Caveman | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Discovering Fire

Jan 24, 2012 Caveman Bookmark and Share

The New York-based Caveman have had a whirlwind two years since they first started playing music together. Veterans of separate projects that folded around the same time, these long-time friends looked to each other to find a new outlet for their musical compulsions. This familiarity shows on their self-released debut album, CoCo Beware: unleashing a dark surf vibe over pounding rhythmic grooves, the players come together with the comfort level and chemistry of a much older band. The acclaim they’ve received has extended to their live performances, following a number of buzzed-about CMJ shows and tours with such bands as The War on Drugs and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The first month of 2012 has already seen the band sign to Fat Possum Records.

Caveman drummer Stefan Marolachakis spoke with Under the Radar about the band’s meteoric rise and the release of CoCo Beware.

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): Congratulations on the new record. Between releasing that and all of the touring you’ve been doing, you’ve been really busy. What have been some of your best experiences of 2011?

Stefan Marolachakis: It was a real thrill to put the record out, because we’re really proud of it. I can’t imagine what’s more important to a band than the records they make. We had put our feelers out there, but we wound up putting it out ourselves, and it’s been exciting to see how that mapped out. And definitely, touring with The War on Drugs was a real highlight, because that band is so fantastic and we’d already liked them in the first place, so to meet them and have them be such incredible guys was a real treat. I think those things jump out to me as the real thrills of 2011.

You’d all played in other bands before starting Caveman. How different is it to be in a group that’s received so much buzz and success despite being at it for less than two years?

I would like to think it’s a byproduct of all the work we’d put in previously. We’ve all been hammering away in different regards in the music world for several years each now. Whenever I think about things seeming to go more swimmingly now than in the past with other bands I’ve been in, I just think you learn a lot the more you hammer away at something. I think it’s a byproduct of us all learning and also forging really nice relationships with people as time went by.

If I look at it out of context it’s really exciting that a good amount of people have responded kindly to the record and to the band [so quickly], but if I look at it and think about our whole lives, it’s taken a long time. It’s a product of our lifespans.

You were all friends for a long time before Caveman came together. In your experience, did that change the way you wrote and recorded, in contrast with past projects?

I think that we were definitely more familiar with one another’s approach. To join a band and realize you’re intimately familiar with the way somebody approaches songwriting, or approaches melody, or approaches their instrument, that’s really cool. As with any type of relationship, things that used to have to be spoken can now be unspoken. It’s also great for me, because I’ve done various things: in my old band I was the singer, and in high school I was in bands playing drums. At the end of [my last band’s] lifespan, it got to the point where I was singing and playing drums. So, [in Caveman] Matt [Iwanusa] is this singer, and Jimmy [Carbonetti] is the guitar player. I’ve known Matt and Jimmy for years. Jeff [Berrall] and Sam [Hopkins] are sort of newer to me, and it’s so exciting to get to know them. Jeff’s an incredible bassist, and he really prioritizes having a rhythm section that’s really together. To me, one of the most exciting things is having a bass player who is so talented at what he does and also so invested in us really linking up. To me, there’s something really inspiring and old-fashioned about that. Matt, our singer, he’s a drummer, that was his thing in his old band. My thing has always been rhythm and melody, and that’s exactly what Matt’s M.O. is. We were in tune with each other.

How do you think the current local music scene played into the Caveman backstory? Do you think this sort of synthesis could have happened outside of New York?

I think it’s really less a byproduct of geography than just different people outlasting the lives of their previous bands. They still have a hunger to make music, so they sort of seek each other out. They find each other, luckily. It’s less about location than it is about whatever’s going on in those people’s lives.

The album has this great dreamy, sun-washed vibe to it. Are there any past groups or albums that you see as a clear influence on your sound?

When we were making the record, some of us had been previously obsessed with, or just renewing an obsession with, or just finally rediscovering Tusk, the Fleetwood Mac record. I’ve loved that record for years, and it really seemed to manifest itself when we were doing this. Lately we’ve been listening to a lot of Gene Clark [of The Byrds]. Jeff, our bass player, turned me on to it. It’s this crazy merger where it’s sort of country but it’s spaced out, and it’s really dark with this huge vibe. There’s a weird twang in it, too.

[Our influences are] sort of all over the map. There’s the stuff we all agree on, too, but each dude in the band has his own tendencies and it’s nice to get turned on to all this different kind of music. I had dinner with Sam, our keyboard player, and he was naming all these different bands I’d never even heard of. I’m waiting for him to make me a mix. [Laughs] We sort of ebb and flow with what we like to listen to. That newest PJ Harvey record [Let England Shake], by the way, is so good. Jeff bought in and came in to Jimmy’s guitar shop, he was like, “Am I crazy, or is this just the best record I’ve heard in, like, 10 years?”

You mentioned the guitar shop your guitarist runs in the East Village [in New York], where he builds and sells his own custom guitars from scratch. Does that DIY approach toward the instruments play into Caveman’s sound?

Oh, yeah, definitely. I think it’s also emblematic of us what we’ve grown to love: trying to have our hands in everything. When I was growing up, I had these visions that one day we’d be able to farm out different aspects of a band, and just focus on one thing. Realistically, I think a band needs to stay aware of every aspect of what’s happening. The fact that Jimmy actually builds our guitars is really exciting. It’s a reminder that if he can build the instruments we’re using, then we can all ante up and do X or Y to help keep the band cooking, as well. He was around these guitar shops in New York for years, and he decided to start his own. It’s really inspiring. His shop is sort of like an HQ for us, too. We meet up and just listen to records and talk shop, break down new ideas. It’s fun to have a little hive of activity.

You took a DIY approach to releasing the record, as well, putting it out on your own, rather than through a label. Can you talk about how that experience played out?

We’re still in the thick of it. Our record has been out digitally for two months, but it just came out physically. We put feelers out to see what labels were out there and what they were thinking, and there was some interest but it didn’t really add up. It turned out that we had such a cool team of people helping us, and it seemed like we might not to get any more cooks in the kitchen. Our band is very hands-on. There were varying degrees within the band of welcoming/total skepticism when it came to dealing with labels, especially given the fluid nature of the industry right now. It’s unclear where it’s headed and how it’s going to get there.

To go back to what you were saying about DIY or hands-on, this just seemed like another arena where we could keep things really close to us and stay involved. ORG Music has helped us release it physically, and we’ve starting doing foreign territory stuff recently. We have a good support network, and it’s been a thrill to put out and see how it all shakes out.

I understand the name of your record [CoCo Beware] is a wrestling reference.

It’s a point of origin, and then it sort of spins out from there. We were all definitely aware of wrestling as kids—that 1980s sort of wrestling aesthetic is just out of this world. It’s this cool thing where if you mess with it, it takes on this darker, mysterious sort of meaning that’s also foreboding. It was fun throwing that title at the wall and twisting it around to see how it made us feel. It was fun to have the idea, mess with it, and realize it had this cool sort of mood. It’s a nostalgic reference for us, which is great, but it also just sounds kind of scary.

Now that an exciting 2011 has come to a close, do you have any big plans for 2012?

We’ll be able to scratch one thing off the bucket list for the band right off. Our next show is headlining Bowery Ballroom, which I just can’t believe. Most of us grew up in New York. I grew up in Manhattan, Jimmy grew up on Roosevelt Island, Matt grew up in Park Slope…. Growing up, that was the cool venue to go to. For me, now, realizing that we’re going to be able to headline there, that’s just mind-blowing.

We’ve done some touring, but I’m excited to see what other great bands we can cross paths with. We’re also all just excited to start working on the next record. There are a lot of songs brewing that we’re really eager to lay down to tape.



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