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Cymbals Eat Guitars

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Loss is universal.

So even though Cymbals Eat Guitars created their third album with some very specific losses in mind, the intention was for listeners to find their own meaning in the songs, to connect the emotionally driven indie rock with their own lives.

In August, the New Jersey to New York quartet — guitarist and singer Joseph D’Agostino, bassist Matthew Whipple, keyboardist Brian Hamilton and drummer Andrew Dole — released LOSE, a coming-of-age album that sets its sights on some very serious themes.

“We were combing through the lyrics looking for a title and nothing seemed to fit. Matt suggested that and it seemed obvious,” D’Agostino says. “There are multiple meanings. There’s the personal loss that inspired the record. There’s the loss of enthusiasm for music you had when you were younger and everything seemed really meaningful. It’s also an invitation for people to lose it, to cast off whatever it is that’s keeping you in your box.”

For D’Agostino, the personal loss that weighs heavily on the lyrics is that of his best friend Benjamin High, who passed away suddenly seven years ago, just as Cymbals Eat Guitars working on a first album.

“Writing about the subject matter that I did and waiting so long after my friend’s death to write about it, it is catharsis at this point to have these songs out there and having people seeing something about me as a person instead of some collection of ‘90s alt influences, which I’ve always hated,” he says. “It has been cathartic to get all this out in the open and I feel like after this I’ll be able to write about other subjects that maybe aren’t as heavy, maybe a love song or something, with equal candor. It can only benefit whatever we do in the future to have gotten that out in the open.”

LOSE extends Cymbals Eat Guitars critically lauded streak — each of the band’s three albums has an 8.0 or higher rating from indie tastemaker Pitchfork. But for D’Agostino, this marks the first time a record has really captured the band’s essence.

“The first record was kitchen-sink studio project, stuff I was doing because it wasn’t really a band. When we made Lenses Alien and worked with John Agnello for the first time, we wanted it to sound like a band in a room, but in that respect we failed a bit. It sounds very layered and overdubbed,” D’Agostino says. “This record, honestly, I didn’t do much overdubbing at all. It’s mainly just live band, live vocals that we tracked.”

For several songs, Agnello had D’Agostino go into the booth to sing a scratch vocal, but ended up keeping that first vocal take.

“The record crackles more with the live energy because we had to work very quickly. We recorded in six days and mixed in four and we had to roll with it,” D’Agostino says. “John’s a no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes kind of record producer. We have a great working relationship, mainly in the way he shapes things. I was doing some pretty aggressive vocals takes in the beginning and he encouraged me to be a little more gentle with it, not so much ‘Angry Joe’ as he would call it. That ended up being really good.”

D’Agostino also appreciates being a part of the lineage of bands that have worked with Agnello, including Sonic Youth, Breeders and Dinosaur Jr.

“We want to do this for our living, so part of being able to do that is really connecting with people on a level that extends beyond a hype cycle. You want to make a record that people will be listening to in five or 10 years. We were really trying to create something with staying power,” D’Agostino says. “There’s a lot of conversation about how people consume music these days and there’s kind of a throwaway culture with music. It’s easy to listen to something and be done with it next week when something new comes along and you have to fight that.”

 

Published Sept. 30, 2014 in the Tucson Weekly. 

 

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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