full-length album and performing at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, one of the world’s largest music festivals.
The group formed in early 2011 when longtime friends Jasper Conroy, Matty Liot and Mark Schiavoni started jamming at Mr. Conroy’s house, a bungalow overflowing with instruments, surfboards and local vagabonds just a few blocks from Ditch Plains beach in Montauk. Chris Wood joined shortly thereafter and, when Mr. Liot left the group in 2012, The Montauk Project solidified its current line-up: Mr. Wood on bass, Mr. Conroy on drums, Mr. Schiavoni on vocals and Jack Marshall on electric guitar.
The band is decidedly homegrown. As they drive to Mr. Conroy’s house to practice, the band members can see the Montauk radar tower, where the conspiracy theorists say the government conducted secret time-travel experiments as part of the “Montauk Project.” Mr. Schiavoni, of Sag Harbor, and Mr. Conroy have been playing music together since high school. Mr. Marshall is the grandson of John Marshall, the namesake of East Hampton’s elementary school and “a local icon,” as Mr. Schiavoni puts it. Mr. Wood grew up playing in Montauk on his father’s fishing boat, the Sylvia S, which was docked nearby when the band performed at Swallow East last Friday.
After Mr. Marshall, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, joined last year, The Montauk Project continued its evolution from a jam band to a heavier, more cohesive sound, although its sound remains in constant development.
“We still jump around a lot with our sound,” Mr. Marshall said before the show Friday. “We definitely kind of have more of an idea of what we want to do, but at the same time, we’re still kind of venturing.”
“Still developing,” adds Mr. Schiavoni, as Mr. Marshall says a song they recently wrote surprised the band with its natural departure from their other music. Having yet to decide on a name, the group simply calls the song, which they premiered on Friday, “New Jam.”
The Montauk Project will release its first full-length album, “Belly of the Beast,” on March 25. Unable to pinpoint a specific genre, the band created its own term for The Montauk Project sound: “beach grunge.”
“We have sort of this ’90s nostalgia thing, but it’s not so depressing. We don’t do heroin, you know, it’s not like we’re Nirvana,” explained Mr. Schiavoni. “So, the beach, I think, adds a little light. We’re not grunge ’cause we really aren’t grunge—Jack [Marshall] showered today. He smells like shampoo, he smells great right now.”
“Very pleasant,” added Mr. Wood.
Although The Montauk Project doesn’t clearly fit into a specific genre, “our sound from the beginning to the end of a set is pretty collected, it’s solid, there’s consistency,” Mr. Schiavoni said.
“It’s boring,” the front man said of albums that have a song followed by another just like it, “and I think in a generation where everyone has what I call IPod ADD—where you have to listen to shuffle, people can’t listen to an album—I think it’s very important to have diversity in your album and in your set.”
“I think when you listen to the majority of legendary rock bands that you think about, like Led Zeppelin or even more recently, the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, they all have that kind of thing,” added Mr. Marshall. “If you listen to different albums from any of those guys, they jump around—but they can get away with it because when you listen to any of their songs, you don’t have to question, is that this band? You know.”
The Montauk Project was invited to perform at SXSW—the largest music festival of its kind in the world—on March 12 and was able to raise enough money at the concert Friday to help the guys purchase their first tour van, which will take them to Austin.
“Everything is a new experience,” Mr. Schiavoni said. “In a way, out here, it’s definitely more comfortable. So when we go to an unfamiliar place, you never know who’s listening, so you kind of have to stay on your feet. It can be a little more unnerving. But then again, you never know who’s listening in Montauk…. So it almost doesn’t matter, you have to play on your feet wherever you are.”
“We’re also going to the biggest music festival in the world, so it’s every single major player in every music department is there, so you can get more exposure,” added Mr. Conroy.
From answering questions to crafting their songs, the group works as a collective. The creative process usually begins with an idea from one member that is then filled out by the rest in collaboration. “The Beast,” the title track to the new album, begins with the lyrics, “Fortune tells if a man is well, but the rage in his eyes shows his other self. But keep it clean, your destiny, as you go out to sea to chase the beast.”
“We have a pretty nice bond with each other where we can all kind of feel out, all right, you’re doing this, and then we all kind of seem—after a couple tries—to get something right away. It’s kind of cool to me, to have a good connection with everybody and so you [can] jump on something.”
“Yeah,” agreed Mr. Wood. “It’s like an unspoken connection. You just kind of start grooving out of nowhere and it just works.”