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SONG WRITING AND INFLUENCES

BB: How did you first start writing songs?
Jake: Well, I wrote and recorded with this dual cassette deck boom box. It sounded terrible but you could actually make multi-track recordings with those things.
Wendy: I used to do that with keyboards. I know what you mean, you just dub back and forth.
Jake: You just keep going back and forth with two cassettes and record what you have on one cassette then what your singing on another cassette, then you take that cassette and of course its tape so the more generations you put on there the more ridiculous amounts of hiss and hums there are. I probably did that as young as nine or ten. I probably got a multi-track recorder at some point probably when I was around eleven or twelve and then thatís when I really started writing.
Wendy: What was your first instrument then?
Jake: Guitar.
Wendy: When you were nine?
Jake: Eight is when I started playing guitar.
Wendy: How did you get the guitar?
Jake: My uncle gave it to me. Do you want to start your own interview? (Laughs.)
BB: (Laughs.) Iím listening. Your uncle gave it to you?
Jake: Yeah, my uncle gave me a guitar and my dad taught me to play open chords. He taught me, ďIf I had a HammerĒ by Peter, Paul and Mary. Well, Arlo Guthrie, I mean. Not Arlo. Woody Guthrie wrote it, I think. Maybe, I could be wrong.
Wendy: (Laughs.)

BB: Whatís your process for writing music?
Jake: I generally write a whole song. I demo it and give it to Wendy on a CD. She takes two or three months to listen to it.
Wendy: Thatís not true!
Jake: She eventually gets back to me and tells me that it sucks. (Laughs.)
Wendy: (Laughs.)
Jake: Sometimes I demo it like really stripped down, and sometimes I do everything very ornate and detailed, and then she kind of helps me sort through everything. I guess kind of acts like a producer would in preproduction.
Wendy: If he gives me something stripped down, just him and an acoustic guitar, then I fill in my own harmonies and write some melodies. If he gives me something really more ornate or something fully realized then I just give production comments. Just things to tweak.
Jake: Wendy has a really excellent ear for when a song really works. I will give her songs that I thought were awesome and she doesnít really react to them, but sometimes I will give her a song I donít really think twice about and she will say, this is one of the best things youíve ever written. When I look back on it now, some of the things she has said that about, she was right.

BB: So what are each of your musical influences?
Jake: Iím a not guy that worships at the alter of a particular band. I like nearly everything. Stevie Wonder. The Beatles, but more John Lennon than Paul McCartney. Michael Jackson. Curtis Mayfield. I would say those would be the top four.
Wendy: I didnít really hear the Beatles while I was growing up because my parents only played classical music around the house. I appreciated them a lot later on in life, but I canít really call them an influence. But Stevie Wonder, definitely. I got into electronic stuff pretty early on in junior high. So Depeche Mode and Erasure were huge influences. That sound really grabbed me, and got me into synthesizers and making dance music. And also New Order, the Ohio Players and Parliament. And, of course, Michael Jackson. That goes without saying.
BB: Anyone else?
Wendy: Also for a harder edge, I got really into industrial stuff like Ministry, and Meat Beat Manifesto. Thatís a huge influence on our sound, and on the kinds of drum sounds I gravitate towards for The Cyanide Valentine.
Jake: Oh shit, I forgot Prince
Wendy: Oh yeah, Prince is a big one.
Jake: So, with Prince Iíd say thatís my top five.
Wendy: This question is definitely the hardest of the whole interview.
Jake: I like my answer. Iím actually happy with my answer. Iím glad I got that sorted out.


PLAYING OUT

BB: What is it like translating this music to live?
Jake: Well thatís Wendy, Wendy does all that stuff.
Wendy: We try to be realistic as far as the songs everybody knows from ďLet It Rot.Ē We pick the most important elements of each song and represent them. Iíll play bass lines with one-hand on the keyboards, whatever keyboard parts I can with my right hand. Sing any harmonies that are there. A lot of songs have more than one guitar part so Jake kind of picks the best of both worlds and represents it as best he can. The only thing that really is missing I think are the background vocals, and we canít do live unless we start getting back up singers to come up on stage which actually I think might be kind of fun.
Jake: Thatís a good idea, I never thought of that.
Wendy: So itís all kind of a translation though, because weíre not using the same equipment. The record was done with the variety of sound sources and a variety of recording programs. Acid, just random samples into ProTools. Weíre not bringing in a laptop with our live setup, so I program everything on a keyboard and approximate, the best I can, the sounds that were used on the recording. Sometimes I get pretty close; other times itís just impossible, so we donít even try to worry about having exactly whatís on the record.
Jake: Obviously we want to be playing songs from ďLet It RotĒ because thatís the album that weíre trying to promote. With this setup weíve often found that we just canít make some things work. Itís just better to do a new song that maybe people arenít as familiar with, that just represents the band better. And also, Wendy and I are involved in making these things from the start, where as ďLet It RotĒ was just me basically from the start. So itís a better representation of us.

BB: What makes a good show?
Wendy: When people dance, making people dance.
Jake: Hereís the thing. Without a drummer, itís really hard to project that kind of energy into the audience. Thatís what we need to do to put on a good show. At first when it was bad, people were constantly saying I just wish you guys had a drummer, these are great songs but they were just not represented well. Iím sure people still think that occasionally but now I havenít heard that in months.

