By: Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Cruiser.
The sepia-toned harmonies of Philadelphia’s Cruiser have all the charisma required to assemble a full stadium audience on the California shores. But despite the catchiness and maturity in their sound, the foursome had humble beginnings; Andy States (guitar/vocals/songwriter) wrote the Cruiser EP alone in his bedroom in 2012. He later reached out to producer Jerry Park for general mixing advice, but Park saw potential in the album’s sweet, almost nostalgic surf rock, and insisted on co-producing it. The EP had success online and States was eventually asked to start playing live, so he rounded up Jonathan van Dine (drums), Josa Lazas (guitar), and Kyle Cook (bass/vocals) to help him achieve a fuller sound and bring Cruiser to the next level. Their latest single, “Kidnap Me”, rings true to that goal, with complex composition that alternately highlights mellow fuzz guitar riffs and expertly layered vocals. Most importantly, it’s catchy as hell, with jingling hooks guaranteed to put you in a good mood. Seriously, go listen to it right now, you’ll feel better.
BTR caught up with the modern day feel good rock to chat about being cool, the greatest karaoke songs, and their best/worst performance experience to date.
Why don’t we start with a little background? What brought you all together?
Andy States: Ok I’ll field it. I started Cruiser, I was just writing songs in my bedroom and eventually reached out to a producer, Jerry Park, and I kind of was just asking him for recording tips. He actually worked with Youth Lagoon, that’s how I found out about him. I kind of lucked out because he got back to me and then was like ‘I love your record, let me produce it,’ so it ended up being a little bit of a bigger thing than I initially intended. I released it to a bunch of blogs and basically the EP got a little bit of traction online; I started getting asked to play shows, so that’s when I started reaching out to friends to help. Jon, who is the drummer, was the first person I included because he had kind of been listening to my demos the whole time I had been doing it and was always like ‘let me know when you wanna start playing shows!’ And then Jo was added in (who’s sitting next to me) after a friend of a friend told me about this Facebook group that’s sort of like an exclusive Philly musicians club. I posted a message on that group, and Jo is the person that runs the group, so he reached out to me. We tried him out and it was great. Jo has a little story about how we already knew each other, but didn’t know each other.
Josa Lazas: Yeah we had played a show in very different bands when we were in college together, like six years prior.
Andy States: And then Jon used to run house shows in college. would actually go over to his house and didn’t really fit in, but everybody else was really close, so I would go over and, like, try to be cool.
Jonathan van Dine: Oh you fit in; we loved you!
Andy States: Yeah, yeah. They were always very nice, but I was really awkward.
Jonathan van Dine: Wow, that was almost 11 years ago!
And now you’re cool right Andy?
AS: Oh yeah, super cool.
So have each of you been playing since birth?
JvD: I started having interest in music at a very young age because my sister is 11 years older than me and would just give me her records that she was getting into. She gave me Nirvana’s Nevermind, and I would set up cardboard boxes and make a drum set out of it and just play that album over and over — I’m sure there’s footage of that somewhere. Then in 6th grade I got an actual drum set and I’ve been playing ever since — bout 16 years.
And you’re favorite drum set has always been the cardboard box?
JvD: Yup, still love it.
AS: I guess the moment I knew I wanted to become a musician… in 8th grade I got a catalogue for Ames, which is like the world’s shittiest department store, like worse than K-Mart, and in there I found a guitar that was $99.99. I circled it 10 times and wrote all this stuff around it in the catalogue like “mom get me this,” so I started playing guitar then. It took me a few years to get to know chords and start singing, but by the end of high school I was full on writing shitty songs… and I never really stopped.
JL: As a kid I played instruments in the orchestra, and then after a year I quit because I was a kid playing in an orchestra. Then, in 8th grade, I got a $100 Yamaha acoustic guitar, like Andy, and I started learning chords for it. My parents didn’t really want to get it for me because I had already quit music a couple times before, but that time it actually stuck. I got an electric guitar in 11th grade, and by that time I was thinking about finding a band to get really serious about it.
What kind of music do you guys listen to?
AS: Hard question, but we’re about to play a show with Nightlands. I hadn’t really listened to them before, but I’ve been listening to them all day today and that’s one thing that I really love – discovering music like that. I’m a really big fan of BoC’s and Immortal Orchestra, and older bands, almost everything — New Order, Joy Division. I don’t know if there’s a link to what we play, but I like them. I really like the way old Christmas music sounds. Honestly, Jo and I probably started listening to music in the Taking Back Sunday and Saves The Day era.
