Envy on the Coast's new video for "Head First in the River" looks like a big-time affair.
Filmed in striking black-and-white in grand locations that include Nassau Coliseum, "Head First in the River" - helmed by hot production duo The Chain Gang, known for their work with the Wu-Tang Clan and Timbaland - stands up against any other rock video around these days.
But looks can be deceiving.
"It was definitely a low-budget project," bassist Jeremy Velardi recalls.
"The day of the snow, we woke up at 6 o'clock in the morning, shoveled out a huge pit and moved all our gear in," guitarist Sal Bossio adds, referring to the outdoor snow scene shot in the Long Island woods. "That video was super hands-on."
"We did it all ourselves," Velardi says, finishing Bossio's sentence, the way only guys who are in the middle of spending months in a van together on tour can. "But I think it's the best music video we've ever done."
"Yeah, we're all so proud of it," Bossio says.
It's the kind of hands-on intensity that Envy on the Coast - Bossio, Velardi, singer Ryan Hunter and guitarist Brian Byrne - brings to all its work, whether it's on the new "Lowcountry" (Photo Finish) album, out Tuesday, or bringing its live show to the Theater at Westbury, a milestone for a band whose home base is so close to the historic venue.
"We like to step things up," Hunter says. "We like to top ourselves."
With "Lowcountry," those ambitions become evident pretty quickly.
Working with producer Sean Beavan - whose work with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson helped define the new rock sound of the '90s - Envy on the Coast set out in a new direction for the follow-up to the stunning debut "Lucy Gray."
"We spent the last year really engulfing ourselves in new material," says Hunter, who also was surrounded by new influences last year as the band went on numerous tours, including opening for Taking Back Sunday.
Though the influence of their fellow Long Islanders is still felt on "Lowcountry," the band says working with Beavan helped them zero-in on their sound.
"He was kind of the first producer to understand our vibe," Velardi says. "When he heard the songs, he had an idea of what he wanted the record to sound like - something groovy, something dark and eerie, something that you can rock to."
The groove is definitely different on "Lowcountry," after the exit of the band's drummer Dan Gluszak last year. "We tried so many drummers, but none of them felt right," Bossio says, adding that they even flew a couple of candidates out to California to record with them, but they didn't work out, either.
During the rehearsals, Hunter would teach the candidates the drum parts so they could play along, but it wasn't until Beavan suggested that Hunter record the drum parts that the idea actually came to the band. "Sean said, 'I don't know why you guys are freaking out; Ryan is your drummer,' " Bossio says.
"It was a really, really scary process because we were working with a producer that we looked up to, and we felt like we were stuck without a drummer," Velardi adds. "When Ryan stepped up, everything just kind of fell into place."
Hunter says all the angst worked for them in the end. "It ended up being a much more arduous process than we thought it would be, but it was worth it," he says. "It's the first thing that I think all four of us really want to stamp our names on and put out there."
The resulting album is more mature than "Lucy Gray," as the band tackles issues that are close to its heart, as well as giving its more experimental side a sturdier structure. Though "Lucy Gray" succeeded through brute strength and raw nerve, "Lowcountry" sounds more accomplished. It also sounds more commercial, with "Head First in the River" and "The Great American T-shirt Racket" ready to fight for slots on rock radio next to Incubus and Nine Inch Nails.
Gerardo Cueva, Photo Finish Records' marketing director, says the label believes in "Lowcountry" and is ready for a long, slow campaign. "We want to get it out to fans first and build it from the ground up," he says. "They have a big fan base, a big following on message boards and Web sites. It will grow much more organically."
"As a label, we don't like to force anything too early," Cueva continues. "Like 3OH!3, that came out in the summer of 2008, and it didn't break until last summer, a year after it came out. It's like [Envy's] first album, which started out slowly and kept growing."
Bossio says the band's plan is simply to take the music to their fans themselves. "We're going to be out on the road, and we can't wait," he says.
"We'll probably be out for the next two years on this," Velardi adds. "And we couldn't be happier."