For their newly released fourth album “Man Bites Dog,” Cinema Cinema extensively road tested new material to distil it down to the most potent form possible. After over a year of fine-tuning songs and dropping any filler, they once again went into the studio with legendary producer Martin Bisi. The resulting album takes their experimental rock sound into new and unexpected directions.
Cinema Cinema is comprised of cousins Ev Gold (guitar/vocals) and Paul Claro (drums). Listening to their music, you’d think that they use other musicians to flesh out their sound. But it’s just Gold using an assortment of effects pedals bringing a ‘ghost bass player’ into the band. In a phone interview, Gold spoke extensively about the making of the new album and working with Bisi.
How did your recent European tour go?
“The tour was great. This was our sixth tour of the European area. We’ve covered at least eight countries in Europe alone. We’ve been very fortunate to forge a bond with the people there, as our first time going there was at the end of 2013. Martin Bisi, who ultimately produced our album, brought us over to Europe in 2013 to open for about two and a half weeks’ worth of shows. And that opened the door for us. Since then, it’s just grown and gotten better each time.”
I know the main band is a duo, but do you use additional musicians live?
“It’s the two of us. My cousin Paul plays drums, and I do all the guitar and singing. I conjure a lot of sounds, as I use a large pedal board and bi-amp my board. I make use of a guitar amp and a bass amp when we play live so I don’t lose any of the bottom end. It’s almost like a ghost bass player shows up. He’s never late; he never doesn’t want to practice, he never quits the band. He’s just my octave pedal, and I run him into a bass amp. So that’s how we conjure the illusion of having another instrument in there. It’s just me doing a guitar/bass hybrid with a bunch of pedals, and my cousin is drumming like his ass is on fire, and he’s going to run you down. It’s just the two of us going for it, like two bulls in a cage.”
Was it always the intention to be a duo?
“When we first started together, our vision had us building the band out and having more members. We didn’t go in with a staunch vision of ‘We’ll will be a duo. It will be just us.’ We never wanted to pigeonhole our music; we never wanted to limit our palate. We always wanted to draw from all our inspirations. And generally, duos can be a little bit stuck in a certain genre they could rock. We didn’t want to be stuck with one selection on the scope; we wanted to draw from all the inspirations. We thought for sure we wanted a bass player and maybe another guitar player. All those ideas were on the table from the beginning. When Paul and I first sat down together to play, we felt a chemistry there, a force. There’s this family thing that happens; there’s this telepathy. We’re definitely musical foils who were put on this planet to do this together. That’s why sticking to being a duo overall has been one of our strongest points.
“People are usually taken aback by what we can do together, just the two of us. But, when we first started, we felt that chemistry, and we thought ok, this feels pretty strong as the two of us. Maybe we add one other person. Maybe we’ll be a trio. But it takes a lot to get other individuals to want to commit to doing a band. Paul and I were really serious when we were starting together in 2008. We had goals. We wanted to play around as much as possible. Of course, if you want to get your music everywhere you can, you can’t sit by some illusion that someone else is going to get it there, especially when you’re nobody. You have to try to be somebody, to yourself, before you can think that anyone is recognizing what you’re doing. So, we knew we had a lot of work in front of us. We wanted to tour all over. We wanted to do a lot of things that we’ve gotten to do, luckily, because we’ve stuck together as a duo. But we couldn’t really find other musicians who were ready and willing to commit.
“You think you need all the planets to align to get this big break. It’s not that. You need the planets to align just to get a few people together in a practice room on a Thursday night. To consistently do that and then ask them to start to drive around the country without any promise of financial gain or ultimate safety, just going out on these adventures at first? It’s hard to get people to commit. But he was there and wanted it, and I was there and wanted it. Our family vibe was overseeing the whole thing of two cousins sticking together. We just traversed forward as a duo and ultimately the economic value I think has been our greatest aid. We’ve toured with other bands. For example, we did a big tour with Black Flag. For about 2/3 of that tour we were in the van with them and all their stuff because it’s just two of us. There is economic value in having just two people, in decision making, cost and in scheduling. It all just made sense and matched up with our musical chemistry feeling really strong and solid. Then I started to build on the sounds that I could make to fill more space. Paul plays very freely and plays how he feels all throughout the music to help fill out spaces here and there and add high and low end just via his lyrical approach to his kit. So really, it was this thing where our chemistry felt like it was strong enough that we could move forward, and as we started to move forward, it was a lot easier not having to ask other people if they’re willing to do this or that. If you get two people together, it’s a sturdy relationship that can be managed So that’s what kept us going.
“And the reaction from early on when we were playing live was that people liked what they were seeing. One thing we heard from early on was, ‘I can’t believe just the two of you make that much noise or sound.’ There’s been some shock and awe along the way at what we can do as a duo, and that’s kept us saying that we’re not going to add anyone as a permanent member. Having a guest musician here or there is okay, but we are a duo, and that I think is one of the defining features of the band.”
