The town of Amherst has a long history of musical culture that never seems to come to a halt. From nearby bars to dingy basements, countless acts from a wide array of genres have started out, practiced hard, split up and even, in some cases, made it. In the tenacious society of the Pioneer Valley, however, community is what really matters to the members of this scene. One such up and coming act in the area is the post-hardcore band Shakusky.
In a long, cluttered basement strewn with effect pedals, stacked amplifiers and egg crate foam pinned to the wall, Shakusky meets for band practice. Vocalist Steve Arcieri sits on a cluttered futon looking pensively at the inaudible acoustic guitar he is plucking, while the rest of the band blares far across the room, as they practice their parts. Guitarist Mark Hillier plays a Fender Stratocaster, while Eli Albanese plays a classic-looking Gibson SG. Lenny Schwartz plays a mean and tight hardcore style of bass playing and Liam Cregan bashes his white drum kit hard and with fine-tuned precision.
As they get ready to run through their set, Arcieri screams “Hello Mark! How are ya!” as a mic check, and his bandmates fill the room with laughs and a cacophony of sound check noise. Loud crunchy noises and reversed guitar licks fill the air along with a piercing bass riff and directionless drum smashes. And then, in chaotic harmony, they all come together and play “Bare Mtn.”
Arcieri stands unflinchingly with his legs straight together, clutching the mic to his mouth with two tight fists as he utters his spoken word style of lyricism. “Bare Mtn.” starts off slowly with riffy and harmonious reversed guitar sounds evolving into a dissonant sounding moment under the chaotic and boundless vocals. Albanese and Hiller stay on separate sides of Arcieri, thrashing around when the track builds up, and grooving when it slows. Schwartz and Cregan, set behind the rest of the bandmates, keep up a tight, hard-hitting rhythm throughout the song.
The same dynamics can be applied to most Shakusky songs on their new seven track album “Lancaster Market” which was released on Sept. 8, and can be purchased for $3 on their Bandcamp page. The LP’s songs tend to have a similar structure. The guitars harmoniously compete with one another for dominance, while the heavy rhythm section anchors the band from disarray. Arcieri’s vocals find the middle ground among all of these variables. The end result of this dichotomy is a well-balanced and symphonic collaboration of musicians.
After the band had released three songs and a demo named “The Demo” on their Bandcamp page, Hillier joined the band in January of this year. “Lancaster Market” is the culmination of everything the group has made since its inception, and has been in the works since the band’s start.
“Usually one of us just brings in a riff,” said Schwartz regarding the songwriting process, “A lot of these things come as a result of longer jams.”
“When Eli and I play we think more technically,” said Hillier, “but we all interact with each other differently.”
Lyrically, most of the tracks on “Lancaster Market” describe “fictional situations I came up with to deal with different things,” said Arcieri who has been writing poetry since middle school. “A lot of the songs are very cathartic for me, being about dark times of my life.”
The band’s tone is a result of long hours of practice, as well as heavily-utilized effect pedals and gear.
Regarding what he relies on the most within Shakusky, Albanese said “My OCD Fulltone,” an overdrive effect pedal, “that’s a lot of my sound. And my amp, because it’s super loud and has a good tone.”
Hillier jokingly said “Probably my tuner,” but Arcieri interjected to say that his favorite of Hillier’s gear is “the green one,” an expressive delay pedal from Line 6 called a DL4.
“We have a lot of different influences,” said bassist Schwartz.
“All of us wanted the band to be a different sound,” said Arcieri, “which kind of created the sound that we have now.”
“I usually say that we’re post-hardcore, and emo and math. And pop ‘n’ rock,” said drummer Cregan with a smile, bringing up the phrase “pop ‘n’ rock” which has become an inside joke within the band.
While they all listen to vastly different styles of music, the band all seems to center around and agree on a post-hardcore and post-rock sound with emo influences.
The band wholly agrees that the best show they played was one of their most recent performances, playing for acquaintances in a friend’s house’s basement.
“People knew the words and were singing them, people I didn’t even recognize,” said Arcieri.
“There were obscene amounts of people,” said Hillier, “Our shows are always a ton of fun.”
The five-piece rock group is made up entirely of students that attend the University of Massachusetts and involvement with music is nothing new to any of them. Hillier was a member of a now defunct band that had its beginnings on the UMass campus named Red Panda, while Albanese’s father went to Berklee for music. That being said, the members of the band are all self-taught and learn from playing with one another, or just by themselves.
“We practice twice a week during the school year,” says Albanese, “sometimes three.”
For the time being, Shakusky will continue to work on songs and play around in the local music scene. From venues to basements and obscene crowds to intimate gigs, this group has made themselves a well-known local name.
Tommy Verdone can be reached at [email protected]