By Christopher Nosnibor
Christopher Nosnibor talks to Ev Gold about touring, ambition and what it means to be a band adhering to DIY ethics in the digital age.
‘Man Bites Dog: 1993. A French film, it’s a mock documentary, a satirical take on a murderer, almost like a Spinal Tap of sorts. He’s this really eccentric, crazy character, Benoît, and he goes round making his living in Paris killing people in various ways – he’s a serial killer. It’s a film I highly recommend… About midway through, there’s a scene as the main character starts to really descend into the madness of the life he’s leading. They’re celebrating the spoils of a recent victory or score where he had enough money to take out the film crew. They get wasted and they get thrown out of the bar that they’re in and they’re going out an alleyway in the dark and he starts leading them in this improvised song, where he chants ‘cinema, cinema’… I was, like, 15 at the time when I saw that, and it really sunk in. It was a really influential time when I saw a lot of art that would later play a part in the choices I make today came into my life. You’re so thirsty by that age because you’re becoming yourself a little. You’re not quite little or young any more, even though maturity comes at different rates. I mean, I’m early thirties now and I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing until I was 30, but at 15 I was thirsty for stuff that would later inform what I do. So that film, that stuck with me, ‘cinema, cinema’. When I felt like when I finally got the opportunity to do a band that I felt like was really going to be the band where I was going do my thing, I wanted it to be that. And also, it did work out in the end, because we are a two piece, so there’s two cinemas.’
It’s 10 in the morning, New York time. Ev Gold, a self-professed film buff and one half of New York experimental prog-punk noisemongers Cinema Cinema is sipping a morning coffee. Meanwhile, it’s 3 in the afternoon, Old York time and I’m sipping a tea. Ev could be forgiven for being bleary or cranky, but the truth is that he’s anything but slow to get going, and I don’t feel as though I’ve hauled him out of bed at some ungodly hour to respond to questions he’s probably heard countless times before. In fact, he’s positively champing at the bit, excited by the prospect of living the dream of getting up and talking about music and being in a band. I’ve just thrown my slightly superficial opening gambit by way of an icebreaker: (‘Cinema Cinema – So good you named the band twice twice?’) and Ev’s away. ‘I’m a talker,’ he confessed before I began putting my questions to him. ‘You could put a quarter in me and we could be on Skype for three hours.’
For those unfamiliar with Cinema Cinema, they’re one of those bands that really don’t pigeonhole easily. Punk, prog and experimentalism all collide to forge a unique and exciting hybrid. Their website lays out the facts:
25 states in the US.
2 LPs. 2 EPs.
5 tours with Greg Ginn (SST Records, Black Flag)
experimental/noise rock duo.
Don’t be misled by the ‘experimental’ tag: Cinema Cinema is all about pushing parameters and defying expectation, but their experimentations are pulled into tightly-reigned focus. The result is a guitar-driven rock beast that bucks and breathes fire. You won’t even notice the absence of bass.
Ev Gold and his cousin Paul Claro decided to play music together in 2008 and are punk to the core. By this, I don’t mean they sound like the Sex Pistols or the Ramones or Dead Kennedys. I’m talking about the punk ethic. Although the band have a clear debt in musical terms to the likes of Fugazi, it’s the fact they’re 100% DIY that really makes them as punk as fuck. They’ve established a significant fan-base in the US by virtue of sheer hard graft, namely relentless touring, old school style, building upwards from the grass roots level.
We’ll get to all of that shortly. First, I tell him that I’m interested in the definition featured on the band’s website which also includes the meaning and etymology of the word ‘cinema.’
Meaning: From French cinéma, shortening of cinématographe (term coined by the Lumière brothers in the 1890s) – Ancient Greek (kinema) “movement,” from (kineo) “to move, to put in motion.” In cinema, this system is derived from the artist’s choice of the kinds of “elements” of construction to employ and their order and timing, and from his awareness of a total structural design for his film. This process generally involves presenting chiefly linear information (the story) through a battery of shots. Using various cinematic configurations, the artist creates expectations in his audience, which thus elaborates on the given information. The audience is drawn into a decoding cycle controlled by subliminal interactions of reality and illusion. The result is the mystique of cinema art – cinesthetic impact.
