Cayucas Jams The Knitting Factory

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All Photographs by Victoria Stillwell

Cayucas brought California vibes and sun-pop to Brooklyn, and to a jam-packed Knitting Factory, on August 29.  I sat down before the show with lead singer Zach Yudin and his bandmates Ben Yudin, Casey Wojtalewicz, and Russell Henon, to talk about surfing, music, and Michael Jordan.

V: Zach, before Cayucas you had a band called Oregon Bike Trails. What started Cayucas, how was the band “born”?
Zach: Well, the guy who runs the label made me come up with a different band name to suit the sound a little better. And we had a song called Cayucos, so he threw out the idea of making that song title the band name. It just makes more sense. Oregon Bike Trails was just a name that I came up with before there was even a song. So once there was actually an album created, Cayucas made more sense.

V: Zach (vocals) and Ben (bass), you’re twins—was it a natural thing for you to be in a band together?
Zach: Yeah, we have been writing songs together for quite a while. A lot of times I would write a song and Ben would add his guitar. So yeah it was a pretty given thing.
Ben: Family bands are probably the most convenient thing ever. Cause you already live together already (laughs).

V: Zach, you used to live in Japan,  where you created electronic music. How did you switch to beach-pop?
Zach: I had always been changing styles of music. I wrote electronic songs, and I also tried singer/songwriter songs. I had a chillwave thing too. I did three or four songs, but then the chillwave thing just kind of died out. I guess I just for some reason always wanted many many projects. When I wrote these songs for Bigfoot, I just kind of rolled with it, and this style just came.

 Zach: It was good! I spent a couple of weeks in this cottage in Oregon, and we did one song a day, ending up with ten songs. It was cold and rainy which was kind of weird. It rained the whole time I was there.

V: That’s funny, cause your music sort of personifies sunshine and happiness.
Zach: Yeah, so it was just weird that during recording it was raining everyday. It was just this typical Oregon rain, not downpour, just wet. It was just a very weird environment.

V: “I had to hitchhike back to Montezuma” and “Michael Jordan is standing six feet tall” are lines from your song “Will The Thrill.” From where do you get inspiration for writing songs?
Zach: Well, this album was pretty much based on nostalgic moments. That Michael Jordan-part was based on a poster I had of him as a child, where he stood with his arms spread.
Casey: Oh, yeah, his arms spread were longer than his body right?
Zach: Yeah, I think so. You know if you stick your arms out, that’s how tall you are.

V: Zach, when do you write your lyrics? Certain moods, places?
Zach: Hmm when I write? Well it’s all very random I guess. I just start my day, get a cup of coffee and just write a little bit. It just sort of goes on throughout any time of the day, when I feel like it.

V: How would you describe your music?
Zach: We usually just say indie rock to be very general. But sometimes we say beachy music, like vintage 60’s rock.

Casey: I just usually say vintage beach pop.
Zach: Yeah, that gives you a general idea. Usually, you need to give people something more specific you know.
Casey: You know, I have heard a lot of people compare us to Beck a lot, or something like Beck vs. Beach Boys vs. Vampire Weekend.
Ben: Or generally I think a lot of people just Beach Boys kind of music.

V: Your music is connected a lot to the Californa surf culture and is often labeled as “surf-pop”—do you all actually surf?

Zach: Yeah! We actually all do, unlike the Beach Boys… (laughs).
Casey: It’s funny because there is really only one song about the beach, and we never really talk about surfing.
Ben: Yeah but we do talk about things related to the beach, like swimming and so on. So I guess that is how that connection is made.

V: So I must ask, are you all originally from Cali?
Casey: Yeah we all are. The brothers [Zach and Ben] are from Davis, and now we all live in L.A.

V: I heard you got inspiration from classic surf-pop legends such as The Animals and The Beach Boys, but is there anything besides music that brings you inspiration?

Zach: I think just the California vibe has been giving me a lot of inspiration lately. I like being able to relate to the people of California, since I grew up there and lived there my whole life.

V: Both videos for “High School Lover” and “East Coast Girl” are playful and fun. Was it  as fun to record them? Did you have a large impact on the final result?
Zach: It was all the directors’ treatments. It was all their ideas—I give the cred to them. We just did what they said (laughs). For East Coast Girl, the director Steven Andrew Garcia just told us to put on white suits and play basketball. All you can do in that situation is to put on a filter- and feel if and idea seems to make sense. The High School Lover director, Cameron Dutra, is this really smart guy, and he had been working on that glitchy thing that just seemed to fit the beat. So it made sense to make us glitch throughout the entire video.
Casey: For the next video, Zach hooked up a celebrity connection, for our song “Will The Thrill”, but so far that’s a secret we cant tell (laughs).

