bill bodkin is in a New York state of mind…
Every region of the country has their own take on rock ‘n’ roll. We all know the Southern rock goodness of The Allmans and Skynrd, the sunny and fun harmonious sounds of The Beach Boys and of course, that vintage Jersey sound so famous by Bruce Springsteen.
But if you’re a Northeasterner, you know that vintage New York City-style of rock ‘n’ roll. The sound that’s a little bit rough, raw, a little dirty, kinda sweaty — but when the guitars hum and the high hats crash — it’s all rock at its finest.
And that’s the type of music, The Cringe, a New York City-based rock band produces. The band, fronted by John Cusimano, husband of famed TV personality Rachael Ray, is comprised of industry vets who’ve jammed with Springsteen, Mr. Bungle, Air and the Saturday Night Live Band. They’ve hit the road with The New York Dolls, The Bravery, The Hold Steady and Fuel. In short — these guys have the know-ho, the experience and the chops to melt your faces off.
Pop-Break caught up with John Cusimano to talk about the band’s new record, working with famed producer Steve Lillywhite and the effects being the husband of a celebrity has had on the band.
Pop-Break: Hiding in Plain Sight is your fourth full length record — how does this record differ from your previous two efforts?
John Cusimano: Process-wise, with each subsequent release the band works more and more collaboratively. The first record (Scratch the Surface) was essentially a JC solo record with the three other band members taking specific direction from me on almost all of the music, and almost all of the different parts. The second record (Tipping Point) featured a bit more input from the other band members, and we even used some outside musicians (including a full string section, and a sitar) on some of the tracks. Plaything was the first album that I co-wrote some of the content (with Roto — James Rotondi).
Hiding in Plain Sight features not only much co-writtten JC/Roto material, but two songs written entirely by Roto (as well as a few entirely by me). In addition it is the first album that features keyboards (played by me — with the exception of synth on one track) on every song on the album – rather than our traditional two guitar/bass/drum instrumentation.
Content-wise, Scratch was our first album and had a homespun, young, punkish-fueled optimism, while “Tipping Point” was more insular, dark and brooking. Plaything was a return to a more upbeat (albeit more massive) rock sound evoking Scratch meets classic rock vibe. Hiding has amped up the heaviness and added a bit of angular prog rock on certain track, juxtaposed with pop elements on others.
As a side note, Tipping Point was recorded entirely analogue – recorded, mixed and mastered all on tape, using only vintage gear and effects.
Pop-Break: How do you feel The Cringe has grown since the days when you first started out?
JC: Our recording process has become more thoughtful and intense. At this point, all the band members are emotionally vested in the band, and labor over creating their own voice and statement within the context of The Cringe. We no longer feel the need — as we may have early on — to box ourselves into a post-grunge category, musically (which was initially part of our roots). Finally, as they say, practice makes perfect and with many more gigs under our belt we are a much tighter live act now more than ever.
PB: The video for “Deep Girl” was visually stunning, can you talk about what inspired the concept of the video?
JC: The director of the video – Jake Nelson – gets full credit. You’d have to ask him. He is currently working on Hiding’s third official video – for “Finally Gonna Be On Your Own”.
PB: Legendary producer Steve Lillywhite gave you guys input on your second album, Plaything. Can you talk about how he came to work with you guys? Were you intimidated at the thought of him coming in to work with you? And finally, what were his contributions to the record?
JC: I have always been a fan of Steve’s work, and met him a more than a few years back at an industry event. We hit it off immediately, and he became close friends with my wife and me. He happened to be in between projects at the time we were recording Plaything in NYC and stopped by the studio a few times to check in on our recording progress and quite graciously offered suggestions and ideas.
The process was organic and the input he offered was fairly amazing actually. Some small changes were offered, some not so small, and they all improved what we had been working on by quite a bit. By the time he was coming by the studio, we were all close enough that there was no intimidation — it was more like hanging out with a buddy.
One specific example of something he suggested was that we cut a measure from a song called “No Control” to add a little bit of rhythmic unconventionality. At the time we were recording solely on tape (Plaything was later transferred to Pro Tools for mixing) and thus this suggestion required a tape edit. So first we had to find an engineer who knew how to carefully cut and splice tape, and then we had to have him cut our precious 2 inch tape — containing all of our hard work – by hand and tape it back together again in just the right place. It actually worked quite well.
PB: You’ve been on tour with some pretty big names in the music industry, which group have you learned the most from?
JC: There are many, but Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top) stands out. BG is someone who is not only knowledgeable about the history of blues and rock, but – with a successful music career spanning decades, along with accolades and rock stardom – is still genuinely as excited about music, and its progenitors and roots as someone who is discovering it for the first time. He is an enlightened cat.
PB: You’re the husband of Rachael Ray — has this helped or hindered your career?
JC: Helped of course. My wife is the best.
PB: If someone wanted to check out the band, which song would you recommend them to start with?
JC: The first track off of Hiding in Plain Sight – “Rushing Through the World.”