It’s tucked away in 8 or even 6-point italics. But it’s there, and it’s cool, and I volunteer that it obviously links in with the referencing behind the band’s name which in turn reflects the nature of their music. It’s certainly not what you’d expect from your average punk rock band, and I suggest there seems to be more of an intellectual level to what Cinema Cinema are doing than your average ‘punk’ band…
‘It’s lovely that you drew that just from something as small on the website as that. It’s not like we have that in bold letters or anything… it’s tiny, it’s the fine print! It’s the fine print and that’s why it really fucking excites me and jazzes me up, I just stood up from sitting down, and yes, there is definitely more of an intellectual level but we don’t try to bring it off in a snobbish way. Here in Brooklyn there are many, many people who have moved here or have migrated here and there are many bands who think it’s like Seattle in the 90s and everybody comes here and there are lot of people trying to come off in different ways and snobbish. We are who we are, but there’s definitely an intellectual slant and that’s why the fine print on the website is that definition, and all the lyrics that are involved are kind of poetic in a way as such that the music they’re set to, they’re kind of married up. The way it happens is, we’ll come up with some music and a melody just attaches to it, and words find their place in it. We’re not trying to be pretentious in any way, but it’s just for playing heavy and punk music if sometimes you’re not…’
He pauses, as much for breath as to compose his thoughts. ‘We’re not meatheads. I’ve loved Killing Joke forever. There’s so much inside of that dense sound, there’s so much going on with Jazz inside of that dense sound. That’s it’s own thing. I’ve also loved Minor Threat and Fugazi, and there’s so much message going on inside that, and the choices that the bands are making and in the sounds that they’re choosing to go with. I’ve always been more informed by that stuff – and Wire also. Stuff that really speaks to the inside. Listen, I like a lot of heavy music, I love stuff that makes you want to get up and jump around and go nuts, but when it could move me, and also really plug me into something greater than myself and I learned from it in some way, that’s the goal with what we do with bringing it back to the table, what we’ve gotten from that beautiful musical table, like you sit down at it and it’s like this nourishing medicine… We strive to just bring something back that’s similar to the slice that we got, and what we got was this intense effect of more cerebral heavy, intense music that came at you from all levels, not just lug-headed and loud, or thick or stoner or thrashy, it’s a mixture of a lot.’
It certainly is. Cinema Cinema’s second album, Manic Children and the Slow Aggression, recorded at Inner Ear studios with Don Zientara is a monster, spanning a full CD with barely a second’s space to spare. It’s also incredibly diverse, but at the same time, it’s coherent. There are unquestionably some definite surprises tucked in alongside the balls-out heavy guitar workouts. ‘1st Writing’ is melodic, emotive – and then there are some searing blasts of noise. ‘Levitation’ is a remarkably sensitive, affecting song that has some quite delicate guitar and emotional depth – then it goes massive. You could even call it ‘anthemic’. It’s almost like an album of two halves, only the two halves are encapsulated within each song. With songs of 7, 8, even 9 and 10 minutes in length, Cinema Cinema certainly push the parameters of ‘punk’. I put this to him, and ask, ‘how do you see yourselves as fitting into the broader punk ethos, or any kind of genre tradition – or do you not?’
