Bridging the gap between the sonic footprint of the Garden and Empire states is rock outfit Cymbals Eat Guitars. Melding progressive instruments with indie rock vibrations, the group has begun work more collaboratively to bring to listeners their latest full-length, LOSE. Currently signed to Barsuk Records, the band is on the brink of departing on a nationwide tour in support of their most recent effort. One of the primary singles released has been a track called “Jackson,” a cut paying homage to the elements of truth and lore that New Jersey offers its natives. The album, due out later this month, has allowed for the members of Cymbals Eat Guitars to deviate from the path they took for their last work, Lenses Alien, to travel down a more emotionally-driven musical route.
Amidst tour preparation, vocalist/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino sat down to share the facts of the matter on his band with me. Here are some of the more interesting points that the New Jersey native made:
The new LP is set for release in August. How do you feel this is a fresh take on the sound that Cymbals Eat Guitars are capable of producing?
It’s more direct in every way, musically, lyrically. Our last record was a very prog rock affair; everything was super composed, there were no choruses, no lyrics repeating, virtually none of the parts repeated. That’s very ambitious in some ways, but for us, I feel it was more ambitious to write some songs with some choruses and some big hooks because we hadn’t really done that.
This time around, we actively tried to streamline our approach to songwriting, and I think that I was ready to stop using five-dollar words, stop trying to show everyone how smart I was and just write some lyrics with some emotional heft. I think that it’s a big leap forwards for us musically and lyrically.
After listening to the single “Jackson,” I got the inkling that you were referring to Jackson, New Jersey.
Well, yeah, Six Flags is in New Jersey, Jackson is near where I’m from. I’m from Waretown, sort of like Long Beach Island area. That’s where I grew up, hence my 609 area code.
A lot of the record is deeply rooted in my Jersey upbringing. I’m very much into bands that have a lot of Jersey folklore and kind of participate in that tradition. I’m super into Titus Andronicus; TheMonitor, that was a big album for me. Of course, I’m into all of the Jersey greats—Springsteen, all of that stuff. The Wrens, of course.
Any plans to make videos for the songs that are coming out?
We do. We have one in the works for “Laramie.” We’re doing it with our friend Milton, who’s done several videos for our friends, and Milton is a good friend of mine. We filmed that video at the end of June; I guess he’s editing it together and doing some post-production, so we’ll have that. There’s also talk of Noel [Heroux], from Hooray For Earth, doing a video for us on a hand cam or a video cam of us getting drunk, but in reverse. Just a fun, dumb kind of video.
Videos, nowadays, it could be argued that they are really important. To me, you can’t really gauge what kind of impact they’re going to have. Unless you really have a hit on your hands, it just seems like it’s a thing that you spend $3,000 making and then you put it out and it’s a headline for a day, no one ever sees it again. We don’t have MTV or VH1 anymore doing videos in rotation, or we do, but you know, it’s just kind of a dubious part of the marketing plan, if you want to call it that. We’re going to try and make as many as we can on the cheap.
When does your touring pick up?
We do some dates in August, the 20th through the 27th. We’re doing New Haven, CT, Poughkeepsie, NY, Asbury Park, Asbury Lanes, where I have played many times before in other bands, The Stone Pony as well, so that will be a nice return. We’ll have those dates sort of as a warm-up. We’re also doing a house show in New Brunswick.
I can’t say just yet because the cops might bust it up if we announce it too far out. That’ll be good. We’ve done New Brunswick before; it’s a lot of fun. One of our songs I wrote after playing a basement show in New Brunswick. Then we go on tour with the Bob Mould band September 5th through the 27th. That ends in L.A. and then we come back through the Southwest, up the East Coast, headlining. We’ll be gone through October 17th, which should be good. I haven’t been on the road in a long time. I am excited.
What are some of the more memorable venues or cities that you’ve played thus far?
The Oh Yeah Festival in Oslo, Norway, was very memorable. The festival grounds themselves were great; it was a big lake. The real memorable part of that was after we played, our hotel was right across the street from the opera house. You can just climb to the top on the outside, and we’re at the top of the opera house. On one side, there was a symphonic orchestra giving a concert, and on the other side, Big Boi was doing his headlining set. So you had these kind of warring factions. The fusty, musty classic people were like, “Oh, no, well, I never…” and Big Boi on the other side. That was really, really special. It was in August and the weather was perfect; not a cloud in the sky. I always remember that though, standing on top of the opera house with our bassist, [Matt] Whipple. That’s very memorable.
I love all of the big rooms—rooms that we wouldn’t headline: the HMV Forum in London; The Troxy in London is amazing to play. These theaters, they’re incredible. I hope someday we’ll be able to headline places like that. The Bottletree in Birmingham, AL, is one of the best rock clubs in the country; they treat you really well. There’s really just too many to count. Even the bad ones are fun.
How do you think your origins have influenced the music of Cymbals Eat Guitars?
Well, my family were New York born and bred—Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I was born in Brooklyn and lived there for five years before we moved to Jersey. I kind of have a mixed pedigree. I think much of my musical and personal development was spent largely in isolation because I’m an only child. We lived in a development that only had two or three houses on the block. It was a lonely time in my teenage years. I think that kind of isolation then set into the sort of music that I would write.
Also, on the New York side of things, I am very ambitious, and I see music as a vehicle to do things and accomplish things that I want to do in my life. There’s both sides of that and like I said before, just being a part of a lineage of great Jersey bands. I don’t see Cymbals Eat Guitars as a New York band or part of any kind of New York scene. No one can stand up to The Velvet Underground or Jonathan Richman or any of these people, so we don’t really try.
What are some short-term goals for the band?
Short-term goals, um, just get to Europe in November, which we’ll probably do. Do a really solid U.S. tour, the spring hopefully headline, and just have a good festival season. The last record we didn’t play a single festival, so I need to kind of rectify that.
Beyond that, I don’t know. This is a… I mean, I kind of sound like a dick, this is a sinking ship. We’re going to try hard to make it work as a band, but it’s really difficult to be a rock band these days. It’s really hard to think beyond next year, even. We’ll see how readily the next thing comes to us, if it does at all. I really couldn’t say.
Cymbals Eat Guitars touring dates:
Vibe Lounge/Rockville Center, NY/Aug. 22
Asbury Lanes/Asbury Park, NJ/Aug. 24
Baby’s All Right/Brooklyn, NY/Aug. 26
Theatre Of Living Arts/Philadelphia, PA/Sept. 5
Bowery Ballroom/Manhattan, NY/Sept. 10 and 11
Music Hall Of Williamsburg/Brooklyn, NY/Sept. 13
Cymbals Eat Guitars’ new album, LOSE, is available now through Barsuk Records. For more information, go to cymbalseatguitars.com.