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Rye Coalition hopes ‘Curses’ bring blessings

Self-proclaimed ‘Hard Luck 5’ had their first label sold out from under them
/ Source: The Associated Press

The band’s nickname is the “Hard Luck 5,” and their new album is titled “Curses.” But the woes that have befallen Jersey City’s esteemed indie hard rock quintet Rye Coalition have only served to make them stronger.

Thanks to three acclaimed albums and heavy touring with like-styled acts such as Shellac, vocalist Ralph Cuseglio, guitarists Jon Gonnelli and Herb Wiley V, drummer Dave Leto and bassist Justin Angelo Morey earned a major distribution shot in 2003 with DreamWorks Records. But DreamWorks was acquired by Universal Music, and “Curses” was cast adrift.

“The typical story is you make a record and then you get dropped, not that the label gets sold and [the album] doesn’t come out,” Cuseglio says, sighing.

He learned of the DreamWorks sale only 10 days before flying to Los Angeles to record the album with Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.

“But we were assured by our A&R guy that the wheels were in motion and things would turn out OK and then he quit!” continues Cuseglio.

The band was passed among Universal Music subsidiary labels before exiting major labeldom empty-handed.

“No one left knew what we were about or why we were signed there in the first place,” Cuseglio says. “But in the process we wrote more songs and made the record we wanted to make, and after trying to play ball we got out of the deal and took our record with us.”

New label, new luckThe Hard Luck 5 (the name derives from Morey’s teen street gang) has since found good fortune back where it started, Gern Blandsten Records, the New Jersey emo-punk underground label released Rye Coalition’s first two albums.

Grohl, who inadvertently supplied the album title “Curses” after missing a basketball shot, gets a lot of the credit.

“He was like us at one point,” says Leto, like his bandmates a big Nirvana fan. “He’s been on van tours on 10 bucks a day, so he knows where we came from.”

Adds Morey: “He helped us a lot with dynamics. He made us look at the songs, not so much to trim the fat but to build on the arrangements — taking what he learned with Nirvana and especially Foo Fighters and showing us the way.”

The songs on “Curses,” the group’s fourth album, are tighter structurally — and they’re less personal, according to lyricist Cuseglio.

“As I’ve grown, I’ve realized I can write about other things than being as miserable as I am at the moment!” he explains, pointing to “Burn the Masters,” an anarchic rocker combining Rolling Stones guitars and Van Halen vocals and inspired by the 2003 New York blackout. But looking at what has transpired in the band’s career since, he says, “it has a different meaning to me now than when I wrote it.”

Then again, “there are a billion bands that would trade places with us,” Cuseglio concedes, and with the DreamWorks nightmare behind them, Rye Coalition is indeed imbued with resolve.

In fact, Morey, who worked at a chocolate factory, and Wiley, who dispatched trucks at a furniture company, have given up their temporary day jobs to work on their music full time. The others, meanwhile, continue to do odd jobs in between touring and recording (Leto is a dog walker, Gonnelli works on reality shows, and Cuseglio drives a cab).

Rye Coalition impressed its new distributor at the recent South by Southwest showcase in Austin.

“Our distributor [Redeye] saw our show and loved it,” reports Leto, whose brother, incidentally, was making a rye bread sandwich in 1993 when five Jersey City high school friends just happened to be looking for a band name.