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The Making of a Maxterpiece

Wake up commander…time to have your cake and light the candle.

If good things take time, then our new album, Max Q, is a very good thing indeed. Looking back over the three and a half years we took to write, rewrite, record, rerecord, mix, remix, master, and yes, remaster this project, it’s almost hard to believe it’s finally complete. It’s surreal to look back and see how much time has passed and how many trials, tribulations, and thankfully, triumphs took place in that time period. I feel very much like our hero, Max, being awoken a few hours before the launch. It’s finally time to have our cake, put our spacesuits on, and light this candle.

I am yesterday’s thoughts, I am yesterday’s dreams, I am yesterday’s desires…

The Max Q sessions commenced on New Year’s day, 2001. A fitting date to begin our grand odyssey into the unknown. Having mastered the technique of recording ourselves in our practice space (not!) we were ready to put the mics up, and go for it. The first song we recorded was The Longer Now. (We didn’t realize just how long this Now might become.)

Traditionally, when you make a record, you record the drum tracks for a bunch of songs at one sitting. The reason you do this is that it takes a long time to get good drum sounds. It's not unusual to spend four or five hours or even a whole day just tweaking the drum sound before recording a single note. And studio time costs lots of money. So once you've got the drums really rockin', you blow through as many songs as you can. This might save time and money, but this also makes the poor drummer have to work out all of his parts for an entire album's worth of material up front.

And this would’ve required Dan to exceed Max Q (I’ll explain that term more in a minute). So we took a different approach. We recorded a maximum of two songs per session. This allowed Dan to really perfect each song before recording it (what a novel idea!). So when the red light on our home studio went on, he was ready. Which was good because the AC was so lousy in our space. Anything more than that, and he might have overheated as well. Plus, he was patiently dealing with some serious health issues and we wanted him to actually survive the process and maybe even tour when it was all done!

5, 4, 3, 2, In a minute we’ll be Max Q…

What is Max Q? Good question. If you’ve ever listened to the crew of the space shuttle the first few minutes after takeoff, you may have heard them mention “We’ve passed through Max Q.”

Max Q stands for maximum dynamic pressure. The shuttle, or any other space vehicle, has to be careful not to go too fast until they’ve cleared this critical point. If they slam on the gas to try and break free of the grip of gravity before the atmospheric pressure is reduced sufficiently, the space ship could actually break apart from the extreme stress.

So they wait patiently with engines running about 65% of maximum for the coast to clear before putting the pedal to the metal and launching themselves into orbit. In the same way, The Reverse Engineers had to push hard enough to achieve escape velocity, but not so hard that our band—and all our dreams—broke apart under the stress. So we toiled away, slowly and deliberately, one song at a time, each of us having our moments of operating at 65% of full power.

Sleep disorders, mechanical breakdowns, extreme work schedules, all of these intruded into our world during the making of this record. But then stress often creates the best results. Take a dirty black lump of coal, put it under extreme stress, and voila! You’ve got something so pure and beautiful that you give it to your wife as a symbol of your everlasting devotion.

There’s always Sunshine with the Shade…

So it’s not surprising that one of our favorite moments on the record came as a result of the toughest of circumstances. Sunshine with the Shade was born one night because I couldn’t sleep. But this wasn’t just a mild case of insomnia, this was a severe sleep disorder, and as I was to later find out, very dangerous. So the lyrics “another long night till the sunrise” weren’t just poetic meanderings, it was the sad truth. I had woken up once again in the middle of the night, in pain, feeling very disoriented and wandered over to my guitar because going back to sleep was just too scary.

The verse and chorus of that song were written that evening, and true to the lyrics, along with the deepest moment of crisis came the brightest bit of Sunshine on this record. Of course, there were also magic moments on this record that came rather easily. The majority of Tell Me Why was written in one fell swoop during a jam session at practice. We were having fun with a very simple punkish sounding progression that sounded like it came straight off the Emmett Brown EP. And it just so happened that an hour earlier I had put some hand written lyrics on the music stand. This was a beautiful bit of serendipity and kept me from having to sing complete nonsense.

