Doomsday rock for the kiddies

by Steve Howell and Josh Eppert

Cakaw is a Toledo-based group of musicians, which consists of Zach Hill on guitar, his wife Nif on bass, Dan Horvath on drums and the man only known as Lenny on the synthesizers. The band has been busy playing many shows over the past several months. They also managed to make a trip to 40 Oz. Studios in Ann Arbor, Mich. to record a five-song EP recently. The following interview was conducted on March 9, 2002 with the band.

Steve: When did you record the new CD? Was it a couple of weeks ago?

Nif: A few weeks ago.

Dan: February 9 and 10.

Josh: So, do you really like Africa?

Lenny: No, because she's a vegetarian.

Josh: Oh, I get it. Right, right! So, you don't like Africa?

(dead silence)

Josh: Why don't you like Africa? I don't understand.

Dan: This has nothing to do with the interview.

Lenny: Didn't you read our Web site [Dan]?

Steve: What are you talking about?

Josh: Hello? What's the Africa business? I don't understand.

Dan: I know the Africa.

Josh: Who's J.E.?

Dan: But, what's it have to do with vegetarians?

Josh: I don't know. Lenny just blurted out the vegetarian. I was like, "Alright, vegetarian. Right. No vegetarian in Africa." They all eat buffalo.

Steve: I've got a talking drum.

Dan: Why did you ask us about Africa?

Josh: Who's J.E.? Do you know who J.E. is Steve?

Lenny: We don't talk about J.E.

Josh: Alright, fine.

Steve: I don't know what you're talking about period.

Josh: Aw, you havenıt done any research Steve. No research. No research. Well, I guess it really was up to me then, wasn't it? Jesus Christ! So, it should be something that goes along with the studio then. So what did you think of... I can't remember his name.

Lenny: Ben?

Josh: Ben! Yeah!

Zach: He was a nice guy.

Nif: Yeah, he was nice. Easy to work with.

Steve: What's Ben's last name?

Josh: Bacon.

Dan: That's why you have a CD that says "Recorded by Ben." Don't ask us his last name.

Steve: Were we done with that question?

Josh: I think so. Yeah.

Nif: He was really laid back. I mean, he wasn't that involved, but he did a really good job.

Steve: Is he like their house producer?

Zach: Yeah. The weekend producer.

Dan: It's two guys.

Steve: That's not the guy from Gondolier is it?

Josh: No, he's dead.

Steve: Well, I thought there was the other guy that worked there that was...

Dan: No, nobody from Gondolier works there. There's Drew from Morsel.

Josh: No.

Dan: He was in Morsel.

Steve: Why the aluminum guitar?

Zach: I don't know.

Steve: I just didn't know if there was a particular reason.

Lenny: Tell him that it's the intonation.

Steve: Intonation!

Zach: It goes out of tune easy when it gets cold.

Lenny: On a wooden guitar, the neck gets smaller and bigger; shrinks and expands because of temperature and humidity. Aluminum doesn't [shrink and expand].

Zach: That's why like in Mote, Matt [Gangler] had that Travis Bean [guitar]. Whenever we were playing at Howard's and somebody would open that side door, he'd say, "Goddammit, shut the door. I've got an aluminum guitar in here."

Josh: Really?

Nif: He would?

Zach: Yeah.

Josh: That's fucked up.

Dan: Just when they open the door a little bit, it goes out of tune like that when the breeze comes in.

Josh: That would be something to see. I never even thought about that; that the temperature would effect the aluminum neck, but it totally makes sense.

Lenny: No, it's the other way around.

Steve: Since aluminum in deodorant antiperspirants cause Alzheimer's, are you afraid that like Alzheimer's will set in from your guitar playing?

Zach: No.

Josh: Do you often find yourself rubbing the guitar under your arms for deodorant protection? Was [the recording process] different than you expected it to be?

Dan: Yeah. It wasn't exactly what I thought it would be.

Zach: Recording?

Dan: Yeah.

Josh: Yeah.

Dan: Just because I don't know what I was thinking going in, but I don't think anything is what you expect it to be. It just comes out. It was good. I liked it.

Nif: It was more relaxed than I thought it would be. I thought it would be much more stressful than it was.

Dan: Right. Right.

Steve: What was the studio like? Is it an old gas station?

Dan: It's an old mechanic place. It's really nice. Wood floors in the studio part; in the live room. Christmas lights up. It was really nice. It was comfortable.

