Since Caveman began in 2010, they’ve released 3 full records, toured endlessly (sharing stages with The War on Drugs, Jeff Tweedy, and Weezer, and playing festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits), receiving accolades from Pitchfork to the New York Times. Now in 2021, they’ve become one of the mainstays of the NYC music world. More than anything, Caveman are the band that everyone seems to know, who always seemed to be out on the town for years if you needed someone to meet up with late into the night, the throughline to a dozen disparate crowds of artists. Led by Matthew Iwanusa, lifelong city resident, with guitarist Jimmy Carbonetti (who grew up on Roosevelt Island) they quickly started their first band in high school. At 18, they met Jeff Berrall (bass) to complete the trio. Nowadays, they’ve grown from young punk kids into statesmen of sorts for NYC indie music. Jimmy’s Brooklyn shop The Guitar Shop NYC is a city institution and a clubhouse for the band. Practicing and working out of Williamsburg nightclub Baby’s Alright during it’s down hours, the band are just beginning to recreate the momentum of their early career after a period of false starts, legal issues and delays that slowed the release of their new record for several years. “Smash” is the first Caveman record since 2016’s “Otero War” and was produced by Nico Chiotellis at Rivington 66. It comes out on Fortune Tellers in July 2021.
“Boy, these guys can write a chorus.” Simon LeBon
With Special Guests: Liily & Caroline Kingsbury
Liily are four Los Angeles musicians- Dylan Nash, Sam De La Torre, Charlie Anastasis & Maxx
Morando – who, up until now, were mostly known for their manic and cacophonous live shows.
Those performances, alongside a couple of early singles packaged together into an EP entitled I
Can Fool Anybody In This Town, drove the band to some surprising early successes: performing
at Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, touring across Europe and the United States, then finding
themselves on the cover of Spotify and Apple Music’s major rock playlists. But then, as quickly as
they appeared, they seemed to vanish. Almost two years later, and now all of 22 years old, the
band return with their debut album TV or Not TV in October. It is a highly aggressive record, far
more so than their early work. But here they jump from moment to moment and genre to genre,
creating an experimental and original set of songs, all more strange and abrasive but also far
more three dimensional than anything the band has done before. It still contains the unbridled
energy of those early shows and singles but feels stripped of anything passive or unintentional.
Ultimately, the album is about what arises when you come from Los Angeles but want to illustrate
a different vantage point than what the city seems to represent to the world at large. “There’s a
real lack of stuff that feels engaging here but there’s a lot that feels engaging elsewhere and in
different times,” says bassist Charlie Anastasis. “We got into the Birthday party, into Sonic Youth,
into the Fall. Also really into Moss Icon and Unwound. We can’t escape LA so we wanted to make
something that felt just as engaging but that came from here specifically.”
“We’re really just chasing a sound,” says singer Dylan Nash. “ I think the people who are going to
like this record are going to understand the aesthetic and the ones that don’t are not going to like
it. It’s very take it or leave it. But it was important for us to create this aesthetic of our own. We
didn’t know what we wanted so we spent a long time developing it. That was us training our ears
a bit. Diving into more art and learning. We got older, developed as human beings. We learned
how to write together. You know somebody for so long but to learn to work with them is a
completely different skill. That process really contributed to each of us just being able to let go,
let loose, care less about the abstract and more about the big picture.”
The result is a twelve track record that really does feel singular and strange. It’s very aggressive
without it feeling like just a punk band. It’s a bashing, freewheeling sound that’s then very
buttoned up- maybe self serious at points so it feels like kind of art school but not done by art
school kids. The idea being that it makes sense by listening to it. It makes sense without a
If anything, that sense of evoking a singular image, archetype, character or aesthetic without
definition, without failing into explanation, is the baseline of TV or Not TV. It all seems to arise out
of some primordial sense of chaos. Nash’s lyrics and performances often lead the way.
Everything, in his words, “feels like a gag.” He’s part carnival barker, part method actor. In one
song a traveling salesman, in another – a magician on a stage. In “The Suit that Sold Itself”, he
starts out barking a new dance craze ala the “Cha-Cha Slide” over perhaps the most abrasive
moment on the album. “I guess we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously,” says Nash. “I
think it’s the insanity of the lyrics. Not exactly going in the direction you’d expect things to go. It’s
all making fun of itself with a kind of horror movie, campy horror element. You’re never really
trying to explain subjects in a song.” Instead, he often takes a normal idea, be it a feeling of
anxiety or self destructiveness or, in the case of the first single “I Am Who You Think I Think I
Am”, a topic as specific as hyper-accelerationism, and tries to strip it of all need for discussion by
embodying them as actual monsters.
