Emotional (and synth-based, duh!) evolution, the indie-rock way.
BY KELLY DEARMORE
New York-based five-piece band Caveman might be one of the most subversively –named groups out there today. While there’s a heavy synth-presence on their new, self-titled album, it doesn’t exactly scream, knuckle-dragging and fire-inventing. In fact, the way in which lead-singer Matthew Iwanusa, guitarist Jimmy Carbonetti, drummer Stefan Marolachakis, bassist Jeff Barrell and synth-man Sam Hopkins employ the moody blankets of sound are far more current than they are retro-vintage or even futuristic. Typically, it seems as though a synth-tastic album usually leads the listener into the New Wave-past or soaring into a Tron-like future. Not here. Not with Caveman, in this case.
Speaking over the phone with Marolachakis recently as he diligently spread the word of his band’s fine new offering from the tony confines of New York City’s Ace Hotel, the time-keeper made no-bones about the vital flexibility of the synthesizer’s role in the creation of Caveman’s music.
“It’s really a gateway to an incredible amount of emotions and states-of-mind,” he says. “Like most other instruments, the synth’s a mirror of the person playing it. I mean, it can obviously help create the feel of certain time-periods, but it’s more useful in expressing what the player wants to say at that moment. The synth can really widen the mood, and it’s super-expressive.”
In keeping with the theme presented by his band’s name, Marlachakis feels as though instincts and unearthed parts of the brain played a major role in the creation of the record’s often velvety, dream-like aura.
“The goals of what we wanted to convey emotionally were more subconscious,” he explains. “I think about making music as carving out a space where someone can go to different places on different days, depending on how they feel. Because of that, there are ebbs and flows to our music.”
Indeed, a widening of mood and broadening of sound is apparent on the follow up to the group’s well-received 2011 debut, the splendidly melodic CoCo Beware. As mentioned, the synth is prominently featured here, but Carbonetti’s guitar – which at times, gets highly, and effectively shoegazey – swirls its way around the record to augment the various shades and textures which make the new album a cohesive success. According to Marolachakis, a bit of simple, musical geometry helped in giving the new record a grander scope than their debut.
“We recorded the first album in [producer] Nick Stumph’s basement studio,” the drummer says. “It was a single, small room, and then we put out the record and started touring. It was on that tour where we started stretching out the songs and seeing what sounds we could make. We realized we liked bigger sounds, so for this record, we went with Nick to a much bigger room [New York City’s Rumpus Room] to accommodate what we wanted. We had a good combination of ideas that had already been fleshed-out, some bones to other songs, and then some songs were born in-studio during recording. We got to try things out to our heart’s content.”
Much of the material for the new record sprang from the time the group has spent together of the past year and a half. The vocal harmonies are tighter than before, which required a greater confidence in all-voices involved. Perhaps more importantly than any instrument in the studio, the group used their familiarity with one another to add to the album’s personality.
“I can’t help but think,” Marolachakis says. “A lot of this record is the by-product of the band spending so much time together on the road since our first record came out. For so-long, we were basically together for 24 hours a day. We learned more about one another’s instincts and we got more practice under our belts. It’s funny to think about the term ‘harmony,’ because we value that musically, and we’re all good friends that sing together, which really makes sense in that way.”
As is the case with any buzzed-about young band releasing their second album into the fickle, and often-harsh blogosphere, the pressure to produce a high-quality product the second time around is much greater than anything before the debut album, which was recorded in practical anonymity. Some bands purposely switch-up styles, or undergo line-up changes between the first and second albums. To be certain, it’s also not unusual for a band to simply stay the course completely, so as to not upset the delicate balance between artistic and commercial success and failure.
Forward progress in the musical life of a band is rarely a concrete object where analytics can trace whether a band is successfully evolving or not. Perhaps a band doing something similar to what it’s done in the past and simply sounding better is enough proof of creative progress. Just as they gained confidence and learned more about one another’s abilities while on-tour, for Caveman, the physical act of progressing stems from gelling during that fruitful time together on the road.
“It feels like we’ve matured,” Marolachakis says. “For us, I’ll again say that getting a lot of road-time together was a key factor. We got to know our instincts and styles. The more we played the more possibilities we caught onto when it came to future records. It was great being on that first tour for months and then going right into the studio to try some of those new things we learned.”
When pushed to detail a specific song or element on the new album that a listener will be able to decipher as true, unmistakable positive progress, Marolachakis again points to more intangible elements that were present during recording. While such items won’t provide the listener a road-map to the tighter, evolved Caveman sound, the results of the group’s togetherness is plain to hear, regardless.
When studying a scientific chart of how man has evolved from an amoeba into the modern Homosapien, there’s a systematic sense of logic evident in the process. Even a Caveman, however, can acknowledge that with art and music, such practical thought isn’t really applicable.
“I don’t think there are any specific, isolated moments on the new record that show obvious growth,” he admits. “But the types of takes we were getting in the studio felt like we had been playing together for a long-while. It’s just an inspiring feeling to get together with the guys and play more an put new ideas together, just to see what happens.”