"It's a big journey through life," says 40 Below Summer guitarist Jordan
Plingos of his band's intense debut album, Invitation To The Dance. "It's
a lot of real-life issues, a lot of real-life feelings. Some of the songs
are about feeling miserable, some of them are about being positive and going
out and having a good time."
Like their name, this New Jersey-based band's music is a study in contradictions,
making 40 Below Summer one of the most distinctive bands of the new generation
of heavy rockers. "The name means opposites," says Plingos. "And that's what
we do: we'll take absolutely brutal and heavy and put it in the same song
as pretty and beautiful. We're not a one-dimensional band at all. Our music
says that and our name says that."
The background of 40 Below Summer is as varied and unorthodox as the band
themselves, full of strange but true facts. The core of the group emerged
in 1998, when drummer Carlos Aguilar - a Peruvian native who moved here at
fifteen and began learning drums by beating a pair of chopsticks on a sofa
- was playing in a band called Alien and hooked up with singer Max Illidge.
Illidge was no stranger to show business, appearing on Broadway at the tender
age of twelve, and before that, portraying the little boy in Talking Heads'
legendary "Burning Down The House" video. Plingos: "Max was brought up singing
his entire life
he's a very talented, well-rounded kid."
Illidge and Aguilar liked each other and began jamming, eventually bringing
guitarist Joe D'Amico into the fold. After playing as a four-piece for a
while with a temporary bassist, the temp switched permanently to guitar and
D'Amico called on childhood friend - and occasional bandmate - Plingos to
come in on bass. When the second guitarist left, Plingos switched to his
original instrument, and the search for a bass player began, leading to Hector
Graziani moved to the United States from Puerto Rico eight years ago and
embarked on a musical journey that took him from Boston to Florida to New
York, but the desire to play music had been ingrained in him since childhood:
"I'm the youngest one in my family. My oldest brother, when I was a kid,
would listen to the classics, from Hendrix to the Doors to Led Zeppelin.
The second oldest brother was into Iron Maiden, Kiss, heavier stuff. At the
time, I was playing basketball and putting a lot of time into that, but as
soon as I discovered music, the whole sports thing just started vanishing
and music became bigger and bigger in my life. I remember spending days sitting
in front of the stereo with my brother's records, staring at the covers,
and listening to music all day."
A mutual friend brought Graziani and 40 Below Summer together in October
of 2000, and events followed quickly for the band. Constantly gigging in
New Jersey and occasionally in New York, they had already managed to release
one self-manufactured CD, Sideshow Freaks. The music found its way to No
Name Management, home of heavyweights Slipknot and Fear Factory, and a week
after Graziani completed the band's lineup, they were securing a management
deal. Numerous showcases on both coasts followed, with up to fifteen labels
checking them out, before London/Sire stepped up. Next on the agenda: recording
Invitation To The Dance in L.A. with famed producer Garth Richardson (Rage
Against The Machine, Kittie).
"I think the first thing that we clicked with Garth about was that he was
relaxed," recalls Plingos. "He wasn't like, 'let's go, guys, let's go!' He
was more like, 'get comfortable, get settled in.' His whole thing is bringing
out the best in you, so pressuring you to do something doesn't help. He was
all about us, which was amazing."
"Garth was really cool - no attitude or anything," adds Graziani. "He would
say, 'Just play, don't worry about anything.' Whatever we needed to make
things comfortable, he would make it happen."
Invitation To The Dance offers a dozen tunes that span a broader, bolder
- yet still aggressive - palate of musical ideas than most bands achieve
on their third album, yet alone their first. Opener "We The People" is a
get-up, no-holds-barred metallic anthem: "It's about us, and our friends
and our family and you and everybody around us that is real, that really
shares the same vision," says Plingos. "It's just about taking over, basically
saying don't sit back, don't sit on your ass, don't let people tell you what
to do if you don't want to do it. Do what you wanna do and make it the
"Step Into The Sideshow" and "Smile Electric" follow the same path, Illidge's
in-your-face screams swooping and diving amidst the auditory carnage perpetrated
by D'Amico, Plingos and the amazingly dexterous rhythm section. Yet "Whither
Away" - a song about loss -- is marked by a gentle, haunting melody, while
"Falling Down" daringly takes the band in both directions. "That pretty much
encompasses everything that we do in one song," says Plingos proudly. "If
somebody asks me what this band sounds like, I say 'go listen to 'Falling
Down,' because it has everything. It starts off fast and heavy and brutal,
and then, from the bridge and chorus to the end, it makes you cry. That song
right there covers it all."
Which brings us back to the journey mentioned at the start. "When you start
a band, you have five guys who have their natural talent, but are also bombarded
with a lot of influences and the things that are happening out there," says
Graziani. "But it just takes time to get to know each other and make that
musical connection, and that's what made the band and the sound grow into
what it is now."
And what is that? Merely one of the most dynamic, yet brutal and powerful
heavy music acts to emerge in 2001. Come join the dance - you've been