‘I love the fact that like that people come back to us with that impression when they like that they like that it’s varied, and that it has the elements of melody as well as crazy riffing and noise and stuff. We definitely had a lot of songs going into that… they morphed and changed around a bit in some of the final writing processes, but many, many ideas made it into that album… we are cinematic in such a way that you learn when writing a screenplay that a movie is a collection of scenes. It’s not really a story like a book. It’s a collection of scenes that works well together. That’s something that Paul and I have really taken to with the songwriting, it’s a collection of parts that we really have faith in that somehow meld together to a greater good – and sometimes they’re kinda left field, but they make sense to us… Once I started playing in the band with Paul I stopped sitting down with the guitar and writing full song ideas. I would just come up with a riff or a section and record it really quickly so I could remember it, or sometimes if it’s so good you just remember it, it’ll stay with you quick, and just collect these pieces, these ideas. Manic Children and the Slow Aggression has many many ideas and we’re very proud of it… Stylistically we come from more of a cinematic side than a band side, we don’t stop when we play live for you to clap at the end of the song… The songs are signposts along the way and we do kind of improvised musical journeys between them. it’s not like there’s no plan: he plan is we’re going to fucking murder you, is the plan, the plan is we’re gonna knock you through the wall… The idea that we’re here to impress you or to win you over, that’s out the window, and that works in our favour I think, up there doing our art and we go into our own world, so we’re not going to stop at the end to make sure you clapped or you got it… It has nothing to do with the approval. That’s not in a crass or shitty way, that’s the only way Paul and I can do this. This is what we do.’
It’s this matter-of-fact, grounded, realistic approach to being in a band that’s got Cinema Cinema to the point that they’re now at, and where they’re able to make a living from their music – and it certainly isn’t down to huge royalty cheques from heavy radio rotation. But while so many bands are preoccupied with the trappings of rock stardom, and yearn to swan about venues radiating an aura that says ‘we’re the band. We’re cool. Check us out’ even when they’ve barely got a handful of fans, Cinema Cinema are all about the graft and treating the band as a job.
‘We’ve designed our lives about doing the band first and we do what we have to do to survive in between. We bust our asses, it’s like having two jobs, a day job and a night job. But when you know that what you’re supposed to be doing, like you’re fulfilling your purpose, then it’s never a sacrifice.’
He continues, detailing their operations like a business plan at first before expounding his theories on the probability of being successful as a musician: ‘Paul and I split different responsibilities. He handles the van, the insurance on the van, maintaining it, I handle the managing, the booking, etc., so it’s really a beautiful marriage and it takes a lot of commitment. Like, it used to be when you were a kid, you’d think oh, if the planets lined up, one day I’ll be on the cover of all the magazines, but what it really is, you need the fucking planets to line up just to get into a band where you get enough people to agree on making a certain kind of music and being willing to go and put it as a priority and tour their balls off. You need the planets to line up to even have that opportunity! You can’t be thinking of what might happen of it. It really takes a lot of commitment.’
It’s this commitment that’s defined their career and has also earned them the brakes they’ve had: Cinema Cinema have toured with Black Flag legend Greg Ginn no fewer than five times. Hand-picked by the icon of US punk to support him, the exposure to such a crucial audience has been critical in terms of reaching a fan-base. Ginn isn’t the only one of their heroes they’ve met while on the road, as Ev delights in telling me:
‘The people that we’ve met – we treat our business with the band like we treat ourselves and the music, with respect, so we treat the people we meet along the way with a lot of respect… We met Greg Ginn while touring… criss-crossing and networking, you don’t know who you’re going to meet out there, and also, Don Zientara. We played DC so many times that in the first two years we were a band, we might as well have been a DC band. DC is only four and a half hours away from Brooklyn, so that was because of our willingness to go and tour.’
Ev is savvy enough to realise that it’s all about the graft, and accepts there are inevitably going to be more shows where hardly anyone turns up than where there’s a full house and one of his idols present. For Cinema Cinema, it’s not about celebrity or rubbing shoulders with names worth dropping, but by the same token, when they do hit the jackpot it’s because they’ve been in the right place at the right time, and the way to achieve that is by being in all the places all of the time. And it’s the time spent in those places, and between those places, that he sees as being the real experience:
‘It doesn’t say ‘do the equation: take band add tour equals meet music legend people – there is no equation: the equation is, the end result is anything can happen. But you have to have the willingness to get out there in the first place. I’d rather fucking die in an avalanche in a snowstorm on the road than sit on my couch in my underwear and watch TV.’
