Every other Monday, Jamie Johns draws attention to the choicest selections of the weird underground. In this edition of Freak Scene: an interview with Cro Magnon and a few upcoming events to put on your puppy calendars.
I briefly mentioned Cro Magnon in my last column,but they deserve a lot more than just one little sentence. The duo, consisting of drummer/singer/kitchenware-r Katie Leming and guitarist Haley Fohr stared in 2007 in Lafayette, IN. After self-releasing Eat Crap shortly thereafter, they were recently involved in the XXPeriments compilation on Die Stasi Records, in addition to releasing a 7-inch on Bruit Direct Disques that I can not stop listening to. The A-side combo of “Wash” and “A Hole” is raw bedlam from the minute you put it on the turntable. With lyrics like It’s only your blood/ it’s only your body and My body’s in a hole/ get me the fuck out of here, there is a sense of complete and utter fear about losing the one thing you are supposedly able to control: your body. One minute you are fine and the next you are in complete distress but you can never be quite sure which one is which. The B-side “Apple Orchard” explores a different side of the group in which they tone down their aggression and speed and trade it for a disturbing unease. The band was formed in response to anxiety and fear, so it only makes sense that their music expresses that too.
I don’t think I can fully do the record justice so I decided to talk to the duo via email. Instead of trying to summarize what they said, I am just going to say that their responses are totally awesome and they’re my new heroes. Read ahead!
How did the group form? Was there a particular catalyst for starting the band?
Cro Magnon was formed during the summer of ’07 after a series of dramatic events in Lafayette and in our personal lives. We considered ourselves a band after we wrote our first song, “Molaritis,” which was inspired after Katie was held up at gunpoint on the job. She had just started as a bank teller and was a nervous wreck after the fact, so we both went into the basement of a friend’s house (her parents were out of town) and just started banging on guitars and wrecking the place. We recorded it with Brahne Hoeft (TV Ghost) on the bass, Haley on guitar(s) and Katie on drums, screaming about a bad toothache she had also had at the time
There was a lot of music stuff happening that summer in Lafayette. Pink Reason, Tv Ghost, and Cro Magnon were all staying at said house for a majority of the time. It all sort of pushed off from there.
What do you think are the pros and cons of being based in Lafayette, IN? Do you think it has shaped the group in any way? I lived in Bloomington, IN for a while and in comparison to New York, there was definitely a bit more freedom about what you could do because it was cheaper to live but there wasn’t the same profusion of venues and audiences.
Lafayette is a great place for strange people, however, we have found acceptance in our home town a bit difficult for some reason. We are not permitted to play shows at any local venues, though we once were. The reason, we think, mostly lies in the fact that the only venues in our city are either gay bars, which only let underage boys play, or venues that are very specific in what they will allow to be played. Our music isn’t good for business, I guess. Our age also plays a role in this, though it hasn’t seemed to be an issue anywhere else. For now, we only play out-of-town shows
It’s shaped the music in the sense that there really isn’t much to do here. We either play music, get drunk or do something else that is mildly destructive to occupy the time. It’s something to work out the frustration growing from the boredom.
Each of you has a solo project/side project, Bird and Circuit des Yeux, how do you each approach your individual projects and how does it differ from what you do as Cro Magnon?
Katie: Compared to Cro Magnon, Bird is very timid. I feel that I can be more aggressive with the drumming and the vocals that I produce for Cro Magnon. I also usually record for Bird in my apartment, where I can hardly fart without having the landlord called on me. I only play drums and sing for Cro Magnon, whereas I use a harp and flute with Bird, and try to use my voice more than I do actual instruments. I also tend not to get as loud as I do on the Cro Magnon recordings. I view them as completely separate entities.
Haley: Circuit des Yeux came at a very dark time for me. I had cut off communication with my friends, including Katie, and at the time had little communication with the world outside of my bedroom. I have never really thought of a specific goal or sound I want to create with Circuit des Yeux, it’s more based on emotion, specific life events… a diary type of thing. I use whatever I have around, guitar, violin, piano, keyboard, a lot of vocals, effect etc. With Cro Magnon I only have to worry about guitar/bass and being loud as fuck. It’s a cool thing what Katie and I have when we write songs. Playing/writing solo and playing/writing in a band are two completely different experiences, so it is not hard for me to keep them in separate spheres.
What do you do when you are not playing music?
When we’re hanging out and not playing music, we’re usually just listening to records and being cool. We live in the same building, but on different floors, so it’s pretty easy just to do nothing. When we’re apart, we both work jobs. Haley is a crossing guard and works at a car dealership as a receptionist full-time, so she is working mostly. She will be going back to school at IU for recording arts, French, and ethnomusicology in the fall. Katie works full time as a bank teller and goes to Purdue for Spanish and creative writing full time as well.
We’re both usually pretty busy, so we play music on the weekends in Katie’s dad’s garage, which is unheated and sort of unbearable in the winter. We look forward to the summer when our free time is much warmer.
