A Q&A with Cymbals Eat Guitars
by Mayeesha Galiba (Journalism/Political Science), published April 3rd 2017
Headlining Tastemakers Presents this spring was indie rock band Cymbals Eat Guitars (CEG). The band will be going on tour this spring with the Pixies, along with Sunflower Bean (check out our interview with them here). CEG brought an entertaining show to Afterhours, but beforehand Tastemakers was able to sit and chat with singer Joe D’Agostino, bassist Matt Whipple, keyboardist Brian Hamilton and drummer Andy Dole.
TMM: What’s your favorite part about playing Boston, and do you guys play a ton of college shows or is this kind of out of the ordinary?
Joe D’Agostino (JD): I’ll answer the second part first. We’ve made the rounds, we’ve played BU, we’ve played – I think we had a Tufts show. We played a few colleges.
Matt Whipple (MW): We don’t play a lot of college shows, but it seems like the vast majority of them are in Boston.
TMM: I think that’s because there’s so many. [LAUGH] Northeastern’s the best, though.
JD: Is it?
TMM: You worked on a split with Kevin Devine, like a song on one, right? How was that? How was working with him?
JD: It was like two years ago, really.
TMM: Yes, 2015?
JD: We’ve toured with a little with Kevin and we know him. We know his friends, but we didn’t, we weren’t actually in the studio together. We just recorded our songs separately. But we did that song with Jesse Lacey, the singer from Brand New. He produced it and we recorded in their studio in Long Island. So that was like the weird fun part about doing the Kevin split. And then the subsequent tour, which was all the artists who participated in the split series, who it was Mike Kinsella of like Owen and American Football, uh, Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy, Kevin, Matthew Caws from Nada Surf, and us and am I forgetting somebody? Tiger’s Jaw.
MW: Not all of Tiger’s Jaw, just Ben and Brianna.
JD: It was like a little traveling circus. We only did like four shows, but they were all round-robin, play two songs, hop off the stage, and other people get up and play with each other.
TMM: Who was the best artist or band that you’ve toured with? Most fun, most interesting in terms of you wanted to learn from them or play with them, that kind of stuff.
JD: We’ve had universally almost good experiences, honestly.
MW: I think Bob Mould.
JD: Bob mould, yeah. We’re going on tour with the Pixies in May, I have high hopes for that one because they’re an all time favorite of mine. We learned a lot on that Brand New tour, too. We never played shows that were quite that big every night. Yeah. To mostly hostile audiences, yeah.
TMM: Two or three bands or artists that you’re into right now. We can kinda go around for that one.
JD: Forth Wanderers. Uh, Alex G. Two rock bands and two bands we’re friends with. What else? Sleaford Mods, who we don’t know ‘cause they’re like 50 year old Englishmen. Awesome new record.
MW: I’m really excited for the new Arca record that’s coming out. He’s like this experimental producer, he’s from Venezuela but he lives in New York. He’s like, he did production for like the last Bjork record, and he worked on Yeezus. With his new record, he’s like singing for the first time and he has like this beautiful singing voice and like no one knew ‘cause he’s never sung on his own songs before. I listened to a couple songs the other day and it seems like it’s gonna be really cool.
Brian Hamilton (BH): Uh, I feel like I’ve been listening to a lot of Sun Ra recently. There’s not really anything that I can think of that I’m like looking forward to.
MW: We listen to a lot of old music. Andy plays a lot of Afrobeat in the band, a lot of Fela Kuti or Tony Allen. I think our tastes are rapidly veering away from rock bands. [LAUGH]
Andy Dole (AD): I listened to a lot of Can on our last tour.
JD: Yeah. It’s easy to become very cynical about anything that new bands are doing.
TMM: Why is that?
JD: Why is that? Um…
MW: It’s so close to what we would. I mean, you kinda know the hustle that everybody’s trying to do, like with their own indie band. It’s kinda just like, it’s a little bit of like a fun spoiler. Kind of seeing the PR cycle and sort of like the, all the non-musical stuff that happens when a record gets released. For me, it leads to for me sucks the fun out of being excited for a band’s record.
TMM: Yeah, the behind the scenes.
MW: Yeah, kind of. It’s also kind of like, I don’t buy a lot of tickets to go see other bands play. It’s just like I know people who are playing, I’ll go to friend’s shows. I bought tickets to see Dolly Parton. [LAUGH]
TMM: I feel like that’d be a lot of fun.
MW: I didn’t get to go, actually. That’s the last thing I bought tickets for.
JD: I bought tickets to see Blur at Madison Square Garden in 2015. That was the last thing I paid for.
AD: I wanna go see Tom Petty this summer. But we’ll probably be on tour.
JD: And the tickets are like 200 dollars.
TMM: What’s it kind of like, playing the one-off shows versus being on a full tour?
JD: It depends on the nature of the one-off show. It can be awkward if you’re not in the swing of things, and really dialed in from playing weeks of shows. But we just got off tour for a month in Europe, and so we’re kind of still hummin’ I guess. It can be weird if, for instance, not every college show is as well oriented as here at Northeastern, the monitors are nice and the stage is pretty nice and your sound engineer did a really good job, but sometimes it’s like hapless children just fumbling around.
MW: Sometimes it’s kids who don’t know what to do.
TMM: Like how to put on a show.
MW: How to put on a show, the stage isn’t built out yet.
