From a Denny's somewhere on the road in Florida, the guys of rock band Engine Down muse nostalgically about the eight years they've been playing together.
"We've had a pretty rich history," guitarist Jonathan Fuller says via his cell phone. "We put out four full-length albums and an EP. We've been to Japan, we've been to Europe four times, and we've toured the United States I don't even remember how many times.
"We have been doing it for a long time, and we're super-proud of what we have been able to do with it. We are four best friends who still really love each other, but we are terrified of burning out, of staying together to the point that we don't really care about each other or the music anymore."
It's not hard to guess that Engine Down has decided to call it quits.
"But I don't think you can use any word other than 'amicable' to describe (the breakup). ... It sort of came up on the last tour," Fuller says.
The quartet just had released what would become its final album, 2004's Engine Down, on the Berkeley-based punk bastion Lookout! Records.
Not surprisingly, Fuller says the thing he will miss most about Engine Down is the one hour he gets to play each night.
"When we're onstage for that one hour, it is really this amazing phenomenon where you're really connecting with each other, and you're really connecting with the audience. It just takes you out of this world, and you stop thinking about worldly things. It's this transcendent moment."
The Engine Down sound always has been stirring. Driven by the wrenching, cathartic first-person songs of singer/guitarist Keeley Davis, the group may tread familiar pop-punk ground, but they make up their own steps.
Their music is most effective when the members are alternately erecting and tearing down intricate guitarchitecture, allowing the pieces of their sound to swirl together in an intoxicating, syncopated maelstrom.
Davis admits that the band's propulsive and hypnotic rhythms result, in part, from the fact that until playing with Engine Down, he was a bassist.
"The bands that have always inspired me have had amazing rhythm sections," Davis says.
In that spirit, the songwriting process for Engine Down involved intense collaborations between Davis and drummer Cornbread Compton.
"For this last record, I'd have the basic idea for a song, maybe the lyrics and just the chords, or even just some of the structure and a little bit of the melody. Then I would work with Cornbread -- just me and him, working together to create some really interesting rhythms -- and that's where the syncopated guitar sound comes from."
After their swan-song tour, most of the band members are looking forward to being home more often and spending time with family in the Richmond, Va., area. Only Compton is leaving the band's home base. He's heading to Los Angeles, where a couple of other bands already have expressed interest in him. Davis and Compton also have recorded nearly a full album's worth of material together.
"I can't speak for everybody," Fuller says. "But I know we are all definitely going to continue to do music, whether it's in other bands, or playing on each other's solo records, or just trying to learn how to play the banjo on our front porch. We'll be playing music until we're old and gray."
-- Gene Armstrong
Engine Down with Bella Lea, Des Ark and more
Rock Island, 1614 15th St., Denver
Tuesday, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $10; call 303/443-2227 or visit sodajerkpresents.com.
I miss you, Lenny! My family and I thank you for all the special times…
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