The 50thirdand3rd Interview with Cashew and Cleary!

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Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting for a bit on the phone with LA’s Cashew & Cleary. I first spoke to Eric “Cashew” Harding, and then to Patrick Cleary. We spoke on a range of topics from the inspiration for their conceptual three EP’s Husbands, Fathers, and Sons,(the second of which, Like a Rich Man, Fathers: Vol. 2, is available now through Wiener Records) to the odds and ends of being a band that straddles the line between the distinct garage rock and Americana/folk scenes in LA. I combined their responses into the edited interview you see below you. Without further ado, I present to you, Cashew & Cleary.

NS: “For a two-piece band, you guys have a lot of dynamics at work in the recordings. There are a lot of instruments (maracas, castanets, trumpets, multiple guitars, etc.) at work, and they all add up to these very fleshed out tunes. Is that something that you guys purposely plan?”

Cashew: “We kinda started out as just being a studio thing. And playing shows was more of a singer/songwriter sort of thing around LA. And that’s what we did with the first EP. And now with the second EP, we had been playing with a rhythm section that had just been killin’ it. So we ended up still being just a bedroom project between me and Patrick doing the studio stuff. But this time around we brought in a full band, and when we had been rehearsing ‘Like a Rich Man,’ and we had committed it to tape, just the way the chords were, and just the way some of Patrick’s vocal inflections were, it just kinda reminded us of, you know, some kind of vintage Mexican American, or Spanish American stuff that was coming out of the 60’s. Not necessarily the TexMex stuff, that would be later on. More or less like Herb Albert, or even like what Love did with Forever Changes. Just using those colors for a palette, you know, and that one just seemed perfect. Without a little bit of that subtle flavor to put into it, that beat is just your basic girl group, ‘Tum, tss, ta tum, TA! Dum…’ you know? We just needed something to fill it up. Where it still had that vibe of the big, boom-y beat, but also something that could give it some more personality. So we tried out a couple of things. We tried several different methods to get to the right one, and that was it.”

Patrick: “I think Cashew and I have a lot of arrangement ideas, and the lyrics are pretty evocative in terms of story, trying to put the images out there. Like last night I couldn’t sleep after our rehearsal, and there was this new song we were working on, and I realized, ‘Oh my gosh,’ like every line of one verse we could do a musical counterpoint to that, and we’re lucky to know some really good players that can do specific things, like a trumpet line in a certain style or a violin part in a certain way. So we use them, and have them come in, and we explain to them what we’re thinking, and we’ve gotten some great performances that way, like the tuba on ‘Like An Illusion.’ And Cashew just, he goes with it, he’s willing to throw everything out there, and I’m the guy to say, ‘Ok let’s trim that down, etc.’ So we just kind of let our imaginations run wild, and that leads to a big sort of Baroque sound, I think.”

NS: “Speaking of Baroque, one of the sub-genres that gets thrown around a lot in reference to your guys’ sound is ‘Baroque rock’. Besides your work in rock bands, do either of you draw any influence from classical training or interest in classical music?”

Cashew : “I’ve played in some folk/classical, weird folk bands in the past. And I’ve been classically trained. We would add more if we could, but we try to stop ourselves a little bit, cause sometimes it can niche our music into more prog territory. And we feel that we’re already lost in the no man’s land of genre. And whenever we try to double down or triple down, we kinda hold back a little bit. For this project only though. We both have other bands, and Patrick’s other band, Silver Phial, they are very much Baroque pop. And my other band, Eagle Winged Palace, is just very dark…funeral dirges…[laughs]. So classical music is very much a part of us, and we try to bring in any instrumentation we can to color the canvas that way.”

