The unique instrumentation coming from Cuddle Magic defies categorization; though undeniably poppy, chamber pop doesn’t quite capture the unique style behind an album like their latest, this year’s Ashes/Axis.
We had a chance to ask the band a few questions on genre, their influences and instrumentation. Check out what they had to say below!
Your music was once described by the New Yorker as “high concept chamber pop.” Do you agree with this classification? How has the music from your self-titled first release evolved into the music on your newest album ‘Ashes/Axis’?
I don’t mind the label “chamber-pop”. I’d bet that the anonymous New Yorker writer in question was reacting to sound of clarinet, trumpet, vibraphone, upright bass, violin and cello, played quietly and all together in one room.
Despite the fact that we’ve moved from some of those instruments, electrified others, and taken the entire ensemble into a studio setting, with most of the sounds isolated (so they could be transformed, or removed altogether) — there’s a sense in which we’re still making “chamber” music of a sort.
We still memorize all the music, like any respectable chamber ensemble (or rock band). And we do that so that we stop thinking about what to play, and we can just focus on breathing and reacting together, and how to play, once we’re on stage.
And we strive to orchestrate as well as good writers of chamber music (or a really great dance band). Everything is always in counterpoint. Not just melodic lines, but also rhythmic elements. Nothing stands in the way of anything else. And we try to pass around the lead role between all the different band members and instruments, in a balanced way.
— Alec Spiegelman
You’ve worked with a wide array of artists, from pop superstars like Beyonce to incredible independent artists like Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls. How is working with different artists from different genres and levels? Have any experiences helped shape the way you create your own music?
Working with people who are globally recognized as celebrities/mega stars/Queens, has been in my experience very positive. Music has this ability to level the playing field in a lot of ways. Of course, there are moment(s) of “Holy shit, that’s Beyonce over there grooving to the music I’m making right now.” However, most of the time I’m just working with a fellow musician. I feel this way about my peers and my pop stars! Ultimately, when it comes down to making good music, the genre, level, celebrity, persona etc all melt away, and we are just in it together trying to make the best sounds we can.
— Cole Kamen-Green
The members of Cuddle Magic hail from Brooklyn and Philadelphia, and you’ve stated the lead single Trojan Horse off your latest album was inspired by the music and culture of northwestern Ghana. Does playing shows in different places have a large influence on the music you create? How is playing in New York different than playing in other cities?
I took a trip to Ghana with Bridget Kearney (of Lake Street Dive), and we became entranced with Bawa music. We ended up writing and recording an EP, and those songs all ended up on ‘Ashes/Axis’ as well. There is something amazing about the phrasing in the Bawa music… As far as playing in NYC verses other cities, that’s a separate issue to me. I think what’s different to me is the fact that in NYC there tends to be a bunch of friends and family. That can both be distracting and amazing. Shows in other cities tend to not have that issue.
— Benjamin Lazar Davis
What/who are some of your biggest musical influences? What genres do you find yourselves pulling from most in regards to influence?
We all have different influences because we all come from different places, but all of those influences get filtered through each other. I’d say the greatest influence on Cuddle Magic is Cuddle Magic itself. We all influence each other.
— Benjamin Lazar Davis
Your music is heavily layered with many different instruments, with the latest album being called more digitalized. What is the music writing and recording process like for you? Do you find yourselves relying on certain instruments and sounds more than others initially?
This record had the best of both worlds. We were able to spend the amount of time that is usually associated with home recording (a lot…), while also having access to an amazing analogue studio and a brilliant engineer (Bryce Goggin). We played all the songs live but then we sliced it up and really stripped it down, taking things out and adding other things in, as well as looping things. We experimented with running vocals though a lot of different amps, and we ran the drums through a Roland vocoder to have pitches responding to the drums. That was an amazing fascination. We all worked so hard on this record, spending well over 30 days in the studio. I’m so proud of the result!!
— Benjamin Lazar Davis
Cuddle Magic plays Union Pool in celebration of the release of Ashes/Axis on April 28th. Tickets for that show are available now.