Plugged In: The Urgency
Plugged In is an ongoing feature in Fender News, highlighting Fender artists who we strongly recommend you “plug in” and give a listen.
Written by Chrissy Mauck
|Bassist Kevin Coffrin playing his American Standard five-string
Precision Bass® guitar.
Photo Credit:Alexander Ferzan
There’s nothing like four dudes living in an overpriced one-bedroom loft apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., to create a real sense of urgency. For vocalist Tyler Gurwicz, guitarist Ian Molla, bassist Kevin Coffrin and drummer Guerin Blask, the cramped quarters led to a flurry of creativity in January 2006 and a new band name — the Urgency.
“Moving to the city after growing up in these smaller towns and mountain regions in Vermont was a big change for us,” says Coffrin. “We were totally roughing it and scraping by to pay the rent and there was a real sense of urgency about our lifestyle. It just seemed like the right name for us.”
Adds Molla, “It was intense. You figure out how to make relationships work. You can imagine all of us living in one room together, but it was good because we played a lot of music. Within the first couple of weeks we had written a few songs that we were really excited about. It was absolutely our complete focus at the time.”
It was also a welcome-to-the-club immersion for Gurwicz, who had taken a leave from Wagner College on Staten Island only weeks before to team up with the trio of Ithaca College graduates. His inclusion in the group came about by a chance discussion between his dad and Molla’s dad, who worked together as elementary school teachers in South Burlington, Vt.
“I don’t even think they really talked to each other that much, but they happened to start chatting one day and my dad said, ‘My son is playing in a band out in New York, looking for a singer,’” recalls Molla. “Tyler’s father was like, ‘Oh, my son is a singer and wants to get into a band.’ We figured since it was our parents putting something together that this kid was going to be horrible or wouldn’t be into our type of music. But we ended up checking him out on MySpace and he was a phenomenal singer. We showed up at his school and saw one of his shows and still thought he was amazing live.”
As fate would have it, Gurwicz shared many similar tastes in music with the other guys. Although Blask, Coffrin and Molla all studied jazz at Ithaca, when it came to pursuing music professionally, they leaned towards post-hardcore/progressive rock bands like At the Drive In, the Mars Volta and Glassjaw; same as their new singer.
Those bands were a common thread between all of our music tastes,” says Molla. “They are great bands that are really moving music forward and doing it in a way that a large enough audience can understand the music, yet they are still cutting through some boundaries.”
With classically trained musicians — Coffrin started out on the viola and played in the Vermont Youth Orchestra throughout high school; Blask’s drum work included the classical concert band in grade school and the pit orchestra for high school musicals; Molla started out on the piano before studying jazz guitar in college — the Urgency stretched their musical boundaries more so than the average rock band on their self-titled debut album. In fact, that’s what lured guitarist Ryan Siegel to the band in February 2008.
The Urgency: (clockwise from bottom left corner)
Band hobbies: Kite surfing, skiing, kayaking, flying
Taste for: Vermont maple syrup, Ben & Jerry’s ice
“I’ll go over the top for Mexican food,” says Blask.
Siegel’s pet peeves: “I hate the concept of breakfast
“One of the things that attracted me to the band was that there were parts of the songs that just sounded smarter than any typical rock on the radio,” says Siegel. “There’s definitely a ton of great bands out right now pushing musical boundaries and still considered to be pretty popular, but they’re definitely not on the radio. I’d love to see if we end up having any radio success because I think if so, we’d be one of the fewer bands on radio that has still — I don’t want to say nerdy — but some of those interesting and progressive parts that kids can totally dig, but then musicians can also dig and say, ‘Oh, well that’s smart.’” The sophistication of the Urgency’s debut is also a tribute to renowned record producer David Bendeth, who worked with the band for six months in late 2007 and early 2008 at his House of Loud studio in New Jersey.
“We came in and we were a bit of a wild band with crazy ideas and were all over the place,” recalls Molla. “He knew where we were coming from, and I also think he knew what we wanted to hear and helped us clean up our sound and our playing.”
For instance, throw on the Police-y sounding track “Revolution” and note the phasing back of instruments and how it highlights the vocals of the Urgency’s talented singer, a one-time theater major who has been compared to Sting, Yes’s Jon Anderson from Yes, and Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez.
