It was one of those rare rainy days in Los Angeles. The clouds hung low, adding a sense of eeriness to the otherwise normal Sunday afternoon. I was on my way to meet Ryan Hunter, one-half of Long Island’s Envy on the Coast, and, oddly enough, the weather felt appropriate. I was about to spend the next hour and a half talking about the band’s new chapter; their self-proclaimed “reincarnation” that is taking place now, seven years after the band split up. Just as the rain washed the city clean, so it cleaned the slate for the next journey this band was about to take.
When Envy on the Coast called it quits in 2010 after members Sal Bossio and Jeremy Velardi decided to leave, both Hunter and Brian Byrne, the current members of the band, continued writing music for what they hoped would be their next project together. The two rented a house in East Hampton, New York, and, for nearly five months, put together demos and recordings of dozens of songs. But there was something that felt off about the music, something the two couldn’t quite put their finger on. “A majority of it felt like it would have been the next Envy on the Coast record. We couldn’t figure out why we didn’t want to form a new band around it, it didn’t quite feel right,” says Hunter over coffee.
So the two took time to go through some “personal growing pains” to figure what they wanted to do, which turned out to be not denying their past musical history, but embracing and reimagining it. Hunter tells me that it was hard at first, “It was like jumping into the next relationship when you needed to give yourself time.” And even though the band amassed a big following back in their heyday with their first two albums, Lucy Gray and Lowcountry, there is no pretentiousness about this next chapter.
Against all odds and expectations, including those of Hunter who was “adamant” about this never happening, Envy on the Coast is back together, and, yes, it’s for good. “When the conversations hit about doing it again, it was never going to be strictly a nostalgia thing. From the first moment we started speaking about it, the only way we were opening up the book again would be if it stayed open and we were writing together,” Hunter says. And when I asked if this was indefinite, his response was a resounding “absolutely.”
Last May, when Envy on the Coast announced a new crop of tours, “a reincarnation” they called it, everyone was shocked—including me. I had started listening to the band four years after they broke up and had never anticipated seeing them live. Though they only had three shows on the East Coast, they promised there would be more, and they held up their end of the bargain, with a West Coast tour that served as just the beginning. And on June 30, Envy on the Coast is putting out their newest album with Equal Vision Records. Titled Ritual, the six-song EP is the best of the 20 to 30 songs Ryan and Bryan wrote in that house in East Hampton seven years ago.
Although EotC may have “emo” undertones—think: crooning vocals and evocative lyrics—they’ve always been in the camp of rock and roll; this time around, they’re just choosing to explore what that means a little differently. The EP, which was presented to the record company completely finished—which “never happens,” according to Hunter—has a little bit of everything. There are upbeat tracks that leave you screaming along and shaking your body and slower, sultry numbers that chronicle the messiness that comes with love. The second song on the EP, “Inhaler,” was the first true 50/50 partnership between Hunter and Byrne, although both men say the last song, “Sift,” is their favorite. And “Lioness,” my favorite off the album, shows just how far the duo can go; utilizing a drum loop and citing R&B as inspiration, Ryan’s evocative vocals are matched only by the heartbeat of the drum itself. But for those who swear by Lowcountry, “Virginia Girls” will feel the most nostalgic. This EP is not only the product of reincarnation, but of time manifested as growing pains turned to lessons. Ritual is still EotC, but this time, the sound is just a little wiser, a little more grown-up.
Reincarnation is classified by death, transformation, and rebirth. It’s a ritual unto itself, a change from one reality to another, often secretive and mystical. And while Envy on the Coast underwent this change, so did both of its members, who each stopped listening to music for a year at a time. This metaphorical death, followed by transformation, with both members influenced more by hip-hop and less by rock, created the rebirth of Envy on the Coast as it will now be known.
And just like many rituals are shrouded in mystery, the imagery and narrative for Ritual fell into place in its own way. Byrne, who helms the reins visually for the band, had been sitting on the image that would be the cover of Ritual for nearly a decade. And in an email to Hunter, he cast the fate of the band, saying, “I feel like the EP is part of our loop and ritual, every decision, seemingly arbitrary but connected, led us to that one point... I had this super intense moment of awareness; a six-year protracted loop to lead me back to this familiar place, doing something as natural as waking up and making coffee.”
It’s been seven years since Envy on the Coast was a band, but Ritual proves that this reincarnation is as special as talking over two steaming mugs of coffee on one of those rare, rainy L.A. mornings.