For your new album, “Man Bites Dog,” your road tested the material before starting to record. Did that have a big impact on how it turned out?
“Undoubtedly. With any of our material, especially on this record, we started to work on it and write it and get it together and get it into shape, and then we brought it out every night or every few weeks or whenever it was when we were going out and doing these runs. You get to taste-test with a live audience what’s working and what isn’t. That’s what is key. We found that after the first three albums where we were making our best collection of songs, with this fourth album we really wanted to make something that was distilled, powerful and potent but in the right amount of time. We wanted to get to the juice of it all. Working on a bunch of songs and then going out and playing them live over and over for a good year or so before even going into the studio helps you see which parts really work and which don’t. Then it becomes a little bit easier to recognize where you might want to edit and where you might want to go back and double-up on a certain point. You start to realize which of these new ideas you’ll even play live. We’ve been doing this band approaching ten years. When we tour Europe, and we do clubs and we headline, it’s a 45-minute set. We’re not doing the 90- or 70-minute set. We’re not in the realm; we’re not at that point. Sometimes you ask yourself, what are we actually going to play live? Maybe we should focus on that stuff the most if that’s the stuff that has the best vibe instead of making sure you have that extra slow song that has those words that you need to get on your album. You start to get over yourself after a while, especially if you work on the material live, with that feedback and interaction. You can see what’s going to translate and then what is there just because you think it’s going to translate. You peel away the things that are there but don’t work, and you wind up with the strongest form. So that was helpful with this album particularly. A good handful of the songs we just played and tried. There was an idea or two just needing more work. Or it just wasn’t the right thing; we could recognize that from approaching it with this kind of open process. So, it was beneficial to work on the songs road-testing them a bit, to see if they were going to pass the test and actually make the record or have the need to be fine-tuned.
A few songs on the new album feature saxophone. Could you explain how that came about?
The saxophonist is a gentleman named Matt Darriau. He is a very talented, titanic beast of a reed master. I’ve seen him pull many tricks out of his bag; anything wind-related Matt is a master of. The most well-known of the many acts he plays in is called the Klezmatics. They’ve been around for at least 20 years. I believe in 2006 they won a Grammy. He also has numerous other bands. He has a band called Paradox Trio, Disastro Totale with the former accordionist from Gogol Bordello [Yuri Lemeshev]. So Matt is a titan. We’re very blessed to play with him. A few years ago, a mutual friend of ours, a music business friend who was working with us at the time, was also working with Matt and he had the idea to introduce us. That introduction involved Matt coming to our practice space with his bag of horns, and we just went for it and had a really good time. We decided to do a trio thing where we booked some shows. Over the last 3 or 4 years, we’ve performed probably 20 or so shows as the trio CCMD, which stands for Cinema Cinema Matt Darriau. We book the show, we turn up, and we make it all up right then. That’s the rule. It’s all improv, the entire gig. So we’ve got that musical language happening with Matt. We’ve been on a bit of a journey over the past few years collaborating with him, so asking him to guest on this album just made a lot of sense. We want every album to exhibit some growth. I would think that any artist I love, any artist who I look up to, you can see where they are challenging themselves, and maybe it challenges their audience. I don’t know. But you can see where they grow from Ian MacKaye in Fugazi to David Bowie; you can see with each album the progression and the changes. Neil Young is another of my favorites; from album to album you can see him doing what he decides he wants to do. For us, with four records and 9.5 years as a band, we wanted to make sure we exhibited growth, and we’d never had a guest on any of the albums, as we’re very proud of being a duo. This musical relationship with Dario that we’d formed over the years seemed like it would yield a positive result if we invited him into the studio. We’d hoped that he’d guest on one song, and he wound up on three. The closing song on the album, ‘Singe on Number 5,” which he guests on, that song was entirely improv. We turned on the microphones and said, ‘Let’s go make the next song on the album, right now.’”
Do you feel that you consciously set out to make each album different from those that came before?
“For us, writing is more about what we’re feeling and not what we’re thinking. If we’re thinking about it, we’re aiming. And then once we’re aiming, we’re never going to be able to throw a strike. For us, writing is a spiritual kind of thing. We just become a channel, and the music that is already out there waiting comes down through us. When we start playing the right thing together, we can feel it and that’s what we start to develop.
“I guess the growth comes more from personal growth in your own life along the way. If you’ve been doing the band for a certain amount of time and it means something to you, and you continue to grow and evolve as a human being, some of your personal views start to seep into the subconscious. That takes over when you’re in the trance-like state where these riffs and ideas are coming through. That’s how we write. I don’t know that everyone does it that way, and I’m not saying that we sit there and go into some meditation and wait for something to happen. I’m just saying that when I pick up a guitar to practice it every day, my fingers fall upon some different parts of the neck as I go. If I play something happenstance that captures my ear and feels good, then I’m not going to question whether it sounds like something from the past or something else. If it feels right, I try not to analyze it, and then I’ll play it for Paul, and he’s the ultimate taste tester. If he reacts right away, we’re working on it, and it’s going to be a Cinema Cinema song.
