This Friday, 1/27, Cuddle Magic will be dropping their latest LP, Axis/Ashes, courtesy of Northern Spy Records, and tonight they kick off a round of dates supporting folky indie poppers PHOX at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC. And this Thursday, 1/26, Cuddle Magic and PHOX will find themselves at our very own World Café Live. Although best known for their postmodern chamber pop, Cuddle Magic’s latest (and most accomplished) is slightly quirkier, like a brand of dream pop concocted by music nerds charmingly hellbent on utilizing instrumentation of seemingly forgotten eras and cultures. I recently got a chance to chat with 5/6ths of the Brooklyn-and-Philthy-residing band, including songwriters and lead vocalists Christopher McDonald, Benjamin Lazar Davis, and Alec Spiegelman, in addition to Kristin Slipp and Cole Kamen-Green. They tell me about their latest record, their musical buddies (including our very same buddies in PHOX and Lake Street Dive), and what the year holds for them.
Izzy Cihak: I realize this is a pretty big question but, considering Cuddle Magic have been making music for about a decade now, what have been some of the highlights?
Benjamin Lazar Davis: I feel so lucky to have been able to make the music with all of these members. I have learned so much from each of them… The journey from our first recording session to now is what makes me who I am.
Izzy: You’re about to release Ashes/Axis. How do you feel the album compares to previous releases? Were you trying anything new, or did it just feel like a natural evolution?
Benjamin: Ashes/Axis is the combination of having the creative sandbox to play in that people have in their home studios, but with the gear and know-how of everything Bryce Goggin and Trout Recording have to offer. There was a lot of live-playing together, and also a lot of splicing things out and using the studio as an instrument. We used a Roland Vocoder in a unique way by running drums and percussion through it instead of voice. Getting the attack and unison-ness of the drums and percussion with the pitches and tones of a vintage keyboard… Those sounds are present throughout.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?
Benjamin: This album has three songs based on BAWA music from northeastern Ghana. They were written by me and Bridget Kearney (of Lake Street Dive) in Africa when we were there recording an EP. We mixed those ideas through the filter of what each member of the band brings to the table. I feel like we are kind of the modern day Ellington because of that. My brother, who wrote some of the lyrics to the album, and SKP of Lip Talk, who co-wrote some of the songs, were also huge influences on how the record came out. Brooklyn, I think, is a big influence… all the different musical projects we’re part of.
Izzy: Do you have any significant influences that you suspect would surprise many of your fans?
Kristin Slipp: I tended to get excited about what my friends were listening to as a kid, and I went through a heavy Beatles phase in 5th grade. Other potentially “surprising” artists that have inspired me in some way, starting early in my childhood: Indigo Girls, Whitney Houston, Charles Mingus, Blink 182, Betty Carter, Will Smith, Rustic Overtones, Sade, and Plastic Ono Band.
Izzy: You’re about to kick off a batch of dates with PHOX. How excited are you to spend a week or so on the road with them? I’m a big fan of theirs as well.
Alec Spiegelman: Yes, yes, yes… we are big fans. I am a big fan. Very excited! I had the privilege of playing on their self-titled record. And I was indescribably excited when, shortly after “Slow Motion” was released, I recognized my own playing coming over the PA system while I was shopping at a Whole Foods. This will be my first opportunity to reprise that indie-smooth-jazz-clarinet-solo live on stage. I think Acker Bilk would be so proud.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you play World Café Live?
Cole Kamen-Green: The sound of loving something you didn’t know you loved until you heard it for the first time. The sound of a backwards bowed vibraphone through a tube amp and then having a jacked up drum machine lay it on you. The sound of difficult things that come across as easy and approachable, and you want them. The sound of 10,000 hours together. The sound of dispute over detail. The sound of an awkward date. The sound of a very quiet trumpet. The sound of a beautiful group of voices. The sound of a very good band.
Izzy: How are you planning to spend 2017, after your new album drops? Anything you’re especially excited for or that you’re really hoping for?
Alec: 2017 shall be remembered, for all time, as the year that I lofted my bed, thereby created enough personal space in my small Brooklyn apartment for a proper desk and a desk chair. It shall be a year in which I periodically leave my instruments out of their cases, ready to be played, occupying previously non-existent bedroom real-estate, when I go to sleep.
Izzy: Finally, since you are partially based in Philly (or Philthy, as we call it)… and we’re totally based in Philly, what are some of your favorite spots in the 215?
Christopher McDonald: Wissahickon, Reanimator Coffee, and Royal Tavern!