Hugo Fitzgerald, one of Long Island’s most interesting personalities, is a man of ideas and action. He’ll tell you Grey Area is one of the most underrated bands of all time. He’ll jump in the van and fill in on guitar for your band at a moment’s notice. He’ll argue that dogs are far superior to humans. He might even run your merch booth or guitar tech free of charge. But he’ll certainly give anyone up for the discussion an academic lesson on all the marvels of coffee. And last year, he decided to turn that passion into a small business.
So was born Nautilus Roasting Company, Fitzgerald’s start-up coffee business run with an ethos taken from his years in the hardcore scene.
The motivation he found to get the idea off the ground was fed by a culture that embraced the DIY mindset. “Coming from the Long Island hardcore scene kind of gave me this attitude that there’s not really anything that I can’t learn to do and make happen. I’m not special or different, I just had it impressed on me that everybody can pretty much run a business or start something and the basics to making it work are all the same, just apply it to whatever you’re doing be it booking a tour, pressing a record, or starting a ‘non-hardcore’ business,” says Fitzgerald. That mindset, while ingrained from the hardcore underground, found its way into his sense for business.
This was a guy who’d worked at Merch Direct, a company founded by people who also came up in the underground, in its infancy and watched that company boom into a thriving business. He’d seen friends’ bands go from playing house shows and VFWs to playing package tours in legitimate clubs. None of this growth was lost on him. And he puts it plainly, offering, “The DIY ethic that I learned from hardcore is the whole reason I’m able to do this. It’s the keys to the castle. It’s what turns you from the average consumer robot into someone who looks around at everything and say, ‘this was done by a person. This isn’t magic. I can do any of this.’”
With that acknowledgement, Fitzgerald also looked to pay homage to the scene that offered him so much. Subtle as it may be, Nautilus itself is an allusion to Long Island’s most celebrated hardcore band: Silent Majority. What struck Hugo so profoundly though was that Silent Majority was from his home town of Lindenhurst. They weren’t some far off untouchable band. They were right there. “I think I’m lucky that I got to be a huge fan of those guys before becoming friends with some of them, because I feel like it means a lot more to be a fan of a band and to love a set of songs not because they’re your pals but because the music really resonates with you. And then I was lucky enough to get to know Tommy and Rich after the band ended,” says Fitzgerald.
The song “Nautilus” was from the band’s final effort, the You Would Love to Know EP on Initial Records. But, like many hardcore lifers who find themselves deeply attached to certain songs, the track came to mean much more than just good music. The song came to symbolize a bond with a friend he lost. “A few years after Silent Majority broke up I was playing in a band with Rob McAllister and we did SM for Halloween. I remember so vividly the day I went over to his house for practice and he was so excited that he figured out the riff to ‘Nautilus.’ It’s just one of those memories of Rob that will always stick with me, and the song has come to really mean a lot to me over the years. It talks about our lifestyle. It talks about the best times people like us ever had, a plate of fries at the diner at midnight after a show or going out doing some stupid shit. It speaks to the suburban hardcore kid experience specifically,” offers Fitzgerald. Put plainly, Rob, who passed away a few years ago, was a close friend to all of the Long Island scene. Silent Majority, among other things, bound him and Hugo. And now that bond lives on, in some small way, in the name of Fitzgerald’s new roasting company.
Hugo’s also used his roots in the Long Island hardcore underground as a way to develop collaborative projects for Nautilus Roasting. Last year, the company collaborated with Sainthood Reps to make a limited edition blend for the band’s appearance at Wild Fest. Nautilus now sponsors the If I Ruled the World Podcast, hosted by Mind Over Matter’s George Reynolds and Playing Dead’s Sam Hoyos. And Nautilus just dropped a limited release Arabica blend in collaboration with Surfcaster’s Journal, an online fishing magazine run by Tommy Corrigan of Silent Majority and Capital. These collaborations are organic for Fitzgerald and Nautilus. In his words, “The people I’m surrounded with, the friends and supporters, all come from that world at this point. Those are my people. That’s who I keep up with. And again, people from that world have the DIY ethic and are likely to be doing something cool to collaborate on.” Creative energy abounds at Nautilus and that’s helped grow the company in very ingenuitive ways.
Most recently, Nautilus has dabbled in doing pop-up shops at Vinyl Paradise, Iron & Tread Barbershop, and even a more traditional retailer in eastern Long Island. Fitzgerald’s also been a usual suspect at the Babylon Farmer’s Market. Those experiences have left a mark on Hugo. A mark that he didn’t necessarily expect either: “I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned from all this is how much I actually enjoy the outreach part and connecting with the customers. I’m not what you’d usually call a ‘people person.’ But I get to do stuff like find and start using straw-free cup lids and compostable straws a few months before Starbucks did it. I’ve been able to turn a ton of omnivores onto Oat Milk. These are huge wins in my book.”
There’s something about his experience with Nautilus that harkens back to the days of DIY tables at hardcore shows where people would sell books, ‘zines, used records and clothes, or offer information about veganism and other socio-political ideology. Sure that still happens here and there, but it’s also refreshing to know that people, not just Hugo, have turned that experience into something substantive beyond hardcore.
Expanding Nautilus Roasting Company is a continued focus for Hugo. Interestingly enough, he’s taking the show on the road…sort of. “Right now, the plan is to buy an ice cream truck. I’ve been looking and learning a lot about the different setups and equipment. There’s a lot of stuff that’s either impossible or really difficult to do at events like the Farmer’s Markets or other onsite events, and a mobile facility would really let me open up our offerings, and capture more sales. Of course, me being me, I have to complicate things. It’s got to have style,” Fitzgerald says. He’s not complacent, and he’s got a vision for the company. How many of us would love to be able to grab a sweet cup of coffee outside a show and, in so doing, support one of our own? Soon enough we might just find ourselves grabbing a cup-of-joe from Hugo in his tricked-out ice cream truck.
For all of his focus on coffee, Hugo does miss playing shows. And amongst the many bands he’s been in, it’s On the Rise that he misses most. He admits, “I spend a lot of time thinking about On the Rise. My life was chaos at the time, and a lot of stuff didn’t go how it should have. I had to bail on a US tour because of some heavy family stuff. That was a band of people I really miss playing with, people I miss being with and hanging out with, and people who I learned so much from, musically. I really loved the music and I think they made a really dynamic record. They were letting me bring a little of my dynamic into writing when I joined.” So while his creative efforts are focused on Nautilus Roasting, there is still that tug back towards playing music. Maybe that will never go away for Hugo as it hasn’t gone away for so many of us. But he’s found a concept that he can be as proud as he was with his time in On the Rise.
Since even before the Descendents’s iconic “Coffee Mug,” there’s been a quirky link between coffee and our punk roots. “Death Before Decaf” and all that. But with Nautilus Roasting Company we’re seeing an actualization of DIY ethics mixed with the more light-hearted idiosyncrasies from our scene. Hugo’s got something here, and he’s drawn much from the hardcore well in getting Nautilus Roasting off the ground. And in his words, “So I guess, uh, everybody buy some coffee so I can quit my day job and free up a few hours to jam.” Whimsy aside, Nautilus Roasting makes a hell of a roast and at least when you buy, you’ll know you’re helping one of our own.
Check out Nautilus Roasting Company's official site and Instagram page for more info.
Tagged: silent majority