Envy On the Coast, the Long Island post-hardcore band that released two killer albums before disbanding in 2010, has returned. I chatted with Ryan Hunter about where the band has been, where they’re going, and what the Ritual EP is all about.
When Envy On the Coast announced their breakup in 2010, it was to a legion of loyal fans. The untimely demise followed just two albums, boasting different sounds. Following the breakup, the band went on to pursue several different projects.
For seven years, Ryan Hunter and Brian Byrne have continued making music together. They haven’t done anything as Envy On the Coast in that time… until last year. Then, they played two Envy On the Coast songs for the encore at a 1st Vows show. The response was immediate and incredible.
Now, the two of them are slated to release their first Envy On the Coast EP since 2010’s Lowcountry. It’s a different landscape in every direction: musically, politically, and personally. I chatted with vocalist Ryan Hunter over the phone to talk about it all.
It’s been seven years since Envy On the Coast released anything new under that moniker. The change in sound is apparent. What’s happened in that time to inspire the difference?
RH: Seven years worth of stuff, I guess. I mean, a lot, though I will say that even when we were releasing records every year or two there was still a pretty big leap in the change or evolution in our sound from record to record. It’s always kind of been like that. It’s just obviously a bigger gap now being that it’s been so long. I think it will happen again once we release another LP. I don’t anticipate us ever putting out the same thing twice. So yeah, I guess we’ve always just sort of trusted there’s a core DNA to what we do, especially when Brian and I get together to do something together. That stays constant.
How was the writing process for Ritual different from previous Envy On the Coast records? Did anything stay the same?
RH: This record is the first that’s just Brian and I, so that was definitely a big difference. It wasn’t really a struggle because we’ve had a core chemistry that’s always made things really easy as far as working together. As far as elements that remained or things that feel sort of constant, I wouldn’t say we thought consciously as much as it’s just something that sort of happened. When it’s the two of us feeding off one another, I think certain things just sort of happen after ten years making music together. That part of it is natural.
The Ritual EP cover art and some of the lyrics — particularly in “Inhaler” — seem to have some political overtones. Has the current political climate in the US affected how you’ve approached this record?
RH: That’s the weird thing about this record is that technically, these songs were written and demoed seven years ago. They were part of a larger batch of material of about 30 songs. They were the first things Brian and I got together and made after Envy On the Coast disbanded and they were supposed to be the first thing we worked on together, like our new project. After three or four months we listened back and couldn’t figure out why we didn’t want to build a project around that. We realized it’s because this would have been the next Envy On the Coast record.
Then we revisited these demos and noticed what you said. It was really eerie, like oh my god, we were feeling these sentiments and getting older and things were affecting our lives in a way. And now all this stuff seven years forward is even more poignant. No longer is it stuff just bubbling below the surface, it’s on the forefront and things that people are fighting for. That we’re fighting for on a daily basis.
Lyrically, we changed some things, brought out some things to sharpen them, and it’s definitely strange that it has that vibe. The album cover is a photograph that Brian’s cousin took and has been sitting on for six or seven years and has been waiting to do something with it. The tonality of the EP was perfect for it.
Where does the title come from?
RH: Brian presented the title with the artwork. I live in California now but we made the record in New York, and I was staying with family. We had a conversation while we were making the EP and talking a lot about falling into old habits. Like, no matter what my life is here in California, when I go back to New York, everything goes to hell as far as my routine or whatever. There’s just something about your environment affecting paths you take in life. Whether you constantly deviate or some kind of magnet pulls you back into something, you just have to follow that. The word ritual came up in that conversation and I don’t know which one of us said it.
When Brian presented the album art, he said, “I don’t know if you’re into it but some of the stuff you said to me stuck with me and there’s something weird about demoing something seven years ago and then coming back to it because we can’t move on until it’s done.” So it just feels like a smaller ritual inside of this bigger thing.
What has the fan response been to your reincarnation, so far?
RH: There have been a handful of people who love it and a handful of people who were like, “this is so different, sounds like solo stuff,” or whatever. And then there’s a faction of people who no matter how weird we go, like “damn, is something still us?” They’re like, “yeah, of course.” There’s something about Brian playing guitar and my voice that’s Envy On the Coast at its core.
The overwhelming majority of it has been extremely supportive and positive. It’s been so positive and I think there is some type of core DNA that is consistent throughout everything regardless of what we do and I think our fans really allow us and want us to go down these different paths. People have said that Lowcountry is one of their favorite records and really couldn’t care about anything that came before that and others wanted nothing to do with it.
