Back home in Brooklyn at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Jimmy Carbonetti of Caveman sat down with QRO. In the conversation, the guitarist talked about being back in Brooklyn, their recent shows across the country (and next up, heading out of the country, down Mexico way), this year’s Otero War (QRO review), their impressive music videos, being the first rock act on a rap label, getting to work with various friends in various ways, and more…
QRO: How is it, being back in Brooklyn?
Jimmy Carbonetti: It’s been great. We’ve had a good time in Austin; we did the West Coast. We had a fun time touring, and we were just out with Frightened Rabbit (QRO spotlight on), too. We spent like six or seven weeks with them, around the country. That was right before the record came out, and then we did that with them, which was super-fun.
QRO: I remember in May, you were with them at Terminal 5 (QRO live review)…
JC: Then we did some of the West Coast, Outside Lands Festival, LouFest in St. Louis, and then Forecastle Festival. And Austin City Limits was amazing this year. Both weekends – it’s like a double-vacation. It’s like going to an amazing place, going away for week, then coming back. It was great – you know the lay of the land a little better, the shortcuts…
QRO: Your next show after this will be at Corona Capital Festival in Mexico City. Have you played Mexico before?
JC: No, no, no.
The only time me & Matt [Iwanusa, singer] have ever been to Mexico, was when our old band, The Subjects (QRO spotlight on), we were playing in California with The Walkmen, and then we just ended up going to a small bordertown, Mexicali or something.
It was actually kinda weird. We were right out of high school. I remember this trip, “Alright, we’re going to Mexico.” It was like, “Okay…” And it was just literally a turnstile – I was like, “Wait, really?…” It was funny.
It was a really fun night. I’m sure this will be even more fun.
QRO: How was making Otero War?
JC: It was awesome. It was definitely a different process that we’ve gone through, with other records. Other records, we kind of went into the studio half-done, and then started jamming a little bit.
This one, we definitely made an effort of making sure everything was worked out. Each song was really worked on a lot. We tried everything. Matt would bring in a song, and we’d all kind of practice it, we’d arrange it, and then Albert Di Fiore, who produced it. We recorded at the Rumpus Room; it was great. We did everything, two-inch tape, really organically, recorded the songs as a band.
We had this intention and plan to make it… I don’t know if ‘polished’ is the word, but really something that we’re really proud of, the best sounding we can get in our minds. And then we had Michael Brauer mix it, over at Electric Lady Studios.
We had this intention and plan to make [Otero War]… I don’t know if ‘polished’ is the word, but really something that we’re really proud of, the best sounding we can get in our minds.
QRO: Did it feel different at all, this far into this band’s existence? Was it easier making a third record?
JC: It’s all advantages of us playing together more, us touring together way longer – because for our second record (Caveman – QRO review), we toured for about two years. Going to record this one, you get that, you already know each other, you know everyone’s style of playing and mindset.
So it was really cool, going into this one, of just working as hard as you can, trying to make the best thing possible. Quality-wise and musically.
QRO: How did you get Matt’s dad to do the string arrangements?
JC: Matt’s dad is an amazing composer. He was actually our old high school jazz teacher. ‘Mr. Chuck’, Chuck Iwanusa. He’s great. Me & Matt grew up together, and we met when we were thirteen, and so Chuck has always been in my life, too, musically. Matt’s mom, Kathy, is also an amazing musician, so it’s been really cool of them, being supportive, and pushing us.
Matt’s dad was always a composer, too, so he arranged the strings.
QRO: So you’re once again working with a teacher of yours – that was The Subjects, it was you two & two of your teachers. You’re coming back around…
JC: Yeah, right…
QRO: Are you already thinking about the next album?…
JC: Yeah, actually.
QRO: Do you have songs?
JC: Yeah, we’ve been working on some songs, and also some different concepts of different things that we’re working on. So yeah, there’s gonna be some new music soon.
Caveman’s video of “The State of Mind”:
QRO: How much did you know about what the video for “The State of Mind” was going to be, before it was made? It’s kind of hard to sum up…
JC: Yeah, I know…
That video was an interesting process. We never met the guy [Joseph Baughman], but he seemed very nice. I think he was in Chicago, I believe.
It was actually for another song, but then we switched it for “State of Mind”. I like it. It’s weird.
Caveman’s video of “Never Going Back”:
QRO: How was making the video for “Never Going Back”?
JC: That was really fun. That was with this really cool photographer & artist, Stephen Sebring. He’s one of our great friends, Johnny T’s really good friends.
We talked to him about an idea, and he was down to do it. We did it in a studio.
QRO: It seemed like a lot of “Back” was you all in front of a green screen or something, with everything else added later. How much did you know of what it was going to become when you were shooting?
JC: Not really. It was cool – he had the vision in his head, and he was like, “I can try to explain it, or I can just do it.” “Just do it – we trust you…”
So it was fun. Pretty psychedelic and weird
QRO: Do you prefer videos like “Never Going Back”, which you’re in, or ones like “The State of Mind” and “In the City”, where you’re not in – but instead for “City”, have professional actors, Jessica Stiles & Fran Kranz?
JC: I feel like each project comes with its own rules – or not even rules, but like, what’s going to happen.
