By Kyle Lemmon; photos by Philip Di Fiore on March 7, 2013
There are some conspiracy theorists out there who believe our Neanderthal ancestors were influenced by a group of extraterrestrials that visited Earth during the Stone Age. These ancient aliens were directly involved in the evolution of the human species through genetic engineering and cross-breeding. If this far-fetched theory was depicted as a popcorn flick, the five-piece Brooklyn indie-rock outfit Caveman could supply its soundtrack…for reasons beyond the name alone.
Caveman’s singer-guitarist-percussionist Matthew Iwanusa adores the creepy soundtracks to old B-movies. Those various aesthetics and his band’s propensity to kickstart songs with pulse-quickening drum circles make for an energetic sophomore release. Caveman is the heavily anticipated follow-up to the young group’s self-released debut, CoCo Beware, which was re-released by Fat Possum last year. Now the New Yorkers have a daring new set of synth-rock jams to tour behind.
The Guide snagged Iwanusa on the phone to discuss the new tunes, evergreen influences and Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. [In a nasal German accent: Cue the eerie harmonic guitar squeal over the troglodyte spaceship…now!]
Why did you choose Caveman for your band’s name?
Matthew Iwanusa: There are multiple reasons, but one funny one is that when I was younger, my old band was playing and somebody came up to me after the show and said, “You guys were really good and you look like a caveman, Matthew!” I had this huge beard. We kind of laughed and I wondered if he was insulting me. It also symbolizes the start of something new and trying to approach new things like a caveman would do it.
I know you made the art for CoCo Beware. Did you make the artwork for the new album?
I worked on it with my friend Alex Reeves. The first one I did myself. For Caveman, I had some ideas and then gave it over to Alex and he really ran with them. It’s always great working with him because he’s got a great eye.
Your bandmate Jimmy Carbonetti is also one of New York City’s go-to guitar makers. How long has he had that gig?
Yeah, he opened up his own shop downtown called Carbonetti Guitars. He built guitars for the whole band, so we have this tailor-made sound. He really got into the craft while I was in college. He’s been learning a lot this past year.
What were your influences for this new set of songs?
We always talk about how we want it to sound like outer space and go from there. It changes as we move along. I really like Fleetwood Mac. It’s hard to pinpoint what we were looking to do. I’m really into Tears for Fears, too. Growing up, we all listened to different things, but we have a lot of common interests. A lot of visuals are referenced when we discuss music.
“Chances” is a fairly poppy song, but towards that end you guys start layering a discordant drone over the mix like it was a post-rock track. Tell me a little bit about that song’s development.
We like to start a lot of songs with a drum circle and that was one of those instances. We came up with the main chord progression and melody and then added the drum circle. The other sounds are us fading in really distorted and pretty sounds until they take over the song.
I understand that old-school video game music is a consistent influence for you?
I go through phases where I get really into video game music. It’s crazy and every move that somebody does has to be synced up with a different sound of musical theme. It’s like a movie, but with video games it has to be even more dramatic at times. Back in the day, they would come up with some really catchy music from simple tools and for crude-yet-beautiful visuals. The Nintendo days had these really memorable melodies to go along with the action. Now they really play up the drama with big soundtracks. I’m a big fan of the original Resident Evil. It was so memorable and I was terrified of it. All those Rockstar games like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto are great, too.
Are there any movies that would pair well with the sounds of Caveman?
I really like old Ed Wood movies and the style of that era of sci-fi and horror movies. I would always go to my friend’s house after elementary school and watch scary movies. My mom would complain because I would come home being so terrified after watching the craziest horror movies. I was into the movies that were supposed to be creepy, but end up being kind of funny.
How would you describe Caveman to a deaf person?
It sounds like the scene of Werner Herzog going down the Ucayali River in that boat for the making of Fitzcarraldo. That scene always reminds me of our band. F