This spring, Scranton alternative rock band University Drive released “Clear,” its ambitious follow-up to the debut album, “On/Off: Reset.” With a set of songs that delve deep into the themes of death and loss, complete with voiceovers guiding the plot, “Clear” represents a step forward in the development of a relatively new group.
University Drive — Ed Cuozzo (vocals/guitar), John Husosky (bass), Steven Martin (drums), Angelo Maruzzelli (guitar/vocals) and Scott Jordan (guitar, vocals) — will play an album-release show on Saturday, May 4 at Stage West in Scranton. Also on the bill are Black Hole Heart, Esta Coda and Rosary Guild.
We recently chatted via email with Cuozzo about the themes on “Clear,” the venues and bands that make up the Northeastern Pa. music community and how University Drive differs from his earlier band, A Social State.
What were your intentions going into the making of “Clear”?
I wanted to make a record that was meant to be listened to as one full piece of work, as opposed to just a collection of 10 or so songs. I also wanted to give us some limitations/challenges in the studio as a way to bring some creativity to the table. Outside of the sonics of the record, I wanted to make an album that properly expressed what grief felt like.
Is there a common theme throughout the album? It seems like death, loss, the afterlife, etc. come up a lot.
Yeah, those are all of the themes of the record. I unexpectedly lost my mother back in January of 2018, and it just completely flipped my reality. It took a while to even be able to write something about losing her, but eventually I started writing these songs, and recording this music as a way to work through everything that happened. My one big hope is that maybe someday “Clear” can help someone going through something similar.
How did you approach this album compared to your debut record?
Well, for “On/Off: Reset,” I recorded everything myself (except for the song “Mescaline”), and I didn’t have a band yet…so I just kind of did whatever I wanted to, just for the fun of it. With “Clear,” it was way different. We were really meticulous at our early rehearsals with getting all of our parts in check, because we wanted to record the bulk of the songs live in the room together. We demoed for months, and actually recorded our own version of six or seven of the songs before we went to properly record them. Once we did though it was a lot of fun. We just documented what we were doing as an actual band. Most of the songs were tracked live, but some were multitracked/layered like you would in a normal recording session. We also made it a point to keep the editing/processing light. I wanted it to be a proper representation of what the band actually sounds like live, and I think we did that.
My one big hope is that maybe someday “Clear” can help someone going through something similar.
How has the band changed since then?
After the four of us (Angelo Maruzzelli, John Husosky, Steve Martin and myself) finished the record I thought it would be helpful to get a fifth member. We ended up getting Scott Jordan from Permanence to join the band on guitar/voice to help us recreate a lot of the new record, and add additional layers to our live show. Outside of that, the band hasn’t changed too much since making the record. We’ve just been rehearsing as much as possible, and having a lot of fun in the process.
There are some voiceovers and effects and whatnot on the album. What was the intention there? Do you use those clips in your live show?
Like I said earlier, I wanted the record to be a pretty accurate depiction of what grief feels like. For me personally, I felt (and still feel) a lot of confusion. When everything happened with my mom I immediately started reaching towards any and all ideologies as a form of comfort. I just wanted to know that her spirit was safe somewhere. I started to really think about my own faith, or lack thereof. I started to research Near Death Experience testimonials, reincarnation, mediums, etc…I went down the rabbit hole of all of that stuff. I would reach towards these things, and then just sort of reject everything. I still kind of do it. That being said, I wanted the record to kind of feel like that in a way. Like every idea you have pertaining to life, God, death, religion and the afterlife all running through your head at the same time. I reached out through social media to see if anyone wanted to answer a few questions about loss/god/life/love, and contribute voice memos of their answers. I was lucky enough to get so many great voice submissions, and I was able to use a piece of every one that was sent. Those voices make the record for me. All of their answers, poems and stories have personally helped me a great deal in learning more about where I stand with faith in my own life.
And as for live, we will be featuring all of the voice tracks in our live show.
Are there any particular albums or artists you were inspired by to make this album?
I was listening to a lot of Copeland, As Cities Burn, Pink Floyd, Brand New, Sunny Day Real Estate and Nada Surf at the time I was writing it. Many of those bands have had voices in certain spots on their songs, or throughout their records here and there, but I never really heard a record where they were featured in almost every song. Or rather, a record that was more based around the voices than the music.
You’ve been playing locally for quite some time. How would you describe the local live music community and venues available to play at?
I love the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre scene. There are so many talented bands and artists around every single corner, it’s crazy. I love the direction things are heading with newer venues like Karl Hall, Stage West and Finnegans, those venues seem to be doing really awesome stuff. Forever in love with seeing bands at The Keys, VSpot, Irish Wolf, Bog. I think we have a lot of great places to see live music right now.
Who are some other bands or artists you like to play with?
Well, I’m going to plug the bands we’re playing with at our release right now haha, but I truly do love Esta Coda, Rosary Guild and Black Hole Heart. Three of my absolute favorite bands in the area. But there are so many great bands. Down To Six, A Fire With Friends, Permanence, The Ordinals, James Barrett, Sweetnest, Eye On Attraction, Alma Mater, this list can end up getting so so so ridiculously long, so I’m just going to say that there are a shit ton of awesome bands in NEPA,
What are some things you are doing to promote the album?
We’ve just been putting all of our efforts into promoting our release show. We did some fun videos with Ionic Development for their Juicebox series, Rich [Howells] from NEPA Scene is always so awesome and helpful, 92.1 is running some promotional ads for the gig. So we’ve been pushing for it to be a big show.
How does this band differ from A Social State, your previous band?
A Social State wasn’t quite as “dark” as University Drive is. We’re a bit more moody, and chaotic sounding for the most part. What was cool about A Social State though, was even though I was always trying to push the music into darker territories…Jon had more pop sensibilities and CJ was into dreamy, delayed guitars and Nick could identify what I was trying to do without much conversation, and then play his ass off. So my songs would end up going through their filter, and the music was so much better because of those three gentlemen. I’m very proud of everything the four of us did together. I hope someday we can revisit that band, even if it’s just for a one-off show or something.
Photo by Shannon Walling