Reinventing the Steel

Could Early Man, a quartet from hip NYC signed to Matador Records, be the savior of real-deal metal?

"I was listening to them [thinking], 'You gotta be kidding me!' It was totally amazing. That was the first exposure I had to the real shit, and then I did what a lot of kids do -- I started on the surface and then backtracked to find out what's the story here. Like, if I liked Megadeth, where did they come from and on and on and on. And then I picked up the guitar, and I never put it down."

In the late '90s, Conte moved to New York, where he worked shitty day jobs and spent his nights recording hundreds of riffs, accompanied by a drum machine, on his four-track. A few years later, his Columbus drummer-friend Adam Bennati moved to the city, and the two formed Early Man in 2003. At first they played live as a three-piece with a number of bassists who came and went, although the lineup seemed solidified when post-rock icon David Pajo, best known for his guitar work in Slint, Tortoise, and Zwan, came on board in the fall of 2004. At the time, Pajo wrote on his blog: "I really want to form a true metal band. a full on 'death-to-false-metal' kind of band. not that post-modern, nu-metal, ironic fluff. old school metal is the only truly sacrosanct, exciting, pure redneck music that still exists in every no name town on the planet. no sooner had I mentioned it than I was discussing rehearsal schedule with the best metal band in new york: EARLY MAN."

But with last year's Slint reunion and other projects beckoning, Pajo bailed a couple of months later, and Conte and Bennati set about recording Closing In by themselves (with Conte overdubbing guitar and bass parts and producer Matt Sweeney contributing some guitar as well). They were still officially a duo when Atlanta art-metal heavies Mastodon invited the pair to open for its tour last April -- Early Man's first major U.S. outing.

"We were a two-piece out of nothing but necessity because we hadn't found anyone that fit right," Conte explains, "and what are you gonna do when Mastodon's booking agent calls you and says, 'These guys want you to open their national tour,' you know? I mean, you don't say no, but you think, 'Oh yeah, this is gonna be great doing this as a two-piece for that kinda crowd.' It ended up working great, actually, but unfortunately since that was the tour everyone remembers us unveiling ourselves at, there was a lot of people after that going, 'Oh, it's the metal White Stripes,' which we obviously want nothing to do with."

Early Man has since beefed up to a four-piece that features Alex Conley, an old friend from Ohio, on bass, as well as Pete Macy on second guitar for maximum metalosity. And though he hopes his band will appeal to all kinds of music fans, Conte admits he's most excited to play for the people who already get it -- whether it's die-hard, plunger-wielding metalheads; 14-year-old kids excited by true metal; or the "40-year-old guys with three kids in Tampa, Florida," from whom, he says, he gets at least five to 10 e-mails a week saying how psyched they are "to hear the real thing for the first time in 20 years."

"It's blown me away the number of people, like, random dudes at shows, that come up to me and go, 'You guys saved metal, bro,'" Conte adds. So how does he respond to the burden of such a responsibility?

"I'm like, 'Ummm, I'll try?!' You don't go into a situation thinking like that. I mean, I don't, and nobody in our band does. But we'll take it. We'll save metal. Why the fuck not?"

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