“When I first heard Tyler I was blown away,” Siegel says. “I never heard a singer like this before. He reminded me of like four or five different singers, all of whom I loved. I think that what he does is the absolute final puzzle piece of this music that we write, and really it’s a perfect relationship. We try to write the coolest music we can write and then he just comes in and sings something fun and crazy, and really strong and bold. It’s amazing. I couldn’t be happier to be in a band with such talent.”
Then there’s the meticulous arrangement of “Fingertips,” featuring call-and-response dual guitar parts, which were actually all played by Molla.
“I was of the belief that I wanted to cover as much ground as I could on one guitar and almost make it seem like two or three parts at the same time,” Molla says. “In the studio we ended up breaking a lot of the things apart so they’d come through clearer.”
In order to recreate that dynamic sound live, the Urgency recruited Siegel, a Long Island native who settled for his first guitar only after his parents denied him his 11th birthday request for a boa constrictor.
“It ended up being the greatest day of my life when I got the guitar instead,” says Siegel.
Along with his gifted guitar playing, Siegel also brought the benefit of his association with 311 drummer Chad Sexton.
“I met Chad through the drummer for Alien Ant Farm and he ended up mixing a record for my old band,” says Siegel. “I actually brought the Urgency to Chad’s attention before I even joined in, and once he knew about them, he was on board. We’ve since played with 311 a couple of times, and we’re very thankful to have friends in high places in that respect.”
Blask, who left behind a baseball career at the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., and transferred to Ithaca to fully concentrate on his drums, molded himself as a drummer after bands like 311.
“311 and Incubus are two of my ultimate, favorite bands as far as what has shaped me as a drummer,” he says. “A lot of the grooves on the record and the beats derive from listening to Incubus and 311 records and admiring those drummers, and so I think it found its way into our record. I try not to copy people and keep it new and original, but the flavor of my influences just comes naturally.”
|Guitarist Ryan Siegel with his ’72 Telecaster®
Siegel’s favorite amp to use with his Tele is a Fender
“It’s a really great, clean, clean sound,” says Siegel.
Photo Credit: Alexander Ferzan
Having the opportunity to tour with 311 also provided the Urgency with inspiration when it comes to handling the ups and downs of the music business.
“You don’t learn everything in a matter of a couple of years,” says Siegel. “That band has been together for like 19 years now. They are just so refined and so tight that it’s inspiring. You see this well-oiled machine every night, and what’s even more inspiring is that their fans are so loyal. No matter where they play, when they play or if they have a record out or not, they’ll sell out any club they play. They have the kind of career that any band should hope for and be so lucky to have.”
Understanding that success doesn’t come overnight is an important reminder for the Urgency. After completing the album with Bendeth, signing with Island/Def Jam, touring in the United States with 311, playing South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and even hitting the U.K. on a couple of tours, things seemed to be moving at a considerable pace that every young band can only hope for. But it took more than a year for the album to reach its April 2009 release, with the band then missing out on chances to tour that summer.
“There’s a little frustration in the way things have gone with our first record,” admits Coffrin. “We signed on with an agent and right away we did get some pretty cool tours, but then it seemed like our opportunities for touring weren’t really improving. It took so long for the album to come out that it already feels old to us, and the fact that we didn’t tour this summer was kind of a bummer. But there’s always a certain amount of development for a band. You need to find your sound and comfort onstage and really hone what you do together as side people. Most bands don’t make it overnight so we aren’t stressing too hard.”
The Urgency has since boosted its support team, too, changing agents and adding additional management. They also began working on new material over the summer.
Inspiration for their sophomore album was easy to come by since the band set up shop at Coffrin’s family home in Burlington, Vt., on the shores of Lake Champlain.
“There’s this big window that looks right out to the lake,” says Siegel. “It’s so peaceful and quiet there. We’d wake up at a reasonable hour, start jamming a little bit and then work on stuff we had to work on, jam a little bit more, take a break and then just keep it going. Any time we took a break, we could just hop in the lake or get in a kayak. It was just the perfect balance of working hard on our craft and then just letting it all go for a little while and clearing our heads on the lake.”
The Urgency is now recording that lake-house-inspired material (a sample of the new material is available here), with plans to soon embark on another U.K. tour. In the meantime, be sure to Plug In and give the Urgency a whirl.