‘From Queens to Cathedrals’
Words by Bill San Antonio— New York, NY
Fans have already begun to gather in front of Ollie’s Point in Amityville, Long Island as I drive past the bar in search of parking. Doors aren’t set to open for roughly two hours, but they’re here, scanning my car for a possible glimpse of tonight’s headliner. No, I am not Anthony Raneri, lead singer of the Queens-based punk quartet Bayside — sorry to disappoint.
Raneri is home for the night, playing the second-to-last slot on his 10-day solo tour. Tomorrow, Raneri will be in Cambridge, Mass. for one final show before Bayside reconvenes in preparation of May’s Bamboozle festival and the summer’s Vans Warped Tour. In addition, Raneri will play solo sets on a new Warped stage called the Acoustic Basement, meaning two sets a day, every day, for the duration of the tour.
“The complications [of playing Warped] are just physically doing it,” he says. “Once you play enough you get used to being in a field in the middle of nowhere all day. You can’t walk to get food. You can’t walk to get cigarettes. There isn’t always water or a shower available.”
Bayside hasn’t toured since their six-week stint with Saves The Day last fall, the band’s second tour behind 2011’s Killing Time. With the exception of a few sporadic shows, Bayside’s downtime has been extensive, and each member has filled the hours in different ways. Drummer Chris Guglielmo became an apprentice barber. Guitarist Jack O’Shea began offering music lessons. Bassist Nick Ghanbarian launched Born & Bred clothing line, bridging music and art on Raneri’s MadMerch screen-printing venture and Guglielmo’s guerilla marketing skills.
Raneri, however, has remained a troubadour, using his downtime to continue making music. In December, he trekked cross-country to Hurley Studios in Costa Mesa, Calif. to record his debut solo E.P., New Cathedrals—available on June 19 on vinyl through Paper + Plastic Records—alongside Steve Choi (RxBandits), Davey Warsop (Beat Union) and Jarrod Alexander (My Chemical Romance) as his backing band and collaborators.
“I like to work,” Raneri says. “I produce records and don’t have a lot of downtime. I watch a lot of sports on TV. I go to a lot of Yankee games. I’ve been on tour for most of the season so far, but I go almost every day if I’m home and they’re in town.”
“I’ll still do solo stuff even if nobody cares about it—if there’s a guy and an acoustic guitar, there’ll always be somewhere to play.”
Anthony Raneri drives the van.
The kids fixed upon my car likely didn’t see the van pull into the lot just behind Ollie’s Point a few minutes after. While Bayside travels in a tour bus these days, Raneri took a more unassuming approach for the solo tour. He rented a white van in need of a wash and drove it through Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Detroit and Buffalo—just him, a few guitar cases, a suitcase, and the van.
As he leads me through the back of the club, Raneri is asked to run down set times. Everyone has been pushed up a half hour, though Raneri will still go on at 10:05. Raneri tells me that he’ll be at the merch table for most of the night, selling copies of New Cathedrals and his ‘Raneri for President’ t-shirt while posing for pictures and signing autographs. “I’ve been doing these solo tours for awhile, and this is my first one with the record actually out,” he says. “It’s starting to morph from playing these little bars and it’s definitely starting to grow into something more real.”
The production of New Cathedrals, like the tour, was done completely DIY. With the exception of Hurley lending studio space and Choi, Warsop and Alexander providing creative insight, Raneri released the E.P. by himself and with little help. New Cathedrals was released under Gumshoe Records, a label in name only — Raneri funded the entire project, from pressing CDs to mailing pre-order bundles in maintenance of his online store.
The songs on New Cathedrals might represent the singer’s vast musical influences better than any Bayside record. Each track had been sitting in Raneri’s notebook as Bayside’s catalogue expanded, not quite fitting the band’s signature sound of what he describes as “rock influenced, with rock being the predominant sound.”
“I listen to a lot of country music, but we would never put a country song on a Bayside record,” he says. “We might put out a ballad or acoustic song, or songs that are sort of piano-driven. The solo stuff, I let other things be the predominant sound.”