V:  You have been touring a bit in Europe. Is there a big difference between your fans there and the ones here in the US?
Zach: Hmm, not really. Or not that I can specifically think of.
Russell: I feel like sometimes I can feel it. It depends on where you are. There are some places that stand out, like when we were in Barcelona.
Ben: Yeah, Barcelona was a super cool crowd.
Zach: Yeah they were really awesome, but I didn’t come back from Europe and feel like there was a huge difference between our fans here and there.
Casey: Well, I have to say though, the first time we went to Europe we had literally just released Bigfoot. But even though our album was so fresh, people in Spain already knew all the words, which was pretty rad. So it’s going to be great to go back since the record has been out for a while now, to see if there will be some sort of difference in the crowds.
Russell: What I have heard about European fans is that they are more prone to listen to entire albums, whereas in the US its all very singles based. I think in Europe they are less swayed by what you are supposed to listen to, and just take in the whole thing, and then make their own selections for what they like the best. It’s going to be interesting to see if there really is such a difference.

V: Do you have a dream venue or place where you want to perform?
Casey: Red Rocks!
Russell: Obvious!
Zach: Or Fillmore. Or The Wiltern.
Ben: I would probably say Hollywood Bowl. I don’t think it gets any bigger.
Zach: I would also love to play in Central Park at sometime, that would be cool.

V: What are your upcoming plans for Cayucas?
Zach: Well right now we are pretty much just focusing on this tour. We are super excited about going on a tour in Europe again also.
Russell: Wait! I got this! I know all the countries I think… Ireland, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark. I think those are all the countries right?
Zach: We are starting to work on some new tracks, but now we will just have more touring through the rest of the year. In November we are going a lot of California shows, and we will be coming back through New York.
Casey: Yeah, we are going to be playing with Ra Ra Riot at Terminal Five in October.
Zach: Yeah really looking forward to that!

Catch Cayucas with Caveman and Ra Ra Riot at Terminal 5 on Wednesday, October 9.

Greenpoint’s Yellowbirds Return in a Lazy Haze with “Songs from the Vanished Frontier”

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Yellowbirds’ new release, Songs from the Vanished Frontier.

Sam Cohen’s post-Apollo Sunshine solo project, Yellowbirds, returns as a four-member band with the release of Songs from the Vanished Frontier.

Since the release of his 2011 Yellowbirds debut The Color, Sam Cohen has added drummer Brian Kantor, vocalist/bassist Annie Nero, and her multi-instrumentalist husband Josh Kaufman. Their brand of psych-pop combines vibes that Cohen describes as “…psychedelic, but less aggressive.”

Fresh from a month-long residency at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side, Cohen is planning the next step for Yellowbirds, dedicating the month of July to pre-production for the next record.

So, when did you decide music was the path for you? Was your upbringing a part of it?
Yes and no. My parents were super supportive when I got into music, but I wouldn’t say I was brought up in a very musical environment.There were only a couple of records at my house. I remember what they were actually: Sgt. Pepper, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 2, and the Blues Brothers soundtrack. And that was pretty much all we had, but that’s a pretty good three records.

You’ve just wrapped up a residency at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side. What’s next?
It has been a four week thing, and tonight is the last night. In July we are starting pre-production for the next record, just rehearsing and writing together. I mostly write the songs by myself, but we arrange together. July is kind of off as far as touring goes, then we are going to the West Coast to play some festival. Not super heavy touring.

Yellowbirds’ Sam Cohen, Photo by Victoria Stillwell

How has the road been a part of your journey?
Slow and steady (laughs). The challenges have just been relationships. You change as a person and people you are around change, and their needs change, and that’s really the only super challenging part. The rest is just a question of, in my case, resources have never been thrown at me. So it’s sort of a battle of endurance.

