Interview Credit: Adrian Hextall (Photographer/Live Gig reporter Myglobalmind Webzine
New York rock band The Cringe are currently out in support of their new album ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ in April. The band formed in 2004 and consists of John Cusimano (vocals/guitar/keyboards), ex Air/Mr Bungle guitarist James Rotundi, ex Crash Moderns bassist Jonny Matias and Bruce Springsteen/Saturday Night Live Band member Shawn Pelton on drums.
John Cusimano and Shawn Pelton spoke to MyGlobalMind during prior to their opening set in support of Steel Panther at London’s Brixton Academy.
So, you’re touring the UK with Steel Panther?
It’s our last night.
Yeah, first question has to be, how have you found it? You’re kind of like, dark and light contrast. You’re not really in your face like the other guys at all. How’s the crowd responding?
JC: The crowd’s been really receptive. Our thing, for sure, on its face is different. You figure we should maybe be on tour with a band like Soundgarden or something. But at its root, our goal, and I hope we accomplish it, is to write catchy, hooky, heavy rock. It seems like, at least so far knock on wood, the Panther crowd has responded to that kind of music. Because Panther writes hooky and heavy rock. They do an 80’s glam, with the look, kind of fashion. We do it more of a grunge kind of thing.
Yeah, and you’ve mentioned influences before. You talk about Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, a lot of the Foo Fighters as far as I can see and that’s the catchy, hooky, heavy rock beats that you’re trying to emulate?
JC: Yeah, Dave Grohl is definitely one of my heroes and I’ve been a big fan of Foo Fighters for a long time. So yeah, if we’re lucky enough to be in that category, we’re certainly happy.
Fantastic. And as far as your style is concerned, I’ve read a couple or reviews mainly from the UK of the latest album just about to be released. I think that’s out 14th of April is it, over here?
JC: Yeah, I think it is.
One reviewer, in describing your voice, at times, said it is very similar to Robbie Williams. Which I thought was really interesting and having had a listen to the album because we got a download of it a week or two ago, on ‘Make Me Something’ and ‘One House Town’, I can kind of see what he’s saying. Your voice does mirror his style certainly, but to be fair he’s not a big name in the US, at all, is he?
JC: People have heard of him but, no, he’s not a household name like Lady Gaga.
No, no, no.
JC: Over there (The UK), he’s as big as Madonna.
He’s kind of like our pop royalty, really.
JC: It’s funny because, what’s the expression? It’s, ‘Two countries separated by language.’ Or something?
JC: We obviously speak the same language but there are certain things that are so British, there are certain things that are so American, that sometimes it doesn’t always translate. I always found it interesting that, like The Who to me were so British, but they obviously not only crossed over, they became one of the biggest bands in the world. Maybe it was a timing thing, but maybe it was that they were so outrageous. Bands like The Kinks, they had their moment in the – well, it’s more than a moment – they were touring arenas for a while in the 80’s, but they didn’t cross over, as say The Stones or The Who. They have bands like Oasis, who did crossover, then bands like Blur, that didn’t quite cross over. I don’t know if it’s the quintessential Britishness of them. But these are all very, very good bands.
With the style and vocal side of things, that’s never been an intentional match to his sort of music.
JC: No, I’m not. Like a lot of other Americans, I don’t really listen to him that much.
Yeah, I was going to say. I’m not surprised. It’s only probably in the UK where that comparison could have been made.
JC: I’ll have to go check him out now and see.
Pick up his greatest hits album and have a listen. But it’s only on the two tracks mentioned, I can kind of see what they’re talking about. The rest of the album, no, no, no, nothing close. I mean, he isn’t obviously a hard-rock artist at all. He’s very much pop. But you’ve just got that lyrical overtone that’s pretty close.
So, Hiding in Plain Site is out on the 14th of April. It’s your fourth album now. Reading some of your own comments around the work that you did on the third album, that seemed like quite a tough process. You said it took a long time to get that 100% perfection that you were looking for. Was this one as difficult or was that your real one that you struggled to get to the end of that recording process and then this one sort of blended in a lot easier?
JC: No, this was similar to that process. The first two albums really went to the studio in, one took two weeks, one took four weeks, and we were done. Both of these last two albums, ‘Play Thing’ was third and ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’, we went to the studio without 12 songs, we had like three songs. Then, we’d record those three songs, then we’d leave for a couple months. Then, we’d write some more stuff. We’d start recording, we wouldn’t like it, we would leave again. This was the process. Then, towards the end, really when we started – as they say in America – rounding third, it’s a baseball euphemism. We were getting close to the end of this one, it almost felt like, those movies when the door keeps closing on you, it was that kind of thing. We were splitting hairs over stuff that may or may not have even mattered in the long run. But, we had come so far that we… you know, there was point that I thought this album that wouldn’t come out.
What made you change your views?
JC: We all have very strong opinions when we come together and there’s a lot of give and take, and everybody gets a chance to sort of have their sense of vision of the thing expressed. So that can make the process last a little bit longer in the long run. But because everybody is coming from such different spaces musically, it brings a lot to the table for the whole band, with a wide range of input and stuff like that. So I think it was worth it, even though it took a little bit longer, you know.
Yeah. The end result is a combined vision for the four of you.
That you are pleased with?
