We are living in a time where music is no longer just made up of guitars, drums, and bass. The explosion in popularity of EDM music and other genres rely heavily on electronics and it sometimes makes you miss the classic rock era and the bare bones stylings of bands such as The Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin. Luckily, Jersey City has a huge community of musicians who are rooted in good ol’ rock and roll and Big Wake is leading the charge.
Introduce yourselves, tell me what you do in the band and how long have you guys been together.
JF: My name is Jeff Fernandes, I play drums in Big Wake and I have been in the band for 4 years now. I’m a professional musician, play in a couple other bands with this guy (points to Gerry). I drum for Gallant Entertainment who do the drumlines for the Jets, Giants and Patriots and a whole bunch of other freelance musician work.
GR: I’m Gerry Rosenthal. I started the band in 2009 but the band more or less came together in 2010 when I first moved to JC. I play guitar and do the bulk of the songwriting but we do some collaboration as well. I’ll write a song, bring it to practice and everyone will put their own spin on it. I guess I bring in the basic structure and lyrics and stuff so that’s my role in the band.
How would you guys describe your sound and what are some of your influences?
GR: I’ll take this one… my vision was to kind of write songs that if you broke them down to solo acoustic guitars it would translate to singer/songwriter type of tunes but with the full band. I don’t want to say jam band but I guess jam band is the universally accepted term so like a jam band with non-jam songs if that makes sense. I tell people in a perfect world it’s a mix between Ben Folds, The Allman Brothers, Phish, and Moe. We aim for a heavier southern rock vibe with more of a pop, commercially viable type of tune. We have songs that are 10-11 minutes and we have songs that are 4-5 minutes.
Whatever feels right.
GR: Exactly, the idea was not to be like, “Hey I have two chords lets jam on them for 20 minutes and put some words that may or may not mean anything.” I really try to structure these songs the way you would approach a pop tune and then Jeff goes, “Hey let’s try this beat, let’s try this part,” you know, we kind of collaborate that way with the arrangement.
Sounds good to me I’ve definitely dug what I’ve listened to so far. Do you guys have any plans for the future?
GR: Jeff is taking an extended…is it Off-Broadway? What’s the term?
JF: It’s in Manhattan, right of 54th street, right in the theater district at The Ars Theater.
GR: So it’s Off-Broadway.
JF: I guess you can call it Off-Broadway. I mean, I’m working Off-Broadway hours and making Off-Broadway money, haha.
GR: So he’s doing an Off-Broadway gig, which runs for seven months so he’s really busy with that. We’re taking our time, putting our ducks in a row and then we’ll be releasing our second record.
JF: Ideally that was the plan. Not play too many shows until the spring because we want to release the record around then.
Is it recorded already?
JF: Yeah it’s recorded we’re just mixing it right now.
Where’d you guys record it?
GR: We went to SST in Weehawken, which is this amazing studio run by a good friend of ours [that] we know from the New Brunswick music scene. We’ve known him for years so we did all the tracking there. Technically it’s SST Rentals, that’s the name of the company. Their bread and butter is actually renting gear but the studio is actually called It is What It is. If you go to sstrentals.com it’s all listed. I didn’t even realize it until halfway through the recording process, haha. Essentially the idea was to not play a lot leading up to the release so when we do release it we can have a big party and hopefully play some more shows to support it and do some touring. We’ve got new tunes that we’ve written that aren’t on the record as well. I’m always writing, there are always new tunes. I’ve got plenty of material so hopefully, it’s a good year for us.
Right on, where do you guys live and tell me what you like living around here?
JF: I actually live in Newark right now in the Ironbound.
GR: But he actually moved with my wife and me when we first moved here. The three of us lived in a house where we still live on South Street in The Heights. Are you familiar with The Heights at all?
Yeah, I’m somewhat familiar.
GR: You ever been to The Fox and Crow?
Yeah, love that place.
GR: They’re doing a lot of great live music there on weekends now. It’s definitely what the neighborhood needs and they’re getting some really good talent from Brooklyn, The City, and Jersey City. They’re really trying to make it legit, they’re not just trying to book any yokel who walks in with a demo.
JF: They do a lot of jazz stuff over there.
GR: Yeah, they do a lot of jazz stuff and they have Adam Melchor who plays on Sunday. Man, it’s not jazz but just a solo acoustic singer, he’s great man. He was a contestant on The Voice and he got pretty far apparently and he does a lot of cool shit that you really don’t hear people do on acoustic guitar. One of the things I love about Jersey City and that neighborhood, in particular, is the amount of musicians and artist’s man just in my neighborhood alone! I have a great core little group of musicians that live in The Heights, I don’t know if you know Sylvana Joyce and The Moment they’re like a gypsy rock band, they’re great and they live two blocks over.
I have a little side trio-acoustic, upright (bass) and violin I just call the Gerry Rosenthal Trio or whatever and both those guys live in my neighborhood now. Do you know Walter Parks? He was Richie Havens guitar player. Do you know Richie havens the folk singer? Well, he died, he might have been 80 at the time but his claim to fame was opening Woodstock. He was the first performer at Woodstock and because no one could get in he played for like three hours. His long time guitar player also lives in The Heights his name is Walter Parks and so he’s got a bunch of connections but apparently him and his wife are booking at The Fox and Crow so they kind of have a pedigree happening.