BB: Do you guys have any pre or post show rituals?
Jake: Well, the amount of work it takes to get this band on stage is just unbelievable.
Wendy: We have a lot of stuff to carry for two people.
Jake: So, ďsweatingĒ is the pre- and post-show ritual because itís imposable to get it off the stage as well.
Wendy: The original concept was that we wanted first and foremost to be thought of as a rock band, and we want to create as much sound on stage as a full rock band would. So we have separate speakers for everything. I have a bass amp for my left hand and a separate keyboard amp for my keyboards. Just as a rock band would have a separate bass amp for the bass player.
Jake: We played at one club with this winding staircase, and Iím like trying to carry that shit up and down those fucking stairs! Ridiculous! Itís awful. I never worked this hard in a band, and Iíve been in rock bands with much more equipment.
Wendy: But then everyone is carrying their own things.
Jake: And there are four or five guys! Itís not just me. Wendy can carry the small things but she canít carry the big amps. I have to carry them by myself.
Wendy: Anyway. I think our instincts have been good about creating the sound that way. Even though everybody wants to kill us for having too much stuff.

BB: Tell me about your audience. Whoís going to these shows?
Jake: There are a lot of nerdy people, definitely. If there is a makeup of the audience, the audience is made up of nerds and girls that want to dance. Thatís what I would say.
Wendy: And gay guys.
Jake: Gay guys, yeah. Gay guys that want to dance. People that want to dance I should say.
Wendy: Asians.
Jake: Asians. Sure.
Wendy: Weíre going to be huge in Japan.


THE BOSTON MUSIC SCENE

BB: You both have been in the Boston music scene for a long time. What do you think of the music scene here?
Wendy: I already know Jakeís cynical about Boston. I think that people that have lived here for a long time take it for granted, but Iíve lived in other cities, and I know that people here take for granted the amount of talent that the town has to offer and the diversity.
Jake: Thereís a lot of great music, there really is, but I guess my problem is with what is celebrated in Boston, which usually is your lowest-common-denominator rock. I think that people sort of scoff at anybody ever trying to do something different.
Wendy: They donít embrace originality right away.
Jake: Well some people do but some people donít. But if you want to explore you can find good things.
Wendy: There are parallel universes in Boston, because while itís true thereís a lot of traditional rock stuff, thereís this huge hip hop scene that you wouldnít know about if you didnít go to those clubs, like the Perceptionists and Acrobatic or Mr. Lif. If all you did was read the Noiseboard all day long you would think that there are only six bands in Boston. All traditional rock or punk. As if that kind of sound is the end-all-be-all to music.

BB: So who are some bands that people should know about?
Wendy: The Westward Trail. Theyíre an electronic duo, two guys that play guitar with very interesting backing tracks, very tight harmonies and well crafted song structures.
Jake: Cassette. Certainly Sir. Lovewhip.
Wendy: Iíve always been a huge Sex Bomba fan. I think that they are incredible musicians and I just love the sound.
Jake: UV Protection. Campaign for Real Time. Ad Frank. Weíre trying to think of people bucking the trend, I guess.
Wendy: If it werenít for Ad I wouldnít have met Jake.
Jake: Yeah, then there is Lifestyle and Freezepop.
Wendy: The Bon Savants.
Jake: Yeah. The Bon Savants, The Information, The Good North. They all put on good shows. Theyíre all doing something a little more interesting.


IN CLOSING

BB: If you could play on stage with anyone alive who would it be?
Wendy: Alive? Stevie Wonder.
Jake: With the person? At the same time? I donít know if I would say Stevie Wonder, I think I would find that to be too intimidating.
Wendy: (Laughs.)
Jake: The Super Furry Animals. Theyíre incredible. Thatís probably my answer.
Wendy: Stevie Wonder or Prince.
Jake: I find both of those answers very intimidating. I would never be able to play with Prince. I wouldnít even know what to play. Everyone looks like an idiot next to Prince. We would look like total idiots.
Wendy: You would look like a taller idiot though.
All: (Laugh.)

BB: What do you hope people will get out of your music?
Wendy: Spiritual enlightenment?
Jake: I think our music is really just about enjoying listening to it. I donít think the lyrics are especially deep. Youíre just going to put it on and itís going to sound like candy to your ears. Thatís what I hope.
Wendy: Iíd like our music to be something that you play more than two or three times in your CD player. I buy albums a lot out of curiosity sometimes, but a lot of CDs I donít even put in for a second time. It means a lot to me when people tell me, ďOh, Iíve been playing your album over and over.Ē
Jake: I love ďover and over.Ē Thatís one of my favorite compliments.

BB: What advice would each of you have for other aspiring local musicians?
Wendy: Donít ever be a duo. Just kidding.
Jake: Donít alter yourself too much because of the feedback you get from other people. People are always going to say ďyouíre too thisĒ and ďyouíre too that,Ē and you do want to take that into account, but donít change yourself because of it. And donít worry about what you think A&R people are going to want to hear, because nobody knows what A&R people want to hear.
Wendy: And donít take advice from anyone whoís not further along in their career than you.

BB: Thank you both for talking to Boston Beats.
Jake: Thank you.
Wendy: Thank you.
Jake: This is by far the longest interview I have ever done.


 

 

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For more information please visit:

www.cynidevalentine.com or www.milkywayjp.com

 

To learn more about The Cyanide Valentine, visit their website at
http://www.cyanidevalentine.com/

 

 

* Photos courtesy of Clare Amarakoon. Graphics adapted
from images by Clare Amarakoon, Jill Levasseur and
Sharon Berardino. and
http://www.cyanidevalentine.com/

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