The Pop Myth
May 12, 2009 Web Exclusive
Pseudologia, fantastica, or mythomania, is the scientific term for pathological lying, but the clinical jargon can also uncoil plenty of meanings in the imaginative realm of pop music. What comes out of the jukebox and the music halls are often enchanting twists of the truth. For Cryptacize singer Nedelle Torrisi, guitarist Chris Cohen (former Deerhoof member), drummer Michael Carreira, and new bassist Aaron Olson, the term is inverted and warped by Torrisi and Cohen's sped-up and indolent guitar and organ figures and the jerky rhythms of the quartet's new tempo duo. The Oakland band's Asthmatic Kitty 2008 debut (Dig That Treasure) gave fans of quirky pop a gem to unearth and the aptly-titled Mythomania continues the trend. As the group prepared for a European and U.S. tour that will take them well into the summer months, several members of Cryptacize spoke at length about the concept of their new album, the gift and slight embarrassment of encouraging parents, the Bay Area music community, and the Brazilian drumming style called 'Maracatu.'
This is a question for Chris or Nedelle. You were in Nicholas Krgovich's (of the No Kids), In the Yard, Havin' Fun: A Prison Musical this past February. Was that the first time you were in a production like that? What were your roles and how did it go?
Nedelle Torrisi: I did a lot of musical theater growing up, but I hadn't been in a production for twelve years when we did In the Yard. It was a challenge! I kept laughing onstage and had to really concentrate to not do that. The whole experience was incredibly fun. I played a prison worker who falls in love with a prisoner. Chris [Cohen] played bass and drums simultaneously in the "pit orchestra" which consisted of Chris and Nick [Krgovich].
What is general storyline of In the Yard, Havin' Fun?
Nedelle: The plot revolves around a beautiful love story and a dramatic prison break. We're going to perform it again at the What the Heck Fest in July.
Chris' dad made a musical in the '50s called Dig That Treasure, which shares a title with your debut. What was that production like?
Chris Cohen: I'm not sure—I just have this cassette recording of it I found in my dad's desk drawer. He's pretty secretive about those days. But he was a freshman music major in college when he wrote it. It was a student production.
Why did you choose Mythomania for the title of your second album and does it have any other philosophical implications for the title track or the album overall?
Chris: We felt like it was positive and related to what we wanted our record to be–mythomania in the sense of never-ending invention, going out of control. It is also philosophical—perception itself is like mythomania—a creative act which transforms anything in its path.
Like most debut albums, Dig That Treasure sounded fairly intimate and close mic'ed. Mythomania goes for the more widescreen approach. What did the band want to do differently from before?
Chris: We wanted to create a new sound, one that we hadn't actually made in real life yet. Our first album is a document of the music we were already playing together. I'm not sure why one sounds closer. We did used to play a lot quieter.
You recorded the new LP in a cabin in Yosemite last summer. Who owns the cabin and what was the setup like there?
Chris: My parents own the cabin. It's actually in Mariposa, CA, near Yosemite. It's just a house with a big living room, which is where we recorded, that's the big sound. I've come here to make like six or so different albums over the years. The rent is free, so we can ignore all of our other obligations.
How long did you stay? Did you have any time for any sight-seeing at all?
Chris: We were there all summer but we barely set foot outdoors actually, I'm sad to say. And we didn't quite finish it on time. We actually had to do some of the last bits of mixing in the back seat of our car on a laptop while we were on tour.
Did you self-produce Mythomania? How did you mix and engineer this release differently from Dig That Treasure? It's sounds a lot more crisp and upfront, especially with headphones on.
Chris: Thank you. We recorded both albums ourselves. The difference between the two is just the music—there are more instruments, different sounds on Mythomania. We didn't stick to what we could play live so there was more freedom there for the arrangements.
What found sounds and electronic elements were incorporated into the new album?
Chris: Lots of samples from Nedelle's and my record collection—I'm especially partial to these old Smithsonian Folkways sound effects records like "Sounds of the Ocean." I like underwater sounds—like shrimp. Another featured sound in our album is actually 'itself'-the whole record sped up many times. Without getting too deep into the details, I'll say this—our album has a little fractal version of itself where the album gets increasingly shrunk until it becomes essentially just a click—that's the sound of it being sped up and up.