He talks in great big lengthy chunks, and quite quickly. It’s as though every second counts. He’s right, of course. Now into his 30s, Ev’s been playing in bands since school and spent enough time going nowhere, both in terms of making music and on a personal level. The picture begins to take shape as he gives me a potted history of the band and his own career.
‘We’re from Brooklyn, we’re cousins, we’re both born and raised here… Brooklyn’s really evolved over the last… I just turned 34 and my cousin Paul he’s 24. I’ve lived in Brooklyn more or less my whole life apart from two years on the West Coast, and Paul, he’s been here his whole life. We’ve always stuck out like a sore thumb because we’re heavy and we’re punky and we’re crazy and we’re really really intense… I’ve been in bands since 1994, when I was 15. I played CBGB when I was 16 years old in 1995. I didn’t play it once, I mean I started playing gigs then, I’ve done bands since then, all around here. I was in bands, local do-well, whatever, but I had never toured, never gone out there and fucking done it…
‘So many bands put this focus on coming to New York and make a splash and get the blogs to mention them and play the places and it seems like a big goal of theirs and I’m not saying that’s a bad goal… but I had always yearned to tour, I had heard that was the difference maker and I’d heard that bands got better by touring and I’d always heard that the more serious people in the industry take you more seriously if you were willing to do that… so when Paul and I got together, the decision was it was all systems go, let’s see what’s up, let’s start this, let’s see what it’s like to tour, let’s go.’
On a roll, he continues: ‘I was in a marriage that was a really wrong left-turn in my early 20s that I broke out of. I got a divorce at 29. Many people my age who might have been in unhappy marriages continue forward in them, and to this day they have kids and they’re unhappy, I said ‘fuck that’, and I got divorced and I changed my life, to specifically pursue my life that I felt had been on hold. Right at that time was when Paul and I first jammed, and it was magic right off the bat. We could speak to each other with the telepathy and the chemistry that had to be gifts given by God – not that we’re a Christian band, I don’t mean that, but I mean it didn’t come from fucking us!’
But for all of his amazement at the music he’s now making and the excitement at producing music that’s unquestionably greater than the sum of its parts, his head’s anywhere but in the clouds. His focus is something that comes through strongly.
We plan to play everywhere possible… we’re coming up for our fifth year. February 2008 was our first gig. We play very often, we’re very active. We’re working on playing everywhere possible. So far we’ve done half of America. Everything’s DIY, we do everything ourselves. We just got brand new silkscreen printing equipment to start making our own shirts. At five years in, to continue to this way… we’re trying to make everything as in-house as possible… When you’re younger and you start a band and you think ‘I’m gonna start this band and we’re gonna make an album and get it out there, and…’ You’re gonna get signed and all that…. I interject. ‘Exactly! And then it becomes more like if it was just like a fad or something you wanted to do for a little while and that didn’t pan out I can see why people get off the boat, but what happens is, the more you do it, if you start to walk it then you don’t really talk it.’
Ev both talks it and walks it, and the guy’s passion is phenomenal. As he reels of his recollections of life on the road, it becomes clear that it’s not been an easy ride, and the romance of hitting the road and living the dream as a band completely in command of its own destiny is tempered by the reality of the hardship they’ve endured just to do what they do, and the endless slog that is not just being in a band that tours, but a band that is truly DIY, down to the bookings, driving and roadying. Yet despite this, Ev still portrays the endurance test that is his life in a way that’s essentially cool.
