Interview: Matt Whipple of Cymbals Eat Guitars

By on Friday, 5th March 2010 at 5:00 pm
 

New York band Cymbals Eats Guitars have already received the praises of Pitchfork and Clash Music, so it’s safe to say they are poised to take on the world. Despite having returned from a short but triumphant tour of the UK last month, their newest member and bassist Matt Whipple was kind enough to answer some questions for us while they prepare to embark on their first headlining tour of North America. Read on about how they got their name, their ‘carnival’ experience opening for the Flaming Lips, and more.

Hello Cymbals Eat Guitars! Where are you guys right now?
Hello! We are at home getting ready to head out on our U.S. tour, spread out between Staten Island, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Lots to do!

So your band has a very visual and musical name. Who came up with it? Is it inspired by someone’s love of percussion over ‘traditional’ guitar? I have this idea in my mind that there could be some really artsy logos and merch made up utilising your band’s name, have you considered anything like that?
Joe came up with the band name long before I joined the band last October. It is a reference to something Lou Reed used to say about the Velvet Underground’s records explaining why Moe Tucker played a drum kit with no cymbals. Cymbals and guitars battle for some of the same sonic territory in the high frequency range. It doesn’t really say much about the sound of our band though. The guitars are right there. We actually have a new t-shirt for this upcoming tour that is along the lines of that idea. Noah Venezia, who has been my friend since we were about 3 years old, is a really amazing New York-based artist and designer and did a design for us using a Fender Jazzmaster pickup as a huge monolith in a field. It looks really cool.

Tell us about your band’s history. How long have you guys known each other? How long have you been playing together?
Joe, our singer and guitarist, and Matt, our drummer, have known each other the longest and have played together since they were in high school, going on 6 of 7 years now. Brian, our keyboardist, joined the band in May of last year, and I’m last to the party and joined in October.

Congratulations on all the buzz surrounding your debut album, ‘Why There Are Mountains’. I think it’s a really cool record because it’s so incredibly varied in terms of instrumentation and tempo. How long did it take to write and record the album?
Thanks! Unfortunately I was not around for the creation of ‘Why There Are Mountains’. I came into the band as a fan of the record, so I definitely wish I had been. Technically, it took about 5 years to write and record that record considering how long ago some of the songs started to take shape. Some of the songs on the record date back to when Joe was about 16 or 17, and he’s 21 now. Specifically, I think ‘Wind Phoenix’ might be the ‘oldest’ song on the record. I couldn’t say with any certainty whether 16-year-old Joe in his bedroom was thinking, “this record will be done in 5 years“, though. I doubt it will take that long to make our next record, but it does still take us a relatively long time to write a song. From when Joe has an initial idea to when we have a final structure with all the parts in place, it can take 3 or 4 months.

One of my favourite tracks on the whole album is ‘Indiana’, because it’s like this multi-part epic piece of music. There are too few songs that actually implode on themselves at the conclusion. Tell us about how this track came about.
According to Joe, the song is about a trip he took to Indiana to visit his girlfriend at the time, probably 2 or 3 years ago. I like to think of it as our Sonic Youth song that becomes a Beatles song, at least when it comes to a live rendition. For me as a listener, the lyrics really nail those times when you’re a passenger in a car through a stretch of rural America and your imagination runs wild with what life must be like in the spaces that you pass by. Like, you blow by in an instant, but people live out entire lives in the houses that whiz by. Why is the pool in the front yard? Why is the stairclimber on the front porch?

Last year you were chosen by Wayne Coyne himself to open for his band the Flaming Lips during their London Troxy residency in November. How did you find out he’d chosen you for this honour? What was it like opening for a band as unusual as the Lips?
We had heard that someone in Stardeath & White Dwarfs, which is Wayne’s nephew Dennis Coyne’s (outrageously epic) band, was a fan of ours and sort of greased the wheel for that to happen, because they were playing the show as well, but when we actually got to speak with Wayne we found that ultimately our booking agent sent over our CD and Wayne liked it and said “ok let’s go.” Opening for the Lips was initially a very intimidating experience. Their entire stage is orange and yellow…mic stands, duct tape, cables, everything…so just being up there feels like being on some sort of carnival ride that isn’t completely unfolded from the flatbed truck. Wayne is very hands-on with their show and watched us play both nights, which seemed to be equal parts curiosity and quality control. After they had finished their set on the second night, when we finally got to speak with him and thank them for having us, he could not have made us feel more welcome or worthy of the honor…err, honour. He is a true gentleman. The whole experience was a terrific thrill. It’s something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

Following those dates you also toured in the UK and Ireland. Was that the first time you’d been over to the UK to play? Seems like you spend a lot more time over there than you do in America.
A few months prior to that tour in November, and prior to me joining the band, the guys had been over for a very brief run of shows at a few different venues in London. CEG is the first touring band I’ve been in, so I have only been on tour in Europe and the UK. I am looking forward to seeing America!

Here’s a question I like to ask bands: what’s the feeling/overall vibe you get when you play in the UK (or the Continent) versus when you play back at home (in America), say, like really at home, in New York City?
I think London and New York are very similar, in terms of rock crowds. There’s a feeling that the fans are very discerning and you definitely have something to prove. There is a slight difference we’ve noticed between how folks in the UK and people on the Continent engage in rock shows. Folks in the UK tend to be a bit more interactive, like the gentleman in Liverpool who kept throwing beanbag chairs at us.

Where haven’t played yet that you’d like to play someday?
Australia, New Zealand, and Japan definitely. Not necessarily in that or in any order of preference.

Are your friends and family aware of your success here and abroad? If yes, what do they think of what’s happened so far?

Three quarters of us still live at home with our parents, who have varying degrees of understanding of what this all means, but are nonetheless tirelessly supportive. We’re very lucky.

Thanks very much for your time and best wishes for all the tours you’re doing this year, seems like you’re travelling all the time. Is there anything you’d like to say to your UK fans?
THANK YOU. We’ll be back soon.

Cymbals Eat Guitars’s debut album ‘Why There are Mountains’ is available now from Memphis Industries. TGTF will be covering their headlining gig in D.C. tomorrow night.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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