As part of the release of Digcast VI, which focuses on NYC music, we are posting on each band in the podcast over the next five weekdays.
Follow the link above to listen to Cultfever discuss their track “Knewyouwell” and a favorite NYC spot to get breakfast sandwiches and coffee.
Cultfever is a Brooklyn-based duo of Tamara Jafar and J. Peter Durniak. They released their self-titled debut album last November. Aside from some drumming on two tracks and accordion on another, the work is the effort and vision of Tamara and Joe, and what impressed me most immediately was the highly immersive nature of the sonic world the two crafted. The production is composed of layers of instrumentation, the styles of music flit and morph from track to track while still feeling cohesive to a larger whole, and there is a lovely blending of live instrumentation and electronic construction. In other words, it’s awesome.
You can hear “Knewyouwell” in the podcast linked above and “Collector” figures prominently into the interview section of this post (be sure to read on for a cool bit on how these two connect thematically in the conceptualization of the album as a whole), so I want to talk briefly about some of what comes in between. Everything is quite diverse musically and often feels otherworldly. There’s “Devil in the Drum’s” industrial / Orwellian style and “Rogue’s” catchy, punk-ish rush. There are great atmospherics of the tapestries of guitar and electronic drums in tracks like “Spill” and “Duress.” It comes across as the creation of a band into a lot of different music that has channeled their tastes into something distinct and fascinating.
It all sounds good on its own merit for sure, but the musical variety succeeds so well because of the strong production – which I assume to be Joe’s strength, though I’m sure is at somewhat collaborative – and because of Tamara’s versatile voice, which seems to bring a different approach to each song and always sounds like exactly what is needed. It is a powerful instrument that’s malleable in the best way. The words she sings seem to touch on a variety of subjects and are largely open-ended to allow for numerous interpretations. Certainly the vibes of the songs shade how we might hear words, so I thought “Devil in the Drum” felt very cynical, perhaps about people who regret their own life choices and want to break or discourage those who still have their open futures ahead of them. “Spill” to me is heavily nostalgic. Since I had New York on the brain when interacting with the band, I couldn’t help thinking “Rouge” was commenting on how easy it is to get caught up in surface physical appearances in this city. And to my ears, “Farm” is an interesting exploration of the reason vs. emotion duality.
But remember, these are just my opinions and impressions and you really should listen and see how this album speaks to you. I don’t know what it will say, but I know it will say something. It’s an album that reveals more to you the longer you listen to it, so be sure to give it a few spins. It’s available on Bandcamp and Cultfever’s webstore (along with limited edition prints). While we’re at it, here are some other links for all things Cultfever: Twitter, Facebook, and their main webpage once again.
As of this writing, Cultfever has one live show coming up. It’s this weekend May 27th. They play the Mercury Lounge with Eight Bit Tiger and Gold Streets. Their set is at 7:00, it’s $10, and 21+. Check out this page for info and this page for tickets.
I also want to share the link to Tamara’s other project. It’s called Rally for Iraq, a non-profit to offer Iraqis educational opportunities. Check it out.
When I spoke with Tamara and Joe at the Fulton Grand Bar in Brooklyn, we had a lengthy discussion. It was evident they have a very strong bond that enhances their creative partnership, and it was a pleasure to talk with two individuals who were equally thoughtful as they were funny. Here are some other interesting excerpts from the interview.
We spent some time discussing the music video for “Collector,” as I really like it and wanted to know more about it.
Tamara – There’s definitely Mary Shelley vibes in there. A quick nod to Don Quixote. All we cared about, honestly, was working with people that are hyper-creative. It was kind of an experiment for everybody. The animation was by Asheville based artist Emily Wormley. Two directors approached us Elizabeth Rose, Alison Keeley. They heard the album and approached us about doing the video for “Collector.” We were stoked, not even realizing they’d be bringing in a seven person deep team.
Joe – There was a DP, a gaffer, we had some serious equipment on set, we had a set!
T – It was a two day shoot in November.
J – It was cold. We were in a garage space in Jersey with a lot of people and the body heat did nothing. I think we were giving our extras shots to keep them warm.
T – They were taking shots. It was a twelve hour Saturday shoot. People were, I give them credit, extremely motivated for the first seven hours.
J – Yeah, after that mark people got a little snarky, just a little bit. We felt a little bad, but everyone really was great overall and it came out well. We got a lot done and things came together even more in post-production with the coloration, the editing.
T – I’m pretty sure we told the mannequins that we would throw an after party…
J – Which we never did. So right here, on tape, we are saying that we are still going to throw that party for the mannequins.
T – We will throw it.
Tamara and Joe revealed they have some videos coming up at varying stages of completion. “Spill” is right now in the pre-production, or maybe more accurately, imagination & planning stage.
J – We want to do a claymation, Wallace and Gromit-style video for “Spill.” It’s way out of our budget right now. And then I saw the Shins made a new video that basically was everything we could want. I was like “Ah, why can’t we have that?” But at some point.
T – Dream big.
TWD – You just got to get Zach Braff to put you in his movie.
T – You need Natalie Portman to say “This song will change your life.” In any context.
J – I would just like to say hello to her.
“Knewyouwell,” on the other hand, is nearly finished and due to premiere any time now. I asked them to give me a little preview of what to expect.
J – It holds very true to the feeling of the song. It’s very dark, very gritty. We shot a lot of it ourselves in our studio space. Very low light. Nothing is really revealed. You see glimpses.
T – For us, it was kind of a homecoming for the process of creation in a small space, we created from home. Also, the song itself is so vivid in its own imagery, so we leave the video a little mysterious.
