Waiting backstage, frontman Mark Schiavoni is in show mode.His three bandmates—drummer Jasper Conroy, bassist Chris Wood and lead guitarist Jack Marshall, who together make The Montauk Project—eye him from a distance, ask him questions, but get no answers.
It is not Mr. Schiavoni’s ego doing the talking—or lack thereof. He simply cannot hear them. He is too focused on the task ahead: the gig, the fans and, most importantly, the songs. Original lyrics and melodies he hopes will launch his rock band out of the “belly of the beast”—which is, appropriately, the title of the group’s debut full-length album, set to drop March 25—and into stardom.
But, first, he needs to bring himself back to when, where and why the tunes were written at all.
“There’s a lot of emotion behind what we’re playing because it’s coming from us,” he said last week, taking a break during his shift as a sales associate at the Pilgrim Surf Shop in Amagansett. “A lot of times, before a set, I’ll look at each song and think about it, try to get into the mindset of where that song is coming from. It seems like I’m very out of it, but I’m just trying to get into it.”
When the band takes the stage, it shows. The music is loud, the lyrics are raw and the energy between the four friends is electric—as it will be on Saturday, February 15, when they play a concert at 230 Down in Southampton. Mr. Conroy and Mr. Wood will hold down the rhythm section, which frees up Mr. Schiavoni and Mr. Marshall to experiment and let loose with material off their new album and beyond.
Even though their 10-song release is still a month out, it hasn’t stopped the band from writing, they said.
“The ideas come from an individual, but the idea evolves as a group and turns into a song,” Mr. Marshall said.
“Women,” Mr. Conroy said, bluntly.
“That’s a common theme,” Mr. Marshall explained.
“Women,” Mr. Conroy repeated. “And lost love and gained love and everything in between.”
“I think ‘The Beast’ is pretty significant,” Mr. Marshall said. “That’s one that stands out.”
“Yes,” the drummer agreed. “It’s about drug addiction. Mark wrote the lyrics to that song.”
Overhearing his friends from across the floor, after saying goodbye to a customer, Mr. Schiavoni yelled, “I’m not an addict or anything,” and paced over to explain.
“I was thinking about a good friend of mine who’s struggling with some pretty nasty stuff,” he said. “Right now, he’s getting help, but it’s the kind of thing where you never know. It can turn into such a disease. And that’s why it is such a beast.”
It is an analogy that can be felt by anyone who has tried to overcome a challenge that seems impossible, he said. That has never been more true of the band itself, which is metaphorically living inside the beast’s belly, trying to escape, he added.
“The album name is like when you’re in the heart of that situation,” Mr. Schiavoni said. “I think, in a way, as a band, we’re in one of the toughest situations right now, where we’re trying to make a name for ourselves coming from a place that’s a ghost town nine months of the year. In a sense, we are in the belly of the beast. At a certain point, it’s make or break it. And we really are pushing it as much as we can because we feel like this is the best representation of us as a band yet.”
Even though Mr. Schiavoni and Mr. Conroy grew up playing music together on the East End, the present-day lineup didn’t come together until a year ago. And, since then, each of the bandmates’ personalities have made a mark on the group.
Mr. Conroy is the business-minded band father. Mr. Wood is the reserved beating heart. Mr. Marshall is the easygoing over-thinker. And Mr. Schiavoni is the impulsive under-thinker.
Despite their differences, the bandmates have one major physical trait in common: their hair.
“It’s long and it’s good and it’s luscious,” Mr. Marshall said, whipping one half of his curly, strawberry blonde mane over his left shoulder with a toss of his head. “We’re living that Montauk lifestyle.”
“It’s there,” Mr. Schiavoni said, smoothing his dark brown locks down against his chest. “I won’t cut it.”
“It’s apparent,” Mr. Marshall said, still distractedly playing with his hair.
“My girlfriend had to argue with me for, I think, six weeks to give me a 2-inch haircut just this fall,” Mr. Schiavoni said.
The group laughed. Sitting around together, they are mild-mannered, with the occasional profane outburst that teases to their stage presence that they simply describe as “coming alive.”
They all harbor the same drive, the bandmates said, and a feeling of promise in the group—whether they’re at practice, jamming on stage or, for Mr. Schiavoni, the moments before in the green room.
“I’m trying to get into my character,” he said. “It’s me, it’s not a fake character. I guess it’s maybe the way I want to act and who I am, but sometimes, you can’t always do that in real life.”
Every show is a departure from reality. Time speeds up and, before the band knows it—whether it’s a 30-minute or two-hour set—it’s over.
“It goes by in the blink of an eye because you’re going 100 miles per hour the whole time,” Mr. Schiavoni said. “We enjoy it more than anything else.”
“Music is passion,” Mr. Conroy mused.
“I think any artist, musician or painter would agree that they would love to do their art for a living,” Mr. Schiavoni said.
“That’s what we’re striving for,” Mr. Marshall said.
“We don’t want to be Bruno Mars,” Mr. Schiavoni continued. “We just want to not have to work day jobs and be able to do this.”
“That’s the dream,” Mr. Conroy said. “It’s a dream and a curse, you know?”
His bandmates laughed thoughtfully, their long curls falling forward as they nodded.
“If it’s your dream, you gotta do it,” Mr. Schiavoni said. “And if not now, when?”
The Montauk Project will perform on Saturday, February 15, at 8 p.m. at 230 Down in Southampton. The band will play again on Friday, February 28, at 9 p.m. at Swallow East in Montauk. For more information, visit themontaukprojectmusic.com.