erin petrie‘s column returns and looks at the home city of her (and most of pop-break’s) former alma mater …
New Brunswick sits on the banks of the Raritan River, situated in Central New Jersey between New York City and Philadelphia.
But despite its location, New Brunswick is a distinctly college town more akin to an Athens, Ga., than its more famous major metro neighbors. It’s where Matt Pinfield, famed host of MTV’s 120 Minutes and native of nearby East Brunswick, spent his early years as a DJ at the Rutgers University radio station WRSU and local club The Melody Bar. It’s where bands, for years, have risen out of house parties and bars alike to national and international prominence.
The New Brunswick scene is a story of two different paths. For many Central Jerseyans, the Hub City is a place to break into the music scene and play clubs, fueled by the student base at Rutgers.
Particularly, the Court Tavern has been a launching pad for bands going back to Carteret’s The Smithereens in the mid-’80s to the ska-punk band Streetlight Manifesto, who rode in on the third wave of ska in the early 2000s.
The Smithereens — “Blood And Roses”
The other half of the New Brunswick music scene is fueled by an underground movement -– literally. Basement shows are a staple of the city and where many bands initially secure a following, like the Bouncing Souls, Thursday, the Gaslight Anthem and Lifetime, who even released a single entitled “Theme Song For A New Brunswick Basement Show”.
New Brunswick tends to churn out hybrid punk bands. The Bouncing Souls, who have maintained a following since the early ’90s, play short, fast three-cord pop-punk songs. Thursday has a slower, somber mix of emo and post-hardcore that flies just under the radar of the mainstream, but pulls in big crowds at places like Warped Tour and Coachella. Lifetime falls somewhere in between the two.
Thursday — “Signals Over The Air”
The Gaslight Anthem pulls influences from fellow New Jerseyan Bruce Springsteen, alt-rockers The Replacements and Motown, creating a soul-infused alternative punk sound. They’ve expanded beyond New Brunswick and gained a lot of traction in the home country of another one of their major influences — Joe Strummer’s England. [Editor’s Note: Gaslight drummer Benny Horowitz worked for years with Pop-Break’s Brent Johnson, Bill Bodkin and Erin Petrie at The Daily Targum, Rutgers’ independent student newspaper].
The Gaslight Anthem — “The ’59 Sound”
Of course, here at Pop-Break, we are more than familiar with the Hub City’s music scene. In fact, several of our writers are (or were) a part of it: Co-founder and Rutgers grad Brent Johnson is the lead singer of New Brunswick pop-rockers The Clydes, staff writer and current Rutgers student Joe Zorzi plays bass for Asbury Park-based Mercer Avenue and senior writer and Rutgers grad Jason Kundrath got his start playing in bands (Nebulous Thoughts and Hero Pattern) when he was a student at RU.