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  • Interview: Cute Is What We Aim For

    Wed, 25 Jun 2008 01:21:48

    Interview: Cute Is What We Aim For - Spinning into a new evolution

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    "Keep it positive" is something that Cute is What We Aim For vocalist Shaant Hacikyan will repeat a few times over the course of a conversation. However, it's only because that age-old adage has served the frontman and his band mates very well. In fact, their positive mindset helped create a vibrant and infectious sophomore album, Rotation [Due out June 24, Fueled By Ramen]. Despite the pressures of following up their highly successful debut, shifting members and dealing with Los Angeles while recording, Cute is What We Aim For have come out all smiles. Rotation is entrancing, catchy and emotional all at once. The album finds the Buffalo quartet cultivating their poppy, alterna-punk sound into a sharper, more mature animal. They've done it all by, you guessed it, keeping it positive. Shaant sat down with ARTISTdirect in an exclusive interview to discuss his band's philosophy and much more.

    Rotation feels like an evolution from the last album, but at the same time, you preserved the essence of Cute is What We Aim For.

    That was a natural thing for us. It wasn't a conscious effort, but it was an evolution. I attribute a lot of that to Jeff Czum (Guitars) and the chords he chose. The chords were really ska-rooted.

    The instrumentation has a spacey, warm tonal quality, as well.

    Yeah, we did whatever we wanted. We had three months instead of three weeks to really concentrate on making the record. When you have two great musicians, Dave and Jeff, working together with a producer like John Feldman [Goldfinger], beautiful things happen. It was awesome for me, because I wouldn't stay in the studio. I was in the apartment a lot, writing by myself. Then I would hear the finished product afterwards. John Feldman's amazing. He's a great guy and a maniac [Laughs]. He taught us an incredible amount. He really molded us. He never accepted anything less than the absolute best. He would even be rude sometimes, because he knew it would catalyze the progress. I really appreciate it, and we owe so much to him for helping us. I'd love to work with him again. Musically, I think it's on a totally different level than the first album was.

    How was recording in Los Angeles?

    We lived in the Oakwood down the 101 [Freeway]. We stayed there and hated every second of it. L.A.'s way too much for us. The traffic sucks, and we didn't really go out, because drinks were nine dollars at clubs. We really just worked on the record, rather than absorbing the whole L.A. scene. It's a scary place.

    It can be really overwhelming too.

    Quite…especially when you're trying to work on the most important thing that's happening in your life.

    However, it does sound like living in L.A. inspired tracks like "Hollywood."

    This is true. There is a redeeming quality to the location where we recorded. I appreciate that a lot. That's a song that came at the end of the record though. We wrote it in Monterey at Pebble Beach, when we took a songwriting/surfing trip up there. "Hollywood" and "Time" were the last two songs that we recorded. "Hollywood" was the very last song. It was the freshest of the batch.

    The line in "Hollywood" about writing songs instead of hooks sums up the music industry right now.

    Right! That's it. Somehow that stuff sells more than a lot of great music that real musicians are working really hard on, and they never get noticed. That really pissed me off. On this record, we wrote complete songs. Everything has a connection, and everything was written cohesively together.

    Given the success of the last album, did you feel like there was a lot of pressure coming into Rotation?

    I feel if we worry about the pressure, it would take away from how great our situation is. No one should complain like, "Oh no, I need to sell as many records as I did before." We were so fortunate to sell records to begin with. If you think about it in those terms, it's hard to worry. We just focused on how fortunate we are to start.

    That mentality keeps you in a good headspace to create, because you stay positive from the get-go. That positivity probably helped yield a better record.

    I think so too! That was a conscious effort among all of us. We have a mantra which is "Keep it positive." That's it. We say it to each other all the time. It's almost like our farewell. Instead of saying goodbye, we say, "Keep it positive." That's the only way to live. There's no need to dwell on the bad, when you can focus on the good. Innovation is everything. Everything can be better.

    Sadly, most people tend to focus on what they don't have rather than what they do.

    Yeah, it's only natural. It's a matter of maturity, when we all realize that we have to appreciate things. My parents used to say things like, "Oh, you'll appreciate this when you're older." I find it's absolutely true, and we've all found that. It's unfortunate, because society is all about that now, if you think about it. I definitely find that keeping it positive is crucial, and it helps us a great deal.

    Innovation is everything. Everything can be better.

    You initially approached the lyrics for the new record with the theme of "change" in mind. That definitely comes through.

    I think that's amazing! As you can imagine, we're very anxious to just hear what people think, and what they take away from this. We have all of our thoughts, and we know how we feel about it. There's so much to be said about how everyone else feels about it and their interpretations of how we're portraying that change and metamorphosis. Hopefully, it's proper and not abrasive.

    You definitely spent a lot of time on the lyrics, so the fans have something more to delve into.

    Absolutely! That's how we all felt. That's how we still feel. It only made sense to take a shot at that, ourselves.

    The sound got a little bit more aggressive too.

    The end of "Doctor" and "Miss Sobriety" are us legitimately being aggressive. We were in the room writing the songs, and we were furious. That's what came out, and we accepted it. First, we thought it might be a little too much and that people wouldn't be used to it. Then we decided, this is us. I improv'ed a lot of words in there. We wanted it to be off the top of our heads and true.

    "Miss Sobriety" is very tangible emotionally, because you're capturing a feeling.

    It's quite candid, eh?

    It's very honest, yes. It's very personal too.

    Yeah, for sure! I personally wanted to be as upfront as possible and address everything we could. Why not? Whose to say it's not OK? "Time" also stands out for me. That's probably my gem. It's a personification of Mother Earth. I don't know if people make that connection. If you listen to it and think about lines like "The contour of your continents," you'll see. I always thought about writing something like that.

    The song is so visual lyrically. You paint a vivid picture.

    Imagery is everything. It's fun, dude. I'm the type of person who loves to listen to a comedian, instead of watching him, because I love to create the images within myself and in my imagination. That's what's so much fun about reading as opposed to watching T.V.

    What was the inspiration behind the "Practice Makes Perfect" video?

    Well, I thought of a scenario, and I was thinking, "Where do we all fuck up?" A party seemed quite fitting. I thought it was great, because we could showcase the dynamics of each band member's personality, or something of the sort. We discussed it amongst the guys, and we all agreed. We really wanted to focus on the rotation of the camera. It eventually rotates in reverse, showing how you can learn a lesson across the situations. This video really meant a lot to us, and we're excited that people dig it. I think we finally did something right.

    —Rick Florino

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