Imagine you are a high school senior trapped in a small town that you have lived in for your whole life. You are more than just a student, though. Your passion is astronomy. Every moment of your spare time outside of class is spent investigating the stars and space. One night, you discover a massive black hole. This is a scientific breakthrough and suddenly you are toted as a genius destined to be a leader in the field of astronomy. To celebrate, your school holds an assembly in which you are the guest of honor. Having grown up with these students one would hope for at least a little respect but realistically, they are still mostly strangers in the sea of faces before you.
Few will show vague interest in your talent. But, after all, who cares? You have lived out your dream! Forget the people who laugh, smirk or just don't get it. Most of these people have never felt driven by a passion and probably won't ever. This time will come for anyone who is a leader. They will have to stop worrying about what others might think and just act as they see fit.
I posed this question to four different friends: What do you honestly think of the band Cave In?
1)"Eh...whatever. That band sucks now."
2)"That band writes the most brilliant songs...ever."
3)"The new CD is crazy. What would you call it, prog rock? Whatever it is, it's great."
4)"Um...I think they sound like Rush. I hate Rush."
I can't help but wonder how 4 boys from the suburbs of Boston, now on their third full-length release, manage to create such a weird variety of opinions. Anyone who reads fanzines, scans website reviews or checks out message boards has probably noticed the same thing too; People react to Cave In like a bee sting. Some people can handle it while others respond to it like poison to their system. Hoping to get a closer look at the band's chemistry, I placed the singer/guitar player Steve Brodsky (age 21) under a microscope.
Having paid their dues in the hardcore circuit for over five years, I give you Cave In. They are nobody's band and that's their point. If you don't like it, you know what? They couldn't care less. You don't have to like Cave In to appreciate their tenacity, seeing as they are their own band following no trends. Still hate them? Then you especially should read on. Hoping to get a closer look at the band's chemistry, I placed the singer/guitar player Steve Brodsky (age 21) under a microscope. This is the conversation that we had.
Tracy: Do the men make Cave In or does Cave In make the men? The band has been together for quite some time but more interestingly these years stretch through some of the most important character defining years in a person's life. When a band goes from their teens into their twenties, obviously a lot of personal changes are taking place in each members' lives. Do you feel the internal workings of the band have shaped you and each member? Or has Cave In grown and changed because you as people outside the band are just growing up? It's sort of the chicken or the egg question if you can follow me.
Steve: Hmmm. It's a bit of both. For myself, I've always been much more expansive in the music I written and recorded on my own, before and during my time in Cave In. It's a very nice change to finally blur the lines of my more secretive side of home written/recorded music and the music that I play in Cave In. I suppose that would indicate personal growth and a little courage, too. The internal workings of the band have remained fairly constant, in that the four of us get along very well and enjoy each other's company. If you have that kind of atmosphere in your practice space, then changing the kind of songs you write comes very easy.
T: I think that in the past you had mentioned that the entire band shares the songwriting responsibilities. Are there points where one of you offers a song or a crazy part and the rest of you completely think its not appropriate for Cave In? Does anything go or are there agreed formulas? I can imagine that each band member has their own idea of what direction they think is most interesting and exciting for the band.
S: We usually have pretty good luck with most of the ideas everyone brings to the table. It's certainly not "anything goes". We have pretty high standards for ourselves, and if a song/song part doesn't feel 100% to everyone, it either gets more treatment or we scrap it altogether. As far as individual tastes go, J.R. likes to feel like he's Neil Peart as much as he can. Caleb & Adam are well-rounded, and myself, I'm the most critical and self-conscious of the group about the music.
T: This may sound like a silly question, but when did you figure out that you could really sing? Obviously you have sang on past records but your voice has really morphed into your own personal style. Does practice make perfect? Do you feel as if your guitar playing has gone through a similar change. Of the two by the way (guitar vs singing) which do you like better? Ok so that was actually three questions but anyway....
S: OK, I'll go one by one here. I always wanted to sing in a band ever since I can remember. It started when my old best friend Jeff & I would make silly boombox tapes with lyrics about "popular" kids in school we hated and mean substitute teachers who gave us detentions. Home recording is probably the best thing I ever did for my voice. It's gives you the freedom to try whatever the hell you want, and you're able to somewhat accurately critique these "experiments" because you hear what you "really" sound like, what works for you and what doesn't. Plus there's no obligation to show anyone else what you record, and if you think it sucks, you just record over it and send it off to audio oblivion. Home recording can be filed under "practice" for me, so I suppose practice does make perfect (or at least until you're somewhat satisfied). I still feel like a singer-in-the-works, and I will be until I hang up my headphones for good. Playing guitar is easier for me, and easier to hide behind in Cave In because we're all turned up to 11. My voice lets me down much more than my guitar playing does. Bad Cave In shows for me usually involve bad singing performance WAY more often than bad guitar performance.
