Cass McCombs | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Cass McCombs

Digging Beneath the Surface

Oct 27, 2016 Photography by Rachael Pony Cassells Cass McCombs
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The lyrics of Cass McCombs’ new album, Mangy Love, his eighth and ANTI- debut, may lean heavily on political and social issues but don’t let that fool you as election year fodder. It’s just a coincidence. Instead, he highlights events from two to three years ago like Occupy Wall Street. It’s a rarity to find a McCombs album that doesn’t find him singing about issues that are important to him.

“Political issues are something I’ve always been personally involved in and organizing and participating in community direct action,” says McCombs.

That desire to be involved stemmed from growing up in the East Bay region of San Francisco, where he was exposed to its long history of community organizing. It’s something that has helped connect him to his friends and others around him. That includes focusing on issues such as animal rights, environmental protection, racial injustice, and gay rights.

“I’ve been blessed to grow up in the Bay as politics are like water,” he says. “It’s inherent in the culture.”

McCombs says politics are a “lyrical avenue that most of my peers do not even want to remotely touch on…. When it comes to injustice and loose political concepts [the rock community’s] eerily silent. Silence is compliance, generally speaking.”

What McCombs says he does differently on Mangy Love is to dig beneath the surface of the issues. He says it was an “advantageous avenue creatively to express some angles and dimensions and try to make it complex and not as black and white.” While he’s not setting out to make protest songs like Rage Against the Machine, he creates narrative songs “where you see a multi-dimensional contour of an issue.” That includes thoughts that might conflict with one another.

“[They’re] encompassing subtleness and heavy handedness,” he says. “Any thought that I think, I try to express that. And sometimes a thought can contradict the last thought. But that to me is a good lyric.”

One problem he feels many musicians have is that they will scrap the lyric they don’t personally agree with. He says this “tunnel vision” makes people have one perspective. If others disagree with that lyric, it’s their problem.

“I don’t think that’s the way human beings think and reason,” he says. “It’s not logical. But the way we arrive at logic and reasoning is the story of that which is more abstract and psychotic in a way. I’m trying to write songs about that crazy journey toward or away from logic.”

Mangy Love‘s engaging lyrics are complemented by a rich tapestry that features a wide range of guest musicians, including Angel Olsen and Phish’s Mike Gordon. The album freely rotates between soulful, psychedelic, and funky grooves. McCombs feels producers Rob Schnapf and Dan Horne were instrumental in creating the loose environment between musicians.

“We just tried to make it fun so people can express themselves however they want,” he says. “Everyone provides something that enhances my lyrics. It really creates a quilt work where all these different people and walks of life come together. I think it’s a really beautiful thing.”

While most of the lyrical content is serious, he feels it’s important to have a sense of humor. That’s evident in the album’s title.

“I wanted a title that would encompass all these broad political and personal ideas,” he says. “[But] humor is needed. A lot of artists take themselves way too seriously and they’re not too smart to begin with.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s August/September/October 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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