One term that has been floating around is “crimson wave”—I know this is something you probably get asked about a lot but I am curious to know how you feel about the term and if you feel like you are connected to a “crimson wave” movement?
We do feel that we are connected to the crimson wave, but only in the sense that we were around when the term was coined by Kevin from Pink Reason. It was a suggestion he made for the title of the original Xxperiments compilation, but was not used due to our opposition to what we felt the term implied. We just felt that it was too blatant and too constricting.
We acknowledge that we are connected to it because of the people who are also considered to be connected to it, but we don’t even know how they feel about it. We like their music, so it’s cool that we’re sort of related. If their music was something we didn’t agree with or enjoy, we might not be as accepting. Really, it just seems like a term that could be used for any group of girls creating music around the same time. That’s the only beef.
I read an earlier interview with you guys where you said that it is frustrating to always see girls grouped together, and I agree, but do you find anything redeemable about the “crimson wave” classification? Do you think it describes the music in any way?
Well, if it really does refer to menstruation, then, sure it does. We just find it too general. It seems like people listen to our music and ask us if we’re PMSing because it’s from the “crimson wave.” All women know how obnoxious that is. It’s been used to promote the compilation a lot, and I guess people are interested in the idea, so that has been beneficial in ways, no matter how sexist it is.
Your lyrics often revolve around the body. In “Wash” Katie repeats It’s only your blood…It’s only your body and “A Hole” is about your body being in a hole. Why is the body so frequently referred to?
I always talk about the body. I am not sure why it always comes up, but I improv all the lyrics as I am drumming on the original recordings. I write them down after the fact most of the time. I also write some shitty poetry and mention the body a lot in that, so I think that when I am conscious of it, it is because I find the body to be very relatable in terms of expression. I also always think there might be something wrong with my body (“Molaritis”), so that might have something to do with it as well.
What are your plans for the next year: tour? more releases?
We are finishing up recording/compiling songs at the moment. Our next release will be with Die Stasi. We also have a cassette with Goaty tapes lined up, as well as others in the works. We have a small east-coast tour this summer with Psychedelic Horseshit lined up for mid-July. We’re going to try and dominate the midwest this summer before the tour…2009….our time to shine! Ha.
Their recent (and brilliant) 7-inch on Bruit Direct Disques is still available (you can purchase it here or if you live in NYC, I know that Academy Records in Brooklyn has it in stock. The XXperiments compilation on Die Stasi records is still available and that’s where the term “crimson wave” originated. I should probably stop saying that term now.
And real quick before I forget, here are some upcoming shows that should be preeeeetty good:
4/16 – German Measles, Air Waves, X-Ray Eyeballs, Animal @ Don Pedro’s
I talked about X-Ray Eyeballs’ recent sick tape on Night People a few columns back. Also, if you haven’t already meet and greeted the German Measles, now is your time. They just recorded a live set on WFMU, and they have two upcoming releases on Captured Tracks. Give them your heart, your soul, a noogie…whatever you see fit to bring to these twerps.
4/17 – John Wiese, Mouthus, Carlos Giffoni, Zaimph, and Noveller @ Glasslands
Awesome things about John Wiese:
1. He’s John Wiese, he has a large body of delectable solo work and he has played in/with: Sunn0))), Skullflower, Bastard Noise, C. Spencer Yeh, and his own group thang Sissy Spacek
2. His amazing youtube channel
3. This will just be a really good show – all star lineup!
4/21 – FNU Ronnies, Drunkdriver, Pop. 1280, The Golden Error @ Silent Barn
Drunkdriver appeal to every sensibility I have. I have no clue Mike Berdan is screaming about, but it sounds unpleasant. It’s Kristy Greene’s guitar playing that is the most terrifying thing about this group. Along with Haley Fohr from Cro Magnon, she is creating the heaviest, most threatening guitar sound (bludgeoning?) to my ears at the moment. I went to the first year MFA show at Columbia this past weekend where I saw a piece in which a young woman destroys a stage with her guitar…while singing along to a Pulp song. The whole time I couldn’t help but think that Drunkdriver’s latest 7″, Knife Day (which is available now from Fan Death Records) would be a much, much more fitting soundtrack. It’s absolutely chaotic and absolutely perfect. FNU Ronnies are also playing another show the night before at the Annex (basement) with X-Ray Eyeballs.
4/26 – WBAR-B-Q with Gang Gang Dance, Soft Circle, Xeno and Oaklander, Metalux, Liturgy and many more @ Barnard College (117th and Broadway)
Full confession: I am a WBAR DJ and former staff member. This only gives me the chance to tell you that if the weather is nice this will be FREE, outside, full of pinatas, and certifiably nutso.
4/30 – Led Er Est, Martial Cantrel, Steve Moore @ Santo’s Party House
I saw Led Er Est a few weeks ago at the Shank and their performance decimated any and all of their recorded output. Heavy dark wave.
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New York, NY 10027