‘…as you start to walk it, as you start to to tour, as you start to break your ass, it’s not about any kind of destination, or getting signed or whatever, it’s the journey of actually doing it. That’s what we do: we don’t wait for the world to come and find out about us, we’re coming to your ass. We’ve done half of America, on our own, we’ve done Canada. In 2009 alone we did 100 shows. That was our second year. That was just us, me and Paul. Two dudes. We didn’t even have a van yet. We have a fucking four-door Mazda Millenia, a little white Mazda Millennia that was named after Darryl Strawberry, a baseball player who was on the Mets – we’re both Mets fans – based on an air-freshener, that we had, a strawberry air-freshener… and nevertheless, we did 100 shows, the entire east coast, over and over. We slept in the front seat with the wheel between our legs… that’s like walking the plank. We’re very driven guys and we love what we do.’
‘I’m sorry for jumping around,’ he says. He needn’t apologise. Listening to him speak is rather like listening to the band’s latest album as it builds up and flies off in all directions without any forewarning. It’s not hard to connect the man with the music. I barely need to ask any questions: Ev doesn’t require any prompting to effuse about his band. It’s not a big ego thing, though. The guy’s just sparky and bursting with ideas and, above all, enthusiasm. It makes a refreshing change from your archetypal cooler than thou, aloof, monosyllabic rock star. It does mean that it takes me a while to steer the conversation toward the album.
‘I have a humungous pedal board…’ he’s telling me, before shooting off on another tangent, this time with an anecdote that encapsulates the band’s steadfast refusal to be beaten by even the most adverse of conditions – the kind that would have set many less dedicated acts back months or even longer, and no doubt prompted others still to quit entirely. ‘We were hit by a hurricane here and we lost all our gear. We rolled off that and made it back to playing within two weeks on borrowed gear…. but basically I have a huge pedal board, I bi-amp my board so I run a huge 100-watt Marshall stack and then I also run an Ampeg bass amp. I click that one with a certain pedal and I also do some live looping and we do a lot of improv…’
That was something I’d been meaning to bring up, as it happens. I ask: there are just two of you, but you manage to make one helluva racket for just two guys. Do you find that apart from being able to improvise more readily because it’s easier to play intuitively between two people than say four or six or whatever, you think it makes you work harder to fill the space?
‘I definitely think that our style and our approach and what we’ve grown into is very, very much influenced by the fact that we are a two-piece and there is the desire to eat up the space that would be fulled up by other body members…. We never look at being a two-piece as having any limits. I think that many successful two-pieces decide to set specific limitations so they can thrive within them. I’m not saying that The Black Keys suck, but… they’re a pop sensation and stuff, and their first albums are really great… or The White Stripes, but they have a style, they’ll have a kind of music, maybe they’ll have a look – maybe not, they don’t have to – I’m not saying any of these things are bad but they get that dimension that they work well in, and they rock the fuck out of that dimension. And you have to say, in that dimension, they’re great at what they do. We don’t do that. Every idea gets pushed through this grinder of ours, that’s half crazy orchestra, half stuttering frenetic Bad Brains hardcore. half like we can’t wait to shove it down your throat and half like ‘it’s gonna be ok in the end somehow’, so and half groove and half fucked up and half freaked out and a lot of noise…’
With so much time spent on the road and taking care of administration, it’s amazing they have any time to write, let alone record, any music. Yet in the five years since they got it together, Cinema Cinema have produced two albums, with Manic Children standing as a double, packing in thirteen tracks and spanning a full 80 minutes. It’s also brimming with ideas.
He considers it some kind of fate. He may be right. But the fact he’s even concerned about it fitting on a CD speaks volumes,and the conversation turns to the ‘music industry’ and the Internet and the oft-touted opinion that the latter has killed the former. Ev is of an age where physical product matters, and reminisces about how, when he was getting into music, physical media was intrinsically linked with the whole reception and consumption of music. ‘I have a wall of compact discs… I’m not ashamed,’ Ev says. ‘Compact discs came to prominence when I started to become a consumer of whatever was out there when I was, like, nine… When Guns ‘n’ Roses hit in 1987, I bought Appetite for Destruction on compact disc.’
