I’ve known Centennials since their nascent days playing out back at the Rail House in Rahway; different bassist, no drummer (yet), but a whole lot of ideas and ambition. Since then, they’ve released a self-titled demo in 2013, and followed with the establishing Morse Code in 2015. Then things…stopped. But I finally had the chance to find out why in a recent interview with singer Rhonette Smith, guitarist Steve Hoydis, bassist Dennis Reitmar, and drummer Pete Stern.
Centennials have an EP called Fin coming out on Friday May 12th and will be celebrating its release at The Saint in Asbury Park with Lowlight, Fun While You Wait, Jeff Linden & the Black Spot Society, and Casino Sundae.
Centennials took a bit of a break over the summer and fall of last year. Why?
RHONETTE: Well, our lovely guitarist Stephen was going to become a father to lovely baby Finn! We knew that he would need to take some time to adjust with the changes in life that come with that sort of thing. So we knew we were at least going to take a break for a while. We initially thought it would be about a year before we got back into it, but Stephen was just itching to get back in the swing of things.
STEVE: Steve’s and his wife had a baby, and we weren’t really sure how that was gonna affect things, so we got into the studio and recorded everything we had, and gave him some time to spend with his new family in the meantime.
PETE: We had met beforehand to discuss what might be changing in terms of his responsibilities and time, and we just felt it was the right thing to do to give him the space to be a father. Also I’m not sure why Steve answered that in the third person.
DENNIS: Steve was undergoing a rigorous cloning experiment, and couldn’t be distracted until it was completed.
How close were Centennials to being done forever? Be honest, guys.
STEVE: I’m not sure there’s an answer that. We all wanted to keep it going, but we weren’t sure how much time we’d have as individuals. If things worked out differently and the baby was more time consuming than expected, or Steve’s wife were less awesome about him putting time into the band, or if either Rhonette, Pete, or Denny had joined other bands that got super popular, than maybe we’re not doing this interview right now, ya know? I think with any band, any show could be their last and you’ll never know, so you better make sure you support and see them when you have a chance to. Not every band has a farewell show or a reunion tour.
DENNIS: I had joined Death By Fiction during our break. So in case the band did not continue, I still had a project to work on so I can continue to create new and fun music.
PETE: My honest answer is I’m not sure. I think when we went on hiatus there was the feeling that it could be the end, but at the same time we didn’t want it to be. So there was also the hope that at some point in the future we would regroup.
RHONETTE: Hey, bands don’t last forever. It was the choice between trying to find another guitarist to replace Stephen or fill in for shows, taking a break until he had the time to get back into it, or end the project altogether.
You formed in 2013; I remember seeing you guys cobble together an acoustic-type lineup a few times. It was like watching the band come together right in front of me. How far do you feel you’ve come from those early days?
STEVE: Honestly, since the first time Denny came to practice, he made an impact on our songwriting. Just making small suggestions even, and since then I think our sound has really found itself. Since those early days, I think we’ve just gotten tighter and more confident. The best part is meeting new friends, and seeing them show up and sing along.
DENNIS: When I joined the band after (former bassist) Michael (Florio)’s peaceful departure, the band seemed to still be in a very early stage writing-wise. This was an incredible opportunity for me to come in and add a little of my flavor to the catalog. I was already happy with the variety of music that was coming from Centennials, and was excited to help expand on that. I believe since joining, Centennials has grown into a more polished band, but has kept its eclectic-ness.
RHONETTE: We’ve definitely evolved as a group and are closer to finding out exactly where our sound is.
PETE: It’s funny because for a while we did that out of necessity; not having a bass player (after Michael but before Dennis) meant if we wanted to play shows they had to be acoustic. But it did feel like the band came together with those shows because it allowed us to hear the songs from another perspective and make sure that they still held up when we removed the distortion. Especially leading up to the recording of the first EP, it probably helped us figure out which songs to keep and which ones we could maybe stop working on.
Was there a distinct “before/after” kind of feeling once Morse Code came out?
