“We’ve been lucky to play very cool events in Philly and we always like to rub a little Philly on us before returning to Brooklyn,” says husband/wife dance rock duo Hank & Cupcakes, who are no strangers to Philly, or Philthy, for that matter. I first befriended them at Milkboy’s opening night (documented here), where they put on a stellar performance in support of local heroes Gang. The duo also made quite a splash with a tent-packing performance at 2011’s Roots Picnic. “One thing we’ve noticed is that there appears to be some kind of silent competition between the NYC & Philly scenes,” they tell me, “Philly is clearly a great hub for music and coolness, the streets feel edgier and it seems to be more down-to-earth and relaxed, as opposed to the 200% full-drive energy all the time/I’m-gonna-make-the-big-time insanity of NYC.” Hank (bass) & Cupcakes (drums/vocals) will be back in Philadelphia this Thursday, July 12th, for a show at the North Star Bar.
Hank & Cupcakes met in their native, Israel. However, as they stated in the previous paragraph, have been Brooklyn residents for a few years now. They relocated to Brooklyn after studying Cuban music in Havana for six months, and their current project (and identities) were born. They had originally intended to recruit other musicians but, after a lot of rehearsing between the two of them, they realized that their aesthetic as a duo wasn’t lacking anything. They released their debut full-length, NAKED, June 1st. The LP was a follow-up of sorts to their self-titled, five-song EP, which includes their cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control,” which is, pretty much, the only interesting cover of a Joy Division song I’ve heard in the last decade.
“Our first EP was made on a very limited budget, more as a calling-card of some kind to help us book shows. We were not completely satisfied with the final result, but we did the best we could under the circumstances, with the help of producer Mark B Christensen. Our debut LP, on the other hand, is everything we hoped for and more. We took a risk in taking on a producer with whom we had only Skyped with a few times (him being in Sweden and us in Brooklyn) and we flew to Berlin to record at the legendary Hansa Studios, not knowing what to expect. We immediately connected with Ludwig Boss, our producer, who turned out to be amazing and had a genius recording engineer called Conrad Henzel who was so on top of this it was crazy. The studio was 10 days of heaven.”
The sound of NAKED is a postmodern brand of disco that owes us much to 1980s synth pop as to contemporary hip-hop. It’s an album for clubbers… but clubbers who enjoy reasonable-length pop music with a chorus that you can sing-along too… as opposed to that which simply inspires spray-tanned bodies to pump their fists and stomp their feet… However, it does include a track entitled “Jersey Girl,” but the song embodies an aesthetic far more akin to what Trainspotting’s characters would embrace in their most fun and least existential moments than something that Snooki and Jwoww (Girl, you need fucking punctuation in your name nearly as badly as you need weekly trips to the clinic!) would arhythmically grind against their wife-beatered boy toys to.
With hyper-confrontational sass, Cupcakes continually proclaims “You tell me I don’t have a hit but, guess what? This is it,” in the suitably titled “HIT.” The sentiment would almost seem to be ironic, considering that nearly every one of the album’s 11 tracks is “singly” anthemic to a Gene-Simmons-approved degree. While the album’s opening tracks do come off as epically and sing-along-ably optimistic, it quickly turns to a bevy of tunes punctuated by Cupcakes’ “urban”-inspired sauciness… no less sing-along-able. It’s hard to pick a favorite track, as they all embody the same exuberance that is both popularly satisfying and playfully reckless (possibly the perfect formula for good pop music), but the single ballad, “Tame the Fool,” is likely the most iconic… resembling the rawest, most revealing confession of an ‘80s pop princess (As much as you can hate some of those chicks, at their most stripped, they’re, undeniably, pretty badass…)
While the album was recorded in Hansa Studios, a quite legendary space, the site of the recording of some of the greatest records of the past four decades (David Bowies’ “Heroes,” Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again, among many others, including the likes of Killing Joke, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Siouxsie and the Banshees, U2, and R.E.M.), the band didn’t have a special affinity for the recording space going into their latest sessions.
“The decision was made primarily because our producer, Ludwig Boss, was keen in Hansa, since he had already recorded other projects there and had a good relationship with Conrad Henzel. We didn’t go into there with a list of favorite Hansa recorded records, even though we knew about U2’s Achtung Baby and David Bowie, Iggy Pop etc. There was definitely a halo of fame though. The studio has no sign outside but every day we would find a tourist standing outside, asking if this was really the Hansa Studios and whether he could come in a take a look, to which Conrad would always pleasantly, but firmly, reply that they had a studio tour in September.”
The title of their latest work, not to-my-surprise, was not inspired by 1993’s quintessential masterpiece of British Realism (“It wasn’t an allusion to the Mike Leigh film, since we only found out it existed 10 seconds ago… now in our video queue, thank you.”), but actually something slightly more haphazard.
“We actually had a long name list, which we were toying with and decided to ask our fans for suggestions. Two people came up with NAKED, which, incidentally, was on our own list too…we took it as a sign! The name keeps growing on us. There is a lot to be said about being naked – both physically & emotionally. With Hank & Cupcakes we have our hand in both…”
So by this point you’re likely wondering what inspired the couples’, what-I’m-sure-are-obviously-pseudonyms. I, personally, wondered if it was simply that “dumb Americans” (my phrasing, not theirs) would never be able to pronounce their given names.
“Let’s blame it on the names and not the Americans. You would die if you heard Hank’s real last name..! We specifically chose Hank & Cupcakes as a reference to Charles Bukowski, of whom we are both big admirers. His everyday name was Hank and one of his lovers (Pam Miller) was nicknamed, “Cupcakes.” Bukowski was apparently crazy about her and she… Well, she would come and go as she pleased.”
But the “Dirty Old Man” with a “Wine-Stained Notebook” isn’t the couples’ only major non-musical influence: “We never know what to say when asked about our musical influences. Our main non-music influences: Street art and graffiti (we loved Exit Through The Gift Shop, btw), fabulously dressed people, weird people in the street, outrageous people who tell it like it is and don’t give a shit about anything (Bukowski, Howard Stern, Larry Flynt), NYC and anything that has a strong raw energy is something we connect to.”