Is touring something you want to engage in as much as possible?
That’s kind of what we have done so far as a band, mostly out of supply and demand, it depends on how much I can reasonably do on the budget I’m working with. It’s hard to make touring work at this level, so I focus on records. I feel like my output has sort of sped up since I was a younger musician and I was touring all the time. I used to have a band called Apollo Sunshine. We toured constantly, like 100 days a year, and we didn’t really have apartments for a while. So creatively it was a little slower. I just try to keep producing music steadily, working on things that I am into, and that pay the bills. And I keep working towards the time when  we could make it work to be touring more often. There are so many places I would love to visit with this music.

So what does Songs From The Vanished Frontier mean?
The vanished frontier is the literal landscape, a frontier of Manifest Destiny, the west world expansion. That’s why the album cover shows a house on the edge of a cliff, it’s literally this structure hanging over the edge of settleable land. Also, what kind of space is left in our minds in this age?  Noise, and icons, billboards, email; I feel like there is less of a frontier for creativity—where can music go?  Or maybe I am talking about a giant lack of my own creativity and no one else is suffering from this, but it seems to be a thing. So all those things to me, is what that (record name) is talking about. And a song, Stop Tonight, it’s really a simple song about a couple that are kind of bogged down with work, no free time, they’re in a shitty cycle, and they just decide to break out of it. That is sort of  finding the open frontier that is left for them.

His future plans? “My goal and hope for the band would be that we could get to a point where touring is more sustainable. And creatively, I want to make people dance and cry, and react in ways they did not think possible. That’s kind of a main goal.”

Get Songs From The Vanished Frontier on CD or white vinyl, here:

A Seasick Mama Heads for the Turnstiles

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[portfolio_slideshow id=23956]Seasick Mama performs Friday, May 24th at Glasslands Gallery

I met up with 27-year-old Marial Maher, better known as Seasick Mama, to talk about her debut EP Dead Like Money, a few days before her upcoming gig at Glasslands Gallery in Williamsburg. We sat down at Variety Cafe on Graham Avenue to get her take on Brooklyn, music, and her life as an artist.

Marial, a visual arts grad, told me about how she spent her Cinco de Mayo birthday in the Dominican Republic, shooting a music video. “I thought doing this music video was going to be a small production, maybe me and four more people. But I showed up and was like: holy shit! There were about fifty people on the team, all there to work for me. I was blown away.”

Q. How did this record get made?

A. It all began after landing a job at a recording studio in Union Square where she met music producer Mark Turrigiano.

“I was given a free hand to utilize the studio after-hours. Mark and I would drink lots of beer, and just fuck around in the studio, just pressing records to see what would happen. We spent months doing that. After a while we went back and listened to what we had created, and we were like, ‘Oh my god, this is so good!”


Seasick Mama performs Friday, May 24th at Glasslands Gallery in Williamsburg

Seasick Mama’s professional break came when she recorded a cover of the Tom Waits song Going out West, and uploaded it online. The label No Shame found the tune and wanted to hear more. She was given some money to polish her songs. A year later, Dead Like Money was born. “So really, my music career started with a leap of faith from this label. They are like my bros. I am so thankful they encouraged me to do it.”

The unlimited studio time which gave her the freedom to work was a source of  inspiration for “Quit Your Job,” the first release from the EP.  “I’m not trying to tell people to quit their jobs and be like a gypsy and live life unemployed, but you only have so many years to really get comfortable and really dive into stuff you love. Some people say that you are never too old, but I don’t believe that. You do have an expiration date. Do whatever you want now that you are young. You have all these opportunities.”

One of her earliest childhood memories is of her musician father playing the guitar to make her stop crying. He always encouraged her to sing or play instruments while growing up. But it wasn’t until after graduating college that she headed back home to jam with him.

“I took up on those offers my dad always gave to teach me how to play the guitar, because they were free,” she laughs. The guitar lessons led to performing with her father and his local band, and this is what, she explains, cured her early of stage shyness.

While we are sitting outside the café, she happily greets people she knows on the street, introducing me to her roommate and to an old friend from Wilmington who randomly walk by. Marial may have been shy, but Seasick Mama is smiling and outgoing. Shyness is definitely something that doesn’t show in the photos taken of her, nor in her performances—she is one lady who is not afraid to bare it all in front of her audience. She describes her image as strong, sexy and opinionated. “I am not actually saying for women to take their clothes off and be a big ho, but if you like your body, show it off. I don’t think it is that big a deal. Women are hot and they should be proud of being sexy.”

Where did the Seasick Mama get her name?

