Interview: Cymbals Eat Guitars

Editor’s note: the following interview was originally published last month on Wrong Frequency, the blog of writer Ryan Jordal.

It’s been a year since Why There Are Mountains came out. With it being your first release, was the large response to the release easy or difficult to deal with? Was it a little too much all at once or was it something you eased into?

Joseph D’Agostino: Our record got a lot of attention before we were fully prepared to bring it in a live setting, so it took about two months of rehearsals five days a week for us to catch up to our hype, so to speak. There was a lot more anxiety in those early stages, when I believed that we were an ineffective live band. The day-to-day of touring, keeping your voice intact and all that, is something I’ve had to learn on the fly since our September tour with the Pains. Outside of that, it’s been non-stop enjoyment. I’m still wondering when I’m going to wake up.

For some of your dates last year, you toured with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. So far this year you’ve announced a set of dates with Bear in Heaven. Both of whom had great success within the past year and are continuing to do so. Is there a different feeling or some sort of mutual understanding when you tour with other bands that, like you all, are experiencing a lot of attention being a relatively ‘new’ band?

Joseph D’Agostino: Not really. There are certainly moments of shared pinch-yourself euphoria where it’s like “all these people have come to see OUR bands, isn’t that EXCITING??!” It still happens to me every time we go to a different country and people show up.

With such a dynamic sound for four people, I’m interested in how the songwriting process goes for you guys. Is your sound something you were going for from the beginning or did it just happen to work out to the way it is now? Does one person bring something to the table or is it more of a jam thing?

Joseph D’Agostino: I write the lyrics and the music. I usually have a pretty good handle on the arc of the song before bringing it to the band. Then we just tweak nuances and details until everything fits together well, then we play it over and over again until it sounds perfect to us.

Being a New York band, do you find that the huge music scene there feels like more of a competition or is it opportunistic since so much is going on? Both perhaps?

Joseph D’Agostino: We’re very much removed from the Brooklyn scene. We rehearse in Parsippany, NJ, and everyone else except me lives in Jersey… and I live on the Staten, so I don’t think I’m qualified to comment. I really don’t feel like we’re in competition with anyone, though.

Matt Whipple: I think there is a lot of both. New York is pretty disjointed in terms of a “sound”, and it is easy to be dismissive of something that doesn’t satisfy your personal taste at first, but that a lot of other people end up getting really into, which often ends up being a really pleasant surprise. In terms of a competitive atmosphere, I know I’d be wrong if I said there wasn’t one, but for what I couldn’t really be sure. Like what the end game is…I suppose people’s relatively short attention spans? To be honest, it really doesn’t feel like we’re very much a part of a larger New York scene because we are so inwardly focused. We have a very heads-down approach that doesn’t involve a whole lot of surveying our geographic proximity, musically-speaking. Plus, we’ve been rehearsing in an office building in New Jersey for the past month. We’re working all the time and it doesn’t allow a lot of opportunity to go check out other local bands. I wish it did, and should definitely make more of an effort.

The first time I heard you guys I listened to “Indiana” and was instantly hooked. Upon listening to the full album, one of the unique things I noticed was the lyrical delivery. It’s as if you have so much to say each song and only have so long to do it, sometimes ending in some sort of a loud frustration. To me, it really gives the songs a lot of meaning. Is that something you were going for, or is it just how it worked out? Were the lyrics written before the songs were recorded?

Joseph D’Agostino: The lyrics and music are written completely independently of each other, and later combined. It’s not unusual for me to have to cut many inessential bits and tailor the lyric to the music before everything sits right.

The band was started right out of high school. What were you listening to back then that made you want to start a band like Cymbals Eat Guitars?

Joseph D’Agostino: Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Iran, Grandaddy, Pavement, Modest Mouse, etc.

Matthew Miller: My older brother was the biggest musical influence in life up til about late high school, so at the time I was mostly listening to punk like Lagwagon and Face to Face. I was also starting to listen to a lot of Harvey Danger and Weezer.

Besides the U.S. of A., what is your favorite country to play and why?

Joseph D’Agostino: France or Spain, I would say. So far those have been the most supportive, loud-when-they’re-supposed-to-be crowds.

Matthew Miller: Although we only have had the opportunity to play one show, Paris was my favorite destination to date.

Matt Whipple: France. Parking a van in Paris is impossible, but the men are beautiful.

Brian Hamilton: I love food and drinking, so if those things are good, it’s usually my favorite place to be!

Do you guys get much of an opportunity to sightsee while on tour? What are some of the coolest experiences or things you have seen while on the road?

Joseph D’Agostino: Not often… on our most recent European tour we had an entire day to walk around in Antwerp, but that was it. There’s usually some downtime in London too, since we often play several dates in a row there. The drive to Portland from Boise was breathtaking, as was the Baltic Sea… and Paris. In Paris you are constantly surrounded by beauty.

Matthew Miller: We have almost no time to see anything when we are abroad. Despite this, the architecture throughout Europe is breathtaking even from the van window.

Matt Whipple: The ubiquity of wind farms across Europe and how they do not aesthetically spoil the landscape in the slightest was pretty remarkable. Not a big “go green” guy…it was just hard to not notice. They’re everywhere.

Brian Hamilton: We mostly look at the world from the inside of the van… that being said, it’s a unique way to see the world change around you as you travel around. For me, the most interesting things are seeing landscapes change rapidly within one state or country – going from desert to mountains to rock formations to forest to plains within only a few hours is pretty amazing

What can we expect from Cymbals Eat Guitars in 2010?

Joseph D’Agostino: Touring, road-testing material for our next record and writing the remainder of it during our time off.

Matthew Miller: A lot of touring and hopefully the majority of a second album will be complete!

Matt Whipple: Unconditional love. And a big secret pizza party.

Brian Hamilton: Wolf t-shirts and melted faces.

Are there any ideas being bounced around or full songs already written for the next release? If so, could you tell us if they are in the same vain as the full length or are they a bit different?

Joseph D’Agostino: Yes, there are four songs (that includes Tunguska and Plainclothes, versions of those two are already out there) written for the new record thus far. I don’t think we’d be an act to watch if we decided to make our first record over again. We’ve learned more about what we can do as a quartet since March when we began touring, and we’ve implemented different dynamic strategies and more ornate, carefully crafted hooks and moments, and some big melodies. Also the lyrics are markedly denser and more developed than my previous efforts.

If there’s any other issues or any cool things that you’d like to promote feel free to do so here.

Matthew Miller: Make sure everyone comes out to see us on tour throughout Europe and the states in February and March!

Matt Whipple: Please do what you can to help the people of Haiti. There is no shortage of different ways in which one can contribute. A good start:

Brian Hamilton: Right on… i build effects pedals under the name smallsound/bigsound. I make a rad bass fuzz called the team awesome! Fuzz machine and will hopefully be expanding a bit this year… and I love Beach House with a passion.