The album leads off with a great example called “Mr Speaker Gets the Word”. “I made a
character who’s like the villain in a movie . Someone who’s horribly deformed and crazy but
inside is just a person, a regular human. Like a henchman with a hook for a hand. Like a dude
who would kidnap you. He’s a surreal character built out of a normal sort of feeling. Everyone
feels like they’re doing something wrong all of the time. Everyone knows that feeling. It’s to show
the intensity of it and how bad it can get. He’s just trying to enjoy his day but is scaring everybody
and he’s just trying to find the peace within himself.”
If a monster can express a single idea or emotion as a symbol, that touchstone makes its way
even further into the work of Sam De La Torre, guitarist for the band who has taken to directing
the band’s videos surrounding TV or Not TV. The first single “I Am Who I Think You Think I Am”
takes this very literally in a video starring the actress Claudia Lee, waking to find herself with a
creature climbing from her throat. But more than any single monster, De La Torre’s sculpture
broadcast through an old TV set on the record cover, or the primal suburban portraits of
photographer Glen Erler found in similar TV sets on the single covers, or the extensive other
videos that accompany the record, all return to this idea of Liily clawing at an inexpressible sound
and vision they set out to conquer.
“It’s tough to try and grow this sort of music here in Los Angeles. That’s what we started caring
about doing.” Says Charlie Anastasis. Ultimately, it’s a dream of finding real outliers here in their
hometown. Where that urge comes from seems grounded in the shared experience of these four
musicians. “Our early singles sounded sort of earnest,” says drummer Maxx Morando, “like kids
just excited to be out in the world, excited by the ability to find a crowd. Before that, growing up
in the city, we were doing all this degrading shit. We felt like industry plants. You learn a lot and
your value system grows because of that.” They created Liily to get away from that world.
Produced by Joe Chicarelli and mixed by Alan Moulder, TV or Not TV comes out October 2021
on Flush Records, a California indie label founded by Priority records Executive Andrew Shack.
The label has very high hopes of mainstream success for the band. “It was like this magician who
popped out of nowhere,” says Anastasis. Adds Nash: “It’s a great really human thing. We have
this relationship where you can tell he really disagrees with us but at the same time he really cares.
” It’s a funny spot for a band with a record as sonically and thematically chaotic as Liily. “I
would never forgive myself if I made a record I wasn’t proud of and it flopped vs making a record
I am proud of and it flops. I’m old enough to understand that scenario now and I wasn’t at 17 or
18,” says Anastasis.
What happens next says a lot about their generation and their own evolution in the public eye.
How do you navigate the short history of this band, their early mainstream successes with a sharp
turn to something far more out there in the present? It’s an uneditable history that requires their
audience to shift pretty dramatically along the way. It’s also a first album with an undeniable
statement of intent. “I think thematically it’s very different,” says Dylan Nash. “I think the intensity
of it is very different. I think we had the same intention though which is to completely obliterate
people’s ear drums – that’s what it still has in common.”
This Caroline Kingbury record is so close to a massive pop album, the kind you hear out on Republic Records with hundreds of thousands of dollars sunk into it so that it blasts out your speakers absolutely perfectly, the kind of inescapable music you hear taking over the airwaves and internet. And yet, it’s something else entirely. It’s the story of a young artist begging, borrowing and stealing to just get her voice heard, and of all the desperation and hard days cutting through. With each song you can actually hear a young kid who moved from Florida writing in her bedroom and starting out on her own in her cheap Hollywood apartment. You are right alongside her chasing those massive pop sounds, going to work day after day at the local grocery, and going on tour with a band for the first time. Feel her tenacity waver as she gets stuck in a sleazy contract, as her agent leaves her, and as her first serious relationship falls apart.
The record lands in this strange place that is really like the sound of our own dreams. It takes you right there with her. It’s not so shiny, not so escapist anymore. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it’s broken. Sometimes dreams don’t come true but we keep trying. Entitled “Heaven’s Just a Flight,” it’s the story of a queer artist from a religious family coming out to the world, meeting her girlfriend, finding her people and her place. It’s the story of her older brother’s battle with cancer, his sudden passing just as she arrives home from her first national tour, just as she’s set to release her first single. The music is bursting at its seams. You feel her story, her experience. It’s the sound of a really big voice in a small world.
It’s an amazing cross between Kate Bush, Cindy Lauper, The Cocteau Twins, and the Killers. It’s the type of music that soothes when real life is too much to handle. It’s good for driving around by yourself and dancing in front of the mirror. It’s the perfect music to imagine blasting at a nightclub even when you can’t. And it’s a double album. It’s enveloping and overwhelming on purpose. You get to hear every detail of this wonderful young artist’s mind and soul. Maybe because it feels so authentic, it will be time for that voice to cut through.
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