For a change these lyrics (and thankfully, the painful experience that inspired them) were written by someone outside the band. The lyrics had been given to me by a friend at work. He said his 8-year-old daughter, Olivia, had written some lyrics and he proudly presented them to me. I read them and thought they were pretty good, definitely showed potential, and I was impressed that she was already advanced enough to label the sections “verse” and “chorus”. The lyrics had that beautifully simple, direct approach that is so natural for kids.

Then I heard the story behind the words and realized that this wasn’t just some cute song; this was serious business.

So while we were jamming I started singing from Olivia’s poem, Why, and before I knew it, it was taking shape into a very cool song. In fact, we couldn’t stop playing it. Of course, we couldn’t leave well enough alone, so we started adding fun words like “albatross” (I really like to sing that) and “dead-end job” to make it complete. (Some day she’ll get a job and will be able to relate, I’m sure.)

In my daydreams, I’m an astronaut, orbiting the earth…

Having slaved away at our own dead-end jobs for years, we could all relate very well to some lyrics that Dan presented to the band called Worker Drone. It described the cubicle world nightmare that he had endured at an endless string of customer service jobs. These lyrics formed the basis of our most adventurous and challenging piece to date, the 8-minute progressive rock epic, Max Q.

Max Q, the song, lyrically and musically encapsulates where we came from and where we hope we’re headed. It’s the first song that we decided to just go over the top with. The attitude was, “We’ve given them plenty to like on this record. I think we’ve earned our indulgent progressive epic.” Who knows what people will think of the song, but we sure dig it. And we can definitely relate with the main character, Max, and his desire to escape his day job to live out the world of his dreams.

Plus, Max Q finally provided the perfect vehicle to showcase Chuck’s incredible bass chops. I couldn’t believe the licks he pulled off on this one. He’s always been an incredible bass player, but it’s not often that you can find a way to showcase some serious bass licks in a song. And having purchased a brand new Rick before the recording of this one, he was completely primed to lay down the perfect progressive rock bassline. His bass tone is growling and his fingers are flying on this one. His performance deserves to land him on the cover of Bass Player.

In fact, Chuck’s playing was so punchy and aggressive, I screwed up when I recorded his bass track. Unfortunately I couldn’t just rerecord it because Chuck was 1,000 miles away working 100-hour weeks building what we jokingly referred to as the Universal Business Adapter. So I was forced to perform an engineering trick that I had always wanted to try, but never encountered a situation that required it. It’s called reamping. What happens is you take the original direct-recorded track and you run it back through the bass amp (or guitar amp) and you record it again. It was surreal standing there listening to Chuck’s bass amp cranked up and playing all by itself while I fiddled with the controls and adjusted my microphones. Talk about reverse engineering.

I’d look down from my satellite and see the world both day and night…

But even if Chuck had a hard time being bodily in the studio, a whole lot of his soul is captured on this record. If you want to get to know the real man, all you have to do is take a listen to Weatherman. This song comes straight from the heart.

It was very fitting that the first hurricane to threaten the Tampa Bay area in 80 years was named Charley. I was about a week away from sending our disc to the pressing plant when Charley started swirling towards Tampa. As I was evacuating ahead of the approaching storm, I put the audio master of Max Q (the album) in a sealed Ziploc bag, hid it in my sock drawer and hoped for the best. Dan had the backup copy at his place so the chances of Charley destroying both copies were remote, but with this project, I wasn’t taking my chances.

It’s ten times worse than a full moon, you’re not even safe in your bedroom…

For the most part, our studio equipment held up to our three-year long recording session like a champ. But at the very end of the recording process, Murphy’s Law kicked in big-time. I wasn’t sure if Mercury was in Retrograde or not, but some unseen force certainly seemed to be attempting to thwart our attempts at completing this CD.

With our 12th and final song, Sound of Silence, mixed and ready to be burned to CD, my 16- track recorder finally gave in and said “Uncle.” No more. It had had it up to here with my endless mixing, remixing, recording, rerecording and sonic nitpicking.

My face went pale as I realized that if I couldn’t get my recorder to talk to my CD burner, I would have to reformat the hard drive, and destroy everything on the drive! This included our rendition of Paul Simon’s classic which had taken over a month to get sounding just the way we wanted.

After attempting another dozen or so burns to the CD burner (and creating a good size stack of CD coasters) I finally faced the fact that I would have to find another way to salvage Sounds before it was lost forever into the abyss of my hard drive. And I couldn’t help but think about the other 11 songs that were archived on CDs that sat in a shoebox in the corner. If I couldn’t get the burner working again, I didn’t know how I’d get those back into the machine for mastering.