T: Why did you turn to music as an outlet in the first place? Was it your childhood friend(s) or a family member?
S: The reasons have changed as I get older, but my purpose for turning to music as an outlet feels less like a choice and more like a programming bug in my brain from a long time ago that I'm just acting out on. Before I could play guitar, I remember daydreaming that if I was as good at guitar-leads as Slash from GN'R, then girls would like me a whole lot! When I started my first band, I wanted to feel like I was in Nirvana and music was another way to disassociate myself from kids in school that picked on me and had strong interests in things like sports and expensive Z. Cavarricci's clothing, things I didn't give a shit for. This helped me bond with other kids who had strong loves for playing music. Playing music saved me from the quicksand-effect of rotting in suburbia for the rest of my life, by eventually touring with Cave In outside New England and seeing other parts of the world. My dad played when he was a kid, he had a 65' Harmony Mustang that he gave me when I began to play guitar. It was the guitar he learned to play on. I still have it kicking around my folks' house.
T: Does living in Boston help to shape Cave In's sound at all? Obviously with the presence of the label Hydra Head there is a pretty incredible local scene to tap into. Do you think the bands feed off of each other?
S: You gotta remember that we're survivors of Methuen, Massachusetts suburban hell! Living in a city helps our sound a bit, because your surroundings in a city feel constantly in motion and alive. It adds to creativity because there's more to absorb, there's more to rack your brain. If I didn't see so many goddamn billboards around this place, I may have never written "Burning Down the Billboards". In Boston, bands definitely feed off of each other. Cave In & Isis are always taking bits from each other, and we laugh about it. Isis inspired the song "Big Riff". Cave In and Piebald, when Piebald was still a band, both fed off of each other musically in a lot of ways too.
T: Do you still feel welcome and connected to the scene even though Cave In's style is heading in a direction that doesn't really match those around you? At this point do you really feel like you are even a part of some scene. Personally, I see Cave In more as a loner....a rebel. Hehe. I have always felt that scenes are sort of stupid and create local/musical boundaries but kids seem to really latch on to them. I would say it almost helps define the records they buy and the bands they see live. There are a lot people who tend to stick to one genre and then they bash whatever else is out there. I could imagine that this general trend could effect a band who is slowly escaping from the "hardcore" sound.
S: That's a complicated question. I've always been hesitant to devote 100% of myself to any "scene", and I would hope to have the same control over my music in that it doesn't devote itself exclusively to any "scene". If anything, our changing our style has been a wonderful thing because as our music expands, so does the number of doors that open for us. Two years ago, Cave In would never have played with great bands like Rainer Maria, Jets to Brazil, At The Drive-In had we allowed ourselves to become pigeon-holed into a specific genre of music. Music scenes are like black holes, their effect on people is completely unpredictable. Some people avoid them altogether and some people get sucked in for good, though some of these people are lucky enough to get out alive. I'd like to think of Cave In as some alternative portal into something completely beyond the aforementioned.
T: Is having your lyrics printed a comfortable issue? Are they typically all written by you or the whole gang?
S: I'm the one who writes all the words to sing. I'm always initially inclined to only print pieces of song lyrics or to leave them out of print altogether. But if I am comfortable with them, and they end up being printed, I'm usually happier in the end.
T: What makes you comfortable and happy with your lyrics? It seems to me that in your daily life outside of music, you are not a wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve kind of guy. I can't help but wonder if your lyrics reflect that. Are the words as important as the music?
S: Yeah, I really enjoy having privacy. Lyrically, I write all kinds of different songs, songs that I want people to read into and songs where doing that would be a waste of their time. With the music in Cave In, it's always going to be a shared effort of 4 people trying to achieve total satisfaction with our songs. But the other 3 guys are very uninvolved with the lyrics, and for the most part I'm pretty much on my own to decide what is my best work I can possibly do. However, Adam wrote lyrics for the song "Crossbearer" and another song called "Inflatable Dream", which we haven't released yet. I'm less neurotic about the music, because it has always come easier than writing words and especially trying to sing them! But as time goes on, I mull over the way I piece together words much more to the point where it makes me slightly restricted. But the more disciplined approach works for me when I'm writing the kind of songs that wind around too much.