“It’s hard to measure where and when the growth can come in, but I feel like being such a fan of music and a fan of art, I’m aware that good artists grow as they move forward. The ones that kind of hit a status quo and maintain it kind of taper off and don’t hold your attention as time moves forward. But artists who challenge me, who continue to do things that maybe I don’t expect, maybe I don’t like on the first listen, but I love by the fourth, those are the ones I find myself continuing to go back to. I strive to be as good an artist as all my heroes who made me feel good when I was at my worst. I try to make music that might make people feel something good or bad or otherwise. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about success; it’s that music has been my medicine since I was 14. I didn’t feel like I had friends, but I had music. I joined a band, and it was my life, and then that band broke up, and I was heartbroken. But I always knew that music would be a part of my journey, so it’s more about trying to give my all as part of the band, so someone out there might listen and feel some spiritual recognition and feel some joy or release. That’s all the reward; that’s everything there could possibly be. So, we’re not writing songs with an aim; we’re writing songs with a feeling that you can’t miss.”
How did you come to work with Martin Bisi, and what has the experience been like?
“It’s a dream. It’s an absolute dream come true. It’s truly a gift. The way that we met was entirely by fate. I am a big fan of his, and being an encyclopedic-type of music fan at some point or another over the last ten years, I noticed that I had so many records that he had worked on. It was almost like I had my own little Bisi collection. This is before we knew him. I knew who he was, I knew he had a studio in Gowanus, in Brooklyn. But getting in touch with him or talking to him, that just seemed like an impermeable kind of circle. It was a dream for me to work with him one day, but the way we met, it wasn’t like I met some dude at a party who met someone who introduced me.
“No, it was Hurricane Sandy. We were rehearsing in the Gowanus, which is the area where Martin has had his studio since 1979. That’s kind of right on this really disgusting toxic canal called the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY. There are lots of bodies in it; there is all kinds of crap. The mafia used to dump bodies and then there were all these spills and all this crap. It’s horrifying. We practiced in a space there for a while, leading up to the hurricane. Martin records a few blocks away. The hurricane hit, and the canal surged. Literally, it was 8 feet higher than it usually is. It broke down the back wall of our practice space, destroyed the practice space. There were at least a dozen other bands who practiced there as well. Everything was destroyed. I get a phone call from the practice space guy the day after, and he told us to come down. We got there and they gave us a hospital face mask and insurance papers. They were weeping, the practice space owners, as they handed us this. We went in to our practice space with flashlights and dug out the remains of our gear, which was now garbage covered with toxic sludge.
“So, as we pulled the last piece out, we’re on the sidewalk, and I see this diminutive long-haired figure, almost like some small, weary angel walking down the street. And because I’m an encyclopedic music fan, I said, ‘That’s Martin Bisi.’ He was about 15 feet away, and he was literally just out casing the neighborhood that he’d worked in for over 30 years at that point to see what other damage there was. And I called him over and said, ‘Hey Martin.’ And he said, ‘Hello, do I know you?’ and I said, ‘No, but come on over!’ He came over, and we started to have this conversation just about life in that moment. I indicated of course that I was a fan of his work. We got to know each other right there in that moment because of the hurricane. And I joked to him that as soon as we could, we were going to play a gig together. As Paul and myself and Martin stood there with the Cinema Cinema gear destroyed at our feet, I said, ‘Martin, let’s book a gig.’ And Martin was laughing and was like, ‘Yeah,’ as we’re looking at all our stuff. Two months later, we played that gig. It was a great time, and that started to forge a bond where we played shows with his band for a handful of months before going to Europe with him. This was all before having recorded with him.
“We started a real relationship with him by fate. When we got back from Europe, the next logical move was to make an album. Our previous album to this one was released in August 2014, ‘A Night at the Fights,’ which was also produced by Martin. While we did that, there was a documentary being made about Martin called Sound and Chaos: The Story of Bisi Studio. Ultimately, we were included in that documentary. We talked Gowanus in it, and three of our songs on the soundtrack. That was a great honor. We really got a chance to grow in a relationship with Martin. Working with him is a gift. And on this album specifically, we reached a new level in terms of collaborative effort, where we trusted him as much as we trusted ourselves on certain things when it came to mixing time. I would say that Martin is a big star of those albums. We’re very grateful for this work. There’s a video from the song ‘Bomb Plot,’ and he’s in that. He’s the star of the video; he’s this beautiful, inspiring figure. If I had to boil it all down, I’d say that working with Martin is one of the greatest gifts that this band has gotten the chance to experience.”