But I put that doomsday scenario out of mind and thought back to the immortal words of Gene Kranz, the flight director of Apollo 13: “Let’s work the problem, people!”

So work it I did. I ended up renting an old DAT recorder and backed up every bit of the 700 or so megabytes in real time to three DAT tapes. Not a very fun way to spend a day, I assure you. But with the song safely archived (I hoped) I could perform the dreaded reformatting. Of course, I still wasn’t sure this would even solve the problem. Luckily, my machine came back to life, and I rescued the mix. Perhaps we would make it through Max Q after all.

You control my thoughts, you control my moods…

Even though I handled the engineering chores and had to have my grubby hands in every aspect of this record (control issues, anyone?) this record was an intensely collaborative effort. We all spent hours paired up working on different parts of this record. And when something wasn’t working, we sometimes had to realize it was our part that needed fixing. And we had to learn to let go of the reigns and try someone else’s idea to see if it worked better. Often times it did. In fact, the person playing the part is often the least capable of really hearing how it works in the song.

So we spent hours tweaking each other’s parts, so to speak. Even though Dan is the drummer, he had brilliant suggestions for quite a few guitar parts (the opening chords of Weatherman, for instance). And to return the favor, I spent hours helping Dan refine his drum parts (Max Q, for instance). Chuck had input on my vocals, I had input on his bass, and round and round it went.

In fact, one time (at band camp) we even passed around the microphone to record acappella guitar solos for Tell Me Why. Guitar solo karaoke is some of the funniest sounding stuff you’ll ever hear, I assure you.

And now that’s it all done and not a single note can be changed (aargh!!!!), we can all sit back and enjoy it and forget about the sweat and heartache that went into the making of it. We can crank it up in the car and sing along like everybody else as the thousands of hours of labor and millions of decisions that went into it are washed away by a permanent wave of sound that takes us all to a much better place. A place where it’s safe and warm. “Houston, we’ve passed through Max Q.”

William Cote 10/01/04


released October 14, 2004

Recorded by The Reverse Engineers

Chuck Cote - Guitars, Vocals
William Cote - Guitars, Vocals
Dan Cote - Drums



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The Reverse Engineers Florida

The Reverse Engineers is a three-piece progressive-alternative rock band based in the USA. Comprised of brothers William, Daniel and Charles Cote, the group has been creating music since 1997.

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Track Name: Mercury in Retrograde
Mercury in Retrograde

It travels round the sun
Six times to our one
What no one else can see
Is plain as day to me

They say its surface is hot as hell
Unwitting servants to its spell
You can't flee Mercury in retrograde

You can't flee Mercury
You can't flee Mercury
You can't flee Mercury

It's ten times worse than a full moon
You're not even safe in your bedroom
Controls more than the rising tides
There's nowhere to hide
There's nowhere to hide

The gods must be against me
My shortwave doesn't work
Lost signal, no connection
Nothing goes right

Imbalance in the system
Rogue planet off its track
All circuits overloaded
Nothing goes right

Damn that planet
Damn that star
Force of disruption from afar
You can't flee Mercury
You can't flee Mercury

Free from Mercury
Free from Mercury

Lyrics by Chuck Cote, Daniel Cote, William Cote
Track Name: Sunshine with the Shade
Sunshine with the Shade

Another long night till the sunrise
Could use some sunshine in the morning
Another mistake in the making
Was this trip worth taking?
Could use some sunshine in the morning...

Where's the silver in this lining?
There's always sunshine with the shade
Where's the dawn to end this darkness?
There's always dry times to end a hard and endless rain

A bit of love for the lonely
She was the wrong girl at the right time
Another mistake in the making
No trip worth taking
Could use some real love in the morning

Someone's starlight is the sunshine
They wish upon our sun in the night time
It's all been uncovered -
there's some of them in us and us in them
It's all been discovered -
there's no need to mourn for anyone

This star is someone's sun
The sun is someone's star
There's shade in every day
And there's sunlight with the shade

There's always sunshine with the shade
There's always sunshine with the shade
There's always sunshine with the shade
There's always sunshine with the shade

Lyrics by William Cote
Track Name: Tell Me Why
Tell Me Why

You said you would leave me never
You said you would be with me forever

I'm not your dead-end job
I'm not your albatross
I'm not your setting sun
I'm not your...

