Made in New York: Caveman’s Matthew Iwanusa Interviews Kendra Morris

Published June 21, 2013

ABOVE: KENDRA MORRIS. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARC MCANDREWS

When Kendra Morris moved to New York 10 years ago, she met kindred spirits working at the East Village bar The Library. A decade later, Morris and friends are finding success at the same time. The soulful singer released her debut album, Banshee, in 2012 and recently toured with buddy Julia Haltigan. At the end of next month, Morris will release Mockingbird, an album of covers—from Radiohead’s “Karma Police” to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” In anticipation of Mockingbird, Morris sat down with another old friend, Caveman frontman Matt “Pickles” Iwanusa. The two chatted about their former band Torpedo, the destruction of music venues, and the rat race that is New York City.

KENDRA MORRIS: We can talk about Torpedo!

MATT IWANUSA: We played in a band back in the day called Torpedo. I got kicked out of the band—I think I didn’t show up to a practice or something.

MORRIS: We all barely showed up. We would show up at The Red Door really hungover, play two songs, eat a pizza. Jeff [Berrall] would get a case of beers, play two more songs, and eat another pizza.

IWANUSA: It was great. I think the first time I met you was outside of that bagel place.

MORRIS: Really?

IWANUSA: Then we started going to see you at The Library.

MORRIS: Well, the first time I met Jimmy [Carbonetti] was because Robert James brought him to one of my loft parties. Jimmy was still in high school and he gave me a business card that just said “Cobra.”  It was the name that he went by. He invited me to his graduation party.

IWANUSA: We were playing at Continental maybe. It was our graduation. It was our old band. I remember the plan was that Jimmy and I would show up in our graduation suits, but he forgot his and we had to walk on together, wearing one of them. There was a staircase too, so we had to coordinate walking up the stairs. It was classic. Then we met at Library Bar. I don’t know if you knew it, but we were underage obviously, partying.

MORRIS: I’m not gonna answer that. Then your mom came when you had your 21st birthday.

IWANUSA: That was a wild night of my life. I remember that.

MORRIS: I vaguely remember it. I remember I was bartending that night.

IWANUSA: I remember I was wearing armor—plastic armor. I was wild back in the day.

MORRIS: Now, Robert James has a baby. I didn’t know they came out so cute. Usually they’re squished the first few days. Usually they come out funny looking, but not his.

IWANUSA: Yeah, so cute. It’s so funny to think about Torpedo though.

MORRIS: How would you describe Torpedo?

IWANUSA: I think it was literally jamming.

MORRIS: I would bring ideas for songs. I don’t know if you guys knew, but I would make up the lyrics every time we did a show. I never really wrote lyrics to any of the songs. I would just create the lyrics every time. Every recording we have, if there are two or three different versions, all the lyrics are different.

IWANUSA: You were all over the place. It was fun to watch. It was a perfect opportunity. Jeff was in the band, and he’s also in our band now. It was a good opportunity for me to play with my friends. We were just holding it down on the band side and you were going crazy.

MORRIS: There was a brawl on the stage. I punched a guy. Were you at the show that we did at Shannon’s loft party?

IWANUSA: The Halloween one?

MORRIS: [laughs] It wasn’t the Halloween one. It was some random loft party show. I was singing and this guy kept getting in my face. I was trying to perform, there was no stage, and this guy kept coming up. I had all this energy, so I just punched that guy in the face. Then I kept singing. I think he was in shock—he kept dancing. It’s funny, Jeremy Page, who I did Banshee with and this covers record, was at this show. It was right before we started working together. He was there to check out me and Torpedo. He came to that show and said that when he saw me punch that guy, he wanted to work with me.

IWANUSA: Your record sounds amazing. It’s awesome. I was playing in this other band, and we didn’t have half the people at our shows. We would play Torpedo shows, and it would be the rowdiest crowd. It was great.

MORRIS: People would just come to party. People would say, “When’s the next Torpedo show?” Jeff would always be making out with one of my girlfriends. Jimmy was always hitting on all of my friends.

IWANUSA: [laughs] They were animals, those two. In a good way—it’s fun to think about. That was the first time I played with Jeff. Eventually we all joined Caveman together. It was a cool introduction to meeting that guy. I kind of knew him, but I only knew him from hanging out at that one bar. Jeff started working there about the same time that I started going out. It was pretty fun. We used to do body shots.

MORRIS: I remember those. I get sad thinking about all of the music venues that aren’t in existence now.

IWANUSA: It’s terrible. And now Maxwell’s is closing. It’s so sad.

MORRIS: It’s kind of sad that, all of the reasons people come to New York and are inspired by New York, those same people are the same people that don’t necessarily care. Like, “I want to live in the East Village because it’s cool,” but you shut down the reasons that made it special because you don’t like the noise by your apartment. I’ve been living in the East Village for five years and my rent just went up. It’s a thought that I might have to eventually move out of this neighborhood if it keeps going up. My buddy was like “everybody just come to Greenpoint.” By the time I get there, the same thing will happen.

IWANUSA: How long ago did we meet?

MORRIS: Eight years ago.

IWANUSA: That’s crazy.

MORRIS: I was just thinking about how we’re that much older now.

IWANUSA: Smarter, for sure. I do dumber stuff, but I feel smarter about it.

MORRIS: I think what’s been really cool—and we’ve talked about this a lot—is that we have our own niche of really talented friends. Everyone is really coming up now—all of my friends that have worked so hard. Everyone is paving their way to their success. Knowing Robert James when he made his first coat. I remember going to his house and he had a rack of t-shirts; now he has two stores! And Caveman, before Caveman, The Subjects: having our moment to create together. I was around a guy who was randomly talking about you the other day. It’s a really cool thing to be like “those are my friends.” 

IWANUSA: I was in Nashville, and I open up a magazine, and you were modeling on this page. It’s amazing to see that stuff. We’re all a group of friends. If there’s even a moment where you’re uninspired, you’ll get a phone call from a friend saying “we’re doing this.” Then you realize you’ve gotta get your shit together: “I’ve gotta make sure I’m bringing something to the table.”

MORRIS: I always say the great thing about New York is that there’s always a rat race. Everyone’s always working so hard. There’s no room to slack. It’s like having drill partners.

KENDRA MORRIS IS PLAYING AT THE BELL HOUSE WITH O’DEATH IN BROOKLYN TONIGHT, JUNE 21. MOCKINGBIRD COMES OUT JULY 30.