JC: Exactly. And you’ve got to do it that way, Rock n’ Roll should sound like it’s off the cuff. You’ve got to make it look easy. It’s funny, because yesterday we went into Abbey Road’s studio two and we booked out the studio for the day. And we said, ‘Let’s just make a whole album in one day’. What we did is we basically played our live set. So it was like The Cringe live at Abbey Road. There was one new track on there and we did– what was it like, twelve, nine songs in like seven hours.
Is studio two the one that’s got the big black Steinway piano in it?
JC: Yes, studio two is the one where the Beatles recorded Let it Be amongst others..
That’s where all the magic happens. Yeah, I spent four days up there. You guys must have probably heard of the Rock n’ Roll fantasy camp?
JC: Oh, sure, it’s big in the US.
They did it twice in the UK, back in 2007 & 2009. I went to the 2007 one. And we got to play and record in Abbey Road in the same studio as you guys. I mean that’s some experience, isn’t it?
JC: If it’s good enough for John Lennon.
Yeah exactly. But there was something about sitting on that piano, and as you say, as you sit in the control room, you’re looking down into the studio. That’s fantastic. Great experience.
JC: Yesterday I played the piano that Paul played on Lady Madonna. So, it was a bit of like, a wild-trip for me.
And in terms of recording styles these days, I mean that obviously harks back to a time where you have a big recording studio, huge bank of controls upstairs. These days it can be done a lot more simply, with a lot less effort, but which do you guys prefer?
JC: I think that certainly for us and I think for most live bands that play, like a lot of rock bands, or it could be a jazz ensemble. There’s something that you can’t recreate if you are not altogether. All of you sitting in a room together, playing at the same time looking each other in the face. That’s got to be something that translates differently when no one ever even meets. You get the drum track sent to you in the e-mail file and then lay the guitar over that. Press the button, boom, it sounds like Abbey Road. Press another button, boom, it sounds like Hair Studios. At the end of the day if someone’s listening to music, on ear buds, on their iPhone, or MP3, it’s probably not going to matter that much.
It takes a little bit away. But these days people don’t necessarily appreciate that, do they? That actually, if you just on an earphones all the time, you’re actually losing something.
JC: Yeah. I guess, people will be desensitized to this. It’s too bad. There’s something to be said for the art of creating an album. For me, they’re almost, not almost, definitely a big almost but they’re almost irrelevant these days, and it’s sad. The package is 45 minutes of self-contained music that’s maybe conceptually or thematically or sonically somehow all belongs together. The artwork, take out the vinyl, and it’s just something.
Well you say that as well, vinyl sales are going back up again after so many years.
JC: But it’s only a small percentage of the market. It’s not like it was in the 70s it was all they had, 8 tracks too, but it’s getting visibility again. Every major release now comes with at least maybe at least 250 copies on vinyl now.
You don’t have to physically own anything anymore. You just can basically download it. The convenience is great. And I love having my entire music collection with me wherever I go, and more, things like Spotify. But there is something to be said for actually owning a piece of something they can look at and you can put away and take it out. I think that’s why the vinyl is coming back because it’s such a tangible thing.
Yeah. And it gives you the ability to work with decent artwork on the album cover. The gatefold sleeves, giving you something to read as you are listening to the music as well. I mean I’m buying again because every day, all the time now an album comes with free digital download.
JC: Yeah. It does. Ours does.
Why buy just a download when I can get this thing that I can keep, read, look at, pick it up when I want to. And I get the download anyway, so that perfect. So you guys are releasing vinyl as well as digital?
We are, every album so far, including this one, are on vinyl. This one has free digital download too. Ithink it has a gatefold, does it?
SP: Yeah. Gatefold, the lyrics.
JC: That’s the big win, isn’t it? The gatefold sleeve. That’s playing to the real collectors and the aficionados of that particular style of music.
Take me through a few of the tracks off the album if you would. Having had a listen to some of them, ‘Gotta Find A Way’, that’s a real good example, I think, of your sort of in your face, rock, pop. It’s got a great bit of bar room piano in there as well. What inspiration did you have for that one?
JC: It started out as more of a punk kind of thing, almost like Nirvana and Ramones. But then I added the piano and then I kind of felt, maybe I’m going more for like one of the rocking side of Elton John, like, Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting. That kind of thing…..
I had you tagged as The Faces, but yeah, definitely,
JC: Faces too definitely, but yeah, the piano added a whole other element to it, which tried to take the rock inside of Elton John and a little bit of punk thing.
Yeah. It’s just less than three minutes. So it ticks a box on the punk criteria.
JC: Something to be said for completing the whole vision in three minutes. Yes?
‘Maybe something’ then? If we could quickly just cover that? It’s one of the longer tracks on the album. There was a certain element of the prog influence that you had on the last album Is that a similar thought around this time.
SP: Yeah. A lot of that comes from Roto (James “Roto” Rotondi), our guitar player, he’s the big prog head in the band. At least the one that admits it and won’t change.
Yeah, maybe there is something. I always think it’s cool to have like this, a seminal track on an album that– it’s not maybe going to be a hit because it’s too long, but it’s something that takes you somewhere that seems larger than life. And to make it something, we try to make it like our version of us in that it may be by Pink Floyd.
The review of the live set by The Cringe at Brixton can be found on MyglobalMind.com