Tell me why
Why did you leave me?
Tell me why
Why can't you see me?
Tell me why
Why don't you need me?
Tell me why
Why can't you see how I feel?

Walking down the street I'm thinking 'bout you
Walking down the street I'm wondering what to do,
Without you

I see a star - wonder where you are
I see your glare - my heart tears
I see the sun - thinking we had fun

So tell me why
Why did you leave me?
Tell me why
Why don't you need me?
Tell me why
Why can't you see me?
Tell me why
Why can't you see...

I'm not your dead-end job
I'm not your albatross
I'm not your setting sun
I'm not your...

Lyrics by Olivia Kent, The Reverse Engineers
Original poem "Why?" by Olivia Kent. Copyright 2000.
Track Name: Out of Body
Out of Body

Are you reeling from the past?
Or scared of the future coming fast -
Feeling seduced, tempted and overthrown

Well you're not locally grounded,
You're not hopelessly grounded
There's always an open door where the sunlight flows

Feel the rays crashing through you
As you float away from shape and form
Up, up and away so high above me
You slip into something safe and warm

Safe and warm...

There's a safe place to go
But only prayer will take you there
Connect you to another
'cross this veil of space and time

We are separate to feel the joy of communion
We are alone to hold the hand of creation
Lead us along - we are shadows...
Shadows of the soul

Make my outsides like my insides
Make me soft and hard to see
Make each moment everlasting
The astral pulse will set you free

Spend an hour or two
Spend a day apart
My body's so unsure
Our bodies so unsure

Set you free

I'm out of body -
Out of time
I'm out of body -
Out of my mind

Out of time
Out of time

Lyrics by William Cote
Track Name: Be Here Tonight
Be Here Tonight

Maybe you're counting sheep
Maybe you're fast asleep
Maybe you're standing there
Right behind me

Maybe I'll never know
Maybe I'm just too slow
If I just knew your name
If I just had your number...

Maybe you're last in line
Maybe you're wasting time
Maybe that was you there
At the market

Maybe I'll never know
Maybe I'm just too slow
If I just knew your name
If I just had your number...

Where are you my woman?
Where are you my wife?
Why are you still searching?
You should be here tonight.
Where are you?
Where are you?
Be here tonight
Be here tonight

It's a spell you're under -
Daydream trance, x-ray glance
Searching for the perfect one
Looking for that perfect fit

Maybe I'll never know
Maybe I'm just too slow
If I just knew your name
If I just had your number...

Maybe you're in Russia
Maybe you're on the 'Net
On my computer screen
Is that your picture?

Maybe you're on TV
Face in a magazine
If I just had your number...

Lyrics by William Cote
Track Name: You Control the Sun
You Control the Sun

It was a stormy Monday when we first met
It's still raining now
It's still raining now

I felt your stare before I saw you there
With one look I was yours
With one look I was yours

You took me home,
Opened my heart
Cut me open with a surgeon's touch
You broke down the walls and crawled inside

Now -
You control the sun
You control the moon
You control my thoughts
You control my moods
You control my thoughts
You control my moods

It was a cold day when you left me there
The warmth has not returned
The warmth has not returned

Now the seasons don't change,
The clock stands still
In fear of your delicious spell
My world's eternal cold
The forecast calls for snow

You sent me to a private hell
When you left me with myself

The phone rings but there's no one there
I hear footsteps in the hall
Shadows in the dim-lit night
Dizzy then I fall
Awake with the sent of your perfume
Asleep with the touch of your hand

You control the sun
You control the sun
You control the sun
You control the sun

Lyrics by William Cote
Track Name: Weatherman

I want to be a weatherman
I would do the best I can
I'd look down from my satellite
And see the world both day and night

I wonder what tomorrow brings
I wonder what tomorrow brings...
I want to be a weatherman.

