the Niche - Summer 2000
Cosmic Jams - 2001
Erik Ward - Blue Sunday - 3.11.00
History of The Niche
In the late summer of 1999; Erik Ward, Willy O’Riley, Todd Nestor and Geno Williams relocated from Watertown to Rochester, NY. They were in search of a wider market for their music and a drummer as their band was not yet complete.
They rented a practice studio at Cosmic Jams on Cairn Street in the city's industrial west end. There they planned to sharpen their existing music and to craft new songs. Todd, 21 at the time, was freshly converted to bass from guitar and was learning his instrument. Erik (guitar) and Willy (keyboards) were 16 and 17 respectively, but not inexperienced despite their ages. Both had played in numerous bands in the Watertown scene prior to moving. Early on it was clear that the band was headed away from a two-guitar sound to more of a Guitar/Piano centric sound. Geno, 22, decided to resign as rhythm guitarist. He would return later as the band’s sound-engineer once they started travelling with their own custom sound system.
Meanwhile, one hall over at the same practice space. Jay Schreiber, 19, was the drummer for Planet One and had overheard the trio playing. Despite its name - Cosmic Jams was known as a haven for speed-core bands and doom metal more than anything else. The boys from Watertown stuck out to Schreiber’s ears immediately. Jay was outside Cosmic loading his equipment for a gig one night when he was approached by Erik Ward. Erik had noticed both the drum gear and a “Steal Your Face” Grateful Dead sticker on Schreiber’s vehicle. Erik introduced O’Riley and Nestor and invited Schreiber to jam sometime.
In November of 1999, after a few casual jam sessions – it was very clear there was a strong chemistry between the quartet. Around the same time, Planet One dissolved for unrelated reasons. Schreiber immediately started practicing with the trio from Watertown, almost nightly. That first winter together was a crucial formative period for the yet unnamed band and a deep musical bond was cultivated that stands strong to this day.
Something in common to all four members, separate of each other, was a love for Phish. They all frequented late 90's Phish tours and had archives of show tapes. Dozens if not hundreds of shows were consumed by the quartet both before and after formation of their own band. This created a common framework underpinning their own music, despite efforts to avoid it. Early detractors wrote them off as too Phishy, or simply another copycat jam band. The band recognized this and diversified quickly, introducing each other to wider tastes.
Frank Zappa’s music played a huge roll in the early reformation of the band both musically and in stage presence, almost to a fault.
Ween was another huge early influence that steered the band away from their early Anastasian origins. Many other musical influences helped to influence the sound of the band; (including but not limited to) Steely Dan, John Scofield, Jeff Beck, ELP, the Beach Boys, Meat Puppets, Nirvana, the Cars, the Grateful Dead, Classic Country, Bluegrass and so much more. They traveled together constantly to see other bands and breathed in music of every imaginable source on road trips to their own shows - but the big three influences were always Phish, Ween and Zappa.
If you ask any member of band to describe their music, they often choose these three bands as analogues as opposed to calling themselves an outright jam band. At the time in the early 2000's, the term "jam band" was often seen as pejorative or an oversimplification. Nowadays it has become a legitimate musical subcategory of Rock and is more widely accepted at large, including by the band themselves.
Early in the year 2000, the young group was brimming with material and feeling confident with their new sound. O’Riley and Ward sat down with a scientific dictionary, determined to find a name for their band before the group promoted or booked shows. They fell upon the word Niche: a place, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted. A habitat supplying the factors necessary for the existence of an organism or species.
It seemed to perfectly fit the music and the band's personality. Their niche was found, the Niche was born.
Booking dates began to roll in and on Saturday, March 11th of 2000, the first show was held at a tiny coffee house in Henrietta, NY called Blue Sunday. The room was totally sold out, mostly with Watertown friends.
The fan-base grew quickly from there and the band moved on to larger venues at a record pace. By July they were opening for Max Creek at Northern Lights in Albany. By that year's end they fulfilled a dream of headlining their own night at Milestones in downtown Rochester. They knew then that they would have to dream bigger.
Over the next six years, and an estimated 400+ shows - the Niche traveled up and down the northeastern seaboard, as far inland as Ohio.
Potsdam, Burlington, Manhattan and Saratoga. Providence, Buffalo, Princeton and Philly. Few cities escaped unsullied, but they mostly build a loyal cult following in the SUNY triangle. The biggest and often craziest crowds would be in Oswego, Plattsburgh, Watertown and Rochester. They played big festivals along side legendary acts. They even held two festivals of their own. They secured direct supporting roles with the Derek Trucks Band, Umphrees McGee, Gene Ween, Project Object, RAQ and the Breakfast. In 2001 the band recorded their debut album Building Up at GFI studios in Rochester. In typical fashion for their genre, the studio album was viewed as lesser in comparison to their live act, but it still has its loyalists today. The Niche returned to GFI in 2005 and tracked their sophomore album in its entirety. Unnamed and unfinished - they never completed the mix and master process as things went sideways for the band around that time. The project was boxed up and never revisited (until recently.)
Long years on the road were taking their toll on the band and exhaustion was setting in. By early 2006 Erik Ward had requested a hiatus. The Niche tried to go on and filled in the position with guitarists Rob Compa (Dopapod) and Paul McArdle (Doja, Funknut, The English Project.) The slide continued and by Christmas of 2006 the entire band was on a permanent hiatus. The insane carnival ride had finally ground to a halt. Rest was needed and welcomed.
Since 2008, with friendships fully intact and now refreshed by other interests and life in general (including more recently - parenthood for 3 of the 4 members) - the original quartet have played together very selectively as they see fit. Ever cautious of pushing themselves over the proverbial cliff again and no longer seeking to “make it big” the shows are very sporadic and chosen with great care. Their modern sound is viewed by the band members as better than they ever were back in the heyday. Fresh ears and ever burgeoning musical influences have reshaped the sound of the band for the better, without coloring their original vibe negatively. Described as more spacious, seasoned and polished; the band retains their strong subliminal musical connection with each other while relying less on theatrics and more on a deft patient groove and ever vigilant listening, keying off each other more than ever before.
In March of 2020 the band celebrates 20 years since that first show. The sophomore album has since been dusted off and the band plans to complete and release it.