Exclusive Interview: Caveman
by Chuck Norton
It seems like the Caveman album, CoCo Beware, has been out for several months – but the reality is that the physical copies of the album don’t actually come out until November 15, 2011 (the digital version was released this past September).
The New York-based band, who has only been together since January 2010, has generated a significant amount of buzz with the quality of their live performances – including time touring with The War On Drugs – and, obviously, the quality of their work.
Caveman first popped on to my radar this past June, when the incredible single, “Old Friend” was released. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to listen to the entire album did it become apparent just how talent the band fronted by Matt Iwanusa is.
Their ability to mix roots-tinged vocals with harmonious melodies jumps out immediately upon listening to their songs. Unlike a lot of acts who can capture all the magical elements needed to craft a great tune on a song or two per album, Caveman does so throughout each of the tracks featured on the album that I consider one of the best of 2011.
The band, which includes Iwanusa as well as Jimmy “Cobra” Carbonett, Stefan Marolachakis, Sam Hopkins, and Jeff Berrall, cut its teeth in the New York-area opening for acts like Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, White Rabbits, Here We Go Magic, Cursive, Wye Oak and Yuck.
For this year’s CMJ festival in New York, Caveman scheduled 10 – count them, 10 – performances. That’s more shows than a lot of bands play in a month, much less a week. Even for a festival like CMJ or SXSW, that’s a ridiculous number of performances. Given the band’s history of performing, it seems to be par for the course. And if the notoriety gains from such an epic schedule exposes them to a new set of fans, media and industry-types, good for them.
I had a chance to catch up with Atlanta-native Jeff Berrall – the bass player and a vocalist in Caveman – in late September. We touched on a variety of topics, including the news that the band is working on a new album.
DeadJournalist.com brings you this exclusive interview with Jeff Berrall of Caveman.
To me, CoCo Beware is one of the best albums released this year. Is the press reaction (of any kind) something you and the band take with a grain of salt? Or – even if you don’t like admitting it – is it something to which you do pay attention?
JB: I’m glad you dig the record. As far as the press reaction goes we have to take it with a grain of salt. Fortunately, all of us have been in previous bands and have dealt with good and bad reviews.
We pay attention In so much as it’s a sign that things are going well. But, I’m a 36 year-old bass player. I can’t really be bothered. What am I going to do, quit?
What were the biggest challenges for you when writing and recording CoCo Beware?
JB: That was the best thing about CoCo Beware. You and your readers may not believe me but it was effortless. Truly. I swear.
Did any songs change significantly during the recording and production process? Or did they come out sounding much as they did coming into the studio?
JB: Nothing really changed once we went to the studio. Some stuff was written in the studio. I remember “Easy Water” was done during what was initially a mix session.
The one song we thought about most was probably “Thankful”. That one at first was done with a drum machine and it was really cool. Then we did one with real drums and that one didn’t quite make it either. The one you hear on the record starts with the real drums and the drum machine starts to fade up and join in somewhere in the middle. I love how that worked out.
What have you learned during the process that you can apply to future albums?
JB: I guess what we learned about the process was to do it as fast as possible. I have found that the most important thing in music is knowing when to stop. From making music to photo shoots to doing interviews, you gotta know when to stop.
What drives the creative process behind writing and recording your music? What provided the inspiration for this album?
JB: The creative process is driven by all the normal stuff. Friendship, girls, feelings, etc. …
As a songwriter, what do you find as the greatest challenge of putting a song together? Do you find that you are always chasing the perfect song?
JB: The best songs are the easiest to write. Is there such a thing as the “perfect song”? I’d be willing to debate you that there is no such thing.
What led to the decision to have split release dates for the album – with the digital version available two months prior to the physical release?
JB: The split-release thing was not intentional. We were initially talking to labels and that was dragging out forever it seemed like. Once we decided not to go that route it was a matter of putting together our own label and finding a distributor and manufacturer. Quite simply the vinyl and everything is still being printed. We also felt like we could not wait anymore so we got it out digitally in the meantime.
Are you working on material for a new album? If so, have you seen an evolution of your work? Do you feel any additional pressure because of the success of your current album?
JB: Yes we have started songs for the next record. We are actually playing a few live here and there. I imagine there will be some evolving going on. That would only be natural. Not sure about pressure. Oddly, I feel a lack of pressure. Call me in six months maybe it’ll be different.
How does your album translate to your live performance? Do you try to maintain consistency from show-to-show or do you tailor each performance to location and mood?
JB: I don’t believe in trying to do the record exactly on stage. Its a boring idea. To me the studio and the stage are two different worlds. Let’s please keep it that way. For all that’s good and pure in the world. Let’s all agree to agree on that.
What are the biggest challenges for you – both as a performer and personally – for being on the road? Conversely, to what are you most looking forward?
JB: On the road is what it is. I guess you hope you don’t get sick while at the same time you have as good a time as possible. Musicians who complain about the road kind of annoy me.
How has the rapid ascension of the band – having only formed in 2010 – impacted other aspects of your life? Is it challenging to maintain balance given the frequent touring, recording, etc., during the last year?
JB: No change in lifestyle, yet. If your in town you can still find me at the darkroom bartending Monday’s and Thursday’s. No change in lifestyle yet.
Has a band or artist offer the band – or your personally – any advice that you found helpful to your musical career?
JB: I once heard Steve Paul, an old NYC nightclub owner, tell a friend of mine “write hit songs and don’t do heroin” seemed like sound advice.
How does social media and social networking impact how you market the work? Have you seen benefits or detriments from the intimacy your fans have to the band because of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.?
JB: Social media is great. It’s the modern world. I’m not one to fight it.
Is there an artist that you’ve encountered recently that you’ve been recommending to your friends?
JB: We toured with The War On Drugs and they blew me away. They were really inspiring.
What were you listening to in 2001?
JB: 2001? That was the year of the Strokes I think. Them and oh yeah that was the year of Smile for me. The old unreleased Beach Boys record. I spent probably 100 bucks on bootlegs of Smile tracks that year. Crazy.
Web site(s) you read regularly?
One Drink. One Movie. One Album.
JB: Jameson shot, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, Tusk.
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