October 7, 2015

It's All I Know: Cameron Keiber On Eldridge Rodriguez's New Noise-Pop Monument, The Castrati Menace

It's All I Know: Cameron Keiber on Eldridge Rodriguez's Noise-Pop Monument, The Castrati Menace

Seasoned Boston rock fans need no introduction to the work of Cameron Keiber, indie label tycoon, the principal songwriter of rock act Eldridge Rodriguez, and co-fronter of the city's legendary The Beatings. In a way his own musical history mirrors that of the modern Commonwealth: he was playing shows while studying at UMass during Western Mass.'s early '90s heyday, he toured the U.S. with the aforementioned Beatings in the aughts, and he has haunted rock clubs on both sides of the Charles River for the better part of two decades. The Beatings' extended hiatus continues unabated, making Eldridge Rodriguez Mr. Keiber's de facto primary vehicle for secular rockulidge. Since its last LP was released in 2011, that band has reformulated its lineup and its sonics, and its forthcoming long-player The Castrati Menace -- to released by Midriff Records Friday -- sees the band fully shedding its early, gritty and more menacing sound and achieving a stylistic pinnacle. This is in no small part due to an adventurous pursuit of a noisy melodicism the band began exploring in the studio a few years ago, recording a cover of a shoegaze classic for this very blog. Indeed, The Castrati Menace is characterized by a colorful cacophony that feels reverent to a classic style but also contemporary. And the blogosphere outside the Boston bubble is (finally) taking note (Exh. A; Exh. B). With the album release just days away (and a successful New York release show already under his belt), we thought it was high time to check in with Keiber about the band's new sound, his drive to create and the album title's pointed meaning. Read our full exchange below, and stick around for the details about Friday night's Boston release show at the foot of the piece.
Clicky Clicky: This will be way inside baseball for all but our hardcore Boston readers, but is The Castrati Menace a concept record about your "personal manager?" The title echoes that of what is now considered to be the first "Star Wars" movie, and one of the record's best songs is called "Social Graces Vigilante," so maybe you can see why we're wondering? Given the epicly funny shit-talking between you and said manager during your old podcast days, maybe this record is just an incredibly next-level shot at him?

Cameron Keiber: That's a total coincidence. I was reading an article about castrato and the parallels to what was happening then and how pop stars are groomed and positioned now, and it struck me how nothing changes. I wanted to name the album The Menace in reference to that, but then remembered there was an Elastica album with that name. So adding on the Castrati part was an easy fix and made my point more [precisely]. I never made the Lucas connection until a few weeks ago. I like "Star Wars," sure, but not enough to directly reference it, but I can see where you'd get that. But its not. "Social Graces..." was a song I've had kicking around through several projects, but it never really worked until this line up of the band. But its not without precedent that we've gone with a manager reference, namely [with] The Beatings' Italiano! album. But its not consciously in this case, certainly could be subconscious but what do I know? But I like where you are going with this, and if it makes Bouchard's day, then let's just say, between you and me, that [the record] is about him.

CC: Sticking with the inside baseball angle a bit, we recall that when you were recording your covers of "Vapour Trail" (this, that) a few years back for our compilation that you remarked on the social media that you were exhilarated by the fact that it was the noisiest thing you'd done to date. We feel like that vibe really carried through to the new record. Was there something about how you approached recording "Vapour Trail" that sort of unlocked how you went about the tracking of The Castrati Menace?

CK: That cover was the first thing we did with this line up and production team. It was kind of an experiment in what has become our regular recording process. Mike Quinn (Moontower Studios), who mixed both the Ride cover and the new album, killed it. He just nailed the noise ebbs and flows and so when we heard it we knew that this was the way the next album would go. The band will record the track and then tack on 10 or so noise and idea tracks and Mike and Dave (Grabowski) kind of have to sit down and figure out where its gonna all sit in the mix with my only notes being "I want to hear everything at some point." Its not easy. And they both get what we are all going for. But yeah, that Ride cover fleshed out how we'd approach this album.

CC: What was it about the noise that appealed to you at this stage of the game? The sound of the record is dense, not quite claustrophobic, but dense, and it reminds us of an extreme take on Psychedelic Furs and its efforts at a wall of sound.

CK: I'm a huge fan of noise and experimental stuff. I don't think you get anywhere creatively without experimenting. That said, I write the way I write, usually in a basic song structure that can be played on guitar, piano, whatever. But I've always tried to shoehorn a noise element into my work. But I'm not a big jam guy. I don't particularly enjoy improvising an idea and getting there in the way some noise bands do. I like writing a song beginning to end, and then pig-piling noise and experimental ideas on top, throughout and in between those parts. But this isn't a new idea. Bands like The Fall, Magnetic Fields, Pavement... they all do a similar thing, I imagine. I'm also a huge Psychedelic Furs fan. They are one of those great rock bands that got that idea of seamlessly stitching darkness and discord with pop. I love that. Also having Den(nis Grabowski, drummer for E.R. and brother of the aforementioned Dave) on this project adds a lot to it, because its a lot of similar stuff to what we were doing in The Beatings. So that's a nice security blanket to have.

CC: Is "Giving Myself Over To Boston" kind of the bizarro world version of, or maybe the inverse of your old cut "Stillborn In New Jersey?" We feel like they set up an interesting contrast, something about the home you are given or born into, versus the home that you make for yourself.

