jason kundrath interviews the avant-indie deconstructionists…
The four young men that comprise New Brunswick’s Sink Tapes have got the look. They’re painfully skinny. They have the indie-rock hair cuts and the thrift shop threads. And armed with two guitars, bass and drums, they would seem to be the model for the standard four-piece rock band. But the sound of Sink Tapes is far from standard-issue.
Proclaiming a heavy influence from the Velvet Underground, the members of Sink Tapes use their instruments to create a dense atmosphere of avant-garde cool. Like an extended audio drug trip, their sound is alternately blissful, sleepy and mildly disorienting. Their commitment to this potent aesthetic finds them effectively eschewing traditional pop songcraft in favor of mood. This isn’t meant for the radio. Their sound is meant to envelop you and transport you into their strange and inviting world.
On their second and latest full-length album Please Touch, listeners will indeed find melody and melodic phrasing throughout, but it’s mainly used as a device to keep the dream properly swirling about. Over the course of its 11 tracks, you will be hard-pressed to find anything resembling a chorus. It’s as if Sink Tapes feel such conventions would only serve as a distraction.
But don’t think the boys of Sink Tapes are all aesthetic and no fun. To the contrary, their video for lead track “The Soul is In the Kitchen” gives us a rather candid glimpse of the band in its element. We get to see the band rocking out, smoking cigarettes, sticking drum sticks down each other’s pants and generally acting ridiculous.
Pop-Break caught up with lead vocalist and drummer Gabe Chiarello to talk about their unique sound and their ambitions for 2013.
Pop-Break: There seems to be two distinct sides to the new album. There’s a distorted, drone-heavy side heard on tracks like “Inward Bed” and a mellow, melodic side heard on tracks like “Real Eyes” and “Written in the Trees.” Is there more than one songwriter in the band? How does the band put a song together?
Gabe Chiarello: More than one of us writes but that no effect on the two distinct sides of the songs. It isn’t like one of us prefers to write clean pop songs and another prefers heavier distorted songs. We all just write what we write. Alex [Kielmanski, guitar], Ricky [Kuczynski – guitar/vocals] and I all write songs. More often times than not the words will be written by either Ricky or me, and most often I sing, then Rick sings…Alex never sings. With Please Touch everyone brought their own ideas and songs, sometimes more finished than others, and we all worked them out together. More recently we have been writing on our own since Alex is away at school, and Ricky and I are writing a lot on acoustic guitars in our apartment. That’s probably a big reason our sound has gotten cleaner, all three songwriters are writing on acoustics.
PB: One of the most musically lush tracks on the new album “Fairmount” is also the only instrumental. Why did you choose not to add vocals to this track?
GC: Once the song began to have some form and was pretty much complete without words we decided that it really didn’t need any. As an instrumental track it kind of speaks for itself and has a lyrical quality that would be ruined with words.
PB: Both of your releases have been entirely independent productions. And you’ve already hinted at a “brand new set of tracks in the works.” Have you considered working with an outside producer this time around? Are there any modern producers who you admire?
GC: At this point, having put out two records, and over 20 new demos recorded for new releases, we feel very comfortable with our own process of writing, recording, and producing. We don’t want to influence this process with an outside source, but we are actively seeking help from a label for release and distribution of any new material.
PB: An online review of a show you did over the summer at Asbury Lanes accused the band of transforming the stage into its own “personal living room” and generally being unconcerned about audience approval. Is this an accurate assessment? What type of reaction are you looking for from an audience? What type of feelings are you trying to evoke?
GC: We want people to like us, but we aren’t going to put on a show coming from stage presence alone. We’re a band where the drummer sings lead from the back of the stage and the other three members are having a staring contest with the floor. It’s not something deliberate or premeditated, it’s just the way we have always played together. We don’t have a front man and as far as presentation goes we are conscious of keeping the attention or balance equal on stage.
PB: Although you point to classic bands like the Velvet Underground and Television as your major influences, you also seem to share a kindred aesthetic with fellow NJ indie darlings Real Estate. Does the band draw any influence from contemporary artists? Local or national?
GC: Yes, we like Wilco, Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, to name three.
PB: While all four of you attend different schools around the state — and Alex in Maryland — you call New Brunswick, N.J., home base. That storied city has maintained a lively and diverse music scene over the years and has given rise to many great bands. What does New Brunswick mean to you? Has the city embraced Sink Tapes? And what’s the state of the scene now?
Ricky and I moved to New Brunswick in January of 2012, with Tom not too far down the road. The city has a cool underground music scene with a ton of great bands that we are happy to be a part of and call it our home base. Has New Brunswick embraced Sink Tapes?… well we hope. We have our record release show January 10th at Paradise Lost and will be doing an in-studio performance live on 90.3 The Core on January 13th.
PB: The band recently played some shows in the midwest. How were you received?
GC: We just got back from that trip, we did Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cleveland and every show was great. This was the furthest we have gone out so far and we will be hitting the road again the first week of January to promote Please Touch.
PB: What are Sink Tapes’ goals for 2013?
GC: Continue touring, release new music with the help of some interested labels, if all else fails win the lottery.
Check out Sink Tapes “The Soul Is In The Kitchen”
01 The Soul Is In The Kitchen