Her stage name came by way of a breakup when an ex-boyfriend called her a seasick mama in a song he wrote for her, as his way of breaking up. Wondering what it meant, she researched and found that the expression derived from a Neil Young song. It referred to a woman that every sailor would have in the ports.

“It basically meant whore. I am not calling myself a whore, but something about it stuck with me. It could go both ways, it could also be a woman who waits for her man to come home, a loyal sailor’s wife, I’m not sure.”

All the sailors with their seasick mamas / Hear the sirens on the shore / Singin’ songs for pimps with tailors / Who charge ten dollars at the door.
—Neil Young, “For the Turnstiles”

Tough Tattoos and Dead Money

Apart from her tough-sexy image, Seasick Mama is an extremely down-to-earth and upbeat person. Some of her projected toughness could partially derive from her left arm, which is completely covered in tattoos. She gladly gives me a better look by pulling up her sleeve. There are beautiful women, horses and flowers portrayed, all in a classic tattoo style, almost sailor-like. She claims at first that they’re purely decorative, but it soons comes to light that they each have a story. “Me and my boyfriend at the time got a matching tattoo. And as soon as I got it, I realized it was a bad idea. The fact that I already then thought it was a bad idea, I knew that our relationship wasn’t going to last forever. Then four or five months later we broke up. So that was like a reminder of if you ever have a bad feeling of someone you are with, you are probably not going to be with them forever.”

Marial points out that she finds inspiration in anything from commercial pop artists to underground indie bands, and from travel. “Being in the Dominican Republic really inspired me because of how people are able to make things work no matter what their situation is. There is a lot of poverty there.”

Seasick Mama’s thought about money could further be interpreted simply through the name of her EP Dead Like Money. “Basically, everybody is really good at spending money. Effortlessly. A child could spend a thousand dollars in a day. Its just like, money doesn’t even have any value anymore, especially to me. I have no drive to become a richer person, I just have a drive to become a better person. I think more people should focus on being better, and not richer”.

Seasick Mama’s newest EP Tip Top Shape will be coming out in the fall; she plans to keep diving into and exploring different genres of music. “I want to put my hand in each pot first and pick one, or to mix it all up. We will see…“

Limits of Desire—Small Black and an artsy release party

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Story and Photos by Victoria Stillwell
Limits of Desire by Small Black released May 14 by Jagjaguwar.

Stirring up buzz at 7 Dunham gallery in Williamsburg was the band Small Black who threw a release party on May 10 for their upcoming album Limits of Desire, and added a twist to it by organizing an art show. The group exhibition, co-curated by the band and artist Lindsey Aveilhé, presented artists Peter Rostovsky, Anna K. Miller, and Borden Capalino; the exhibit also displayed the band’s acclaimed album-cover art by Scarlett Hooft Graafland (above). I sat down for some small talk with Small Black’s front man Josh Kolenik and keyboard/guitar player Ryan Heyner about raccoons, exploding vans, and how art connects with their music.

Victoria Stillwell: How long have you guys known each other? How did you all meet?

Josh: I met Ryan through a mutual friend from Long Island, eight years ago. I heard Ryan perform on this project he was working on, and phoned him out-of-the-blue one day, cause I was looking for a musician to play guitar with. And we’ve been best friends ever since. We would talk for like three hours when we first met, it was very high school (haha). Then we met Juan and Jeff who were best friends from college. We met them through a mutual friend six years ago.

VS: Do you feel like your upbringings influenced your decisions to create music?

Ryan: Definitely. I have been playing music for a long time. I started playing the guitar when I was like thirteen years old, and I always just wanted to waste time playing the guitar and being in bands. While growing up a lot of my friends played music so it’s just been around the corner for me my whole life. I guess I always felt like I was going to pursue that.

Josh: My family wasn’t musical at all. My dad just pretty much listened to Jimmy Buffet and The Beach Boys, but my grandma was a concert pianist. So, that’s like the only musical lineage in my family. I just got really obsessed with grunge, and then I wanted to play the guitar.

VS:  Can you tell me about the genesis of your band name Small Black? 

Josh: It was the name of a raccoon that was terrorizing the house I had been living at, in Portland. It was holed up on the top floor, and it just wouldn’t leave. He just wouldn’t give up and he was relentless, so he became sort of a role model for us, and became our name (haha).

Ryan: Yeah, the name just stuck after that.

VS: How would you describe your music?

Ryan: Credcore (laughs) It’s like synth pop.

