On The Might Of Princes ‘Where You Are…’ 20th anniversary interview & a look back on the classic emo LP
Emo dates back to the 1980s DC hardcore scene and it became a widespread genre by the mid 1990s, but 2001 is the year that emo exploded onto the mainstream and left an impact that's still constantly felt on new music today. It was the year of Full Collapse, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, Bleed American, and other albums that helped bring the genre to an exponentially bigger audience than ever before, and it was also the year of Where You Are And Where You Want To Be by Long Island's On The Might of Princes, an album that played a crucial role in the development of Long Island/tri-state area emo, even if OTMOP split up before they could experience the same level of success as many of their peers and followers.
OTMOP ran in the same Long Island emo/hardcore circles as bands like Taking Back Sunday, Glassjaw, The Movielife, and Brand New, but they stood out from those bands because of a clear Midwest emo influence that came from their late frontman Jason Rosenthal moving to Chicago in the 1990s and absorbing the sounds of bands like Braid and Cap'n Jazz. They also pulled from the throat-shredding screamo of a band like I Hate Myself, as well as lighter indie rock and some acoustic singer/songwriter stuff (as heard on "An Allusion To Italy"). Where You Are's unique fusion of sounds and the timeline of its release put the album at both a literal and figurative crossroads for the genre. It was more directly tied to the sound we now most associate with "1990s emo" than to the pop punk-leaning emo that blew up in the 2000s, but it also marked a clear progression from '90s emo and was a little ahead of its time. Jason's mix of clean singing and harsh screaming became a go-to characteristic of emo by the mid 2000s, but when On The Might Of Princes were recording Where You Are, not many bands were fusing those two things like OTMOP were -- or at least not as effectively. The album's impact was felt almost immediately, and these songs continue to hold up and feel fresh 20 years later.
In honor of the album's anniversary, I caught up with drummer Chris Enriquez (who's also in a zillion other bands, currently including the heavy shoegaze band Spotlights, the hardcore band Total Meltdown, and more) to discuss the influences behind the classic album, the sudden increase in popularity they felt at the album's release show, the explosion of the whole Long Island scene, how they almost got scooped up by Drive-Thru and Victory during the label feeding frenzy (before going with Revelation), the upcoming OTMOP documentary, and much more. Read on for our chat...
At the release show for Where You Are..., you were third on a six-band bill, followed by The Hope Conspiracy, Most Precious Blood, and Walls of Jericho, which is such an interesting thing to think about now that this is like this important record. Can you take us back to that moment before you really had any idea of what the band would become, and what it was like going into this record?
That show, without any exaggeration -- literally, when we were playing that show -- was one of the exact moments that we were becoming privy to the fact that anyone actually liked the band on a whole new level. Even though it was our record release show, something happened and the records hadn't arrived in the mail by the time we played the show, but we played and a lot of people knew the words to our songs, and the album hadn't even officially been released. That was a very profound moment for us because we had not experienced anything like that before. I guess, back then, there was a lot of bootlegging happening in terms of like, you'd burn a disc for your friend and be like "check out my new record," and even if they promised they wouldn't share with anybody, you never knew [laughs]. So somehow, I think our bass player's brother leaked the record, and it got out from one person to another person and it multiplied. So by the time that show happened -- there's a video of it somewhere that I remember watching -- there were a couple hundred people at the show, and we're playing on the floor, that was our thing. Our singer [Jason Rosenthal] was very into the punk rock ethos idea of playing on the floor, so even when we played shows where there were bigger bands playing on a stage, he insisted on playing on the floor. So I just remember being surrounded by at least 30 people that all were singing along, and it made us look really cool too, because like, behind them were a couple hundred people who had maybe never heard of us. And it was really the beginning of realizing that we were bigger than the sum of our parts, and that maybe there was something there that we could chase after.
There are a lot of different types of music on this album. There's a lot of what people now call "Midwest emo," and there's screamo, and there's of course the Long Island hardcore sound. What were some of your influences and what were you guys trying to do musically on this record?