JD: It takes them an hour to wire the stage. I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but that’s sometimes what you run up against, so it just depends on what you’re walking into. But generally we’re prepared for anything.
MW: Do you remember that college show that we played in upstate New York in Alfred? The Alfred College or Alfred University?
JD: That huge, beautiful stage?
MW: No, no. We set up on the floor in the middle of this huge room, and then it kind of seemed like no one was gonna come to the show, but then all these ballerinas showed up and started running around us as we played.
JD: Yeah, and then it was on our first album, so we only had six songs. They were kinda long, but we finished and they were like “More!” and so we played two of the songs again.
JD: And they just kept dancing.
TMM: That’s so fun.
CEG: So there’s definitely all kind of oddball one-offs that happen.
TMM: Any, like particularly awful experiences or have they been basically like run of the mill?
MW: I don’t think we’ve ever done anything, any college, that’s been awful.
AD: There’s a spectrum.
MW: Yeah, yeah, there’s a wide spectrum.
AD: Mostly it’s been totally cool. I don’t… We have, I think we’ve always had a booking agent, we’ve had some people like work for us, and do their jobs, so we don’t have to necessarily deal with some of the bummers that other bands may have to deal with if they don’t have a booking agent, don’t have a contract. There’s all sorts of pitfalls.
JD: No, I was just gonna say usually the worst shows happen during festivals like South by Southwest, or CMJ, where you’re being rushed on the stage and rushed off the stage. Uh, so this one time in 2009 we were playing this place in Bushwick called Market Hotel, which was a really hot spot for a while in Brooklyn. It was so ramshackle. People lived, you know, upstairs like illegally. There was an illegal bar. Everything was falling apart, like dilapidated old New York. And we show up to play, and the PA system is running, like the power source has this fan on it. And we didn’t know what was going on, so we start to play and I think you moved the fan.
MW: It was a thousand degrees.
JD: Yeah, it was so hot. There was like a million people in there. He moves the fan and he puts it to point towards us. And the PA system shuts off. And the promoter runs in, he’s like “What are you — Aw, you moved the fan!” It’s like the fan was cooling down the fucking PA system to keep it from overheating, so it’d continue to run. So like that’s the kind of thing that happens during these weird, you know, where they’re setting up the PA system at some random taco restaurant or something at South by Southwest. You tend to have a shitty time.
AD: I think South by Southwest in general sucks.
JD: South by’s the worst.
TMM: You guys are getting there right now, so. [LAUGH]
JD: Nah, fuck South by.
MW: I can’t emphasize how shitty South by is enough.
TMM: Why is that?
MW: It’s just not… It’s like it’s just like such a rat race. It’s such a logistical headache to do, and so many bands go and think that like great things are gonna happen for them if they play at mostly shows.
AD: It’s just like overwhelming.
MW: It, yeah. It’s just like completely, like completely bloated event that doesn’t really benefit anybody anymore.
JD: Except the corporations that put it on.
MW: Yeah, except for like Doritos or like whoever…
JD: Yeah, we played the Doritos Cool Ranch stage or whatever.
TMM: Did the entertainers get free Doritos?
JD: Fuck no. No.
MW: You don’t get shit.
TMM: Capitalism doesn’t even give you Doritos?
MW: The creepy part of it, you get ushered into these like gifting suites where it’s like here, we’re at the Ray Bans Gifting Suites, like here, pick out sunglasses you like. They’re yours to keep, free sunglasses. Alright, cool. Now everybody put them on, we’re gonna take your picture in front of the Ray Bans banner. It’s kind of just like, ugh. No.
JD: And then you walk around and everybody’s wearing the same fucking pair of wireframe pink Aviators or whatever. Like, olive drab fucking canvas, Converse All-Stars.
MW: Other bands who are like ah, cool, South by on laundry day, I got all this new shit to wear.
JD: Like mustard colored skinny jeans or like whatever they’re unloading.
MW: All the stuff that Converse and Levi’s and Ray Bans can’t sell, they give to bands at South by.
JD: It’s super icky. And nobody gets discovered, like he said. Nobody gets discovered at South by Southwest. You’re all already hot going in and you’re playing 10 or 15 shows and it’s just like a circle jerk. There’s already a feeding frenzy around you if you’re like a hot band going to South by, and nobody who wasn’t hot before South by is gonna be hot after it.
TMM: So it’s not a launching pad for anything?
JD: No. Nothing. It’s not.
MW: It’s, if anything, it’s like a victory lap for bands that have very obviously already broken.
BH: It used to be.
AH: Yeah. Like I feel like when we were there that first time, we could actually meet up with our friends and see shows, but now it’s like really frustrating because like, wow, all your friends are in one city. And no one can see anyone until all of this is done.
MW: If any South by people see this, we’re definitely not ever gonna be invited back. Which is like totally fine.
JD: It’s up to like the South by committee who fucking plays, it’s like whoever’s putting on the party at the AV club, oh, Josh from the AV club likes you, come play the party.
MW: There’s still a South by…
JD: Oh. Well, I don’t care.
TMM: South by god.
MW: Sort of overlords.
TMM: On the record.
JD: On the record, never need to play South by again. Until, someday…
MW: I will throw South by a bone. The last time we did it, we did the weekend before, we did the South by interactive festival, like the tech festival.
CEG: Way cooler.
CEG: So much more mellow, and enjoyable.