DENNIS: Before: We have a cheap demo, and we are super green. After: We have a professional EP, merch, and are more experienced.
STEPHEN: Certainly not anything like the distinct “before/after” feeling once the kid came out! Hah! I can’t stop making dad jokes and I have a constant urge to go to Home Depot.
PETE: For me there definitely was a feeling like, “oh, we’re official now.” Because it was one thing to play shows but until we had a release out that people could check out on their own, we still felt like this new thing. Once the EP came out, especially seeing it all everywhere you could think to find music on the Internet, it did suddenly feel like this is a thing now.
Describe the feeling of coming home and cracking open that box of albums for the first time? What did you feel you had accomplished?
PETE: Rhonette and I actually went to pick them up from the factory, and I remember that it felt like relief. All the work we put into writing, recording, mix testing, artwork planning, it was all sitting right there.
RHONETTE: It was cool to finally have something tangible to show the work that we had put into this music. We could finally share this with the world.
DENNIS: I was happy to see it come to completion. The amount of time and stress that goes into recording an album is all worth it when you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
STEPHEN: That was a pretty cool feeling, but also a little overwhelming. Like: “Dammmmn, that’s a lot of CDs to sell”. Especially since we financed it ourselves, it was like staring a financial burden right in the face, not unlike having a kid, really. Haha, I’m just joking.
Let’s move to this new record, Fin. It’s been a few years, and there’s been a break in between wherein Dennis and Pete joined other bands (Death by Fiction and Rose Boulevard, respectively), and Rhonette did some recording under her own name. Has the dynamic changed at all? Has the influence from these other projects found its way into Centennials’ new material?
DENNIS: I do my best to keep my music separate. The only thing I find interesting is when I write a new riff, I have to now decide which band it is better fit for. But that is not too hard really since both bands are completely different. There is also a different dynamic in song writing between the two. With Centennials, we start with a blank slate. Someone may have a riff in mind, and we jam on that, and work it out into a song. While DBF was mostly already written before we officially formed the band.
PETE: I feel like joining a second project helped me a lot in terms of how we relate and work together. Before there was definitely the pressure to use every idea, and sometimes I want to try things that wouldn’t necessarily fit with Centennials, or vice versa. So having two projects means I never have to feel that restriction, especially because they’re so different.
RHONETTE: I think our other projects have helped us to evolve individually and that has allowed for us to take what we’ve learned and look at our music from a different perspective. Personally, doing my own thing let me get out my pop tendencies so that Centennials didn’t take the brunt of that haha.
STEVE: The dynamic and influences are the same since we took a break and joined other projects, we’ve just got a few extra schedule conflicts here or there. But all these songs were written before that. The songwriting process certainly hasn’t changed. It still takes us months to write songs and we often scrap a lot of stuff we started working on because we just didn’t know where to go with it, rather than trying to force it into a bad or boring song. They’re all still heavily critiqued and rewritten over and over. It’s a weird process, but we like the results. I’d say the songs on Fin are a little heavier but also still a little softer, and are focused more on dynamic contrast rather than trying to write songs with odd structures or timing, which was something that I think partially drove the songwriting process for Morse Code. The songs on Fin all seem to highlight a sharp and distinct contrast between the soft and loud parts.
You’re holding the release party at The Saint; the same place where you celebrated Morse Code. Does that place hold special significance to you guys?
PETE: I still look back fondly on that night and the picture I took from the stage of everyone we were able to bring out to that show. We brought out way more people than we were asked to and it was really rewarding to see our friends and family come through like that. So when we started to plan this release, it seemed natural to try and duplicate the great time we had two years ago.
STEVE: We loved playing there. It’s the perfect size for us, and we almost sold out the last EP release. We’re hoping to sell out this one. The sound there is always phenomenal, onstage and off, and the lighting is fantastic. Scott Stamper (the owner) has been super cool about letting us do our thing and we’ve got a good relationship there. The crew has always been kind and professional. I feel like I can’t say enough good things. We often get called a “New Brunswick” band because we’ve recently been practicing at Steve’s house, but Pete lives a few minutes from AP, and we love the environment history, and culture of the town.
