Today’s musical landscape—especially as experienced through the internet and the blogosphere—is always churning out new sounds and phenomenal music. But, it is safe to say that something which is in short supply are bands which seriously rock out. It seems to me that last time indie music really had a number of bands who rocked out was in the late 1990s.
It’s time to rock again, next Wednesday, March 28th at Mr. Small’s. Cursive headlines with opener Cymbals Eat Guitars. Both bands bring onstage a handful of guitars, a healthy dose of angst, and let it rip. Cursive is a band that cut its teeth in the rock scene of the 1990s, and has continued to make aggressive and emotional music since. Cymbals Eat Guitars have not surprisingly been referred to as a “90s-style” rock band, but they have also garnered comparisons with Animal Collective and Mogwai for their complicated, linear songs. I had a chance to talk with Matt Whipple of Cymbals Eat Guitars in anticipation of what is sure to be a fantastic show. Don't' forget we have a pair of tickets to the show to giveaway.
This past October, Cymbals Eat Guitars released their sophomore full length, Lenses Alien, to high critical acclaim. Personally, I find it even better than their debut. “We're really proud of the record we made,” Matt says. Whipple joined the band after the release of their first album, Why There Are Mountains, so this was the first Cymbals Eat Guitars album where he was actively involved in the writing and recording. Unlike the first album, this one did not receive the coveted (but in my mind overrated) label of Best New Music by Pitchfork. Matt spoke honestly about this. “We'd be lying if we said we weren't hoping to get Pitchfork’s Best New Music. A lot of bands try to downplay that. But it makes no sense, because it obviously makes a difference in terms of how your record is received, because a lot of music on the internet is basically a Pitchfork echo chamber.” Receiving such positive press from Pitchfork on their first album, when the band was relatively unknown, really helped get them on the indie rock map. “While we were understandably a little disappointed to not have the record be such a zeitgeist as the last time around, we kind of understand that not being a new band anymore definitely impacts how much excitement there is about the music that you put out. People love new and now. When you're putting out your second record there is a bit more of a battle for attention.”
The album title is indicative of both the band’s musical approach and the lyrics written by singer Joe D’Agostino. Lenses Alien refers to taking perspectives on the world which are unfamiliar to us. Both song structure and lyrics are complex; sometimes psychedelic, wandering, and disjointed. “I think kaleidoscopic is definitely a good word for it,” Matt says. “For this record there was a concerted effort to make it so. To arrive at that kind of sound, the lyrics and the music together, it’s not like one comes first and the other comes second. They dance around each other and shift and change shape until they fit together in a way that makes sense to us.”
The band isn’t necessarily not bothered by the label of “90s” rock, especially as it has been applied with increasing regularity to such critical darlings as Yuck. “I think a lot of guitar bands now that don't really sound much like the 90s get labeled as throwback, just because they're not using synths basically. I think in some ways for us it is a very apt description, but in others it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I think that people are always just going to like guitar music. Not to be a rockist, but I think there is something very visceral and immediately satisfactory to people who like this kind of music to hear guitars played loudly and weirdly.”
One of my favorite pieces of guitar brilliance is the epic album opener, “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name).” At 8 and ½ minutes, the song is more than twice as long as everything else on the album…but so good. I asked Matt if we were likely to hear it at the show with Cursive. “Yeah, I think so. It’s such a behemoth of a song, you kind of have to build the set around it.” Other considerations come into play when designing their set, he said, especially an opening spot. “We're kind of hemmed in by the fact that Joe plays songs in a bunch of different tunes, and he has three different guitars that he brings on tour. So because we don't have a guitar tech or someone to retune guitars after every song, a lot of our set is dictated by us saying, ‘Ok, we need to minimize dead space between songs, so let's play the three songs in standard tuning, and then the three songs on the white guitar, and then the three songs on the black guitar.”
The band has release videos for two singles off the album. The first video, for “Keep Me Waiting,” shows a complicated story of adolescents with the feel of a Richard Kelly film with a crazy ending open for interpretation. Matt told me that the band is interested in letting the directors do much of the decision-making and story writing, with the band providing only minimal suggestions. More recently they released the video for “Definite Darkness,” directed by Jaime Harley. Like the first, they let the director take over. “I don't want to say he is the director really…he is sort of a video collage artist. What he does is find these really obscure found footage shots and assemble a video using that footage to create an emotional collage experience. So we weren't really involved in that video at all. We heard that Jaime wanted to do a video for us, and we had seen other stuff that he had done for How to Dress Well and Twin Shadow. As soon as we heard he wanted to do one we were like, "Yes, absolutely, do whatever you want." He submitted a rough cut to us that was basically the song playing 3 or 4 times in a row just over all of the footage that he wanted to pull from. We immediately said, “Yes! Go. Do it.” And the end result is what came out a few days ago. We're really stoked on it.”
The band spent a good bit of last year on touring Europe. I asked Matt about his experience there versus here. “US crowds are usually a little bit more boisterous, a little bit more vocal, more enthusiastic. That doesn't necessarily mean that they like the shows more. I think European crowds tend to be a little bit more reserved and a little bit more reverent. We could play a show in Germany and everybody is just dead silent and politely clapping the whole time, and then we don't play an encore. Somebody would come up to us afterwards and say, ‘Why didn’t you play an encore?!’ And we were like, ‘Um, I don’t know. Cause we thought you hated the show.”
They didn’t hate the show though. Nor will we when the band rocks Pittsburgh next week. Ultimately, Matt said the louder the crowd, the easier it is to play the show. But, he adds, “I don't think it necessarily means we'll play a better show. But it certainly means that we'll think we're playing a better show.”