That's a very, very accurate observation. Jason, our frontperson, he -- so all of us are from Long Island; Jason, though, moved around very early in his life. So his exposure to a lot of the Midwest emo stuff and things that were coming out of Chicago was actually due to him relocating to Chicago. He first relocated to Connecticut to live with his mother and his stepdad and eventually made his way to Chicago. I didn't know him at this time, but it was right as he was getting into Braid and Cap'n Jazz. You can kind of tell that he loved those bands -- I wasn't an original member of On The Might of Princes, I was watching them play shows on that first record, and immediately I picked up on that. I felt like there was maybe a little bit of The Promise Ring, like early Promise Ring before they became this really poppy band. He kind of reminded me of that, kind of like if you took The Promise Ring and maybe something like Unwound and kind of mixed it together. So I think that Jason was the reason why you could hear that Midwest emo kind of thing seeping into our sound. Certainly his songwriting and his guitar playing and his vocals had something of that nature. But he was also into metal. When I joined the band, he made a mixtape for me that contained a lot of different types of artists. I think that the point of him doing that for me was to kind inform on me on where he was coming from musically. And on that mixtape... the only band on there that maybe you could kind of refer to as a screamo band -- which I don't think bands back then, including us, really liked calling ourselves, but obviously it makes a lot of sense now when you're thinking about everything from back then -- but the band I Hate Myself is the band I'm referring to. They were great, and Jason liked them a lot. And on other parts of that mixtape he had Opeth, and he also had like Archers of Loaf and Red House Painters and Ida.
Our bass player Tommy [Orza] was really into shoegaze and spacey rock stuff, like Lush, My Bloody Valentine, the Cocteau Twins, and stuff like that; and our guitar player Lou [Fontana], who had a lot of to do with our sound, was really into Cursive, Red House Painters, and Failure. And with me coming into the mix, you can kinda tell from comparing the first record to the second record that we got more aggressive, which I think had a lot to do with me and Jason bonding over hardcore. I was coming from a place where I grew up on a lot of metal, punk, and hardcore music, and when I played with them, I think it was almost like they had to match the volume that I was trying to play. Bad Brains was a thing that Jason and I bonded over, so the first song "The Water vs. the Anchor," which has like a weird dub part in the middle, that was a direct Bad Brains influence. And because of how loud I was playing, I think it pushed Jason to scream more and get more aggressive. I was the only one in the band who had really grown up on Long Island hardcore per se -- I was into bands like V.O.D., Neglect, Silent Majority, and stuff like that. And yeah, the culmination of all of that I think is the result that you hear on that album.
How did you personally go from being a fan of the band to a member?
It's funny because even back then, playing in New York City seemed almost like you were going out of state. It was pre-social media, so it was almost like taboo to even be able to access that kind of thing. So I had heard of On The Might of Princes because they were on a flyer opening up for American Football and The Promise Ring at NYU. And if I'm not mistaken it said -- a lot of times it would show the geographical location of where the band was from in parentheses -- so I think it said "On The Might of Princes from Long Island" or something like that. So my friend and I, who were planning on going to the show, our minds were blown that a band that we had never heard of somehow was getting an opportunity to play with these nationally known bands at the time. So I did some digging, and not only were they on a cool show but they also had a full-length, which was totally bizarre for us. Everyone either had a 7" or a demo, but for a brand new band to have a full-length was like "whoa, who the fuck are these guys?" So I didn't actually make it to the show, but that's how I found out about them, and I met them because I started a band called Runner Up with Ed Reyes, who went on to found Taking Back Sunday. It really didn't sound that different than Taking Back Sunday to be honest with you, 'cause every band he was in... he had just gotten kicked out of The Movielife before we started this band. (And just a little trivia, when I joined Runner Up, we actually met Adam Lazzara for the first time in North Carolina.) So Runner Up played with On The Might of Princes, and it was at that show that I went up to them and started talking to them. I honestly liked their band better than ours, but it didn't dawn on me that I could be in it until I played another show with them. I was in another band called Crush List that played with them, and they exchanged numbers with our lead singer -- I think Jason may have been trying to court her. They ended up becoming friends with her, and at one point she had a conversation with them where they mentioned that they were looking for a drummer, and I just happened to be sitting next to her when she was on the phone. So that's actually how I joined the band.
