Cinema Cinema and the Art of the Punk Improvisers
The South Brooklyn DIY duo and jazzer Matt Darriau make for perfect partners in free-improv crime
In the pre-pandemic days of old, Cinema Cinema reigned supreme as one of the hardest working bands working the underground rock circuit.
The DIY punk pride of the South Brooklyn section of New York City, the long-running duo of guitarist and vocalist Ev Gold and his drummer cousin Paul Claro have been raising the noisiest, loudest and heaviest of hell inside dingy clubs, bars and raw spaces across these United States and beyond since coming together in 2008. With hundreds of shows under their belts, cross-country and globe-trotting treks and a ballooning catalog, the dudes in Cinema Cinema have taken their spazzy and arena-ready punk/metal/proggy sonic anthems and do-it-yourself ethos to the next level.
Like every other band on the planet, COVID put a grinding halt to CC’s usually hectic touring schedule. But that didn’t stop Gold and Claro from shacking up at the legendary B.C. Studio in Gowanus run by super-producer to the noise-rock stars, Martin Bisi, where new jams have been put to tape. CC and Bisi have a history going back to 2014’s A Night at the Fights and that alliance was compounded and shaped over the last year and half or so complete with a new direction into free-improvisational territory.
Gold and Claro first veered away from their more song-oriented pummel leanings on the totally free-form experiments of 2019’s CCXMD, their Nefarious Industries debut and first collaborative album with composer, improviser, bandleader and multi-reedist extraordinaire, Matt Darriau of The Klezmatics. As it turns out, the teaming was a seamless one as that earsplitting slab hit all the sweet space-jazz spots. CCXMDII, the second release in the growing CC/Darriau canon, furthers their journey into their unique cosmic realm, not with an all-out skronk assault but by stripping away the effects and noise pedals and going for a more hypnotic, subtle and mind-bending approach. CCXMDII ranks up there as one of 2021’s under the radar gems you need to hear.
As Gold tells the Globe, that’s not all Cinema Cinema have been busy with. Him and Gold are finally rehearsing for potential live gigs plus two new records completed with Bisi are in the can: one with Thor Harris (of Thor and Friends and formerly of Swans) and another one with Darriau, both trading in their free-improv bent for new song-focused directions in sound. We had the pleasure of chatting with Gold to get all things Cinema Cinema.
You and Paul seem like you’ve been productive during the pandemic.
Luckily, we hit the pandemic with a head full of steam as we hadn’t really slowed down whatsoever since we got started together in 2008. We haven’t been able to perform in that function (live in concert) so the band’s functionality in that way has been stifled. We were making plans for 2020 spring and fall touring at the time but everything shut down.
But we also had had just finished tracking a collaborative album with Thor Harris, sitting in as a third member of the band. As we hit COVID, we already had this new album, CCXMDII—it was already mixed and done and we were working on the new record that we’ve done with Thor.
Besides the recently-released CCXMDII, you also cut another record with Thor?
We had just finished tracking in January of 2020 so essentially we were supposed to start mixing in April. We mixed remotely with Martin Bisi, who engineered and produced that record. That will be out eventually.
You’re getting an immediate scoop! That’s part of how we were warm going into COVID because in terms of actual normal band activity, i.e. practices, gigs and tours and all that stuff, we didn’t get together and play in the same room for about a year because of COVID. We had practiced right before the shutdown in March of 2020 and we went into March of 2021 to get back to playing. Subsequently, when we went in March of 2021, we wanted to document it so we started doing some more new recordings. But now we’re getting really far down the lane. Essentially, we have this album with Thor mixed and mastered in the can but we don’t know when we’re gonna release it—probably won’t be for another eighteen months or so. We’d like to let this album (CCXMDII) breathe and, unfortunately, we don’t know that we’ll be able to tour much on it. We’re just letting the world turn and burn and let it do its thing.
Cinema Cinema fit the bill as an intense and, of course, loud “live band” so you guys must be missing that dynamic.
We’ve become more of a working on music in the studio and making the master plan and wondering when we can get back out type band, like, “Put me in coach, I wanna play every day until I die.” My cousin does, too. We wish there was some sort of a reality where that could be but the point is we had a head of steam as we hit COVID with a bunch of our projects being in flux, as they generally are, but the touring not being possible didn’t really stop us from working in a safe capacity,
Let’s hit on CCXMDII. When Cinema Cinema and Matt Darriau collaborate like on CCXMDII, you guys explore a whole other level of sound. How did you originally join forces with Matt?
With Matt, when we collaborate with him, it’s a bit of a different beast. It was about five years ago or so. There was a mutual individual who was working with us behind the scenes who was also working with Darriau. He knew what Cinema Cinema does and if you get to know the band and if you’ve seen us live, we do a healthy amount of improv involved with what we do along with our setup—our normal “hit our spot songs.” There’s a lot of improv incorporated in between the songs that are structured out. We found out that another way to get heavy was to play with dynamics and drop all the way down. So, we were experimenting with that next level, which is all the way quiet, no distortion. No one saw that coming. We were just experimenting with that as an idea of how we can add another shade of insanity to the wacko painting that we spew and that we freak out on. We were playing around with that idea and our friend, who was working with us and with Darriau, suggested us getting together with him when we do something more quiet or in a different fashion. Darriau loves to improvise and we like to improvise, too.
