So Easy, Caveman Does It

Published January 20, 2012

ABOVE: CAVEMAN, STYLED BY ROBERT JAMES. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARC MCANDREWS

In the music world, the caveman is still very much alive. New York City natives Matthew Iwanusa, Jimmy Carbonetti, Stefan Marolachakis, Sam Hopkins and Jeff Berrall make up the band Caveman. The five-piece just signed a deal with Fat Possum and have been captivating the ears of listeners with their mysterious and entrancing tracks on their LP, CoCo Beware. Their dreamy, chamber-pop songs are a result of musical influences like The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, and PJ Harvey. Caveman really brings back the feeling of ’60s folk-pop. Most of the music that has brought the band to life has a nostalgic quality about it.  The quintet formed after each of the respective members’ bands had broken up. Similar to a relationship ending, the friends weren’t sure if they were going to go back into the music world. Luckily they did, and have been building their beautiful musical friendship ever since. Adding to their rap sheet, Caveman has played with a variety of talented performers including Wye Oak, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Cursive, and White Rabbits.

We spoke with drummer Stefan Marolachakis about creating darker music, being inspired by New York City and selling out The Bowery Ballroom for their show tonight.

ILANA KAPLAN: You play with Kendra Morris a lot; how did you guys end up as friends?

STEFAN MAROLACHAKIS: I got to know her because the rest of my band has known her for years. I got to know her as well. I think just from being out and about in New York. I think we frequented places she worked and vice versa. Everyone seemed to get along real well and was really gracious to one another. Some of the guys in our band also have done various musical projects with her in the past. I guess she’s just one of those other fellow New York musicians who you meet around town that you want to stay in contact with.

KAPLAN: Can you describe the meaning behind the title of your album, CoCo Beware?

MAROLACHAKIS: I think that for the title we had ideas bouncing around, but when it finally came time to really name the record, I think at a certain point I realized personally that I like a lot of art, and especially music that I like has something sort of spooky to it. This definitely worked with that. There are definitely weird allusions. There are a lot of insider references. I like alluding to an existing narrative that we’re not really explaining very much. It also of course rhymes with a name of a really outlandish professional wrestler who was around when we were kids. So, bred into it, it has this weird nostalgia. I like the idea of a title being a gateway and not being an answer unto itself. Do you know what I mean?

KAPLAN: Definitely. What’s your inspiration for songwriting?

MAROLACHAKIS: Well, it’s pretty all over the map. I mean the way we write songs, a lot of them, especially when the band first started, all of us were in other bands that had recently broken up. When that happens, it sort of leaves you wondering if you should start another band or not. It’s just like a relationship. I got a phone call from Matt, the co-singer, saying we should start a band together. We had always wanted to play music together. We had a short-lived project together, the two of us, where we played two shows. That was kind of hilarious. Anyway, long story short, he had a bunch of ideas for songs already that he wanted to try out. A lot of songs come from that way. Some songs come from us jamming together. I think Matt would agree that a lot of it just comes from experiences in New York specifically. I think we’re really invested in our hometown. We try to soak up as much art as we can in general. It also isn’t just limited to that stuff. I’ve spoken to him where he’ll talk about how an idea will come from a weird conglomerate of sounds that he hears walking down the street. I think we just try to soak up as much as possible. The sponge theory works pretty well: taking in the world around you and filtering it out in whatever idiosyncratic way you can.

KAPLAN: You probably all have different stories, but being a musician, was this something you always wanted to do or did it just kind of fall into your lap?

MAROLACHAKIS: It was always something that I wanted to do, but it was almost like I didn’t realize it specifically. In high school, I was obsessed with music: buying records the day they came out, getting tickets in advance and hanging around the clubs all the time. It didn’t really click with me that I could participate until we had a talent show at my high school. My friends wanted to play, but they needed a drummer. They figured “Stefan” could just play drums, like, “I’m sure he could figure it out.” I’d never actually played drums before. I went to my friend’s house, and he had this really rare situation where his family had an apartment uptown on the west side and in one of the rooms, he had a whole practice space set up. Somehow the neighbors didn’t complain. He taught me a couple of simple beats. One was the beat from “Billie Jean.” The other I don’t remember. I sort of winged it from there. It’s this thing where once I started playing in bands it was this real eye-opening thing that you didn’t have to be a spectator, you know? You could actually partake. That really blew my mind.

KAPLAN: Who are some of your musical influences?

STEFAN: I know around the time of the band forming until now, a lot of the stuff we’ve agreed on is Gene Clark. The Byrds have had some really amazing solo records. Lots of Fleetwood Mac. George Harrison. We’re all into pretty obvious stuff like The Beach Boys, too. I think when dark stuff manages to package itself, then interesting songs format. That’s something I get really drawn into.

KAPLAN: I feel like you tend to mention musicians from the past, do you find yourself influenced by musicians of today? Or primarily musicians you grew up listening to?

MAROLACHAKIS: I’m kind of excited, because this is the most into modern music that I’ve been into in a while. This year we toured with a bunch of great bands, during 2011 I mean. We got to tour with The War on Drugs. We got to tour with our buddies Here We Go Magic. I have a feeling they’re about to put out another really good record. I think it’s becoming more of a mix. I sort of always felt that I had to catch up. It’s the same thing with reading.  You need to know the classics before you can even dip your feet into the current artists. Right now, I’m getting pretty inspired by modern things. Also, Sebastian Tellier I’m really into. It’s really great how now he’s having this moment because the last couple of years I’ve been digging into that record. Another record is PJ Harvey. That new record is beyond belief. I’d love to play with her. We’re all obsessed with Ronnie Wood. If there’s any way we could collaborate with him that would be really exciting.

KAPLAN: What do you hope for the band this year?

MAROLACHAKIS: I would love to keep having unique experiences with the dear friends that I play music with. I’d like to keep seeing new places. The whole thing has been such an inspiring process that I just hope that we get to play for more people. I’m excited to record more. We have a bunch of new songs that I can’t wait to commit to tape. We just today found out that we sold out The Bowery Ballroom for Friday night. That was something that was definitely on the “to do” list for life. So, that’s exciting.

CAVEMAN WILL BE PLAYING WITH AU PALAIS AND HEAVEN TONIGHT AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.