You've probably been asked this a million times, but if you were a in a band with Ed Reyes, when Taking Back Sunday named their album Where You Want To Be they had to know the OTMOP album. How did you guys react when they came out with this huge record with almost the same title?
I'm not gonna lie, we didn't take it well [laughs]. If it was supposed to be a tribute, it would've just been nice to get a heads up, and at the time it almost felt like we had gotten ripped off. And I don't mean that in a way where I'm trying to start anything, 'cause I'm still friendly with those guys, but I don't know, it's a weird question to answer. We never, like, directly approached them about it or asked, we kind of just complained about it at the time. Maybe we just didn't have the courage to be like "hey what's up with your album title?" And there are also some similarities with the artwork -- again, a lot of bands who played that type of music had those types of themes. But I read an interview where their guitar player Fred [Mascherino], who wasn't in the band when we played shows with them a lot, had alleged that it was something that he came up with in conversation when he was hanging out with Adam and they thought it sounded cool. But it is strange. Taking Back Sunday, when Adam started singing for the band, we took them on their first out of state road trip. They opened up for us in Connecticut, and they opened up for us in Long Island many, many, many times, both the original lineup and the Adam lineup. And the album that we were promoting throughout that entire time was the Where You Are And Where You Want To Be record. But oddly enough it's just never come up, and it's been decades -- I was back stage hanging out with them last year at their anniversary show. I've kind of just let it go at this point.
Kind of on a similar note, at what point did it become clear to you that this whole scene was about to explode?
In the lineage of Long Island hardcore bands getting signed to big labels, the first one was definitely V.O.D., Glassjaw was right before us -- they maybe had us beat by like a year -- and The Movielife was slightly before us, signing to Revelation, and we were kind of next. Right before Brand New and Taking Back Sunday were getting discovered and signed, we were kind of just in the middle of that. Obviously Taking Back Sunday and Brand New were the ones that took off the most, but those were all bands I grew up with and watched play VFW halls. The first time I saw Glassjaw they opened up with a Korn cover, of "Blind," it was that kind of thing, seeing people playing house parties and shit. But I would say Thursday's Full Collapse was the first indication that something was changing, but I still didn't necessarily know or realize how big it was going to become. I can't speak for the other bands, maybe they expected to get big, because Glassjaw had already signed to Roadrunner and sort of proven that there was a path to success in some shape or form -- even though V.O.D. was before them, Glassjaw was closer to us in age and they made it seem a little more possible. But I don't think that any of us realized. We were playing shows where Coheed opened up for us, Brand New opened up for us, Taking Back Sunday, we had even played a show with Fall Out Boy where we had opened up for them, but it was a tiny club and they were not big yet either. The list goes on, I remember playing a show with The All-American Rejects, and I never once thought that these bands would get big. My Chemical Romance was another one, Underoath, I had no clue, and I don't know if they did either.
But yeah, Thursday was the first one for me because they took it to another level beyond Glassjaw, because their video was on MTV, and they were on KROQ. And then very quickly, everybody was getting snatched up. I like to think that Thursday should get the credit for opening that door completely; I think Glassjaw and The Movielife kind of opened the door, and then Thursday busted the door down. And then the floodgates opened. There were labels coming after us very aggressively and very quickly and somehow getting our phone numbers. Jason was at work at Borders and he was getting phone calls at his job from Victory Records and Drive-Thru Records, and I was getting phone calls from Revelation Records. There was a frenzy of labels really hungry to get in on this Long Island, East Coast, tri-state area thing that was happening at the time.