CK: "Stillborn in New Jersey" was about a very specific person and time in my life long after I had left home, and me working out my feelings about it all, albeit unfairly. "Giving Myself Over to Boston" is a much more general, playful take. I've always felt like an outsider in this city, and there was a very fleeting time when I felt like the city was opening itself up to me and then just as quickly it shut the door and I really wanted to lash out at it in a tongue-in-cheek way. But I realize none of that probably happened and it's a matter of flawed perception on my part. I also realize I have my own problems socially, mentally, not keeping my mouth shut and that I'm sure that many of the problems that may actually exist were created by me and that I do it to myself. Regardless, I wrote [the song] at a time of pettiness and spitefulness, but with a healthy sense of humor. In all fairness the snark in that song doesn't come close to what others have written about this town, so I'm not too precious about it.

CC: At the same time, those two songs represent opposite ends of a spectrum, we think, with snark on one end and sincerity on the other. Could a younger E.R. have written "Giving Myself Over To Boston?" It feels to us like not only a great songwriting achievement, but dare we say, an achievement of maturity.

CK: I don't think I could have written it when I was younger. I was so angry for so long that the playful teasing, snark and misdirection in the lyrics would have just come out as venom and piss. It's a clever song and maybe my least favorite on the album, because it reminds me that regardless of any strides made that that petty little directionless shitty punk kid is still fighting to lash out when shown a modicum of inclusion or when hurt, and no one wants to be reminded of their failures.

CC: The final lyric of "Big Dead Heart" is a real spine-tingler -- we listen to the song again and again just to feel that final crashing wave again and again. We can see you coming up with that first and then writing the whole song around it. Did you?

CK: Yeah, thanks. That last verse certainly wraps up everything that happens before it. How the mistakes and embarrassments made in youth mean nothing because we eventually all die, and how quickly life moves the older you get. I think I had the title first. I liked it because it reminded me of a Raymond Chandler title. That last verse kind of came out of something a friend who is much older than me said. It was late and we were tired and he said something like "Life just moves like a stream down a continuously narrowing chute and the more it narrows the faster the stream moves until it leaves the chute and death," or something like that. The idea of dignity in aging always felt fake to me. There is no dignity in getting old. There may be knowledge and experience and know-how but there is no inherent dignity in it. You can have dignity in dealing with your death, sure. There is dignity in the bravery of facing the unknown. You can hold yourself in a dignified fashion, but then it's just a prop. Old people are the same people they were when they were 16, and should behave as such. Some do, and I think it's great. There are many dumb, stupid, boring, misguided old people and they don't get a pass because they are old. Getting old is scary and should be handled according to whatever policy you used that got you to that point, with compassion for others and with grace. But there is no inherent dignity is getting old.

CC: We think this record is the first you've made since your brother Clayton signed on. So the question: is that experience a necessary evil, or terrific filial bonding that you relish every second?

CK: Clayton is great and a much better guitarist than I'll ever be. He and I work on label stuff daily, so him coming on board was natural. We get along well and bicker and fight sometimes, but its a very good, stable relationship. We've always gotten along, and he's always supported me, so there really wasn't any big emotional transition when he came on. In many ways, I couldn't do any of this without him.

CC: Music is so aggravating now. Not the music itself, but everything that surrounds music. We know you've got other shit to do -- why do you still put so much of your heart into this after close to two decades of this nonsense?

CK: I don't even want to dignify this question with a response, but I'm compelled to say this. Its really a compulsion that I can't trace to anything. What else would I do? It's all I know how to do well. I still enjoy the process. I consider recording and playing and writing an art form, and not solely as a process that produces a product for commercial consumption. And we've always done things DIY and on our own terms, so all that nonsense doesn't really effect me creatively. I enjoy the art of it, from the beginning idea to end. I've been doing this since I was 15 or 16. Its not something that I'm ever without. What else would I do? Get into sports? Distract myself from these ideas and feelings and thoughts that consume and influence my emotions and thought every second of every day with a fantasy football league. Give me a fucking break.

CC: So, ultimately, what is the titular Castrati Menace? Can it be eradicated in our time?

CK: Its an unhealthy and unseemly cultural obsession with the awful aspects of youth culture and pop, and time eradicates everything.

CC: Thanks Cam.
Eldridge Rodriguez fĂȘte the release of The Castrati Menace Friday night in Boston at Allston Rock City's Wonderbar. The bill includes support from notable experimentalist/s Skyjelly and an act called Party Bois, and more fullsome details can be scrutinized at this Facebook event page. Midriff releases The Castrati Menace Friday, but it is already available for pre-order via ITunes right here. Eldridge Rodriguez's previous full-length, You Are Released, was issued by Midriff Records in early 2011.

Prior Eldridge Rodriguez Coverage:
Today's Hotness: Eldridge Rodriguez
Clicky Clicky Music Presents... N O F U C K I N G W H E R E : 11 Boston Bands Perform Ride's Classic 1990 Album
Midriff Records Night with Eldridge Rodriguez
Out Now: Eldridge Rodriguez | Christmas On The Allston-Brighton Line EP
That Was The Show That Was: Get Help with E.R. and Soccer Mom
Eldridge Rodriguez Record Release Show | O'Brien's Pub | 1 April
Be Prepared: Eldridge Rodriguez | You Are Released | 22 March
Behold! The Eldridge Rodriguez Residency!
That Was The Show That Was: E.R., The Mitchells | PA's Lounge
Review: E.R. | This Conspiracy Against Us

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