Caveman’s video of “In the City”:
Like our friend Phil Di Fiore did that video for “In the City” – Albert’s brother. We had a connection with Julia Stiles, and he really wanted to do it, and she did too. It’s New York, it’s friends of friends, and if somebody’s into the project or the main goal of the music, it’s a fun project.
We have some more videos coming up.
QRO: And you knew Stiles & Kranz?
JC: We’ve partied. We have a lot of mutual friends.
QRO: Because sometimes, the actor only knows the director, and it’s not like you were in the video with them…
JC: I feel like we’ve always like to make weird, mysterious music videos. Even “Old Friend”, we’re in it a little bit, but more in like the background.
It’s fun to try everything.
QRO: I think your music also lends itself to interesting music videos.
JC: It’s more fun to do that than to stand in a garage or something and play instruments. Nothing is bad about that, either, but I feel like the music lends itself to get lost in, a little bit, to a story.
Caveman’s video of “Old Friend”:
QRO: What’s it like being the first rock artist on label Cinematic Music Group (home to rappers Joey Bada$$, G Herbo and Cam’ron)?
JC: The best. Those guys have been amazing.
We met ‘em through our friend Johnny T. He’s been amazing to us, given us jobs when we needed, at his bars or whatever. Just had our backs.
So that friendship has grown for a few years, and then he started working with Cinematic. He got brought in as an A&R guy, right as we were looking for a record deal.
The record was pretty much – we were in the middle of it, we had already started it, talked to a few labels. People had heard demos, and weren’t interested. ‘Okay – we’re not gonna stop.’ We linked up with Johnny T & Johnny Shipes, who’s the head guy over there. It’s been really amazing, and really collaborative. They’re in town, so we can just hang out and have meetings & talk.
Also, it’s just great to be supported by people who care about art. Also, not like, ‘Alright, this is a rock record, this is what we’re expecting, let’s put it through this system. This is a cookie-cutter, this is how you put out a rock record.’ They put out rap records and all that, and it’s a different thing than a normal record coming out, a different layout, and a different plan.
So it’s cool that they’re open to do whatever, as long as it makes sense. But then also, they come with great ideas, because they’re thinking outside the box that we’ve normally been in. So we’re both learning from each other. It’s been amazing.
It’s just great to be supported by people who care about art.
QRO: So you’ve probably had more freedom, with regards to them not being a ‘rock label’…
JC: Yeah, and they have great ideas, and they have great artists on their label, like Joey Bada$$ – we jammed with him before. We talked about jamming with Nyck Caution. And then doing even remixes and stuff. So there’s lots of crossovers and stuff.
It’s fun. It’s just music.
QRO: Did you do a SXSW showcase with all those guys?
JC: We did. We did a Cinematic showcase. It was so much fun.
QRO: You didn’t feel like weird outlier?
JC: No, not at all. It was awesome. We were all hanging out.
QRO: I think you guys as a ‘Brooklyn band’ – do you all still live here in Brooklyn?
JC: Yeah, we all still live in Brooklyn. I live down the street. Jeff [Berrall, bassist] lives down the street. Matt is in Park Slope, but he’s moving to the city with my brother soon. He’s crossing over. I grew up in Manhattan. Switching it over.
QRO: This more throws back to when Caveman started, but a lot of you all have been in other bands. Were there elements from your prior acts that you brought into Caveman?
JC: Played a lot into it.
I was just talking about this to somebody. I thinking how we’re fortunate – like Jeff was in Elefant.
QRO: I think I saw what was their last show (QRO live review).
JC: The last Elefant show, The Subjects played. At Gramercy Theatre.
QRO: I got there late, and missed you guys. But then Caveman was going to be opening for…
JC: White Rabbits (QRO spotlight on), at Bowery.
QRO: Both you and Matt, separately, asked me if I was going to that show.
JC: Yeah… [laughs]
I feel like, in this band, we all joined from other bands, and we all just promised each other not to do what we didn’t like about the other bands.
It’s fun. It’s like everything. You build experience.
I feel like, in this band, we all joined from other bands, and we all just promised each other not to do what we didn’t like about the other bands. And so you just set a goal for yourself: ‘These are the venues I wanna play. These are the bands I wanna tour with. These are my expectations. We’ll just play the best we can, and see what happens.’ And so I feel like we’ve been sticking to the plan, and working really hard. It’s fun.
Our drummer now is Mikey Jones, who’s amazing. And also playing keyboards with us is Matt Sumrow. Matt sings in Heaven – Heaven’s their band. We’ve known them for so many years. Those guys are really special to us, so we needed a drummer and keyboard player – ‘cause Sam got sick, but he’s feeling way better now.
So it’s Matt Sumrow on keyboards, and Mikey Jones on drums. And it’s cool – those guys are just total pros. Matt plays in Luna sometimes with Dean & Britta (QRO spotlight on), and then Mikey Jones plays in Swervedriver and a bunch of other really cool shit.
It’s been really fun playing with those guys, and they’ve seen every show of ours, and we’ve seen every show of theirs. So it’s really special to have two family members, musically…
QRO: You just seem to know a lot of people. [laughs] ‘These musicians, these actors, these directors…’
JC: Yeah… [laughs}