When everything blew up, did you feel like you had somehow just missed being there for it?
I was very, very, very bitter for a very long time. I can't speak for the other guys, but when the scene of bands that we were associated with was getting really big, I was definitely like -- even though when we wrote that record, when we started that band, there were never any discussions even remotely close to making a career out of it or becoming famous or getting big. But the second that I saw that there was an opportunity, and that we were ahead of the curve so to speak -- not saying that we were the first -- but the fact that these bands had been opening up for us and showing any kind of interest in what we were doing, and then we started to feel like they were getting more popular and becoming famous; I would be absolutely lying to you if I said that I didn't feel jealous or bitter about it. I was really trying to push the band in that direction, and ultimately I think, in addition to some personal things that were happening (substance abuse, mental health issues, inter-personal issues between the four of us), I would take the blame that... I had sort of taken the role of manager -- which they definitely let me do without calling me one. I was the one on the phone with record labels, I was the one finding out that maybe this band's recording budget was bigger than ours even though we were going to the same studio, and then fighting for a bigger budget. So, the business person in me turned on very quickly and probably didn't help in terms of where the band ended up going and then ended up breaking up.
So you'd probably be the perfect member to ask if you were the one dealing with label stuff. You mentioned a label feeding frenzy and getting calls from Drive-Thru and Victory -- what ultimately made you decide on signing with Revelation?
It's a very interesting story that I'll try to sum up without getting too long-winded because I could go on and on about it. So, those were some of the more notable labels that were really in front of us, Drive-Thru, Revelation, and Victory. Victory at the time was a label that most of us really associated with aggressive hardcore, things like Earth Crisis, Snapcase, and Strife. Those were all bands that I grew up listening to, but it also was very bizarre for that label to have the bands that it ended up having and becoming best known for, like Bayside and Taking Back Sunday. It was the furthest thing from my mind that this label could potentially be the poster child for that revolution that happened. So even though they were calling Jason at work, we just passed completely. I don't even think we heard what they had to offer or had much of a discussion about it besides thinking it was funny that they called us. That was probably the first reason why we never blew up.
So Revelation was interested, which to me was such a big deal. We all loved Quicksand and some of us were into the youth crew stuff, but in comparison to the other labels and the money that was being offered from... for example Drive-Thru were very up front about what they were willing to do and financially contribute to the band, and it was like night and day, because Drive-Thru were part of MCA Records. We had a phone call with Drive-Thru, we didn't have a lawyer or anything like that, it was just us and my bass player's dad listening in on the call at the time, but we knew it was a big deal, this phone call that we were about to have. It started with an RX Bandits show in NYC, I think it was at Roseland but I could be mistaken. Our friend at the time, Christian McKnight -- who most people know from Live Nation -- called me on my cell phone and said, "Hey I'm with Richard and Stephanie, the owners of Drive-Thru, they're interested in On The Might of Princes." They were on the RX Bandits bus, I was in Long Island, it would've taken me like an hour to get there, and the show was over. But I drove from Long Island to NYC pretty late, I got there around midnight or something -- it was a Sunday evening, I'll never forget. I sat and spoke with them on the bus, they told me that they were very interested in the band, and that they were leaving to go back to Los Angeles the next day. Me being a go-getter, I somehow convinced them that if I could get my band to take off work the next day, we would play a showcase for them. I think their flight was at 2, and I was like "we'll play a showcase at like 10 o'clock in the morning," which at this point is like 10 hours later. I left, called my bandmates, I set up a showcase, I rented out a studio in Midtown, I called all my friends and had them come down -- like 20-25 people showed up. People took off work because they thought this was like our big chance. There was a collective energy of "we're gonna blow up, we're gonna end up on this major label," and before they even got on the plane, they called me and told me they wanted to sign us.