T: This is a question that stems from the tech geek in me. Cave In has some of the insane guitar sounds. Could you please tell me a bit about the tools you use to create some of your favorite effects? You don't have to give away all your secrets but I think of you guys like the wizard behind the curtain in the "Wizard of Oz". Does your solo stuff avoid the same tricks of the trade on purpose?
S: The delay pedal was a big advancement for Cave In. Pedals in Cave In are used for trickery. We want to make guitars sound unguitar-like and mess with the delivery of the music from our speakers. We get a kick out of people writing record reviews like "Heavily synthesized rock with tons of keyboard effects". It's like "Hah, we fooled you!" For most of "Jupiter", the intention of the effects is to take emphasis away from the music being "guitar" riffs and put it towards making a wall-of-sound effect bigger than the dry delivery. There's even a song from "Until..." called "Moral Eclipse" that has a slap-back delay effect synched with the song tempo in the middle of the song, that, unless I were blessed with the hands of say, Kerry King, I would never been able to do!
I used a Boss Harmonist in "Luminance", which I later traded in for a Boss Pitch Shifter/Delay for all the "Jupiter" songs. That's where those crazy high octaves come from. I wanted to cater to all the dogs in the world, so the notes needed to be higher!
I use all of my Cave In geek stuff on home recordings, too. However, for "Static Intellect", I wanted to make a record that let my songs remain based on the way I wrote them: purely on acoustic guitar. It's my own challenge to myself to write some songs that stand strong without too many distracting additions, and to try and perform them live as well. But I think you're right, there has always been an effort, both sub-conscious and conscious, to keep a distinction between Cave In and my own songs.
T: Yay.. I win... I win... Just kidding. I figured that all the stuff you learn playing in Cave In would get filtered out into your various other side projects. How many others are there in total? Do you think that those outside bands help you to keep pushing the boundries in Cave In as well?
S: Outsiders, as much as I don't like to admit, can have an influence. But in a backwards way, I suppose. Kids say "play harder, play more metal!" and we turn around and bust out acoustic guitars and Failure cover songs! Some of my good friends and musical acquaintances have really great senses of music that I admire, so I try and be a sponge and take it all in, whether it's hearing their rock or just talking and communicating about music ideas and whatnot.
For side-projects, there's the Sacrifice Poles, a Cave In lo-fi alter-ego. We always 4-track our music before we record them in the studio. For "Jupiter" we had a freak-out point in the middle of writing the album and did all this extra recording, and most of the material never went into formal Cave In songs. So now it has a home in the Sacrifice Poles. The New Idea Society is a duo with myself and Mike Law of Eulcid. He writes spastic stuff in Eulcid, but his Frank Black side shows more in our duo. He's great, and the stuff sounds like a blender filled with a Pixies discography and some touches of the Violent Femmes. Caleb plays bass in Old Man Gloom with some guys from Isis and Converge that's just as heavy. Sammy from the Explosion, Adam from Cave In and I have jammed and 4-track recorded once for kicks. I did that stuff with you, as well...(just a few songs and we have no band name, Tracy)
T: Is being a rocker what you had wanted to become all along. Was there a point in time you wanted to be an astronaut or something? Part two of this question would be... is music what you consider your greatest accomplishment?
S: It's something I've been unable to deny less and less as time goes on. The older I get, the more I realize how much I fear making a career with anything else, because that would take time away from doing music. By the same token, I hate hopping from one shit-job to the next. I once fantasized about being an English teacher, which would be disastrous for me, and I often fantasize about being a nomad. Which is sort of parallel to being a full-time musician, I guess. Music is probably my most valued accomplishment, it's something I have felt most confident about doing more than anything else I've attempted. And I can't foresee a substitute in the future...
T: Ok. This is it. The light at the end of the tunnel. One last question for the most patient email interviewed fella ever. I will call it the dreaded what comes next question. Is there a crazy daydream or an actual goal for the future of Cave In or Steve Brodsky? And honestly, thanks for doing this.
S: Haha, the big finale! I better make this good or else people are gonna demand their money back. I would just like to see myself involved with whatever I'm doing musically, when the time comes, become my main occupation. That I can live from, actually. Because it already IS my main occupation, it's what's occupying my brain for most of the day. And I want the ball in my court, I want to have all the cards to deal. I want to be in control, because that's what has made me "me" with my music, since the time when myself or my band has ever garnered any sort of following. And ideally, I'd like to remain connected with everyone of value, friendship-wise and musicianship-wise and combination of those two, to me.