I like to look up at the sky
Higher than the airplanes fly
And listen to the wind above
Waiting for the storms I love

I wonder what tomorrow brings
I wonder what tomorrow brings
I want to be a weatherman
I want to be a weatherman

The storm it finally has arrived
I've waited for it my whole life
I walk out in the atmosphere
To feel its force as it draws near

I look the storm right in the eye
And wonder if I will survive
People think that I'm insane
Because I stand out in the rain

I want to be a weatherman
I would do the best I can
I want to be a weatherman

Lyrics by Charles Cote
Track Name: Till We Say Goodbye
Till We Say Goodbye

When we dance
We hold each other's hands
When we talk
I look deep in your eyes

But when we kiss
You turn your cheek to me
When we kiss
It doesn't set you free

When it comes down to it
You're not right for me
Down to it
I'm not your cup of tea

It won't be long till we say goodbye

Something doesn't quite fit right
I loved you at first sight
Something doesn't quite fit right
I loved you at first sight

I was obsessed - you were stressed
Now I see the light

It won't be long till we say goodbye

Lyrics by William Cote, Daniel Cote
Track Name: The Sound of Silence
The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

"Fools" said I,"You do not know.
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you."

But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls."
And whispered in the sounds of silence.

Lyrics and Music Paul Simon. Reprinted/recorded with permission of Paul Simon Music. Copyright 1965.
Track Name: The Same Path
The Same Path

It's not enough that you want it too
It's not enough that your sky is blue
We're both human and
We're dreaming different dreams

If we can walk the same path
If we can walk the same way
Then I will hold your hand

La la la la...

It's not enough that you say "I do"
It's not enough that your heart is true
We're different souls that happened to collide

If we can't walk the same path
If we can't dream the same dream
Then I will understand

La la la la...

Lyrics by William Cote
Track Name: The Longer Now
The Longer Now

You could be break me down
Bit by bit
You won't find the spark at the center of it
You won't find the thinker of my thoughts
You won't find the mover of us all
Of us all

The song plays from the speaker on the shelf
I can't find the band that's inside
These words they come from somewhere else
I can't find the thinker of my thoughts
The thinker of my thoughts

We live in the longer now
We dance in a longer now
We dream in the longer now

X-rays cannot find you
Science will deny you
You are weightless, timeless, spaceless
Skeptics will disprove you

You are - beyond this time and place
You are - the actor on the stage
You are - the mover of this man
You are

I am yesterday's hopes
I am yesterday's thoughts
I am yesterday's dreams
I am yesterday's desires

The longer now
The longer now

You could break me down
Bit by bit
You won't find the spark at the center of it
You won't find the thinker of my thoughts
You won't find the mover of us all

Lyrics by William Cote
Track Name: Max Q
Max Q

Wake up commander,
It's T minus 3 hours
Time to have your cake
And light the candle

T minus 20 -
Poll the program manager
The comm-check starts
We're live on NASA Select

The SRO's happy and so are we
Splashdown's clear as the cloudless sky
We'll be marching past T minus 5
10, 9, 8, 7, 6...
No red page today
5, 4, 3, 2...
In a minute we'll be Max Q

Alarm bell rings
Dreamstate fades to a dull, gray haze
Once again time to execute
The routine begins...

Marching single file
Good busy worker bees
Must sacrifice for the hive
Nothing more than worker drones
Nothing more than a worker.

Holding down a chair in a
small, gray cube
Talking to a prisoner on the outside
Staring at the cathode ray
It burns my eyes
Watching my life fly by
Watching the dreamer die

Come in commander -
It's 2 minutes MET
Brace yourself for staging
Let's separate the SRBs

In 3 minutes we'll be out of sight
Just vapor trails in the morning light
Houston calls for main engine cutoff
Jettison the external tank

Watch it burn up as it falls

Fire the OMS to stabilize the orbit
Now Sir Issac's in the driver's seat...

But you're not in orbit...

You're standing in line
You're counting your time
Nothing more than a worker drone
Just standing in line
You're wasting your mind
Nothing more than a worker drone

Nothing more than a worker drone
Nothing more than a worker...

Sign on to insanity
No time to sit idle
Every move monitored
It's time to go live

They can record my words
They can't suppress my thoughts
There's a safe place where the dreamers go -
They can't read my mind

Staring at the cathode rays
It burns my eyes
Watching my life fly by
Wake up, Worker Drone!

In my daydreams
I'm an astronaut
Orbiting the earth
On a spacewalk
I float above the atmosphere
So far away from here...

Lyrics by Daniel Cote, William Cote, Charles Cote