Listen And Watch: TAS In Session With Cymbals Eat Guitars...
Although Staten Island proudly claims fast-rising psychedelic rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars, the band is really a tri-state endeavor, sprawling across New Jersey and Pennsylvania too.
Taking a confident, crafted leap on their sophomore album, Lenses Alien, released just recently on Barsuk Records in the States and Memphis Industries in the UK, Cymbals Eat Guitars launch a North American tour next week, playing Music Hall of Williamsburg on September 21. They'll return again to the New York area on October 27 for a Bowery Ballroom gig.
The quartet of longtime friends - guitarist/singer Joseph D'Agostino, bassist/vocalist Matthew Miller, drummer Matt Whipple and keyboardist/vocalist Brian Hamilton - also stopped by The Alternate Side not long ago for a full session which airs tomorrow, September 16, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. EDT, streaming on The Alternate Side. They discussed their experiences recording with influential producer John Agnello, who has worked with Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, The Hold Steady and Dinosaur Jr., countering parental worry and the desire for brevity in their new songs.
Below, interview and video highlights of the band's set which included kinetic live takes on "Definitely Darkness" and the ambitious opening track on the album, "Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)."
Alisa Ali: You guys have been called a New York band, but some of you live in Jersey.
Joseph D’Agostino: I live on Staten Island right now.
Alisa: I like to refer to Staten Island as Shaolin. Are you down with the Wu Tang?
Joe: Very much so.
Alisa: You hang with them?
Joe: No, I don’t hang with them. I saw Method Man once in a movie theatre on Forest Avenue. The “Iron Man” premiere. He had an entourage of bodyguards. Very scary, thick-necked men.
Matthew Miller: I live in Morristown, New Jersey.
Brian Hamilton: I’m from Philly.
Joe: Matt also lives in Philly. But he’s from South Jersey.
Matthew: We’re actually from Jersey.
Alisa: A lot of this record, Lenses Alien, was done in Jersey.
Joe: We wrote pretty much all of it in New Jersey in Whipple’s parents’ basement.
Matthew: We set up the storage room as a practice room and that’s were we did most of the writing for the record.
Joe: No recording there. Except an iPhone at the top of the stairs.
Alisa: You got John Agnello to produce the new album for you. Kind of a big deal. He’s worked with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. How did that happen?
Joe: He came to our show last April at Music Hall of Williamsburg when we did a U.S. tour with Bear in Heaven. It was the last show and he really liked what he heard and he said, “Let’s make a record.” We said, “Okay!” So after we finished up most of the material he would come by to Whipple’s house every so often and do some pre-production, give us suggestions on how to improve the songs and make them more song-y. “Definitely Darkness” definitely benefited from his touch in that regard. Originally it had a bunch more up and down, there’s a whole other section, we didn’t just ride out the Teenage Fanclub part, as John calls it. It just works better as a song now that he made us do it this way.
Alisa: There’s one thing that I notice about this record as opposed to the first one, Why There Are Mountains, which had a bunch of songs on it that were pretty long. Not that I’m complaining. But a bunch that were over five minutes. The first song is eight and a half minutes, but everything else is pretty standard three-and-a-half minutes.
Matthew: We kind of endeavored to fit more into a shorter package. We wanted to see what we could do with more traditional structures. None of the songs really have very traditional structures, the closest we’ve come is really “Wavelengths,” but we just wanted to see if we could do it. We packed a lot [into the songs].
Alisa: What happened with the first song, then? Was that a 20 minute opus and then you trimmed it down?
Joe: Actually, we had the ending of that song first. Last summer we wrote this thing that sounded like Spiritualized and then we built the song around that. We really weren’t sure where it was going to go.
Matthew: It took such a long time to finish that song. We had so many versions of it that we weren’t satisfied with, but eventually the noise break was the game-changer. We realized we were going to do noise for two minutes. John advised us to make people uncomfortable so that was the goal there.
Alisa: Well can you do it? Let’s see how uncomfortable we can make people feel.
Alisa: That’s called “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” - what is the improper name?
Joe: Rifle Sight. Or something to that effect.
Alisa: Is that a nod to “Wind Phoenix?”
Joe: Yes, it’s the name of the main character in the song.
Alisa: I’m sure your parents loved it when you played that song in their garage.
Joe: I played my mom a really early iPhone-at-the-top-of-the-stairs demo of that song that was about seven-and-a-half minutes long and explained that we were adding another part, as if she’d understand what it was supposed to sound like. Her reaction was along the lines of, “Your dad and I are just worried about your long-term prospects.” (all laugh).
Joe: Whipple wrote the music for this song and I wrote the melody and lyrics. It’s really important because it’s the first time that anything like that has happened in this band.
Alisa: In the past, on the first album, Joe that was mostly you.
Joe: Yeah, I wrote all of the bass, keyboard and guitar parts. This time it’s much different.
Alisa: A full band effort. Which must feel better?
Joe: A lot less pressure.
Alisa: What’s Lenses Alien about?
Joe: It’s a lyric from the first song, “Rifle Eyesight.” That’s in keeping from Why There Are Mountains’ title. I suppose it’s an over-arching theme for the record of seeing things in a strange way that’s sometimes a source of wonder of the world we live in, but also terror and dread.