The mythology of local punk band Glassjaw didn’t begin with a couple of guys thrashing away on their instruments in a basement or in a dingy club among the sweaty throngs of a mosh pit. It began in one of the unlikeliest of places and under the most inauspicious of circumstances. “It was literally two teenage putzes walking around summer camp,” guitarist Justin Beck recalled. “[Vocalist] Daryl [Palumbo] saw me wearing a Bad Brains shirt and I saw him wearing an Anthrax shirt. We just gave each other that nod like, ‘yeah, that’s what’s up.’”
Nearly 25 years later, the band that Palumbo and Beck went on to form has not only become beloved among hard-rock fans, but also considered to be a groundbreaker in the genre of hardcore, the more aggressive, faster brand of punk rock.
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Palumbo and Beck grew up in the neighboring towns of Bellmore and Merrick, but they gravitated toward the Oceanside punk scene of the early 90s where bands like D.O.D. played at places like the long-shuttered Right Track Inn, which Beck described as “Long Island’s CBGB’s.” Palumbo remembered having to play some of their first shows in “shady VFW halls,” but Glassjaw soon developed a devoted following.
“We were in this Long Island scene when we were really young,” said Beck, who was just 13 when the band originated. “We’re babies and we’re out on the road with dudes who are covered head-to-toe with tattoos. You grow up fast.”
“The impression you get at that age, that’s a huge window of absorption,” Palumbo added. “It makes you feel like you’ve experienced so much more.”
The band, which would have a rotating cast of drummers and bassists, played steadily for the next five years. Shortly after high school, demos of Glassjaw’s music began to find their way into producers’ hands. “I was in college and Daryl calls me up,” Beck remembered. “He asks me, ‘Have you ever heard of Ross Robinson?’ Daryl tells me to go find a Korn album and look at the producer credits. Then he tells me this Ross guy wants to meet us at our practice space the next day. I was like, ‘Man, I can’t! I got tests tomorrow!’”
Beck went anyway and the band was signed to Roadrunner Records within minutes. Before the guys knew it they were recording their debut album, 2000’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence. The album was a collection of all the songs they had done since they were teens, but the process taught them a lot about structure. In the end, the band managed to mix catchy hooks and hard guitars with Palumbo’s voice weaving in and out, screaming and singing.
Although widely considered a hardcore masterpiece, Beck and Palumbo have mixed feelings about Everything. They often encourage fans to illegally download or stream the record, as they still have issues with both the music and the label. Beck said it isn’t a time he feels particularly nostalgic about, that listening to the album is akin to “having to smell your ex-girlfriend’s perfume.”
They left Roadrunner Records and signed to Warner Bros. for 2002’s Worship and Tribute, which saw the band further expand their sound to include balladry and almost psychedelic guitar effects. The album represented the beginning of Glassjaw as a band unafraid of experimenting with their sound.
Although both albums can be seen as influential primers for the post-hardcore of many popular early ’00s bands, the tireless schedule of recording and shows was taking its toll. Palumbo had ongoing bouts with Crohn’s Disease, which made touring difficult and the band took a hiatus in 2004. “It’s like an obstacle course,” Beck said. “Your friendships get challenged. You see your bandmates more than you see your parents and future wife.”
During their break, Beck started a successful band merchandising company while Palumbo began playing in a new group called Head Automatica. From 2006–11, both would hint that the band was working on a new album, but all that surfaced was an occasional demo or new songs. This on-again/off-again approach would be enough to turn off even the most devoted follower, but, as Palumbo pointed out, Glassjaw fans showed supreme loyalty and he’s grateful. “There’s a lot of bands that take their fans along on the journey, but there’s also a lot of bands where fans can turn on them.”
It wasn’t until 2016 that the group seriously considered putting together enough tracks for a new album. Late last year, Glassjaw released Material Control, their first album in 15 years and only the third one in their entire catalogue.
According to Beck, the tracks came together very quickly. “We joked, ‘holy shit, we have ten songs. We could do a record.’ It was an accident but the end result was very cohesive.” In fact, cohesive is an apt description of Material Control. It opens with the one-two punch of “New White Extremity” and “Shira,” but also includes more understated, ballad-like songs such as “Strange Hours.” In the end, the album’s 12 tracks are a mature and nuanced statement from a band who’s still keen on experimenting.
And while some fans may have lost track of the band over the years, Beck said he appreciates that most still take time to listen. “Life’s a complicated thing and the older you get, a lot of your headspace is devoted to other things. That people are still willing to devote some of that space to a couple of guys is an honor. It’s mind-blowing in the best way possible.”