Then the three of you got together and jammed?
Darriau came by our practice space, we got together and we just went at it for a good forty-five minutes straight. We then pulled our heads up and looked at each other, like, “We like this. This feels good.” And we did a bit more. We then went out and got a handful of gigs. The only pre-determined plan was we’re not going to have a plan. We’re not gonna have any material that’s ready. We’re gonna fully improvised. So, we went directly into this partnership with Darriau as every single time we play, we see each other, we play, there’s no songs, there’s no plan, there’s no anything—we entirely go with the moment.
At what point did you record your first collaboration with Darriau, CCXMD?
We did shows like that and it felt really good so we said, “Why don’t we do an experiment and go into the studio?” We don’t know if this is going to yield anything but we love to play. The word ‘play’ is very important there. We love to play and we also feel really confident in our improv skills and where we’re at. We went forward, we booked the studio and were, like, “Okay. Let’s go in and see what comes from it.”
You guys obviously clicked.
In our opinion, in the first forty-five minutes, we caught a good chemistry and a good fire there where we did a handful of jamming in and out. Then we took a break and Paul and I looked at each other, thinking like, “If Darriau wants to go more, then sure.” Darriau then turned around, smiling and he’s like, “Let’s keep playing.” We played all night. So, when we came away with that material, we listened to it and also sat on it because it was really not in character of anything we had represented ourselves as such sonically or otherwise up to that point. It’s real fun to play games with everyone’s perception and to grow. But there was also a little bit of a vulnerability issue. There wasn’t some big, loud guitar I can hide behind and shouting people away. Like, this really is all improvised and we should really parse through this. Is this of value? We didn’t want to just have it be some sort of vanity project. There was a lot of thought around even releasing this music. At first, we thought we hit the jackpot because it went so well. But then, after the fact, where does this fit? Does it fit? As time passed, we felt like this is of value. We’d like to have our catalog expanded this way.
Darriau had already guested on an earlier Cinema Cinema record, right? Even before the collaborative efforts.
This is how funky it is: He guested on Man Bites Dog that came out in 2017 that we recorded with Martin Bisi. He came in and blew on two or three songs. We actually recorded the CCXMD material together before that so behind the scenes—or in front of the scenes or out in the open—we had already played a handful of collaborative trio shows. We weren’t quite sure how to bill ourselves because we had Darriau but we still wanted to make sure people knew that we were Cinema Cinema so we would go in with the CCMD or CCMXD moniker just on the fliers for those shows that we would do with Darriau before we had any recordings. But then when we went in and we recorded, we had this magical session which turned into both CCXMD and CCXMDII. So, the 2019 record and the 2021 record is the entire night. We came away with two records-worth of material that we felt had value. Ultimately, we had these recordings before we would put out Man Bites Dog that Darriau first appeared on so he became officially attached to us. The marriage was made there in the listener’s ear where you see him as a character in the Cinema world officially where we felt good about its reception. There was now a bridge, a storyline, he’s a guest and now let’s take it to that next level—because that next level is we’re pealing away all the vocals and pealing away all the distortion pedals. I get to explore this different area where I provide this bit of sonic palette for these two masters: Paul Claro, my cousin, and Matt Darriau, this monster magic wind-maker.
How do you view the two records you’ve made with Darriau even though the material was created on the same night?
We did the prime sequencing for CCXMD thinking, “This is an experimental stab for us. Let’s make an album that’s thirty-five minutes or less and let’s take these weird jabby, stabby John Zorn’y-like short staccato bursts, let’s take one really long meditative jam and let’s take one little like floating picture jam and make an album.” And that was CCXMD. We felt like we were just dropping it in our catalog, show everybody our wares, show everybody the new part of the table that’s available, that we’re not just punk and metal crazy and totally certifiable but there’s also a jazz element and there’s a free-jazz avant-garde, whatever you want to call it. But after that landed and people accepted it the way they did, we were excited about and saw it as this growth…maybe no one was asking for us to grow in that direction but it surely was seen as some sort of growth.
Cinema Cinema hasn’t had an album of “songs” since 2017’s Man Bites Dog and in the subsequent years the band has put out those two full on free-improv records. There are kind of like two entirely different Cinema Cinema beasts.
What I can say that speaks directly to that is that currently we have two albums, one of which is a collaborative effort with Thor Harris from Swans and Shearwater and so many other amazing bands, which we did at B.C Studio. There’s also another new album that we’re working on right now that we just finished tracking on and that has Matt Darriau in the mix with us again and that was also done at B.C. studio. Both of those albums are nothing like the CCXMD pairing but not exactly in any way, shape or form like what the band was like before the CCXMD pairing. It’s kind of a growth in a new direction. I can tell you there are “songs/structure/songs” again and there’s also some elements of improv that I think we’ve taken stock of what we felt really worked and we’ve moved forward with it. Now, I don’t believe that we will be having another series of releases or any other releases in the future that are gonna sound like CCXMD or CCXMDII. I think those are going to stand alone in our catalog sonically. We’re working on a brand-new album that Matt Darriau’s on and it sounds almost nothing like CCXMD or CCXMDII.
Can you give the inside scoop on what the record with Thor will be like? That’ll be song-oriented?
100 percent. It’s a very different Cinema Cinema because at times there’s double drums and there’s also organ so it sounds to me now like a very spooky, weird, heavy nightmare album.
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