Patrick: “Everything I know about classical music is from my wife’s more erudite collection of LPs. I don’t know if I’ve been directly inspired by any specific composers. But there was a time when I used to go to a lot of formal music concerts. My wife and her mom are singers, so I’ve heard a lot of really great choral pieces, and seen a lot of great organ concerts. But I never studied formal composition or anything, but I’ve definitely been taken by beautiful music I guess you could call it, and let it influence arrangements. The songwriting sense comes basically from Bob Dylan and the Beatles type of school. But sonically, there’s a lot of other influences.”

NS: “You mentioned, ‘Committing the song to tape,’ is the production all analog, with reel to reel, or is it all digital, or a little bit of both?”

Cashew: “There was an analog to digital transfer here. On the first one we just went straight into the computer. But this time we recorded all the skeletal tracks with the band, and we needed some help with that, and our guy was like, ‘Hey I’ve got an 8 track, let’s do it!’ So everything was recorded there, and then we just dumped it down into Logic. I think the gear we use, and the mixing style, makes it sound a little more vintage-y. Even though it’s still being mixed on a 2015 MacBook.”

NS: “With all the various instruments you have on the recorded tracks, how does your sound transfer live?”

Cashew : “Well, um, our band is made up of some local LA scenesters. We have a drummer who plays with everybody, a pro skater who has his own band who wants to play bass for us. We try to do it with people that we know. So it was pretty easy to put together and have our dream guys, which we’re really happy about. The sound of it [live] changes it. It’s a little more hard rock. Our shows here in LA have been back and forth with straddling the Burger and Lollipop bands that have just been very garage/psychedelic-y, and then this weird, strange LA cowboy scene that’s here. So, live, we’ve been able to have one foot in the garage thing and one foot in the roots-y thing. So for instance on the song, ‘Illusion,’ which on tape is basically a big bass drum and a tuba, we rearranged it to give it more of a mellow, Bakersfield country kind of feel. So we’re rearranging everything for a psychedelic, Americana live sound. So that’s where it’s sounding with these guys in the band.”

NS: “Any tour plans outside of California?”

Cashew: “Definitely what we want to do! New York and the east coast, specifically the cluster of cities there, like NY, Boston, Philadelphia. It’s on our mind, and we’re cobbling together funds and places to stay, and feeling everything out.”

NS : “Do you guys have plans to do more albums together after the 3rd EP is released, or is this strictly a temporary side project?”

Cashew: “We just kinda came up with the concept. It was a side project and we were like, ‘Hey let’s just put out EPs every once in a while.’ It was kind of a weird storm of what it was because we both kind of got side tracked by personal issues. Patrick’s main project is taking a sabbatical, and my main project is also taking a sabbatical. So we went, ‘Well, why don’t we do something in the meantime?’ And it was like, ‘Let’s just make a few EPs. We’ll do one here, do one there.’ Just kind of on the side, nothing big; bedroom production. We won’t get all fancy about it. We’ll just write together, and use our voices together. But we like what we’re doing, and we don’t really cap ourselves off at 3 EPs. We figured it’d be a ‘Husbands, Fathers, Sons’ look at male family, a familial type of thing. But I think maybe we’ll probably look at what we have after 3 and try to come up with funding, or maybe, if our side projects are still on the shelf while other members doing other things, we’ll do a full LP. It’s kind of wide opened and casual. We like doing it and there’s no time restraints or anything. So, it could go on. It’s just a three EP concept for now, and we can move on to do something [else] later.”

NS: “So the concept of the 3 EPs is ‘Fathers, Husbands, and Sons.’ What prompted that idea, and what links them together?”