JvD: Yeah, all of us liked that stuff, but I got into hardcore and was in a hardcore band. But despite that, my mainstays are like instrumental bands like Portis and Black Pepper, but my favorite bands are Fleetwood Mac and Nirvana. I actually did some karaoke of Nirvana the other night, it was pretty cool…
What did you sing?
JvD: I did “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I can’t sing, but I did it anyways.
AS: My favorite Karaoke song is “No Diggity”.
JL: Yeah, like Andy said, we have pretty similar tastes, but I was just telling him I learned to play “Party In The USA”, and a Lynyrd Skynyrd song today — so I’m kind of all over. I’m getting into coast rock and some indie stuff, but I also listen to classical and some really heavy hardcore stuff too. If it’s good it’s good, you know what I mean? There’s very few genres that I can’t get into.
What are Cruiser’s top four biggest influences?
AS: hmmm… .I listen to a lot of new music, but I feel like when I first was writing I was listening to Girls… I really listen to Everly Brothers a lot, and like old, Blondie kind of hippy music, which I think kind of comes through. I mean, Beach Boys is in there, that’s pretty obvious. The one Norah Jones record really aligns with what we do. Richard Swift, a lot of stuff that sounds like it’s been recorded on tape. My old music preferences are legit.
No Miley Cyrus for you?
AS: (laughs) Well, it’s true that I like to listen to a lot of pop music and am definitely intrigued by the mass appeal of pop music and that everybody sort of likes it. There’s songs like “Party in the USA” and “Call Me Maybe,” you can make fun of it, but you know you kind of like it.
JvD: Nope, not me!
AS: Yes Jon, not you (laughs). I mean, I don’t seek out “Call Me Maybe,” but when I’m out and that song comes on it’s not like I’m angry.
JvD: I’m a huge Britney Spears fan, I can’t get enough of it.
AS: Oh Jon, you’re gonna make us look horrible!
Don’t worry, we’re all Britney fans, deep down. So what was the inspiration behind “Kidnap Me”?
AS: There’s a guitar part in that that I had been playing for a while. The first time I played it for these guys they just thought it was kind of funny. I think we maybe worked out a little dance to it… maybe… yeah, there was a dance. Then I had the idea that I knew I wanted to write a song about being kidnapped. At some point I had said that I wanted someone to kidnap me so I could get away from everything, which seemed sort of sweet, but I didn’t think it worked with any music I was writing. When I finally tried it with that guitar part, it fit and the rest of the lyrics I wrote really quickly and easily. The whole song’s about basically wanting to run away at it’s core, but I try not to say that. I still kind of do; I like the idea of songs with memorable words, and I think everybody feels like that sometimes.
JL: I think we owe a lot to Kyle Johnson, the producer, because the way it sounds was, at least for me, greater than I initially envisioned it. He really helped us move further with the vision and how we wanted it to turn out.
Is that going to be a first release off an upcoming album?
AS: Hopefully, if we get to that many songs. We’ll definitely have an EP come in the warm season, spring or summer of 2014, and it will be on there.
Do you have any songs written for that?
AS: There are a whole bunch that are half done and waiting for me to bring them to the guys and craft them into more that what they are.
JvD: We already recorded one other song.
AS: Yeah, we have one that’s queued up and just needs to be finished production wise.
Same kind of feel?
AS: Same and very different.
JL: It’s a Cruiser song, but it’s definitely a different Cruiser song. “Kidnap Me” is more traditional.
How do you think your sound has evolved from the time you released the Cruiser EP until “Kidnap Me”? Do you guys feel there’s a big difference?
AS: There was a big lesson learning thing that I went through, which was stop strumming so much and start opening it up so we are playing single notes. Our new work is a much more open arrangement, less straightforward, and that’s something that definitely will carry through throughout.
The aesthetic will continue to be old or beachy, but letting people hear more of the other instruments – er, Jon did you say something?
JvD: Um, yeah, I like playing it.
AS: (laughs) Love you Jon.
JvD: Love you buddy.
JL: Plus there are other people involved now, so everyone gets to play.
Do you have a favorite song you’ve released to date?
AS: When we play shows, “Kidnap Me” and “Moving To Neptune” get the best response, so probably those two.
Oh that’s one of my favorites!
AS: Yeah! I really believe that that’s the principle of not strumming. If you listen to “Moving To Neptune” there’s no strumming in it, it’s just a baseline with like a few lead lines.
Cover art for the Cruiser EP.
What is the inspiration for your cover art?
AS: I do the cover art. I have seen stuff that I like before and I wanted it all to have a commonality. With the pink I wanted something that would make our band a little bit more recognizable. Almost like a brand, though it’s weird to say that. Jon, Kyle, and I are all graphic designers, so I had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for flipping images around. The image that I used for the first album was a picture I had taken while I was on a road trip, it’s of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. I think I was just going through old photos and messing with them in Photoshop and that one spoke the best to me.