Steve: Are you still using a lot of alternate tunings?

Zach: I just have one tuning that I use for every song.

Josh: One alternate tuning.

Steve: Is it a secret tuning?

Zach: Yeah.

Dan: You're building a mystique.
You could probably ask about instruments.

Josh: Well, it's got to be related to the studio.

Dan: I meant like instruments, like, "What does Lenny play?" "How does he get that sound?"

Josh: Lenny?

Lenny: Well, I don't think I'll ever be using a Baldwin electric harpsichord because they're nearly impossible to tune. The Beach Boys used one on tour at some point in time, and they had a professional tuner that they had to retune the harpsichord between every song. Finally, they just gave up because the thing was unplayable.

Josh: Did they pay him well?

Lenny: I don't know. I never met him.

Josh: Damn.

Lenny: But, it's quite an instrument. It's the only electric harpsichord ever made. I don't think I'll ever use one though.

Josh: So, you're not going to use a Baldwin electric harpsichord. So, what do you use?

Lenny: Well, um, I use several synthesizer, mainly Korg Poly 800. It's a digital-analog hybrid synth from the mid-'80s and a Moog MB-1, which was actually built for Concertmate at Radio Shack, but it's real Moog on the inside. It just has Concertmate/Realistic written on top, and they changed the names of all the controls so that non-musicians could understand them, but they still don't make any sense.

Josh: Who, non-musicians don't make any sense?

Lenny: No, the names of the controls.

Steve: Dandy Tandy.

Lenny: It was a model that came out between the Rogue and the Liberation, so it has like half the features of both of those two. I read a story on the Internet of how it came to be like around the time when Moog was on its way out and so they decided to do this thing with Radio Shack; they needed to make some money. So, [Moog's] engineers basically went to the Radio Shack product pitching convention, and the guy in charge of selecting products for production was a total jack-ass, and he basically would wave the next person over instead of saying "Hello," he would go, "What the fuck is that?" "How much does it cost?" And, so, he gets this pretty sophisticated machine, and it's an analog synthesizer monophonic so it only plays one note at a time. So, he goes, "What's this one note shit? Make this so you can play more than one note at a time, and we'll take it." That was the extent of the approval for that model. But, it's a very good synth. It has some of the best filters that Moog made. I use several effects boxes; electronic-analog delay, wah pedal and this Korg multi-effects pedal, and that's about it. I do pretty much my own programming. I try to come up with original sounds.

Josh: Do you find this band fulfilling?

Lenny: Oh yeah. When I just met Zach, Nif and Dan, I was expecting more of a rigid structure. Basically, I was hoping that they would tell me, "Play this, and don't deviate." But, it was completely the opposite. They let me have quite a bit of freedom in writing and in performance. So, I really enjoy that.

Steve: Yeah, I heard Zach tends to be a music Nazi.

Josh: Gotta watch out for that shit. Hot poker, huh?

Steve: Did you play in any previous groups Lenny?

Lenny: Yes, but none that came this far. Two bands that actually played, one was called School Papa Blues Band. It was just your typical classic rock cover band. I played some shows around town. What's that place by Lake Erie?

Josh: Put-In-Bay.

Lenny: No, it was something Point. Anyway, they've got the rocks and the Java Mill. Where is that?

Dan: Point Place?

Lenny: Point Place. That's it! We played Point Place and block parties and stuff like that. But, again, that was like a very rigid structure. I played the same chords... because all of the classic rock songs sound the same.

Josh: Yes, they do.

Lenny: Yeah, there wasn't much room for experimentation. And, then, after that, finally the people I hung out in high school with, we finally formed a band. We called ourselves Element 147, and our first gig... like the day before, we had an argument, and there were four of us, and we had an argument, and myself and the guitar player were on one side of the argument, and the bass player and the drummer were on the other side. So, John (the guitar player) and I decided to get back at the other guys and not bring our real instruments to the gig. So, instead of him bringing his guitar and me bringing my keyboards, he brought one of those little tiny kids toy Casios with the little tiny keys, like from that "Da, Da, Da" song. I played plastic saxophone, and they were pissed off. That was the end of that band.

Josh: Did you guys play?

Lenny: Yeah, we played.

Josh: What did it sound like? Do you have recordings of that? Would you be interested in having those put out by a label?