When I came to your Noise Pop performance, Nedelle's mom was in the audience beaming with pride next to me. How have the parents of Cryptacize helped shape or support the band?
Nedelle: I'm blushing! I wouldn't say that our parents have shaped the band at all, but they're definitely supportive! It's interesting because they're all worried about our financial well-being, but at the same time understand why we're doing this and not working for Charles Schwab or something. I guess that's a parent's unconditional love!
Chris: My mom is letting us borrow her car this summer for a U.S. tour.
When did each of the band members start making music and what instrument did they first pick up?
Chris: I started at age 3, playing drums, then switched to guitar at 11. Aaron [Olson] started playing guitar in 4th grade, learning classic rock songs from his Uncle Chuck. Nedelle started playing the violin at age 7, and singing in musicals around the same age. Michael [Carreira] started playing drums early on too, first in rock bands, and then he switched to classical percussion and composition in high school.
I know Chris' dad played music, but do any of the other band members have musically inclined parents?
Nedelle: Chris's mom sang opera too! My dad was a jazz drummer and my mom was a pianist. Mike's parents aren't musically inclined.
Aaron Olson: My parents didn't play much music. My mom played Chopin and Scott Joplin on the piano.
"I'll Take the Long Way" was featured on a recent European David Byrne tour mix. Quite an honor. What David Byrne-related songs would you pick for your own tour?
Chris: I'd pick "Once In A Lifetime"—that song's got a good groove.
Speaking of mixes, you just put out your fourth mixtape via your blog. Did those start out from wanting to have something to do on the road? Who selects the music?
Chris: Nedelle and I both do. We just wanted to share all of the stuff we were enjoying lately. I've been getting back into collecting music again, which is something I kind of stopped doing for a while, but now with all these blogs around everything is so easy to find.
Was the music video for "Blue Tears" filmed near Oakland? How did you hook up with its director, Weston Currie, and who thought of the escaped mental patient vibe?
Nedelle: Weston made a video for our friends LAKE and they put us in touch. We sent him the lyrics and explained what the song was about (mental illness) and he thought of the idea.
Chris: It was filmed right next door to our practice space in West Oakland.
Is "Blue Tears," or any of the songs on Mythomania for that matter, fictional or autobiographical?
Chris: They are all fictional and autobiographical—Mythomania—get it? It's all real life, day to day stuff.
I heard Aaron had some tooth problems at the end of March. How's he doing now?
Aaron: I'm doing totally fine, thanks! I got a root canal and am now awaiting a crown. I sleep with a mouth guard, and when I clench my teeth in my sleep, I no longer dream about my teeth falling out, but rather about my mouth guard disintegrating or somehow getting destroyed.
Aaron's new to the band. How did you hear about his amazing bass skills and why did you decide to add bass after Dig That Treasure?
Chris: Nedelle and Aaron were friends from SF State, we actually hadn't heard him play bass, but knew he was a really good guitarist. Aaron actually joined after Mythomania was made. We didn't initially set out to add a member to the band, but after the songs were arranged with bass, it was obvious we'd really need some help and luckily Aaron was available.
This is a question for Nedelle. Your vocals are sometimes described with dance terms. I can see the connection, especially when you perform. It's stop-start, yet graceful. What are some of your singing influences and how do you approach vocals differently on your solo projects?
Nedelle: My favorite singers are all soul and girl group singers, for example, Brenda Reid from The Exciters, Ronnie Spector, Nina Simone, Timi Yuro, Baby Washington. It's a pretty long list, I could go on. I have never consciously approached vocals differently on solo projects, but I've noticed that I just naturally sing quieter when writing and performing songs with a finger-picked guitar. Singing louder and more extroverted in Cryptacize is actually more fun! I feel like I have a long way to go, though. I want to become a better singer.
Speaking of solo projects, is anyone in the band working on any right now?
Aaron: I have a solo "band" called Cobra and Me.