That country influence is heard with the E.P.’s opening track, “Sandra Partial,” which he wrote at a friend’s house in Ohio in 2004. Having spent so much time away from the song allowed him to enter the writing process with a clear perspective on the half-finished material. “It almost felt like doing a cover of my own song, because I had been so detached from it and hadn’t listened to it in so long,” he says. “It felt like I had been handed this really cool verse and chorus that I could do whatever I wanted with.”
When Spindle Records approached Raneri about contributing a song for its Nirvana tribute compilation, he instantly had an idea—a somber piano-driven rendition of “About a Girl,” which the label immediately OK’d. There was one problem: Raneri doesn’t play piano.
In the weeks leading up to the recording, Raneri taught himself enough piano to bring his arrangement of the Nirvana classic to life. “The way I kind of learn new things is to bite off more than I can chew and figure it out,” he says. “I just kind of accept something I don’t know how I’m going to pull off and then figure it out.”
The approach came in handy when Raneri and Ghanbarian approached Idobi Radio with the idea for a weekly indie rock music show. “We were like, ‘Oh shit, they said yes. Now we’ve got to figure out how to actually do it.’ So we had to learn how to record a podcast and go from there.”
The show, Gumshoe Radio, aired Friday nights from November through early March. Raneri and Ghanbarian talked about various issues in the recording industry, from the emergence of Spotify—on which they uploaded playlists of the songs featured on each episode—to how a company like Ticketmaster runs its business.
“We’re living in a time now where fans want to know more about the behind-the-scenes stuff,” Raneri says. “When I was a kid, I didn’t even know what label most of the bands I listened to were on, and now it’s like every kid is an expert on Victory Records’ legal troubles.”
If you go to an Anthony Raneri solo show, you can expect a few things: Raneri will play stripped-down versions of Bayside favorites, albeit without O’Shea’s solos layering each track’s rhythms. Raneri will tackle songs from New Cathedrals. Finally, you’re bound to hear a number of cover songs, ranging from Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” and the Smoking Popes’ “Megan,” which Bayside recorded with Popes singer Josh Caterer for their 2006 acoustic E.P.
“Of all the bands who’ve become friends of mine, I’ve learned the most from [Caterer],” he says. “I had dinner with him four days ago and he’s so filled with music knowledge that it changed the way I perform and approach shows. I don’t think of my set lists the same way anymore.” Raneri doesn’t play “Megan,” at Ollie’s Point, but has a few surprises for the crowd. Early in the set, he performs a rendition of Alkaline Trio’s “Do You Wanna Know?,” which he uploaded to Twitter on a lazy Sunday afternoon just before the tour began.
Prior to his performance of “Killing Time,” Raneri tells the crowd of a paratrooper he met at a show in North Carolina. While talking about the song, the paratrooper makes a proposition. “He said, ‘Dude, I just need to know, ‘Yes or No,’” He says. “I’m thinking we’re talking about dreams and going for it, and happiness, so I’m like, ‘Yes,’ you know? thinking there was something he wanted to do that he was afraid to, so ‘Yes.’”
A few months later, Raneri returned to North Carolina and met the same paratrooper, who told him that their first conversation convinced him to go AWOL from the military. “I said, ‘That’s not exactly what I thought we were talking about. I wasn’t trying to help you commit a federal felony.’” The crowd giggles with each detail, but the story isn’t intended to be altogether humorous. “He’s like, ‘I’m on the run right now, man, but I’m so much happier.’ So I said, ‘Well, I guess that is what that song is about.”
Indeed. “Killing Time,” the moments we face in between the major moments in life, the days and hours we spend in between jobs and relationships, the lazy Sunday afternoons at home and long drives to the boondocks of Long Island to play before barroom crowds who’ll stand in line for two hours on a Saturday afternoon in April to hear you sing.
But what do the major moments hold in store for Anthony Raneri? Where does he want all the time he’s killed to take him, Bayside, the beat-up van and all of his loyal followers?
“I just want to still be playing,” Raneri says. “I want Bayside to still be playing. I’ll still do solo stuff even if nobody cares about it—if there’s a guy and an acoustic guitar, there’ll always be somewhere to play. We’ll be in our forties by then, but we’ll always be playing. We love to do this.”
TheWaster.com | Long Island