Lenny: Yeah, sure.

(Josh breaks out the Boone's Farm wine at this point, calls it soda pop and pours himself a very large glass full of it.)

Josh: What did it sound like? What were they going for in Element 147?

Lenny: Yeah, it was just crap. There was no direction. It was purposely undefinable.

Steve: When?

Lenny: Oh, it was '95, '96.

Steve: Did you guys play out at any clubs?

Lenny: That was it. Our first gig was at the A-Zone on Jefferson and 17th. That was it.

Josh: What's the A-Zone.

Steve: It was like the anarchist hang out.

Josh: Oh yeah. I remember that place.

Lenny: Yeah, the Autonomous Zone.

Josh: Yeah, the erogenous zone. Right.

Steve: Zach, do you feel like you've brought any elements of Mote or El Racko into Cakaw, or are you trying to go for something totally different?

Zach: I didn't have much input in [Cakaw]. I mean a little bit, but I didn't bring in the material in either of those bands.

Josh: These [Cakaw songs] just started from you and Dan, right? First from just you right?

Zach: You mean the Cakaw stuff?

Josh: Yeah. Or was it you and Nif? Or how did it start?

Zach: I'd create an idea, and I'd work on stuff at home. I'd bring it to Dan, and we'd flush it out.

Dan: Did we use two of those?

Zach: We wrote like five I think.

Steve: How did you guys originally meet? Was it in El Racko?

Zach: El Racko. Yeah. We were looking for a drummer, and I saw Dan at the bar. I didn't know him.

Dan: Yeah, it was at Howard's [in Bowling Green, Ohio].

Steve: When was that?

Dan: The summer after we graduated. It was the summer of '98.

Nif: You weren't friends in college?

Zach: We knew of each other.

Dan: Well, yeah, we were around, but that's it. The first time I remember seeing Zach was as Disco Stu, and he was at Kroger once, wearing the same jacket as Josh.

Steve: How about the name. Where did the name Cakaw come from?

Josh: I know the answer to that question.

Steve: Shut up.

Nif: From the movie Bottle Rocket. We had just bought that, and I kept watching it over and over again, because I think it's so hilarious.

Steve: Who was in that?

Nif: Owen and Luke Wilson. It's the funniest movie. You've got to rent it. There's a few scenes where Owen Wilson, his big code word for their robbing bank schemes is "Cakaw." So he'll say that, like, "Cakaw, cakaw."

Dan: They try to signal each other.

Josh: Yeah, it's funny.

Zach: I'd shot Dan an e-mail [with the name], but now that I look back on it, I don't know what we were thinking.

Dan: Well, we couldn't agree on anything. We kept trying names, and none of them really worked.

Zach: I think that was the key to it.

Dan: Yeah, Cakaw. OK.

Lenny: There was initially it was either Cakaw or Cakaw, Cakaw. So, we had to choose one or two Cakaws.

Nif: Oh, yep.

Dan: Nif vetoed the double Cakaw. She just didn't care for the double Cakaw exclamation point with all of the punctuation.
Well, actually the thing from Yahoo worked to, because when you search on [the name Cakaw] it comes up with that weird thing -- the ghost in the wild.

Zach: The spirit eater.

Josh: Africa. That's about Africa.

Dan: It seemed kind of interesting. So, it's like if you do a search on Cakaw, it's the only thing that comes up is that. So, it's like, "Ahhh, that's kind of neat."

Josh: That is the only thing that comes up as a matter of fact.

Zach: Not now.

Dan: Now, we come up.

Josh: So, have you always wanted to be in a band Nif, or did it just come recently?

Nif: No, I have for a long time actually. I always thought I would sing. I used to always want to sing in a band. But, I'm much happier to play an instrument.

Josh: Why?

Nif: Because I enjoy it. Zach even tried to let me sing before with Colin, and I sing all the time, like non-stop. I drive [Zach] nuts, like at home, in the car. I just love to sing, but I'm terribly shy about it. So, we would go to practice, and I just wouldn't sing.

Zach: We put a mic in front of her to, and we just said, "Make some noise." She didnıt sing a peep the whole night.

Dan: (mocking an introduction) Here's our singer.

Nif: She's the quiet one over there.

Steve: So, is there a particular sound that you're going for in the band as far as any style that you're trying to create?

Josh: Do you want to hypnotize people?