Josh: Yeah. We use a lot of keyboards, sometimes the guitar. It’s just pop music.

VS: Do you have any major Influences for the music you create?

Josh: Ah, there are so many things. Pretty much anything. My sister yelling at me on the phone, maybe the pizza place on the corner I’m really influenced by (laughs). I don’t know, there are lots of bands. There is so much music, it’s hard to just name a few influences.

VS: What has been your biggest challenge as a band?

Josh: I don’t know, just having a van that doesn’t explode. We have a good car now, we have had two bad ones. Now we can actually get into the car and not fear the worst.

Ryan: I think it’s also just focusing all one’s energy on the music and not having to worry about working. That is probably the most challenging and frustrating part. I wish I could just spend all day writing songs, and touring, but sometimes you gotta pay the rent (laughs).

VS:  It’s the New York City hustle life…. but I’m pretty sure you’re going to get there soon.

Josh: Thanks!

VS: Do you feel like your style has changed a lot since you first started out?

Josh: Yeah definitely. It started off as just Ryan and me in my uncle’s attic, recording with Casios, just cheap toy keyboards. We keep writing songs in the same style, but we keep changing the production esthetic, and we try to push it forward, and go to a bigger sound. It’s kind of what we are excited about and what we are interested in. We know how to make a shitty sounding record, it’s hard to make a good sounding record.

VS: Obviously you guys are pretty hyped up now, what’s the road been like, getting where you are today?

Josh: I don’t know, we are just lucky that many people listen to our music. It’s a gift. We just try to put out new records.

VS: How do you feel about the upcoming release on May 14 of your latest record “Limits of Desire”?

Josh: We feel great about it. It’s definitely the best we have ever done, we feel proud of it. We worked really hard at it.

Ryan: We took the songs on the record as far as we could have taken them, and produced it all our selves, so we feel great.

VS: What would you say is the biggest difference with this latest record Limits of Desire, compared to your past record New Chain and your EP Small Black?

Josh: There is so much higher production value, and its a little faster, tempo wise. I think it’s the same style, we just changed a bit. We are just always trying to move forward. We also feature the guitar on this one.

Ryan: Yeah and we also focused a bit more on the vocals.

Josh: Yeah I guess I finally felt comfortable enough to put my voice more out there.

VS: What was the creating process like for this album? Was it a long haul?

Josh: Yeah it took us like a year. We were down at this house in Delaware, were we go sometimes to just camp out. We did most of it at Juan’s house in his basement. There was a lot of realizing, revolving and revisions. We pretty much re-did every song and had like ten versions of every song. We probably started out with like thirty songs, and just cut them down.

VS: Yeah, kill your darlings right?

Ryan: Yeah, haha, or save your darlings!

Victoria: Did you have any certain themes or aspirations with Limits of Desire?

Josh: Yeah we were thinking a lot about relationships and trying to be mature and take care of business. And the title is really referencing to the idea of how you can just want more and more of something and never stop, so it’s about finding that sort of balance point where you are just happy. You might still want something, but you are happy with what you have. That’s what its about.

VS: About this evening’s art, and release show, what were your motives of co-curating along with Lindsey Aveilhé a group exhibition tonight?

Josh: We were just trying to think of ideas other than having a typical release show, something that would be more interesting. As Lindsey (Josh’s girlfriend) is a curator it was kind of a no brainer.

VS: How did you select all the artists?

Josh: Some of them are friends, and as Lindsey works in the art world, she knows a lot of people and great artists. We just went through tons of art sheets and kind of found stuff that we felt was in line with the album concept.

Victoria: The artwork for Limits of Desire is by the artist Scarlett Hooft Graafland, it’s really beautiful, and has been getting a lot of positive response. Obviously, you have an attraction to really good art. How do you feel visual art intersects with the music you make?

Ryan: We feel pretty strongly about the images we use.

Josh:  Yeah, we’re very anal about the stuff that we pick to represent our songs. We actually chose the cover image way early in the process, before we were even done with any songs. So I feel like we tried to make something that maybe sounded like the image.

VS: Finally, an ultimate future vision for you guys? Where do you think you are heading?

Josh: We just want to tour and try not to have a job.

Ryan: Haha, yeah exactly.

Josh: But other than that we just want to keep progressing and moving forward and just exploring. There’s just too many records I want to make.

Watch first single Free at Dawn:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7bsZUg_t94

Official site:
http://www.small-black.com/