I can identify with that. I have a wall of compact discs, too, and another of vinyl. I bought Complete Madness in my local Boots. And then there are the books… the point is, physical media isn’t about ludditism, but an appreciation of the form: the medium might not be the message, but the two are – at least historically – intrinsically linked. He bemoans the lack of music stores remaining in NY these days, and enthuses about the Virgin Megastore he found on a recent visit to Paris. ‘They have CDs, DVD… and good shit! But those places, Virgin and Tower, they closed down here in New York about ten years ago.’
‘In 2013 – it’s been like this for a number of years – it’s become an instant culture of “click in here, taste it now, do it later” and if you’re not blogged about this second it’s old and the album concept and all of these amazing concepts that are attached to the great things that represent music that are to is from of a certain generation aren’t so much part of a newer generation’s perception of their art… The urge to make a vinyl when you have an album that’s 80 minutes, it’s squashed. Y’know, we’re not gonna make some quadruple gatefold Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young foldout… It’s just me and my cousin, we fund everything. But we grew up in the CD era. For us, it felt fitting. And we sell them at our shows for $10. People say the music business has changed. Yeah, it’s changed four times over in the last few years even! It evolves at the same rate as technology, more or less. And physical product doesn’t have the same value anymore, because only fans our age and older will want it, and new fans don’t. But I go with it as if I make a piece of art, I want it to be available in a medium that I myself respect and that I myself would go and buy.’
Unsure of how such a far-out and lengthy album might be received, Ev explains how they took full advantage of the Internet and instant culture of streaming and downloading to gauge the public opinion: ‘We did like a taste test, preview EP, ‘Shoot the Freak’ beforehand, and I think that was a key decision in people being open minded enough and being able to wrap their minds around it.’
The EP in question is led by the track ‘Lady Abortion’. One of the album’s shorter and more direct numbers, it’s a frenzied blast of off-kilter rock ‘n’ roll reminiscent of Independent Worm Saloon era Butthole Surfers. Small wonder it brought the band to the attention of a new, wider audience and raised the levels of anticipation ahead of the album.
But where do you go after an album like Manic Children? It’s a veritable behemoth, after all. It’s so huge… you can’t really go longer or bigger, so what the hell do you do?
Ev crows with laughter. ‘Yeah, I love it. Of course, you’d think that I would turn around and say, “we’re going to do the short one next, it’ll have nine songs”… but I think that the goal, with what we’ve learned now, where we’ll go next – not that we ever want to put the limitations… like in baseball, there isn’t a time clock – we don’t wanna put restrictions, but what we’re feeling is that an album, the next one, the goal will be something around 60 minutes. That’s an hour of your day, and if you love it, maybe give us an hour of your day every day. I don’t see us trying to shave any times off our songs, more of us maybe paring it down and making the next one a little bit more concise. we’re evolving all the time…. and I think it will be more of a representation of what we do live. It will be less like an opera and more like a boxing match. There’ll be moments of relief, and glory, and defeat…’
I’m amazed that ‘defeat’ is even in Ev’s vocabulary.
‘There’ll also be a lot of clobberng you,’ he adds. That’s more what I expected!
So what’s next for Cinema Cinema? Are there plans to tour further afield, to mainland Europe and the UK? ‘It’s totally on the radar,’ he says. Ever the practical thinker, Ev emphasises the need to ‘put together the business reasoning and think, “how can we be effective with it?” You don’t just plan some two-week vacation to Europe and book some bars or pubs. We’re constructive at this point we know we wanna come over there and really, really burn it down! I would definitely say that our goal would be that by the end of the year ahead or the beginning of a year from now.’
I have no doubt he means what he says, and that it will happen. Maintaining perpetual motion is clearly what drives Cinema Cinema, and the chances are they’ll be playing in your town, or one nearby – wherever you are – before long. In the meantime, the panoramic, brain-bending and brilliantly warped rock ‘n’ roll epic that is Manic Children and the Slow Aggression is out now.
Cinema Cinema: http://www.cinemacinemaband.com