Zach: Nope. I think we're just going along with the noise-rock thing. Nothing special, nothing new.

Josh: So, there's no prog-rock influence?

Lenny: Well, I was concerned that there might be some. Like remember when we were in the studio, and I said, "Doesn't that sound... on "Not In Rome" sounded kind of like Rush.

Zach: It doesn't though. It's in your head.

Lenny: Well, maybe it is in my head. I was concerned that there might be some influence of that nature.

Josh: Were you concerned about it in terms of the keyboard sound, or in terms of the overall sound?

Lenny: Overall sound.

Zach: I'm not good enough on guitar to be even remotely prog-rock.

Dan: But, on that one, I'm just like Neal Peart.

Zach: I have ideas when I write things, and then, I bring it in and it doesn't become that at all.

Dan: Right. We change it so much, because he'll have something, and if I throw a weird beat on it or a fast beat, it's not at all what it used to be. Then, Lenny comes in, everybody comes in, and it's totally different.

Josh: So, it's a real band, and not some kind of benevolent dictatorship?

Nif: No, not at all.

Josh: There's no Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) in the band?

Lenny: I think there's a lot of subconscious decision making that goes on. That's a good thing, because like [Zach] said, the songs come together without us sitting down and structuring them. I'm not going to say there's a connection when we're playing...

Josh: Vishnu's in the room, and he's taking care of you. All of the arms are extending and touching each one of you.

Lenny: Yes.

Dan: But, honestly, sometimes Zach and I will be on the same wavelength just because we've played together before, and I'll know what he's trying to say, and I'm trying to say it. Everybody's on a wavelength of some sort, because Lenny and I are like the rhythm section in some weird way. So, we try to talk like a beat. Lenny and I are always on, but sometimes Zach's off from that. It's not anything bad at all. It's just the way that we think, and we all think different ways. But, in some way or another, somebody can interpret it to the other person.

Lenny: It has a lot to do with past experiences, like when I spent years at UT (University of Toledo) in the electronic music studio and 99 percent of the music I did there was like electronic, techno, that kind of stuff. So, that's why percussion for me is really simple to understand, because I was working with a sequencer that has a click track, you set your tempo 120 beats per minute, and you stick to it. It's very simple. Itıs straightforward music making. But, when I talk to Zach about his guitar work, I have no clue most of the time what heıs talking about or what he's doing.

Zach: Neither do I.

Josh: There's a reason why the guitar tuning's secret. It's a self-tuning guitar. Go!

Steve: How did [Lenny] join the band?

Zach: I placed an ad on Harmony Central (Web site).

Lenny: And, I answered it. I was searching Harmony Central for probably like close to a year until finally I saw an ad that had the word instrumental in it. I'd check it maybe once every couple of weeks, and it would be just Christian rock or speed metal or cover bands in Toledo. There was nothing else. And, finaly... Oh, except for Treysuno -- Justin Hemminger's band, and I even answered his ad, but they were looking for a drummer, and I said, "I've got a drum machine. I'm desperate, and I'll do anything." And, then, finally, I saw Zach's ad...

Josh: What did Zach's ad say? Instrumental?

Lenny: It said "Instrumental band looking for a keyboard or rhythm guitar player," or something like that. I think that was about it.

Zach: Yeah.

Lenny: And, I thought, "This is worth a shot."

Zach: He was the only person that answered.

Josh: Really?

Nif: It was destiny.

Zach: There was nobody out there. I didn't expect anybody to answer to be honest with you. The funny thing is he's worked out better than we could have ever hoped. He's the only person probably in the band that actually knows what he's doing.

Lenny: Oh, you stop it.

Dan: Seriously though.

Zach: We're not just saying that Lenny.

Steve: What a bunch of kiss asses.

Josh: Lenny, Lenny. You should just call the article Lenny. And, in really small [writing] "and his band Cakaw."

Lenny: Well, the secret is when I was little, my parents made me study accordion.

Josh: Oh shit.

Lenny: Not keyboard accordion, but an accordion, which is like the ass-backwards Polish accordion.

Dan: Can you still play it?

Lenny: No.

Dan: When did you study?

Lenny: I studied it for a year when I was like nine or 10.

Dan: So, you started playing music when you were nine?

