Davis recalls these things while navigating his band's van it was recovered, stripped in early August to a show in Gainesville, Fla. He says friends and fans pleaded at the time with the band members not to break up. So they didn't. They regrouped, refitted, refurnished, released a solid self-titled album and went on tour in Europe. When everything was going well again, that's when they decided to break up. At the close of Engine Down's U.S. tour, which wraps up with a hometown show Sept. 4, Davis and company will call it quits.
To which an entire city (at least the rock-music-fan portion) and fans around the country might come together in a resounding, "Huh?"
Davis explains, sort of: "We felt like we'd accomplished all we could do," he says, while discussing driving directions with his band-mates. Engine Down's latest album was released August 2004 on Lookout! Records, one-time home to Green Day and The Donnas. The label rescued the band after it made the music for Atlantic Records, which dropped it during a high-level buyout. Davis, 29, insists that he never thought his first serious band would last this long or that things would turn out this well. "We're at an all-time high," he says, "and we want to leave it at that."
Is that another way of saying get while the getting's good?
This isn't unlike them. The band members have a history of confounding expectations. "We've always been into change," Davis says. "We've changed with every album." Though the members met in Harrisonburg in the late '90s, forming out of the remains of Sleepytime Trio and other groups, their sound was pure Richmond. An experimentation with math rock, screaming vocals and the DIY feel of a basement studio, its 2000 debut, "Under the Pretense of Present Tense," was at the time entirely in tune with the area. As the style became more common, Engine Down began to court a more polished sound, often in defiance of disapproving and unkind critics.
For last year's album, the group hooked up with producer Brian McTernan, who produced for the hot emocore group Thursday. The result was impressive. Not only is the album surprisingly radio-friendly, with more uniform, three-minute songs and instantly recognizable choruses, but it also manages to retain the best elements of Engine Down's core sound, from Davis' wiry vocals to Cornbread Compton's excelleent drumming. The album came after Davis' sister's band, Denali, had made admirable progress before breaking up, and during Lamb of God's rise to nationwide fame. For a minute there, Engine Down, which has toured relentlessly since its inception, seemed poised to follow.
About the breakup, Davis is characteristically positive. The "most important thing," he says, "is that we're all friends. Most bands break up because of inner conflict, personal conflict between the band members."
And Sept. 4 is not the last time you get to see the band perform live, even if it isn't exactly live. There is a DVD in the works, the band's first. Covering the last European and U.S. tours, it will be released on Lovitt Records.
What will they do now that the ride is over? Guitarist Jonathan Fuller is working in a studio in Richmond called Black Iris. Bassist Jason Wood is booking bands as Holler Booking. Davis is working on some solo material with Compton, who is contemplating a move to the West Coast.SEngine Down's last show ever is at Nanci Raygun Sept. 4. The all-ages show opens at 6 p.m. with Bella Lea and des_ark. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at www.nanciraygun.com or at the door. The night before, all three bands will play Lovitt Records 10-year anniversary party with four other acts at The Black Cat in Washington, D.C. Tickets are $10 at the box office;the show starts at 8:30 p.m.
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