When my interview with Joe Michelini was scheduled for 10 a.m., I had to confirm the time. After all, it's not often musicians are awake before noon. They're usually sleeping in, recovering from the previous night, aren't they?
Michelini quickly dispels that myth where River City Extension is concerned. "I work at a liquor store when I'm not on the road," he says by phone from his New Jersey home. "I have to bite the bullet, deal with the hangover and get to work."
Michelini is the front man for the eight-piece gypsy Americana outfit River City Extension — a band that usually only hits the road on weekends, though it's not their preference.
"It's harder to do this way because you can't stay tight," he says. "We have to practice more often when we're off tour. I think I'd rather be out for months at a time to have tour mode and then get into home mode." RCE will spend a couple of weeks on the Warped Tour this summer, but only after they travel down to Tennessee for a gig at Bonnaroo and a stop at Snug Harbor on the way back home.
Michelini says the band is at a crossroads and these upcoming gigs will help to define its future. "We're in the process of re-inventing our live show in the best way we know how," he says. "We're about to start working on another record. I think there's a lot of self-evaluation that's going on in the band. Bonnaroo is such a big checkpoint, we want to make sure we're able to live up to anything that's been written about us and bring something extra and inventive. Anything that was super exciting about your live show is probably on YouTube. Our challenge as a band now is to constantly take what people know as public knowledge and replacing it with something wild and outlandish so that nobody knows what they're going to get when they see you live."
It's not too difficult for the band to create that dynamic when there are so many pieces of the puzzle. While Michelini helps with musical direction, he knows that each of his bandmates also brings his or her own personality to the table and incorporates that the best they can into the music.
"When I started the band, the idea was just to make something different," he says. "I wasn't looking to start something in an art movement kind of way. I just wanted to write songs and do something different with them. Anything that ever challenges music or art or anything in the way of being forward is scary. It doesn't feel right at first or it would be too comfortable and something you'd seen or heard before."
The band members all met up in a "natural" way, Michelini adds, noting they got together at parties or bars or gigs. When they felt the band had the right personalities and instruments in place, they simply "closed the doors" and worked with what they had.
"I would never want someone to be a part of this band if it wasn't right for them," he says. "It would be ridiculous to say that no one will ever leave the band. There are so many talented people in the band, and I only give them a certain window of opportunity to really show their talent and express themselves. This is my expression. I think there's more inside of all of them that they'll one day be called to create in a different way and make a statement for themselves as individuals in the artistic community."
As for the band's next album, due early next year, Michelini is sure it will be different from the first two.
"I'm hoping it will still be a conglomeration of a million different things, but I can't say enough that if there's one thing that people should know, is that I'm going to make a conscious effort to make it not sound like the last record," he says. "If that's not something that anyone is into, I just say don't judge us by the entire catalog, but by whatever part of it you like. I'm trying to be in touch with the way that I change. People change. If there's something that speaks to you, you have to keep on it."