Lenny: Yeah, but I hated it. I had this horrible teacher that made me play all of these shitty folk songs. I put that year out of my memory. Then, when I was in Italy, there was like a social club for the immigrants, and they had a band that would play there like once a week. There was a guy there playing a Farfisa synthesizer, and I thought, "Wow, this is the coolest thing I've ever seen in the world," and that's how I became interested in electronic music and synthesizers and keyboards in general.

Steve: When were you in Italy?

Lenny: That was when...

Josh: He doesn't know your life story. When did you leave [Italy]?

Lenny: '89 or '90. I don't remember exactly. I lived in Minsch, Belaruze and we spent about a month in Austria in Vienna and then six months in Italy in a town called Ladispoli that was about 40 minutes from Rome on the Tyranian Sea. And, then, we came here to Toledo.

Steve: Why?

Lenny: Mainly to escape the horrible shit that was about to go down when they overthrew the Communists.

Steve: Oh, no. I was just wondering, "Why Toledo?"

Dan: Because of the horrible shit thatıs going down here.

Lenny: We didn't have a say in that. It just sort of happened. When we left Russia as refugees we just waited for somebody to accept us. The Toledo Jewish Family Services sponsored my family. So, that's why.

Steve: Are you guys releasing the CD? Are you going to put it at Boogie Records or anything?

Zach: Weıre only making 75 copies to start out with.

Dan: I think we're mostly going to try and sell it at shows. Maybe a couple of copies at places, because nobody knows who we are.

Josh: Do you think of yourselves as doomsday rock? Is that OK? Is doomsday rock a bad description?

Zach: No.

Dan: I like it. It seems like the rocking comes out more, so like we're more rocking than we are the instrumental, quiet, weird stuff, which actually I think we were going for. It's probably my fault because I just hit the drums too hard.

Zach: That's the thing to. I think I get pulled in both directions at a time. I love listening to really light instrumental, experimental sounds, but then when I play, I don't like to play that. I like to play, and do what I'm playing, which ends up being more rocking. So, when Dan starts playing harder, I get into it.

Josh: You start rocking. Right.

Dan: But, I want to play the soft stuff to. It's just that it doesn't happen.

Josh: Maybe from your perspective you don't think it happens, because you're thinking you would like it to be even more like that.

Dan: For like a complete month; a big part.

Josh: Right.

Dan: A lot of stuff more like that. I like it, but I donıt like it at the same time. It ends becoming more of like... because, sometimes, we have like [the song] "Transmorgifier." It's like a fast beat.

Josh: It's straight up.

Dan: Right. And, then you have something like that "Evil Genius" song, where it's Mogwai. It's like really rocking when it comes in.

Josh: It's very rocking, and it's very not rocking at the same time.

Dan: So, I don't know a lot of bands that do that. If I try to put them both together, I can't think of any bands that we play with.

Josh: So, you think it's difficult to think of bands that you would fit well with because of the juxtaposition of the two things.

Dan: Somewhat. Like I think we played really, really great with Tristeza, but only one part of us. The other part would be great with [And You Know Us By] the Trail of Dead.

Zach: Before the show, I thought weıd fit in with Tristeza. But, at the show, I didn't think we fit with them at all.

Dan: As [Tristeza] was going through the show, [it] got a little rocking; the drummer did.

Josh: Part of that might be the audience too, because they might have expected you to be less rock, more laid back, experimental and instrumental low-key jamming.

Dan: The one thing that's sad about that show is that we were really tight. It's just the sound was bad.

Josh: No, it was the fucking sound guy that blew.

Dan: So, it's hard for me to think of bands. I see the two different parts, and I think most bands kind of stick to the parts. It's not that we're sticking to a certain part... I'm not trying to say that we're really different, but we have the combination of the slow and the hard.

Josh: Right.

Zach: I think to a certain extent, we do have an identity crisis that way. We know what we like, but we donıt always come across that way.

Josh: So, you're saying you don't always come across the way you want?

Zach: At least I don't feel that we always do. I like what ends up coming out. The end result still is good.

Dan: What we're going for doesn't happen, but what does happen is good.

Josh: And, you're happy with it?

Dan: Just because I would never imagine the "When Not In Rome," that synth part.

Lenny: What I noticed about our writing process is that I donıt think a single song when we started out had a direction for the melodic part of it. We just start out with the bare noise and just a beat.

You can see Cakaw play their possible last show on June 5 at Howard's Club H, 210 North Main Street, in Bowling Green, Ohio with Stylex and Halon.

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