“I LIKE BIG EXPLOSIONS of sounds contrasting with quiet moments,” explains Cymbals Eat Guitars singer/guitarist Joseph Ferocious from a wool shop in Iowa, where the band is between shows on a tour with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. “The goal is to make music that gives me goosebumps.”
The band’s debut album, Why There Are Mountains, reflects Ferocious’ focus, as it is filled with songs that adhere to the “loudquiet-loud” template that has been known to be shiver-inducing. Bands like The Pixies,Weezer and Nirvana had been perfecting the notion when Ferocious was just a pre-teen in suburban New Jersey.
“Maybe that loud-quiet-loud thing is so up front [on Why There Are Mountains] because that’s what I was listening to at the time,” says Ferocious. “Songs like ‘And the Hazy Sea’ were written a long time ago.”
The track, which opens the album, is a sprawling, six-minute exercise in crescendoladen indie rock, one that could be considered the archetype for the band’s sound.
“‘And the Hazy Sea’ is the song of the record for me,” asserts Ferocious, who lives in Staten Island while his band mates are spread across Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. “Not only because of the explosive beginning, but because it succinctly encapsulates our sound.”
Nevertheless, Cymbals Eat Guitars doesn’t plan on necessarily becoming the next purveyor of this type of songwriting into the distant future.
“Loud-quiet-loud is pretty grand, but there are better ways to write songs, and we are sliding into that,” affirms Ferocious, adding a disclaimer to those thinking that the band might completely change shape on the next record. “That dynamic is still going to be a part of our sound though.”
There’s more to “And the Hazy Sea”— it’s also the song from which the band derived the title of the album, making the song at once a synthesis of the listener’s introduction to the band and the record.
“It’s taken from the middle of that song,” says Ferocious, dodging the question that he knows will come next. “The whole passage poses the question that became the title of the record.”
Eliciting an explanation as to what the cryptic title Why There Are Mountains actually means from Ferocious is a different story. Ferocious shies away from giving a definitive answer.
“I don’t want to be one of those people [in bands] that says ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’” he offers. “I don’t remember when I chose that title, but I will say from a superficial standpoint that all of my favorite records reveal that moment where you realize why the record is titled a certain way.”
Though it seems that all-night epic jam sessions after partaking in a certain illicit green substance might be the reason for such abstruse lyrics and long, complex song structures. But Ferocious denies they’re a drug band.
“We all partake in that sort of thing sometimes, but it doesn’t really factor into the sound,” Ferocious illustrates, laughing. It’s not like Spacemen 3, where the sound wouldn’t exist without heroin or LSD.”
It’s his songwriting process, Ferocious intimates, that keeps a lot of the songs clocking in at over five minutes in length.
“I think a lot of what people would call epic [about our music] is a result of the way I write songs,” he elucidates. “I do it over a long period of time. I can spend three or four months on one song.”
This is because Ferocious cringes at the thought of excluding an idea that is important to him in a song where he feels it is needed. A song is completed when his ideas are realized and the band can fit all of their parts together so that his lyrics can be in complete harmony with the music.
“Part of the epic quality is I want to get out the entire thought,” Ferocious divulges. How I add to them and augment them is I’ll have hooks and I will place them like individual movements one after the other.”
This isn’t to say that the songs are jumbled or repetitive amalgams of ideas; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Ferocious prides himself on rarely, if ever, repeating himself.
“There really aren’t a lot of choruses,” he maintains. “And if there are, I don’t repeat them.”
While the improvisational, “jammy” aspect of the music might seem to steer Cymbals Eat Guitars in the direction of bands that adhere to similar practices, Ferocious assured me that the band won’t be the next Phish.
“When I wrote ‘In the Hazy Sea’ I hadn’t even smoked pot for the first time yet,” asserts Ferocious, assuaging my fears. “Don’t worry, we won’t turn into a jam band.”
> Cymbols Eat Guitars
Oct. 3, Webster Hall, 125 E. 11th St. (betw. 3rd & 4th Aves.), 212-353-1600; 6, $16