As a “music critic” and someone who must regularly engage musicians, there’s almost nothing more comforting than a self-aware band… which is not necessarily easy to come by. However, Athens-based duo Cancers are just that kind of band… in addition to being just plain fucking awesome. Like a handful of recent history’s coolest artists, Cancers kick out the kind of alt rock jams that could’ve easily wound up on 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation two decades ago. They are comprised of NYC-bred Ella Kaspar and Canada-bred Lenny Miller. Cancers’ debut LP, Fatten the Leeches, is about to drop, courtesy of Kandy Kane Records and Dead Broke Rekerds, on September 16th. The album was produced by Jack Endino, best known for his work with the likes of Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Babes in Toyland, and L7 in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The album, which charmingly clocks in at just under 25-minutes, contains 10 tracks which happily embrace the couple’s love of the fuzzy, noisy, heavy, grungy rock and roll of their youth and pop music’s most progressive era. Kaspar and Miller recently took some time to chat with me about our mutual musical loves of yesteryear (many of which are now returning for the first time in our adult lives), in addition to how exactly the fuck they wound up in Athens, Georgia… of all places.
Izzy Cihak: So I’m interested, since you’re based out of Athens, despite the fact that each of you come from quite disparate places: What drew you to the city? And what are your favorite things about the city?
Ella Kaspar: I’m from New York City. I did the whole starving artist in Brooklyn thing, ‘cause y’know, I couldn’t live with my mom forever. I was looking for someplace cheap and weird to be a musician, where I wouldn’t feel like a cloned hipster or a gentrifier or walk around pissed off about all, “These idiots from Kansas moving to my city,” and escape the general mindset of being a New Yorker. I had toured around the country a few times with my shitty punk bands and Athens came on my radar when I played the 666 Pulaski House in 2006. Then some friends from NYC moved down here and sent back word that it was cool, so here I am.
Lenny Miller: I was born in a small fishing town in Canada and lived in Vancouver for about five years, but constantly either touring or stopping in Toronto or Montreal. Ella and I met, lived in on a mountain north of Vancouver for a few months, and then moved down here because she had lived here previously.
Izzy: And, as a young band, are there any things you think are especially important for fans and potential fans to know about you, as a band… or is it all in the music?
Ella: I hope it’s all in the music. I hope that people hear the honesty and intention in our songs.
Izzy: You’ve drawn a lot of comparisons to a lot of the 90’s best and most profound alt rock acts. And a lot of these bands have recently reunited (or announced reunions) for the first time in quite a few years, such as Mazzy Star, Veruca Salt, Hole, Babes in Toyland, and Luscious Jackson. Are there any 90’s acts that you’re actually big fans of, or acts that you’re especially excited to see back together?
Ella: Veruca Salt for sure. And Hole with Patty Schemel.
Lenny: Hole and Babes in Toyland should tour and ask us to open. Just sayin’.
Izzy: And on the flip-side of that question, what do you consider to be your most significant influences, music or otherwise, regardless of whether critics are associating you with them or not?
Ella: I can’t get away from it. New York City will always be a big part of me. I love Lou Reed without apology, even his really bad stuff, like New Sensations, because every reference to the city and even his delivery are very familiar to me. And for similar reasons, Seinfeld. Die Antwoord really make me excited about creativity and art and style and taking over the world. Also power pop like the Rentals, Tim Armstrong from Rancid’s lyrical delivery, and angry girl music, like PJ Harvey.
Lenny: Being from Canada, and growing up listening to weird metal and punk in a smallass town, Dookie by Green Day got me started. That turned into NOFX, which turned into hardcore, which just kinda of made a mash of 90’s pop, punk, and hardcore. I like to put all influences into my style of writing, no hold barred, but constrained and focused. I like to dig deep into my conscience and blurt out whatever the hell I feel like. Like, “Fuck you. I don’t care if you don’t care,” but I kinda do care. I mean, it’s my passion, my art. How I would like someone to be honest with me with their art. I truly hate fads and BS people who switch daily with trends… Like, who the fuck are you anyway? What was the question?
Izzy: Your debut LP, Fatten the Leeches, is set to drop in the near future. Do you have a particular favorite track? Is there one that you think best represents what you’re all about? I’m pretty madly in love with “Sick.” It reminds me of early Breeders, back when Tanya and Jo were still in the mix. (Also, I totally apologize for perpetuating this connection to 90’s alt rock Lollapalooza bands.)
Ella: No apologies needed for the 90’s references, we don’t deny it. I was in 5th grade when Kurt died and dreamt that his ghost was floating outside my bedroom window. But to answer your question, the EP version of “Dig” is, to me, our touchstone. The version on the LP doesn’t have the same rawness. There’s this thing, like when you hear a song and it’s so good, it’s almost like you’ve heard it before but still brand new. It just clicks. Like it was just born to you and fills a part of you that you didn’t realize was empty. “Dig” felt that way when I wrote it, and I think I resonates with people similarly.
Lenny: What she said. We are a solid representation of what molded us, minus the crap of trend setters.
Izzy: And what are your plans for the near future, after the album drops? Any chance of a full-scale tour? I imagine your live show would rock pretty fucking hard.
Lenny: Our live show is as solid as any out there. We have some plans of a full USA/CAN tour in March 2015 and some festival appearances in the fall of 2014, with a couple NYC gigs before the fests kick-off.
Ella: We’ve both spent most of the last 10 years in other bands on the road “eating Cheez-Its,” as Lenny likes to say, trying to make the touring band thing work. I was just about ready to quit doing music before I met Lenny and he wouldn’t let me. Fatten the Leeches is the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. I couldn’t be prouder and I just really hope people love it, too. But I’m done playing shitty, small-town bars for free domestic beer and tips. So maybe not “full-scale tour,” but more strategic gigs and quick tours of certain regions. But yeah, we kill it live. We don’t fuck around.