DENNIS: For me, the Saint is a great venue. It is intimate, but still has quality sound and lighting. It also has a great location as it is not too far from south jersey, and not too far from north jersey. It is kinda like the Goldie Locks location in my opinion. And of course, the staff has never been anything but kind and professional towards us.
RHONETTE: The sound is amazing and the vibes are just great. It’s always a fun time in Asbury Park and the shows are so fun.
Tell me a little bit about why you chose such a diverse set of supporting bands.
STEVE: Well, we have a diverse set of interests and influences. We love all the bands that are on this bill. All these bands and just astoundingly talented, and we’ve known them for a while but rarely get to play with them because we don’t necessarily have the same sound. Lowlight’s a little “country” but still has enough indie rock to crank their distortion up and get loud. Fun While You Wait is a little more catchy and fun, but still has a singer/songwriter quality about them that fits with some of the sad pop elements that we have. Casino Sundae has more of a 90’s throwback kind of sound that’s just pure rock amazingness which dominated the airwaves during the time Pete, Denny, and Steve were growing up, and Jeff Linden and the Black Spot Society was in my CD player for like 4 months straight as one point last year. They’ve got that punk rock emo sound that sits somewhere between Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner with a little Johnny Cash mixed in, and there’s just emotion bleeding through every song like a sieve.
DENNIS: Diversity is key, and it shows in our songs. We can go from a slow ballad, to a heavier sound in no time flat. So it is important for our show to also reflect that with the bands we chose.
PETE: They’re all our friends and bands that we’ve played with along the way, and that was really important to us.
RHONETTE: We wanted to play a show with our friends, but still be able to bring in a wide variety of people. We don’t all pull only from the same pool of fans and friends, which is great when trying to bring a large crowd for this kind of event.
What’s the plan after the release of the record, touring-wise?
RHONETTE: In terms of touring, we’re pretty limited with our busy schedules. But of course we’ll always try to play as many shows as possible.
STEVE: There are no plans to tour, but maybe if there’s an opportunity to do so we may hit the road for a couple days.
DENNIS: Touring isn’t on the radar at the moment. We each have our own things that tie us down, and we don’t really have the luxury of leaving our responsibilities behind while we are away. If we did tour, we would likely keep it pretty close to home.
PETE: What they said.
With a name like Fin, that’s going to lead a lot of people to conclude this might at least be the band’s final recorded offering. Can you guys clarify that at all?
DENNIS: We cannot.
STEVE: Well Finn is Steve’s kids name, which has a dual meaning in that we weren’t sure if it would be the last one or not. We’re still not. But we did know that one part of our lives was over and a new one was starting.
RHONETTE: Like I said, bands don’t last forever. But all we can do is keep doing our thing until the end.
PETE: At this point it doesn’t feel like we’re closer to breaking up than any other band. We titled the EP before we knew what was going to happen, but even though we’re back it still feels like an appropriate title. You never know what’s going to happen. I don’t think this will be our last release, but just in case we wanted to make sure it made a statement and I think we succeeded.
Anything else anyone wants to add?
STEVE: The release is Friday May 12th at The Saint, in Asbury Park New Jersey. Doors are at 7 and all the bands rule, but to be more specific, it’ll be us, Lowlight, Fun While You Wait, Casino Sundae, and Jeff Linden and The Black Spot Society. It’s 18+, 21 to drink. We’ll have the EP available as CD, and digital download formats, both for sale at the show. The digital downloads come with a little handmade-by-Rhonette-herself lyric booklet, and we’re hoping to have some new T-shirts, too. We hope you come out, and we hope you love the new songs.
PETE: Thank you to everyone who comes out to see us and who we’ve played shows with for the past 3+ years now, I can’t wait to release the new EP into the world and I hope everyone loves it!
RHONETTE: RIP Centennials 2013-2017 #blessed
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