“Collector” also inspired us to discuss the act of collecting. From there it became a broader conversation on influences and contributing to music as an art form, as well as the subjectivity of a song’s meaning.
TWD – On the idea of collecting, do you collect anything, or if you could, is there something you would want to collect?
J – I have a severe amount of musical equipment, instruments, things like that.
T – I don’t. I’m actually kind of anti-hoarding.
TWD – I’m temping at this place right now that’s very heavy on collecting and when you really think about it, it sort of loses its appeal. I have collecting tendencies and like the idea of getting a complete body of something, say like all the music from a band, but when it gets to be that weird pursuit where you don’t even enjoy it, it’s weird.
J – I would never do that. I would never a buy guitar and not use it. Collecting for the sake of it is odd to me. The musical equipment is used, it’s hard not to have it around. Sometimes it would be nice to have less when I look around our living room studio…
T – If by living room, you mean studio (laughs). Ok, if you had a million dollars that you could only spend on a collection after having the rest of your income to the charities that you believe in…
J – And I’m taken care of and my family’s taken care of?
T – And everybody in the world is taken care of, and there is peace, what would you collect?
TWD – Wow. I should have said that question, it was a good one.
T – You answer it too.
J – I probably would collect very nice guitars. I like looking at them, they’re beautiful objects, I just can’t think of never playing them. That’s the problem. It’s hard to think of something being just a sterile collection. If you’re going to have that, you’d want it to be useful or it’s taken space or someone else could use it.
T – I think it would be…
J – Would it be watches? A grandfather clock? Would you get that $30 watch we saw at the flea market at least?
T – I think I would probably start buying some pianos, older antique ones.
J – But at the same time, you’re not really collecting, you would use them.
T – That’s true. So in the pure collection sense, I’d get art that I cared about and liked. Fill all my space with art of people I admire and respect and friends I’d want to support.
J – Someone should start a show on A & E called “Usable Collections.”
T – One of my crazy uncles had the most beautiful rare stamp collection. People always joke about stamps or coin collections, those are the ones people make fun of the most, but he had a badass stamp collection.
J – My grandmother had an elephant collection. When she was moving out of her home, she told everyone to take one. “Pick your favorite elephant.” I saw this crudely cut wooden elephant. I liked it because it was simple. Turns out it was a bottle opener. Another usable thing, it circles back.
T – What about you?
TWD – I think collecting books could be cool, like early editions of my favorites. Glassware is interesting.
J – I agree, like blown glass?
TWD – Yes, it’s so cool to watch people blow glass. It would be cool if I could watch it be made and then have it…
J – And support that artist.
TWD – Yeah, that would be cool.
T – I’d like to collect actual elephants.
TWD – That would be tough.
J – There are laws against that (everyone laughs).
TWD – The other thing I took away from that song was the idea about the past. Collecting is in a way preserving or freezing in time. As a musician, how important is the past, about knowing what came before and what your influences are?
J – It’s very important, knowing what you’re doing in relation to where you came from. You need what was done before you, you need to know the rules so you can break them. We go after certain sounds so that the listener can think “This seems familiar but at the same time, it’s new. What’s going on?” You can use those elements to trick a listener. If you didn’t have the knowledge of the history, you couldn’t have those references. It doesn’t really happen that someone creates something new. It’s all building on something before. It’s a matter of how you appropriate those things into your skill set, how you grab what interests you. We figure out how our voice relates to things and how it differs. You will always find common elements, it’s a very primal, wonderful thing that hooks right into emotion. People have done it before, you follow it, you branch off.
T – There’s a respect for what’s come before. Trying to achieve some sort of fluency in your field, we believe in that a lot. We believe in it for the sake of trying to contribute. You try to be unique but you also try to tap into people that came before you. That’s been one of the cool parts about putting an album out and seeing where it goes and engaging in discussion about what the music is like to people. Sometimes people nail it.
J – And sometimes people see completely different things and that’s great too. We think about our songs visually, or like a movie and map it out. It’s amazing when people see it how we do, but when they see it different, that’s great and we want to hear about it. We’re stuck in a place for so long working on an album, releasing it is a great thing.
T – It’s flattering when people care to want to speak about meaning, but really, we can only speak about process. Because when something’s out there, every meaning is valuable.
J – We like to know what listener is thinking about the song. We don’t want to impress upon them what our meaning is. It’s so important for someone else to perceive it and what they think and feel.
Towards the end, Tamara and Joe fittingly had this to say about the journey of the album from start to finish.
T – It was a conscious decision to begin the album on “Knewyouwell” and end the album on “Collector.” “Knewyouwell” is an escapist anthem of sorts. “Collector” is kind of a big, wild moment of self-actualization and being grounded.
J – It brings you around. You start, “Knewyouwell” is an anthem, but you kind of feel alone. Then, by the end of the album you have tons of voices chanting at you. It’s a group feeling, we end it bringing into a larger group.
TWD – That’s cool. I hadn’t thought about that, but it makes sense with all the layered voices in there.
T – That was a frenzied mess.
J – We did it all, all the voices are the two of us.
T – The chorus feel of “Collector,” and “Spill” as well, we got really into the idea of building that ourselves.
J – Right, so one mic in the room and basically changed our distance to the mic. Theoretically, if you were looking at an overlay of where we moved our bodies, you would end up with a group of 30 or 40 bodies. But it was just us.
T – Hit the button, tape! Hit the button, tape! We didn’t even care about all the words at that point.