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The Key Presents: American Trappist

American Trappist | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

It was always about coming home. For Joe Michelini, American Trappist is the natural extension of the scenic route into the self.

When we travelled to Asbury Park together last month, the native New Jersey son was clearly in his element, pointing out landmarks to the both personal and professional. As we’re cleaning up after filming in Asbury’s historic Convention Center Hall, Joe looks wildly around and points up into the stands. “That was my seat. I saw my first concert in this room.”

From The Boss to Trappe, the Convention Hall has played home to countless musicians down through the years. And even as the town that Joe fell in love with as a child has begun to change tangibly and more immaterially, it still remains a sort of sanctuary for the road-worn Michelini. River City Extension died here. American Trappist was born here. The road ends, begins, goes on, comes back. That’s what getting even means.

This is The Key Presents: American Trappist.
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The resilience of River City Extension: how the Jersey folk rock band didn’t let change keep them from ‘Deliverance’

River City Extension | Photo by Sean O’Kane Photography
River City Extension | Photo by Sean O’Kane Photography

Fans know River City Extension as a boisterously loud and energetic folk rock group that has toured with up to eight people at a time. Despite the pop sensibilities many folk bands have adopted, this New Jersey crew remained tough at the core, only softening its edge with flourishes of strings and harmonies. This balance helped the band gain equal appeal from the Bonnaroo audience as it did from the one you would find at Warped Tour.

Fronted by guitarist and vocalist Joe Michelini, River City Extension released its somewhat dark, somewhat quirky and introspective sophomore album, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger, in 2012 to measurable acclaim. It was the follow-up to the band 2010debut, The Unmistakable Man.

But a lot has changed since those days. Members have came and left, and now the band has slimmed down to just three core members who all reside in their hometown of Toms River. Losing so many musicians brought Michelini to a crossroads, where he and the remaining members made the hard decision to continue on, even though they had no idea where they were headed.

“We sat down and we were like, ‘Ok, nobody knows who our band is, really,’” Michelini says modestly during a recent phone interview. “So, we can make any kind of music we want now. We decided to just work with the people that were willing to be in the band and did want to make music for the rest of their lives – people who had already jumped off the cliff and weren’t looking back, like us.”

Michelini, guitarist John Muccino and keyboard player Patrick O’Brien will showcase the band’s new direction when River City Extension plays Boot & Saddle at 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 28th with openers Wild Rompit and Cranston Dean. Attendees will hear songs from the first two RCE records, as well as their first ever cover song and new tracks off the forthcoming album Deliverance, which the band will sequester itself in a house in the Poconos for 18 days in late April to start recording.

After the crazy, scary journey he’s been on with River City Extension since forming the group in 2007, Michelini says he’s excited to bring the new line-up to Philly, the city he “grew up going to.”

“Philly is the only city that I want to go to around here,” he says. “I’ve always loved it there. We had our first ever album release show in Philly. We’re so excited to play, and we have so many friends there. If the band ever leaves Toms River, it will only ever go to Philadelphia. There’s only one road between Toms River and Philly, and that warms my heart a little bit.”

Guitarist Muccino even had the “wild idea” to make an animated video to promote the show. He wrote the script, did the voiceover, then passed that along to Philly-based animator Joe Shefski to bring the illustrations to life. The video is just one of the many examples of the DIY ethics the band employs, sticking to them despite how hard it is to keep a career in the music industry or the arts in general.

“Everyone just seems to be going on and on, especially since South by Southwest, about how it’s impossible and now it’s all run by brands, etcetera, etcetera,” Michelini says of the industry. “I guess I just have to not be too worried about it. The industry will change as it will, but I want to make music. I know that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Despite River City Extension’s history, Michelini said the songs he’s written with the new line-up over the past year and a half have been some of the most important to him. Continue reading →