Cymbals Eat Guitars speak about influences, songwriting

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Matt Whipple (far right) and his band Cymbals Eat Guitars will be playing at Mohawk this Saturday along with Cursive and Conduits. (Photo courtesy of Barsuk Records)

Only two albums into their career, Cymbals Eat Guitars have wasted no time in raising eyebrows and expectations. The New York four-piece have set themselves apart from their peers by writing heartfelt indie rock without resorting to gimmicks or chasing after trends. Soon after adding bassist Matt Whipple and keyboardist Brian Hamilton in 2009, the band gained a reputation as a formidable live act. In anticipation of their show this Saturday at Mohawk, I got a chance to ask Matt some questions about Cymbals Eat Guitars and their newfound success.

Daily Texan: Your debut album, 2009’s Why There Are Mountains, as well as last year’s Lenses Alien, received tons of critical support from some big publications. Has the pressure to live up to those expectations affected your songwriting process at all?
Matt Whipple:
I think we’re our own biggest critics when it comes to songwriting. I don’t think anything about that has really changed with attention from the music press. Short answer: No, not really.

DT: About a year ago, you contributed a fantastic cover of a lesser-known Tobin Sprout song, “Gleemer,” to a Guided By Voices tribute album, which is actually how I first heard of CEG. What led you to choose that song?
Whipple:
Gleemer had been a favorite of [CEG guitarist and lead vocalist Joseph D’Agostino’s] for quite a while. Plus we figured choosing a really great Tobin Sprout song would kind of set us apart (and relieve some pressure) from having to pull off one of the more celebrated GBV hits.

DT: Have you ever tried reaching out to some of the bands that influenced your sound that are also still active (e.g., Modest Mouse, Stephen Malkmus, Built To Spill)? Have any musicians you admire reached out to you?
Whipple:
We’ve only really had conversations like that when we happen to run into somebody in person, usually on tour. Some of the musicians we admire most are just friends we have toured with. My Words With Friends queue is all sorts of indie-famous.

DT: Cymbals Eat Guitars are sometimes called anachronistic for playing straight-up indie rock in the ’10s (the term endangered species comes up now and then). Do you see yourselves as consciously defying recent trends in indie music?
Whipple:
Sometimes, yes. It’s tough not to notice that guitar rock bands aren’t really the hippest thing right now in terms of the continuing-coverage blogosphere. But then again, it’s tough to really know just what the recent trends are, and there are certainly a lot of awesome guitar bands around.

DT: Does the band have a favorite Modest Mouse album?
Whipple:
I have to be honest and say we probably don’t all qualify as actual Modest Mouse fans, but I think we’d all agree on The Moon & Antarctica.

DT: I’ve read that you guys are big on guitar pedals, though it’s pretty easy to tell just from your music, and that Brian even makes his own for his company, smallsound/bigsound. What are some of your favorites at the moment?
Whipple:
My favorite pedal right now is my Strymon delay pedal as well as Brian’s smallsound/bigsound “team awesome! fuzzmachine,” which is the best bass fuzz I’ve ever used.

DT: Critics tend to focus on some of your more obvious influences (e.g., ’90s indie rock, Sonic Youth). Do you ever get tired of being compared to the same bands, or do you not mind it?
Whipple:
Those comparisons are always flattering. We don’t have a whole lot of control over who people think we sound like, so it’s definitely nice to hear some more esoteric comparisons and then check those bands out and think, “What do you know? We do kind of sound like that.”