Cashew: “Well, we’re both dudes on the scene that are married. The LA scene is kind of a, for the most part, a singles party-hardy, you know, free for all. As every music scene probably is. And me and Patrick are the few in our universe that are happily married. So that was one thing, and then in a relatively short time, BAM, our wives got pregnant. And then, ‘Oh shit, now we’re fathers now, too.’ Now we’re family men on the scene. So it basically started from that. We’re both husbands and fathers who have sons. Even the whole bedroom project gears into it. For example we don’t have the funds like a 19 or 20 years old guy who just has idle cash to make a record. We’re also feeding our family. So that means we’ve gotta make it on our MacBook. And then we have to do it in certain piecemeal time. We can’t just devote a week or two in the studio to bang out a record. We do a piecemeal while we’re doing our things. We kind of built our little back studio while there’s other things going on in the house. Two, sharing the tales of our male fears and anxieties of happiness of being a father. Probably more than anything, it was the the father thing. I freaked out upon knowing that fatherhood was coming. But even during the time before and then after, just all the anxieties and fears, and joys and all that. It all colored the perception of our songwriting. And it finds its way into stuff like, ‘Caught in the Spotlight,’ or, ‘Like a Rich Man.’ It’s just kind of in there. The experience of a young married dude with a kid. That’s in there and it’s coming out that way. I guess we’re encouraging it a little bit with the concept. It’s hard, we’re trying to figure out a way to do it where it won’t sound like…’dad rock.’ Cuz that could be really bad. It could sound like mid-period Bruce Springsteen or something. So I guess maybe in 15 years maybe that might be the direction we’re at. But it’s kinda tricky to make it sound vital as opposed to, ‘Ehh I’m a dad…’ you know what I mean? We’re focusing on more of a high impact emotional fit that goes along with it.”

Patrick: “The project started just after my wife was about to have our baby. So she was kind of out of commission for playing drums in our band. And Cashew was coming out of raising his son and was itching to make music again, and do it on his own terms, you know recording it ourselves. And we had played a gig or two doing Grateful Dead covers. ‘Jerry Grass’ I called it [laughs]. So we had worked in that capacity, and we felt we write good songs together, and initially evoked the sunset strip years of LA, which has always been close to my heart, so I said, “Sure I’ll go along for the ride.” So it started as a frame, like a sort of creative project; less than a band, than a songwriting project. And the idea to do the EPs grew out of this idea that it was easier to do four or five songs at a time rather than do four or five songs, put it on a shelf and then do that again. It keeps the momentum going when you can put it out. But it’s also been good in terms of letting the idea evolve as a sequence of things. And now that my son has been born and I’ve transitioned from being first a single guy to married, and now a father, I’ve evolved in my own personal life and have lots of reflections that will come out in the songs. So [it] really is evoking our own journey as people and also linking the first idea, which was to encapsulate the sound of LA in various stages. And so I think that ‘Sons,’ this third one… Cashew has this song called, ‘Quickest Way Back Home,’ which is a personal story about his relationship with his wife, but I think it’ll bring the concept of these records and all our personal stories together because I think we could call the third volume now, ‘The Quickest Way Back Home, Volume Three: Sons.’ And kinda thinking of that Dylan LP ‘Bringing it All Back Home,’ we’re gonna be a little more rootsy I think, or acoustic, and reflect a more down home Americana type side of our stuff. I think it’ll be a really nice arc from where we started to where we’re gonna end up.”

NS:”So given that you both are in a similar place, being married and having kids, would you say that the band gives you both a place to kind of vent off some of those fears and anxieties?”

Cashew: “Yeah. It really gives us a chance to walk out of the trappings and let loose. Our shows are kind of a pent up reaction to a very disciplined way of, you know, organizing how the family works. And since going out isn’t as much of an option as it was a couple years of ago, it’s all about banging shit out in a rehearsal studio, and then banging it out at a bar in Hollywood at midnight or one thirty, and taking that kind of energy and, ‘Ok. All done. Back to the routine.’

NS: “How many instruments do you all play?”

Cashew: “Pretty much all of them. Patrick plays keyboards better than I so he usually records them if need be or we bring our outside guy, David Baine, or, on string instruments, we pretty much play it all, strings, banjo, mandolin, lap steel. So we both trade off on that. He’s a better vocalist than me, so he knows harmonies. Although I’ve had a lot of experience with group harmonies, I’m still a little tone deaf sometimes. He works with me on harmonies, and kind of fine-tunes me a bit. So as far as the arranging harmonies and the instrument of the voice, he’s pretty much got that down more than me. But we pretty much play everything. On the first EP we pretty much played all the instruments ourselves, except the tuba. We don’t play any brass. We pretty much try to play everything, whatever we can.”

NS: “How do you guys divide songwriting duties? Do you guys write together, separately?”

Patrick: “I think for each of them we’ve had one song each, maybe, that was pretty much complete, and then we build up the arrangements together. And then the two or three other ones are collaborations. Like ‘Caught in the Spotlight’ started with his (Cashew’s) riff, and then I came up with the second part for that riff and then I changed it a bit. So it started with that one riff and then together we came up with all the other sections and all the words and, you know, chord-by-chord, progression-by-progression, we did it together. So the arrangements are all 50/50 and then some of the songs are 50/50, and then some of the songs are one or the other. It’s kind of like the John and Paul. Ultimately it’s going to be labeled all 50/50.”

NS: “You guys did an interview with Shindig where you stated that, ‘Just singing or playing guitar can become a little gruntish, but having a violinist or trumpeter is social. You have a musical conversation with them about your vision and your music really takes flight.’ How important is it for you guys that you have real instruments on the tracks, as opposed to effected keyboards, samples, etc.?”

Cashew: “Well, with keys it’s a little bit easier. But with brass or even a tambourine, there’s just some human stuff that is missing. There’s a vibe that is missing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a believable horn section on keys. Sometimes it can sound great, but it’s never really believable. When we did this recording we had a session guy who plays with Brian Wilson and travels with him and everything. We had been longtime friends and we just came in and he had no idea. He’s one of those types that are like, ‘You don’t have to worry about giving me a demo. I’ll just come in and I’ll listen, you tell me what you want.’ He’s that good. So the musical conversation that came in was, he came in and sure enough he knew the references that we were going for, he knew where we wanted it to all be. And everything me and Patrick had been hearing in our heads, he filled it out in a slightly different way than what was in our heads, and it kind of inspired Patrick and me to tweak it a little bit. To have a conversation, like you know, ‘What if we do it this way…’ and that kinda becomes this neat dialogue that is just captured. It was really neat. I really love having session guys come in, it’s the best. It’s nice to have them come in and play and since they know we’re on a zero budget, they’re like, ‘you know what we’ll just do it for free.’ They get enough work from unions or labels…well I wouldn’t say they get enough work these days, but I mean the thing about bedroom production for friends it’s more like, “Yeah just buy us some beer,” or something. So that’s always fun. So we always try to bring in our friends to do it.”

Patrick: “On our first record when we worked with Rob Campanella, he had two big boxes of percussion [instruments]. And on the song, ‘Illusion,’ we really tore through that box. It was like an encyclopedia of percussion instruments. I think it’s more fun to use actual live playing instruments, rather than plugging in a sound to get an atmosphere, I think. We do have fun with the collaborators. Dave Baine came in and played the organ on ‘Genie of Love,’ and added the right flavor that we needed on the bridge of ‘Like a Rich Man,’ that kind of jazzy breakdown. It’s just good to have people that are friends who know where you’re coming from and can style it in and lay it down without having to do it ourselves, and maybe not as well as it could be done. So we’re really fortunate to know a lot of talented people, and they like what we do, so it’s really fun. And we use the same people that we do things with. Like we were jamming out at a big party last week. So we keep the musical conversation going and try to make it part of our lives. And hopefully that comes through in the songs.”

NS: “Your music, along with a lot of indie rock bands out there today has a certain 60’s aesthetic quality to it. What do you think it is about our time and culture that has facilitated something of a 60’s revival?”

Cashew: “Hmm. Well, I don’t know. I think that’s always going to be there, now that I think about it. To be honest I don’t even know if it is because if you were to look at the Hot 100, there’s barely any guitar rock there. And whatever guitar rock is there, it’s kinda more of the modern indie, Imagine Dragons kind of sound. There’s more country music on pop radio these days. So it seems like there is an underground, and it’s very much in the underground. I don’t know if it’s enough to set a new trend. I think it seems like guitar rock has kind of hit this plateau, it seems like it did awhile back. And we’re kind of in this era where it’s like jazz. Where it doesn’t stroke the passions of the mainstream, but it’s well regarded, you know, jazz is jazz, and there will always be an audience for it, it’s America’s classical music, and rock is that way. But the reason why it seems like the 60’s and 70’s aesthetic to rock continues to be, like an underground kind of thing, like Burger, or kind of like bop or any of those, is just because it’s kind of frozen in time as being wild and youthful, and sexy. It’s still powerful, and the rock songs that hit the top 100 just don’t talk about, whether they’re politics or sexual politics, just being wild. I don’t know. It just seems like there will always be like 15-16 year old kids wearing Doors shirts. It just seems like the iconography of rebellion. But ultimately it just seems like what comes out now isn’t accepted by the mainstream. Like maybe those years were so powerful that people would rather just buy Dark Side of the Moon [as opposed to picking up something new]. I don’t know. I walked into an Urban Outfitters downtown here yesterday and I was kind of looking at their record selection, and I noticed that more than 50% of them were catalog classic records. It wasn’t like there was a full on stack of the latest Taylor Swift record, or a full stack of the new Beach House record, or whatever. I mean those records were there, but for the most part it was Zeppelin or [Pink Floyd, etc.]. And it’s not because Urban Outfitters is pushing it…well maybe it is, I don’t know if there’s a baby boomer up there on top saying, ‘Let’s push this,’ you know. I’m pretty sure it’s the bottom line and business sells, and I’m sure that it’s just a supply and demand thing. I’m sure that that’s what people are buying. That’s what the Urban Outfitter customers are buying. So, it’s a weird time. It’s a weird time where the catalog stuff does better than, you know, current stuff.”

NS: “Acid or mushrooms?”

Cashew: “Mushrooms.”

Patrick: “I’ve done mushrooms. I tell people who bring me stuff, ‘If you’ve got a good connection for good acid, like the kind of stuff that the government made in the 60’s, bring it on! I’ll make time’ [laughs].

NS: And with that, I’d like close out the interview with something fun. It’s a game of, “This or That” and the subject is “Random”. So I’ll give you a random “this” or “that” and you pick which one you like better, and you have the option of choosing, “both,” just once.

NS: “Regina Spektor or Maple Syrup?”
Cashew: “Maple Syrup”
Patrick: “Maple Syrup”

NS: “Jumping Jacks or Disco?”
Cashew: “Disco”
Patrick: “Jumping Jacks”

NS: “Bumper Cars or Fruit smoothies?”
Cashew: “Bumper cars”
Patrick: [laughs] “Bumper cars, I love bumper cars.”

NS: “Super Powers or Sexual Healing?”
Cashew: “Fuuuck, those are really right on level footing there. Let’s do both.”
Patrick: “Ok, both!”

NS: “Rainy day or popcorn?”
Cashew: “Rainy day”
Patrick: “Rainy day”

NS: “Alien abduction or Whiskey?”
Cashew: “Whiskey”
Patrick: “Alien abduction!”

NS: “Gymnastics or fruit roll ups?”
Cashew: “Gymnastics.”
Patrick: “Gymnastics, I don’t like fruit roll ups.”

NS: “Anything else you wanna put out there for fans, loved ones, etc.?”

Patrick: “Mom, I hope I make you proud!”

Cashew & Cleary:
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Nik

Orlando-based guitar yielder and music slut. I play in the band, A Room Full of Strangers, work at a record store, and write for this blog from time to time.

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