I can kind of tell when something’s been shot on film, and I love when something looks old.
What’s the writing process like for you guys?
AS: In general, I take the lead, bring it to everyone else, and it gets filtered through them. For “Kidnap Me,” I had the song and then when I brought it to the band a lot of things changed. For example, Jon re-wrote the drum part completely and it ended up being almost hip-hoppy. It’s weird to think about that when you hear the whole thing, but when you hear the drums on their own it’s true.
There’s one song that’s going to come out over the summer — I forget what we called it — that sounded like a jingle. I played that at practice once and it was this funny melody, but we all had it stuck in our heads forever, so we started playing it. That process was very organic. I never could have predicted that I’d play this jingle and everyone would start layering it. I have it recorded on my iPhone and it sounds great, so when we sit down to start working on it I’m going to play it and be like ok do what you did before!
Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
AS: Probably just pulled from relationships. Over time I’ve developed thinking about how the song starts. What really happens is, I’ll write the melody first and use gibberish, not real words, but I know it seems right for when I’m playing the guitar. Then what ends up happening a lot is fitting words to the melody, which can be difficult. But lyrical inspiration, on the first album there are a few themes. A few songs are about ex-girlfriends that are sad or negative, then there are some love-y songs about how it feels when you’re in a relationship and happy. There’s also a few of just wanting to get away. I could just write about those things forever. I feel like everybody ends up writing about love a lot, even if they don’t necessarily say it. I feel like music is the best concrete thing to evoke that emotion.
Somebody once told me that every song is about love, one way or another, except for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger In Paradise,” which is not about love, it’s just about wanting to eat a burger when you’re on a diet.
JL: Oh! Macaulay Culkin started an underground cover album of The Velvet Underground, except the words are changed so he’s singing about pizza.
What was the recording process like for “Kidnap Me”?
AS: That’s an interesting story, actually, because this is the first time we went into a studio to do a song. We worked so hard on “Kidnap Me” and this other song that we’re going to release as well. Basically we recorded everything in about two days with Kyle Johnson, who works with Wavves and Modest Mouse. When we got the mix back, I was a little disappointed in it and freaked out because it didn’t sound as good as I wanted it to. We sat on it for a week and weren’t really sure what to do, and then I finally had a meeting with Kyle and we had some beers and I was like, ‘Are you ok with me messing with this and re-mixing it and bringing it back to you?’ He was like, ‘ Oh yeah, do that. Yeah, I really didn’t get to spend as much time with you guys as I wanted to.’ We had gotten the version that was what we could afford with him, and he tried to give us the best he could for our two days, but there were a lot things that I knew I could do on my own. So I took the songs back and re-recorded a lot of the vocals and added in a double of the guitar parts and went back in and re-mixed it. But he has full credit for mixing and co-producing with us.
In closing, can you guys share your favorite band story?
JL: We opened for Matt And Kim at Atlantic City at The House of Blues. That was the biggest show I’ve ever played. But the funniest part about it was we were on stage about to play, and Andy looked over at me and said ‘Dude, there’s fucking barricades put up for us’. It was just one of those moments. Like, ‘Yo, we have like security bouncers for us!’
That’s so cool. That will be one of those moments you’ll never forget.
JL: Oh it’s such a mind trip, you know?
AS: We’re not on a level where that kind of thing happens on a regular basis. I went out into the casino to let one of our friends in; I was going down the escalator and people were like “There he is,” and I was like ‘What?! Me?!”
I came back and told Jon about it — ‘Dude, I just got rock-ignized!’
Any bad experiences?
AS: Our second show ever was in NYC. We were playing CMJ and we had played two shows back to back. We played our first show and we felt really comfortable, and I was thinking ‘Oh this is good, this is fine,” and then all of a sudden these giant bright lights came on for them to film it, and I was like “Ah! Oh God!” Then we had to throw all of our equipment in the back of this van taxi and go from Brooklyn to Manhattan to play the other show. Over the next few days Jon pointed out that we had actually technically played with The Counting Crows. They had opened the night with a secret set, so we get to say we played a show-ish with Counting Crows.
At some point in the night we were riding around in a limo with duct tape seats. Joe fell asleep with his eyes open, that’s a little trick that Joe has.
Didn’t know that was a thing!
AS: Yeah, we didn’t either until that night.
Or check them out live at one of these dates:
January 12 – Glasslands Gallery – Brooklyn, NY
January 15 – Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA