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Interview: Joseph D’Agostino (of Cymbals Eat Guitars)

on March 18, 2010, 12:01am

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on the phone with Joseph D’Agostino, lead singer of one of 2009’s most prolific acts: Jersey boys Cymbals Eat Guitars. They were packing up the van for day one of their spring tour and running extremely late for a sound check in Philadelphia, so there wasn’t too much time for chitchat. We cut right to the chase:

You guys have certainly been one of the most lauded acts of the past year, and your debut Why There Are Mountains has been well received by fans and critics alike. What was the writing process going into that album?

Well our music is very lyrically driven so in the writing process a lot of thought goes into the subject matter of the lyrics. I typically get the lyrics first and get an acoustic guitar in my hands and go from there.

And where do you draw those lyrics from typically?

Well, I read a lot. So I draw from literature in general. I read a lot of poetry: John Ashbery, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, all kinds of stuff. I like to read short stories when we’re on the road; I find them more digestible. At the time we were writing the bulk of the album I was living at a place in South Jersey, so nature also played a part in the writing process of Mountains.

So you used Jersey as an inspiration. One can only draw the comparison to Bruce Springsteen. Like 90% of what The Boss writes is either about Jersey or “Leaving Jersey”(See: “Born To Run” or “Thunder Road”). Would you say Springsteen is a big influence? Or even just Jersey for that matter?

Well, I mean, obviously we pay our respects to the big man. I’m a fan, I grew up with my parents listening to him, but no. I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s an inspiration. (laughs) And there will definitely never be a saxophone in Cymbals Eat Guitars. Except from the scenery of South Jersey that was around at the time we were writing, not a lot comes from Jersey. Like I said, it comes from what I read.

Well then, musically, from whom do you draw inspiration?

We all kind of listen to different stuff. I know Matt [Whipple] listens to the more Indie stuff. I’ll hear Broken Social Scene or like, Pavement coming out of his headphones a lot, he’s more into the current music. Brian [Hamilton] is into the more dream-pop stuff. We all kinda listen to shoegaze. My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, that kind of stuff. Whenever we’re on the road we always have an album playing in the van while we drive so we all kind of agree on music.

cymbals eat guitars1 252x260 Interview: Joseph DAgostino (of Cymbals Eat Guitars)While I have you, I just wanted to compliment you on the incredible cover you did of Elliott Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing”. Those are some big shoes to fill.

(laughs) Oh, thanks! Yeah. That one was kind of risky because Elliott Smith is sacred to a lot of people. But the song is pretty straightforward and we felt like we could do it justice.

Well you certainly did. So, today you’re kicking off your tour in Philly and doing a pretty extensive North American tour, are you going to be playing stuff off Mountains? Any new material?

Oh yeah. That’s what this tour is kind of about. We’ve toured a lot with just our Mountains material. That can get old. The first two weeks of the road can kind of be a mindless drone. But once we get acclimated, it ends up being very enjoyable. But yeah, we’ve got 5 new songs written for a new record and we’ve got them incorporated into our sets already. We’re planning on debuting them and polishing them as we go. We want to write about four more for a new album.

New album? That’s the best news I’ve heard all day! When might we expect that to drop?

About this time next year is the plan for now. And we understand the risk of trying to record the follow-up to a successful debut, but we aren’t worried about that. We’ve got a pretty solid idea of what we want to do and I think we’ll be able to avoid that sophomore slump.

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