The last half of 2000 was a bittersweet purgatory for "Big" Chad Neptune. The year-in-the-making full-length debut, The Moon Is Down, of his band, Further Seems Forever, was finally completed. To celebrate, the Pompano Beach outfit took a month-long jaunt through the Midwest and Southeast to preview the material. But even one month on the road proved to be a burden for a band whose five members all had serious relationships and accompanying steady jobs. Adding to the tension was singer Chris Carrabba's devotion to his solo project, Dashboard Confessional. FSF indulged Carrabba by allowing him to play one Dashboard song during the break in their set, as well as to sell his CDs at the merch booth. "Being in a band is like being in a relationship," Neptune complains. "I wasn't happy with it. I wondered how much he was really into our band."
At tour's end, a grumpy and broke Further Seems Forever returned home to love and work -- save for Neptune, who got canned from his web-design job. To flee his sinking ship, Neptune went on the road manning the merch table for New Found Glory, led by his protégé, "Little" Chad Gilbert. New Found Glory was selling out 1,500-seat theaters coast to coast, and Neptune turned green. "I was really happy for Little Chad," he says, "but it was difficult to sell merchandise for them while my band wasn't doing anything. It really lit a fire under me."
Neptune returned home to Pompano Beach, determined to pick up his bass and get FSF back on track. Unfortunately, three of the five members had other commitments. "We had a fill-in guitarist because Josh [Colbert, lead guitar] was married and had a baby on the way. Steve [Kleisath, drums] had a wife. Nick [Dominguez, guitar] was getting married. We couldn't tour." Carrabba saw the writing on the wall and left, taking FSF's slot on New Found Glory's winter tour. "There was a bit of hostility," Neptune deadpans. "I'm working a day job, and all I read about is Dashboard. It was like watching your ex-girlfriend with another dude -- in a new Mercedes.
"At that point, we didn't know if we were going to be a band or not," Neptune recalls. "Nick was talking about leaving too. But we're always going to do music; it's just when you try to get somewhere that it gets difficult." With The Moon Is Down slated for a March 2001 release, Further Seems Forever began auditioning singers. With Dashboard exploding and FSF's rep strong, the tapes began pouring in. "The first one we got was incomprehensible," Neptune laughs. "He did all our songs a capella -- in his normal range and falsetto. We thought it was one of our friends pulling a joke. We called -- he was serious." After three dozen tapes resulted in two auditions, 19-year-old Minneapolis hardcore prodigy Jason Gleason flew down to Florida to give it a shot. "When he started singing, I felt like I wasn't doing karaoke," Neptune enthuses. "It felt like a band."
Two weeks later, Gleason moved to Davie, and just a month after that, FSF hit the road again. But Gleason was not the only new face. Both of FSF's studio guitarists now had touring replacements. "Nick just got married and said that he wouldn't tour for the first month," Neptune explains. "So we got Derick Cordoba, a jazz guy we knew who had done sessions with Florence Henderson. Yes, that Florence Henderson." Cordoba worked out so well that FSF decided to add him as the sixth member -- until Dominguez officially resigned that fall.
In December, FSF opened the final leg of Dashboard Confessional's 2001 tour, culminating with an SRO show at Pompano's now-defunct Club Impact. Recounts Neptune: "Chris and I talked, and we accepted what happened. Eventually we were friends again. I had rejected 'Screaming Infidelities' as a Further Seems Forever song. It was vocally driven, and that was boring to me. Then he blows up with it. I told him, 'Well, Chris, you've proved me to be an idiot!'"
Further Seems Forever played 200 shows last year, taking breaks only to record. Colbert remained at home with his wife (Neptune's sister) and nephew (Neptune's son) and cranked out material for How to Start a Fire, FSF's next album. "He's our Kaiser Sose," Neptune cracks. For much of the year, Skip Siriani -- a Philadelphia teenager and apparently FSF's number-one fan -- filled Colbert's slot. "He'd e-mail Josh constantly about guitar stuff, and finally Josh asked: 'You wanna tour?'" Neptune relates. "He graduated high school and got in the van. Apparently, we're running an internship program."
In July 2002, FSF entered the studio and began work on How to Start a Fire. The nonstop roadwork had honed FSF's chops razor-sharp. "When we did The Moon Is Down, we recorded songs to be on a record," Neptune declares. "This time, we wrote a record." One listen to How to Start a Fire bears this out. Colbert and Cordoba's guitar lines are layered with the precision of a pastry chef -- nutritious yet lighter than air. Neptune and Kleisath interlock like Chinese finger cuffs, propelling Gleason's soaring tenor straight into your earhole.
As Neptune sees it, this diligence has already paid off. "The band is more what we envisioned with Jason in it. We still get the Dashboard questions. Chris gets the Further questions. But every time we go back to a town, there's more and more people there to see us. Everything worked out best for both bands."
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