Disaster and What Comes After

Photo by Brian Appio “If something bad can happen to us, it does,”Rye Coalition's lead singer Ralph Cuseglio says, adjusting his orange baseball cap, marked with the letters R.C.—his band's initials and his own, too. Maybe that's a New Jersey thing. On the train here, a girl (“Denise”) was wearing a big-ass name plate (the kind we used to call “bullet-protectors” in high school), and drummer Dave Leto's wedding band is locked in with a big gold ring that reads “David.” Jersey City kids want you to know who they are. And hey, you got a problem with that?

Right now we're sitting in the back yard of Uncle Joe's, Rye's favorite hometown hangout—and semiregular venue. It's a ramshackle dive bar in the industrial part of Jersey City that used to be a brothel.

“But that was just in the upstairs—way back, like, five or six years ago,” Leto says between sips of raspberry Stoli and seltzer—his drink of choice. “Now it's an apartment with six bedrooms that are just big enough for beds. Justin [Morey], our bass player, used to live up there. It was hard to go over without thinking about dirty guys doing it.”

Morey has since moved, but when they look back to the beginning of their bad-luck streak—a streak that has colored their career and that they superstitiously link to the crumbling of their label DreamWorks—he's the one they tend to blame. Cuseglio and the rest of Rye Coalition have been playing together for 10 years (and are only in their mid- to late-20s), but thanks to this curse, they've barely got anything to show for it.

Lately, though, things have been looking up. They recently toured with Queens of the Stone Age and got Dave Grohl to produce a record for them—which helped tighten their sometimes-haphazard tunes into efficient rock machinery. Onstage, their sprawling rock rants have been replaced by high-octane, three-minute songs. No matter how many people are watching, they play for an entire stadium. The band has AC/DC energy—guitarist Jon Gonnelli literally kicks and screams through the set—and Cuseglio has enough Robert Plant swagger to thrill people all the way up to the nosebleed section.

The new record apparently sounds awesome. We haven't heard it yet. DreamWorks “kind of” folded, and Interscope “sort of” took over the project, and though it was supposed to come out already, it's now pushed back until January. Yet the band doesn't seem nearly as confident about that as their press release would have you believe.

“It started with something Justin said back in 1994. He grabbed the mic at a show and said something about being the Hard Luck Five,” Cuseglio shakes his head, regretfully—it's a jinx they've yet to undo. “At that point, we couldn't see the longevity of the band.”

“Some of us couldn't even drive,” says Leto. “But I think we've been the Hard Luck Five ever since.”

There was that time they almost broke into the top 30 of the CMJ charts—and then the computers malfunctioned so the issue couldn't come out that week. By the time the next one came out, they were barely in the top 200. Then there was that Mission of Burma show they almost played—except they couldn't because they had just booked a tour on the other side of the country. The second offer from Mission of Burma conflicted with their recent Grohl recording sessions. Now their record isn't out, and they don't expect to get a third chance. And there was that other time back in '96 or so, when Steve Albini agreed to record Lipstick Game for them—but on the days they were supposed to do it, he got offered a bunch of money to do Bush's second album and he had to turn Rye down. And though Albini did end up recording their next release, On Top, their label Tiger Style couldn't give Rye enough money to cover the costs.

“We almost had to get a loan from a loan shark,” Cuseglio says. “What bank's gonna be like, 'Here's 10 grand—go make a record'?”

But what band's gonna be like, “Sure, I'll risk getting my kneecaps broken to record with Steve Albini”? I wasn't sure if Rye was really that tough (or that crazy), so I called Charles Maggio, the man behind their first label, Gern Blandsten.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “I heard that a friend of a friend of a friend in Jersey City—of course—had indeed secured those funds. Did they not go through with it? If they didn't, I think they came really close.”

Back by the bar at Uncle Joe's, some construction workers are gathered around the TV, watching a news broadcast of a bridge that Hurricane Ivan tore in two. They say they can tell from the helicopter view that somebody down in Escambia Bay used the wrong kind of concrete on that piece of work, and they raise their pints as they offer tips on how they'd rebuild it.

“That commentary was the best thing I've heard in a really long time,” Cuseglio says with real respect once we get out front. The sun is going down over First Street, and he smiles, taking it all in. There's a comfort in knowing that even the disaster can be overcome—if you can figure out what went wrong and start rebuilding from the bedrock. Here in Jersey City, on a worn-down cobblestone street, tough guys peer out from under the hoods of beat-up cars and bulldozers are plowing through an abandoned warehouse, groundwork for a promised condo complex. Big things might be in the works, but right now there's no one on the street except for us and the cops guarding the construction sites.


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