Chris: Nedelle and I are just doing Cryptacize right now. Mike used to perform solo with the cowbell, which he called Cowhell.
Maybe it's just me but I've noticed that several "indie" bands have one female member, in an all-male group. I don't mean to drone on about rock being a boy's club but I was wondering what are Nedelle's thoughts on the subject?
Nedelle: Of course the ratio of men to women is still pretty whack, but it's getting better I think! Chris and I played with a wonderful musician, Annie Lewandowski, in The Curtains, and that was great. My friend Christine and I are going to start up our barbershop quartet again, so that'll be nice.
Chris, do you still stay in contact with your old bandmates in Deerhoof?
Chris: No, not too much—maybe once a year.
The title track certainly nods towards old spaghetti western soundtracks. What draws you to such an aesthetic?
Chris: Hmm—I never would have thought that about that particular song, but we have definitely borrowed lots of ideas from Ennio Morricone. I love the way he uses open strings on an electric guitar, like on Once Upon A Time in the West—it's just goes 'bwang bwang bwang'—you know? I also love his gangster soundtracks, such as Commandment of a Gangster.
"One Block Wonders" seems like it's such an innocent song at first. What's the dark underbelly for that track?
Nedelle: The song is about someone leaving their home and starting fresh. The verse and chorus lament that it's winter and they haven't seen the sun for months, and then the outro part explains that the person is flying away and it's obvious that they're escaping from someone, not just the harsh winter! I suppose that's the dark underbelly-that someone is leaving another person.
I love the Mythomania cover by Nat Russell. It's minimal but very dramatic. It caught my eye immediately. How did that aspect of the album come about and why did you select it?
Chris: We were hunting for artwork, and—Nat's a friend—we were just looking at his blog (crookedarm.blogspot.com) and there it was! We knew it right away, and we couldn't believe that we had all agreed on something. We almost never do, so we felt really lucky, and Nat was willing to let us borrow it. All of the art on Mythomania is actually from a book Nat made.
How did you get the high-pitched guitar effect on "Tail & Mane" and "On Block Wonders"? At least I think it is...
Chris: Lots of different things on the album are just sped up or slowed down like on a tape machine—nothing too fancy, but you have to learn your part at half-speed or at double-speed, which is tricky for me. We also took fragments of what we had already played and recycled them in different ways.
You're friends with John Vanderslice and played a release show [with him] at Café Du Nord. What's the importance of the Bay Area musical community? Do you guys have any favorite hangouts or anything?
Chris: All of the local musicians hang out at the Big Sip Cafe in Oakland. That being said, we have no connection to any particular regional scene. We're vagabonds and traitors to our hometown. We're moving to Los Angeles in August!
Who writes most of the lyrics for the band? They seem to be very dreamlike on songs like "The Loving Sun" and "The Cage." Do dreams every play a role in your songwriting?
Chris: Nedelle and I collaborate on the lyrics—but mine rarely ever come from dreams. "The Cage" was inspired by a book I was reading on infinity and an Ezra Pound poem Nedelle is into. Now I notice U2's new album has a similar theme—No Line on the Horizon! I guess that's just a timely subject. It's like Zeno's paradox—if you keep dividing a finite distance by half, you never reach the end.
Nedelle: An astrologist told me I process a lot of information in my dreams. Like, I'm not good at dealing with reality in waking life, which is funny because I'm bad at sleeping too! Lots of insomnia! So that would mean I never really process anything. But to answer your question, dreams don't play a role in the lyrics I write.
What are the other background noises that pop up in the beginning of "The Cage"?
Chris: It's the sound of a cage.
"New Spell" really showcases the drum corp aspect of the Cryptacize sound. What did you want to achieve as far as the percussion on this and other songs on the Mythomania?
Michael Carreira: It was a little tricky coming up with drum parts for Chris and Nedelle's screwy waltzes on this record—"Blue Tears" and "New Spell." Some of the snare and bass drum interplay is borrowed directly from this Brazilian style called Maracatu, that I briefly studied several years back. It sounds a little like drum corps music but not nearly as square. That feel seemed to fit well with those two songs. Avoiding the old "om-pah-pah" seemed essential.