The guitar is the cornerstone of Cymbals Eat Guitars’ first album, Why There Are Mountains (2009). Each song is built around a melody, written on the guitar, usually by frontman Joseph D’Agostino, which grows with an abundant layering of bass, keyboard and drums. This New Jersey four-piece demonstrates an incredible ability to take a single musical phrase and transform it 20 different ways throughout the song. The guitar leads the way through thundering crescendos one moment and hushed interludes the next, and each song varies in tempo as much as in tone. The sprawling layering of sound created by the band earns them (respected mp3 blog) Fluxblog’s description “epic” and “widescreen.”
D’Agostino’s raw and harrowing vocals are highly reminiscent of those of Stephen Malkmus. As we speak over the phone, Cymbals Eat Guitars is traveling up the East Coast to New Jersey. Bassist Matt Whipple is driving and passes the phone to D’Agostino so that he can focus on the road — a precaution his fans would appreciate, I’m sure. The four band members are leaving Virginia, where they stopped at a swimming hole so that Whipple and keyboardist Brian Hamilton could enjoy a dip.
The band is on its way back from Dallas, Texas, where they have just finished a tour with energetic indie band the Thermals. The tour proved a fantastic opportunity for Cymbals Eat Guitars, relatively new on the scene, to explore new venues and cities across the States. Although they’ve toured before, traveling with the Thermals allowed the band to “see a lot of rooms we probably wouldn’t have played ourselves, especially in the Midwest,” D’Agostino says. “Places we’ve never played before,” citing Cincinnati and Cleveland as examples. The recent tour has been one of their favorites to date, D’Agostino notes, given that the two bands’ personalities “just gelled really well.”
In the year and a half since CEG’s debut album was released, the band has gotten the hang of things on the road, figuring out how to stay sane and have fun. “We have been getting along very well,” D’Agostino says. It helps that they’re no longer traveling with a tour manager. With their growing fan base and a few more years’ worth of experience under their belt, now they get to call the shots: “We’re sort of going at it on our own terms.
CEG’s sound has also matured over time. “We’re just getting sharper,” D’Agostino notes. “Very sharp, very tight. We’re really able to discern what is an important thing to bring back as a hook in a song. We’re writing complementary parts.”
Although most reviewers tend to identify CEG with Staten Island and New York, if anything, D’Agostino says, they associate primarily with New Jersey, where he and Miller attended high school.
The band doesn’t know much about the New Haven area, other than Toad’s Place, so if you want CEG to come back, remember: CEG likes it when their audiences are “quiet during the quiet parts.”
When asked about their influences and whether or not the band aligns itself with other indie punk bands, D’Agostino insists they don’t spend too much time thinking about that sort of thing: “I feel like we try to write really good songs and that’s really all that we care about.” He admits, though, that Whipple’s favorite band by far is Sonic Youth, “so that factors pretty heavily into guitar parts that he writes and bass parts — even though he’s better than [Sonic Youth bassist] Kim Gordon.”
And we have to agree.