So yeah, a lot of great players, a lot of great artists especially down in the downtown area, actually do you know this guy? (shows t-shirt) Bob Piersanti? I bought this a flea market the 6th Borough Market I’ve actually been meaning to have him do a t-shirt for Big Wake but this guy is phenomenal. Have you ever been to Two Boots on Newark?
Haha yes, many late nights/early mornings.
GR: You know the big triptych?
Oh, he did that?
GR: Yeah, he did that. You can see his shit everywhere. He’s a really cool, local guy who has been here for years and you see his stuff in Hoboken all the time. He’s just a great, great artist. There’s just a great community of musicians and artists all over the city. I go to this thing once a month called The Spaghetti Sessions run by local artist/musician Frank Ippolito at the Wells Fargo Lofts on Pavonia in Hamilton Park. It’s a gorgeous three-story building where he does these monthly songwriting sessions where, whoever really, just comes in plays acoustics, everyone plays a song and you get feedback and his wife cooks us a spaghetti dinner it’s badass.
That sounds fucking awesome.
GR: It’s this Monday you’re more than welcome. People come and don’t even play they just hang out and watch it’s great. I’ve met a lot of great people through that but particularly The Heights man I think a lot of people are moving up there because it’s cheaper; keeping my fingers crossed but so far it’s been cheaper, I mean it’s the new up and coming spot.
I feel like Journal Square and The Heights are both coming up really fast especially after those new towers go up in Journal Square plaza. I’ll be lucky for my rent to stay what it is.
GR: I mean, we’ve been living in the same place but our landlord, I don’t know man maybe he’s just benevolent, probably not or maybe he just doesn’t realize he can raise the rent I don’t know man, haha. We’re not paying a lot, which is great, and the other advantage of living in The Heights is living so close to Hoboken, which also has a great music scene. Hoboken and JC overlap a lot but there are a lot of great bands and musicians in Hoboken that I’ve met and we probably wouldn’t play there as often if I lived down on Grove Street. We’d probably focus more on that just living right by that elevator have you ever been to Northern Soul?
Yeah, I know that place solid bar, kind of off the beaten path over there.
GR: That was the very first place we played when we moved here, they were the first place I reached out to. We started playing there fall 2010 but from 2011-2014 we played there once a month and at one point in 2014 he just gave us the last Thursday of every month. That was our residency slot for a whole year, we’ve played close to 40 shows there so, you know, we cultivated a great scene there met a lot of great people I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Hoboken Last Waltz, you know the movie The Last Waltz? The Band’s concert footage (starts singing….take a load off Annie), free cripple creek, all those songs? Well they played their last concert ever in 1976 and they filmed it, Martin Scorsese directed it, it’s awesome.
They do like a re-creation of it?
GR: For the past two years.
Is it an annual thing?
GR: Hopefully, haha.
JF: Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken introduced the show and like halfway through the show she came up on stage and was like “We should do this every year!” haha.
GR: So we were the core; me, Jeff and our bass player who put it all together, Jamie DeJesus and this guy Bill Tortoriello he was the keyboard player so it was the four of us who were The Band and it was actually 3/4ths of the Big Wake. We just had people coming up and playing, you know Liam Brown? Liam Brown and the Pounds do you know them? He lives downtown he was Van Morrison, Christina Alessi came and sang (Eric) Clapton’s song, Rob Nicholas came up and helped us out. A lot of these are Hoboken people too so I like where I live specifically. You got downtown, you got Hoboken, it’s cheaper, it’s easy to get around and there are tons of musicians. I actually met a lot of them by hosting this open mic I do at Finnegans Pub in Hoboken you ever been there?
Is that on willow?
GR: Yeah it’s on 8th and Willow.
Speaking of favorite hangout spots, what are your guys’ favorite places to go out, and what are some of your favorite spots to play in JC?
JF: I could eat at Taqueria for every meal, every day of the week.
GR: I second that.
JF: I really love the vibe of the Grove Street area, it’s like Hoboken but without all the pretentiousness and…
All the bro-iness? Haha.
JF: Haha, yes all the bro-iness. It’s great just anywhere downtown is cool I like The Keyhole a lot.
GR: Yeah, The Keyhole is pretty dope.
JF: It’s a great place to finish the night off.
GR: Or start the night. We got friendly with Ray (bartender/owner of The Keyhole) he’s a really cool guy.
JF: Ray has been doing a lot of acoustic stuff at Porta and once the weather gets nice when they get permits they’re going to start having bands on the roof.
GR: I played there new years day and found out they are going to do that it’s all set for as soon as it gets warmer. We went to South House on Thursday the game room was packed and they’re starting to have bands on weekends too they’re trying to book some legit stuff I know they’re an Austin-based company they have a restaurant down there more of like a blues/country type vibe.
I remember the last time I went there they were just playing classic rock and all sorts of good stuff
GR: you saw a band play there?
Not even, they were just jamming Zeppelin over the speakers for the night crowd and I was like alright, I like this vibe not like having techno beats blaring in my ear and all that nonsense.
GR: Haha, exactly, but yeah I like Taqueria, Porta is doing some good things we’ve played the one in Asbury before I really like Park and 6th you can always find us at The Fox and Crow they do a movie night there every other Monday in the back room and their burgers are really good. It’s all they do but they do it so well.
Awesome, well thank you guys for taking the time to bullshit with me for a bit and good luck with everything.