I think with this EP, because I put out two EPs and a few singles with a solo project called 1st Vows over the course of the last five to six years, I’ve seen people compare this new song (“Sift”) to that. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t know if people realize that 1st Vows is me making music by myself. It’s the largest body of work that would represent where I’ve gone musically, so if I was to start a new band, there’s gonna be some element of that because it’s me, me making music by myself. So even if it’s me doing fifty-fifty collaborating with someone else, my 50 percent is going to be representative of music I’ve been making for the last seven years.
But the song that we just released that most people have compared it to is certainly not a solo endeavor. Brian’s hands are all over it, maybe more so than mine. I think because we did a video for the one soft song on the album, people are drawing that comparison. “Sift” is our favorite song on the EP, even if it is the soft song.
Why call it a reincarnation?
RH: Pretty early on, Brian and I, in our conversations with one another, there was a brief effort to do a “reunion”. When that wasn’t going to happen, the only way that it was going to be interesting and worthwhile to bring in other people to do these old songs was with the plan in mind that we were gonna keep the book open and keep moving forward. The charm of reunion shows would wear off and we would want to do something else or create new music within the confines of this project and we were excited to do that.
I don’t know why it took seven years. I don’t know why there was never this bug to make new Envy On the Coast music yet, but we just both found ourselves finally in this very similar place in life. Something is driving us internally to want to get together and express things through that mouthpiece. Something feels like we need to make music for this project right now.
What value have you found in bringing back the Envy On the Coast moniker and diving back into that space? How do you feel about it?
RH: Mostly, appreciation. We’ve both found ourselves looking around and being amazed by people following us for this long, especially with such a massive break. People are still caring and driving really far to see us play. It’s overwhelming. There’s an overwhelming sentiment of appreciation and I definitely experienced those shows in a different way than when I was younger because when you’re younger you don’t think about it ever ending. It’s that coupled with what I was just talking about that I’m most excited about.
You can’t force that sort of bug that happens when you know you need to go and make something, that there’s something bubbling and you need to capitalize on that sensation. Whatever that is, it’s so potent right now for both of us. When we made our first EP it was figuring things out. Then with our first full LP it was a struggle to figure out the creative process and working with other people. Before Lowcountry I had that sensation, that “we know how to do this, there’s stuff bubbling, let’s go, let’s do it.”
That’s exactly how we feel looking back on that record. With this EP, we feel that too. It’s a building block for whatever happens in the future.
What does the future hold for Envy On the Coast? Is it taking priority over NK and your solo projects?
RH: Purely from an emotional place, yeah. I have an EP coming out with 1st Vows and Brian is writing on and off for his project. The studio is the place that I really like to be the most. I love playing shows but I like making things. Right now that sensation to make music with Brian has been the strongest in my creative sphere. We’ve just been working together as much as we can.
Lately, that’s been a lot of the film side of things. We’ve gotten really into accompanying our EP with a lot of visual stuff that we really enjoyed making. We didn’t get to do that stuff seven years ago. We didn’t have the technology or the knowledge. In the past seven years, we’ve honed our skills in that realm and we’ve made teasers and episodes to associate with the EP.
What other new stuff are you excited to explore?
RH: Making music as an adult, I guess, and making music with Brian without distractions or without having to — it’s difficult to make music with five people. We had a lot of really good memories but I’m definitely excited and looking forward to us bringing out the best in each other and that being all we really have to worry about is channeling that and getting it down and tracking it. That’s exciting for us, the most exciting, the back and forth between just the two us, finally.
August is the ten-year anniversary of Lucy Gray. Anniversary tours and re-releases have been really popular lately. Are you planning to get in on that at all?
RH: To be honest, we haven’t had much talk about it. The timing is weird in that we did the nostalgia thing this past year. It kinda feels like we did a bunch. We played like a two-and-a-half hour set for a bunch of the shows. We covered all the nostalgia we could without playing new songs. If something came up and the timing felt right and we could get it together, sure. But we really did everything we could to give people what they were missing all these years.
Do you have any promotion lined up for the Ritual EP, like a tour?
RH: We just have an in-store on Long Island at a record store called Looney Tunes. We’ve played there and done in-stores before. We just finished the west coast headlining tour out here, which actually had its first two shows in Brooklyn. I think we’re gonna wait until after the EP comes out and find a way to do something special. One of the contributing factors to us breaking up seven years ago was us burning out and doing things we didn’t want to do. We want to make each time we play a show a special and unique thing.
Envy On the Coast’s Ritual EP drops Friday, June 30. Pre-order the album here.