Interview: Cymbals Eat Guitars

Last Friday, Cymbals Eat Guitars came through town to play Part I of V89’s 27th Birthday Bash at Club Downunder, alongside Slothrust and Whateverer. Fresh off of some dates opening for Bob Mould, the Staten Island-based band is now touring in support of its third album LOSE, which reflects on themes such as the fear of losing your youth and the death of one of the band’s close friends through prismatic, emotionally-charged indie rock. It’s easily one of our favorites of the year so far, so before the show we were excited to catch up with bandleader Joseph D’Agostino to talk about the record as well as what’s next for Cymbals Eat Guitars. LOSE is out now on Barsuk.

WVFS (David Wolfson): You guys are about to go on tour opening for Brand New, along with Foxing. How did that come together?

Cymbals Eat Guitars (Joseph D’Agostino): Our keyboardist Brian [Hamilton] has a guitar effects company called smallsound/bigsound, and Jesse Lacey from Brand New bought a few of Brian’s pedals a while back. Brian mentioned in passing that he played in CEG and Jesse said he was already a huge fan, and that we should do some shows together. Foxing was added to the tour recently and we couldn’t be more thrilled… We’re on the rock tour of the fall!

WVFS: It sure seems like it! It’s interesting to see you guys being paired with emo bands, especially with one as straightforwardly pop as Brand New. Your last album was so knotty, I think it speaks to how much you’ve changed over the past few years.

CEG: I think that bands in that world (the Alt Press/ Property of Zack world) are doing WAY better than many bands in the Pitchfork realm. The fans are young, devoted, and excited about music in a really genuine way. They buy TONS of merch and they come out in droves and they sing the lyrics to your songs back at you so loudly that you can barely hear yourself. We played a sold-out headlining show in Chicago recently and literally half the audience was singing along to “Jackson”. There was a pit. People were crowd surfing. Do you know how many people were singing along to Lenses Alien songs? That’s a hard question to answer because in most cases there weren’t any people at those shows in 2011. I think our new songs are still knotty and weird and intense, but they have been tweaked so that they are thrilling and emotional and relatable. I could care less about “cool” and what people consider to be cool at this point. What does cool get you? People standing with their arms crossed, checking in on Facebook and twittering about how “okay” your set is? Fuck that. Seriously.

WVFS: At this point in your careers, what do you think the advantages are of doing your own tour vs. opening for bigger bands? Do you think one is more appropriate for where you guys are now?

CEG: We’re trying to break out of the buzzband realm and hook some fans who will stick with us beyond a hype cycle… Someday we’d like to be in the position Brand New is in. They have a rabid fanbase and sell out 2-4,000 [capacity] rooms in minutes. I think we can inspire that kind of devotion, so we’re trying to open for bands whose fans are really into white guys yelling about feelings. Headlining can wait as far as we’re concerned.

WVFS: LOSE is very obviously inspired by New Jersey– was there something that happened that made you want to make it more of a Jersey album, both musically and lyrically, than your previous records?

CEG: The record deals a lot with friendships and experiences from my teenage years, years I spent primarily in south Jersey… So there are a lot of landmarks and signifiers, naturally.

WVFS: Growing up there, was college radio ever something you listened to? Have any favorite programs or fond memories listening, or even playing at college stations while on tour? We saw the video of the session from KEXP recently.

CEG: I used to listen to WPRB, the Princeton radio station, when I was much younger and living in Jersey. They would play a lot of avant garde noise stuff that was pretty exciting and mysterious to me at the time, as well as Jersey mainstays like Yo La Tengo. I got turned onto I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One by WPRB. KEXP remains very close to my heart. They’ve been extremely supportive with the new record and they played the shit out of our first record as well.

WVFS: All three of your albums now have started with one of the longest songs from the album. Is there a rationale behind doing that, and on another note, what are some of your favorite album openers and why?

CEG: Usually our records open with what we consider to be the strongest statement on the record. If that happens to be the longest song or one of the longest songs, that’s kind of just the way the cookie crumbles. It’s not really deliberate, we just try to make the first song an encapsulation of the major themes that will appear on the rest of the record. Some of my favorite openers: “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), “Beetlebum” (Blur), “Leave Them All Behind” (Going Blank Again), “Alison” (Souvlaki), “Liquid Swords” (Liquid Swords), “Race For The Prize” (The Soft Bulletin), “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1” (In The Aeroplane Over The Sea).

WVFS: The song “Chambers” has the lyrics “When I was 25 / Still had my family / Missed them already / The panic sets in / Though nothing’s happened yet / Days of the same old shit / But I’ll miss all of it.” Do you feel that people tend to romanticize their youths even if they don’t really enjoy them, and if so, is that something that you feel is still worth doing?

CEG: Sure, people romanticize their youth. I’ve always had problems living in the moment and enjoying whatever it is I’m experiencing. It’s sad because I’m aware of it, but can’t really do anything about it. I think it’s worth romanticizing youth in song. That’s one of the sacred tenets of rock n roll, right?

WVFS: The last song on the album, “2 Hip Soul,” ends with a piano part that sounds like it’s in the same key as the beginning of “Jackson.” Was it your intention to have the end of the album match with the beginning, to create a sort of loop tying things together?

CEG: It was actually the accidental genius of our keyboardist Brian. They are not in the same key, but they are both in 6/8 time.

WVFS: What was the inspiration behind the album art?

CEG: The initial concept was to have an enormous ball of instrument cables “floating” in our rehearsal space with our instruments sort of discarded beneath it. But when we attempted to shoot the photo it didn’t really work, so our bassist Matt [Whipple] had the idea of wrapping our heads in instrument cables and having each panel of a gatefold vinyl be one of our portraits.

WVFS: And finally, outside of touring, is there anything else coming up for Cymbals Eat Guitars? What’s next?

CEG: Nothing outside of touring. Touring touring touring touring, US Northeast in Dec, Europe for all of January, US in March/ April, festival season in US/ EUR through the summer, writing a new record during our off time.