Q&A with Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Joseph D’Agostino; Playing Rock and Roll Hotel March 6 and The EARL March 11

By Julia Reidy

What do you do when your debut record gets more attention than you ever thought it would? When it’s the blogosphere that drives your success, and your nascent band suddenly has the weight of the critical community behind it? You go on tour! Cymbals Eat Guitars will stop at The EARL and at Rock and Roll Hotel on their first national headlining run. They’ll be performing selections from Why There Are Mountains, the much-lauded, muscular LP the band released this past September via Sister’s Den Records. Supported by recent indie luminaries Bear In Heaven and Freelance Whales, it stands to be a night to remember. TA Live talked with frontman Joseph D’Agostino about the snowball of success and what it’s like to live with your ears burning.

I really enjoyed your record. Can you talk to me about what it’s been like on your end? It got the mythical Pitchfork Best New Music tag, and people have been noticing it in a pretty big way.

We didn’t have an audience or a career or anything that you might consider serious before we received that review. Really, receiving the Best New Music and the amount of play that we were starting to get from WOXY radio in Cincinnati, those were the two big things that sort of helped elevate our band to the point where we had to be viable — like we had to be a good live act, because we hadn’t been playing any shows before March of 2008, really. At the same time, there’s definitely a disconnect between internet hype and actually attending shows and things. But I get the feeling that we are enjoying a pretty unique situation, because it also seems that the spread of our record has been very much a word of mouth kind of thing, rather than one huge crush, and then suddenly we’re just ubiquitous.

You’ve toured nationally behind this record already, haven’t you?

We have. In September and October we went out on the road with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and we did a similar run, although this one is clockwise and the last time we headed counter-clockwise. In July and August, hopefully, we’ll book another tour and that will be the last time for this record cycle, because we’re working on our new record already. Not recording, but writing.

So you are in the writing stage?

Yeah. We’ve rehearsed every day for the past — I guess it doesn’t sound like a lot, but five days — and we’ve been working on some of the new material that we’ve gotten together. We have about four songs so far for the new record, and I’m thinking like nine is going to be the number for us. So hopefully we’ll be making something by this time next year.

Do you anticipate it being a different experience next time as you end up thinking about recording? Because the thing about debut records is that nobody’s watching yet.

I don’t want to be flippant or nonchalant about it. I recognize that now there’s anticipation, and people who like the first record are looking forward to this, but it doesn’t really change the way the music is being made. I’m not really feeling any pressure. I’m just really happy because it usually takes me four months to write a song and since we’ve been home from Europe, I’ve written two songs, so [laughs] I think it’s driving me to write more and to write better, if anything.

So people have been comparing you….

…to Built to Spill, Modest Mouse and Pavement?

[laughs] Well it’s Pavement I’ve been hearing the most. I know that most of those comparisons are probably just tacked on afterwards, but did you have anything in mind as you were making the record?

Yeah, certainly — a million, million different things. Most of the time at least, I probably didn’t think so much about “This should be a Pavement-y moment,” but I guess that’s kind of what influences are, they work their way into your process without you knowing about it, if you love something enough. That’s what happened. I definitely loved Pavement and Wilco and Modest Mouse and Bedhead and Guided By Voices and The Wrens more than I loved any other bands, and probably because of that, our music is tinged with elements of those bands. I will say honestly that for the song “…And the Hazy Sea” [the leadoff track from Why There Are Mountains] that ended up being pretty much the basis on which most of the rest of the record was written, I probably drew most of the inspiration from “Pueblo” by Pavement. It’s number 16 on Wowee Zowee. The second chorus is probably the best rock moment that I can give as an example. It’s the most inspiring thing ever.

Cymbals Eat Guitars will play Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C. on March 6 and The EARL in Atlanta on March 11. Tickets are on sale now at Ticket Alternative.

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