So, about 24-48 hours later, we have a phone call, and they wanted us to re-record Where You Are And Where You Want To Be. They mentioned Mark Trombino, who did The Starting Line and Jimmy Eat World -- he was somebody that we were aware of because he was in Drive Like Jehu, but his production résumé really was like centered on the pop punk/emo stuff. They had tried to tell us in the nicest way that they would give us this huge recording budget, put us in the studio with a producer that can help us maybe make our song structures a little more digestible, catchier choruses -- basically turn us into one of those bands. And they said that the record cover was a little goofy and they wanted to talk about that. I'm not gonna lie, we did verbally agree to do that. I think that we're really lucky that that never happened, 'cause we'd be having a very different conversation right now. But we went on a tour to California that was booked around going to their office to sign the record deal -- we were promised like Warped Tour, and a tour bus, and paying off our credit card debt, all sorts of shit that was really wild to hear at the time. And I have to be careful because I don't want to start anything, but there was a band on the label who we unfortunately at the time had problems with, but which have long been squashed and which we're over at this point. It had been brought to our attention that that band ultimately didn't want us to be on the label with them, so when we got to California -- we were actually being promoted as a Drive-Thru band already on their website, our tour dates were on the site, it was almost as official as it could get without being official -- and the day we were supposed to sign that contract, Richard got on the phone with me and had explained to me that there were some folks behind the scenes from our scene that urged them not to sign us. I did not take that lightly, because I thought we were about to be this enormous band, and I definitely got into a screaming match with him, I think I cursed him off and hung up the phone. And then I had to deliver the news to my bandmates, and we had to rethink the whole situation at that point. And we ended up going with Revelation -- I don't wanna make it sound like we settled, even though it probably seems that way. It ended up being the right move; the band could have turned into something that I might be embarrassed about today.
Last year, you started a crowdfunding campaign for an OTMOP documentary, which has since exceeded its goal. How's that coming along?
It's been a slow start. I'm actually just revisiting it again now, simply because of the challenge of contacting every single person I want in this documentary and some of these people I haven't spoken to in years, some of them decades. I had sent them questions to answer and film themselves, and I finally got all the content that I want. I'm still waiting on a couple of other things like performances on VHS tapes being digitized. But I have a lot of stuff, so I'm kind of like sitting on my own, for the first time, trying to timestamp everything like how long I want this person speaking on this topic, and how long I want this live clip to play for, etc. It's fun but challenging, and definitely a bigger undertaking than I realized. I think that my goal is to get it done by the end of the year, so that we can figure out a release and some kind of movie premiere or event around it in early 2022.
Is it focused mainly on the band overall, or more on Jason?
It's focused on the whole band history. Nicole [Keiper], the original drummer, is in it. Everyone who ever worked with us in the studio is in it. We definitely did our best to get Jason's story told, whether it be through us telling it, or his family -- his mother, stepfather, siblings, and girlfriend Emily are in the documentary. Between the stories, and some videos of him doing interviews back then, we were able to splice that in so it doesn't feel like he's totally missing from the film. We're doing our best to make sure his presence is really felt.
So you've done a few reissues of Where You Are... over the years, including one in 2020 on Dead Broke Rekerds. I know Mike from Dead Broke is so immersed in the Long Island scene, do you and Mike go back?
We've known each other for a while, we weren't like best friends but we've known each other. I met him way before he was in Iron Chic, he's a little younger than me, he was playing in like pop punk bands. He was around mostly in the punk scene, and I specify "punk" because in Long Island there were a lot of divisions that probably don't exist anymore, but the pop punk scene and the hardcore scene and the DIY scene were all very separate in weird ways at that time when we were a band. And the thing with us is we played in every one of those scenes. Mike was definitely more part of the Latterman, DIY punk scene -- the people who ended up in RVIVR and Iron Chic and all that stuff -- and all of my bandmates were very close with the lead singer of Iron Chic, Jason Lubrano, before Iron Chic were even a band. So that's kind of where the history between our bands lie.
You also did those reunion shows a few years ago, you played Saint Vitus, which is obviously a place you personally have played many times in all your various bands. [Vitus co-owners and Chris' Primitive Weapons bandmates] David Castillo and Arty Shepherd obviously come from the Long Island scene too. Did you know each other back in the day as well?
Very much so, David was almost like a little brother to me. I actually booked the first show he ever played, which was kind of a funny full circle thing because now I rely on him to book all of the shows that I end up being stoked to play [laughs]. I was booking shows in VFW halls, bars, clubs, bagel shops, anywhere that would let me do shows. And he had a band that you'd probably call a screamo band now looking back, they were called Aeschylus. I don't remember how I came across them, but I saw David at every show and he was always dancing for every band, no matter who the band was. Somehow we connected and I booked his first show, and throughout the reunions that we had, he and Aeschylus did a reunion opening up for us, and the rest is history in terms of our friendship which is going on like 20 years at this point.
Arty played in a ton of LIHC/NYHC bands in the late '80s/early '90s that inspired what was to come from the next wave of bands. EVERYONE from our scene wanted to be like Arty whether you are talking about On the Might of Princes, Silent Majority (he produced Life of a Spectator), Glassjaw (they quoted one of his songs on Worship and Tribute) or Taking Back Sunday and more. My first LIHC show, he played with Bad Trip so he has just kind of been a role model and when you're a teenager and someone is over 18 or closer to 20 like he was in comparison to me in the '90s, it's a pretty big deal 'cause he had already been signed, toured internationally, etc. But it wasn't until I moved to Brooklyn in the 2000s that we started playing shows together. He was in an alt-rock band called God Fires Man and Tommy from OTMOP and I were in a prog band called Villa Vina. We became friendly but it wasn't until Castillo befriended him at a local bar we frequented called Matchless, where Arty bartended, that we became closer. We had all wanted to return to our hardcore and metal roots and eventually started the band Primitive Weapons together, who I've actually put out more records with than any other band I've ever been in. We're just kinda on hiatus at the moment, but this is also the origin of Saint Vitus because at this same exact time, Arty started Saint Vitus with another bartender, George [Souleidis] from Matchless and then Dave got involved and it was happening when our band was starting and we became closer as a result of all the time spent at the club and playing together.
I should also note that some of the early shows I went to as a teenager took place at a place Arty booked shows at with a collective of other folks in Milhouse and Silent Majority. It was called the PWAC (People With Aids Coalition) and he was a part of that crew that booked everything from Fugazi to Madball to The Promise Ring to Bouncing Souls and Lifetime and I went to all those shows back then.
I think that's pretty much everything I was going to ask, but if there's anything else you'd like to add about Where You Are...
I think one thing I'd like to say is that was definitely the peak of our band on like every level that you could possibly bring up, in terms of songwriting, in terms of Jason being at the top of his game having written most of those songs alone and then showed them to us. Again, I wasn't around for the first record, but having spoken to them about it, that was sort of them getting their bearings, and then by the time we were doing anything post-Where You Are..., like I said there were a lot of things that made the process of being a band much more difficult. So that album, even though I can listen to it and think "I wish I could have done this better," it really does capture the band at its highest peak of creativity and us getting along. And specifically on that recording, we were not playing shows to many people at that point. We were still trying to figure out how to get fans. So I do appreciate that it really captures all of that, and that makes the record that much more special for us.
At what point did you realize that record was really important to people?
I think shortly after it came out, because people were so engaged at our shows and singing all the lyrics from even before the physical copies came out, I knew that we had a special record. But in terms of people caring, every time we did a reunion, people would come out from other states and other countries, and we were selling out these places every time, and people would react more to the Where You Are... material every time. So I think that kind of cemented it for us. But I don't think any of us knew that as the 20th anniversary was approaching, that we could sell over 1,000 copies of something we did that long ago. So I would say in that regard, it's recent news to us that people actually still give a shit.