San Francisco, CA’s Cables & Arms is a four piece melodic post hardcore punk band whose sound is aggressive and pointedly angry without sacrificing melody or hooks. Last month the band released theirexcellent full-length debutFraming Defeat for the Critical Eye.
This interview was conducted via email with guitarist/vocalist Josh Brown February 28 – March 9, 2016
Dave: How did the band get together?
Josh Brown: I bought myself a new guitar for Christmas in 2011, and I figured that I had better do something with it. I’ve played guitar since I was a kid, and I was in a few bands in the Detroit metro area (my hometown) in my 20s, so I thought I’d take a crack at starting a band in San Francisco. It just so happens that Nick had the same idea, and had taken out an ad on Craigslist. I don’t remember all of the bands that he listed as influences, but Hot Water Music, Texas Is the Reason and Hot Snakes were in there, and that was enough for me to know I’d found someone with whom I could play. We talked on the phone a few times, then met up in person for dinner. We were on the same page, so we decided to look for a drummer and bass player. A friend of mine from Detroit was our original bass player, and we decided to start practicing even though we hadn’t found a drummer yet. Right before our first practice, Brad answered Nick’s Craigslist ad, and was actually able to meet up with us at the practice space that day. We practiced a song I wrote, and everything seemed to click. My friend Ben had to drop out for health reasons, and we found our next player, Dave Phillips, through yet another Craigslist ad. We practiced for about a year, playing songs that would eventually become our first EP, all the while looking for a lead singer. I’ll stop here and say that trying to find a lead singer through Craigslist was insane. We had some rough demos that we’d recorded in the practice space, and we would send them to anyone who answered our ad. We tried out tons of people, but none of them worked out. I distinctly remember Dave trying to contain his laughter as one guy came in and just screamed his head off, doubled over on the floor through each of the songs we played. Needless to say, we didn’t find a lead singer who we felt could do the job, so Nick and I decided to just do it ourselves. Dave then had to drop out, as he had started a business that was demanding more and more of his time. So, back to Craigslist to find a bass player. After months of tryouts, we finally found Paul, and that’s the current lineup. The whole process was pretty frustrating at times, but we eventually wound up with the right people. I still haven’t used that guitar on stage though.
Dave: What’s the story behind the name Cables & Arms?
Josh: Brad came up with the name, and it’s a reference to the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, which are obviously icons of San Francisco. Cables is a reference to the actual cables that hold up the bridges, and Arms refers to the labor required to build them. None of us are originally from the Bay Area, so we thought it was a good idea to kind of put a San Francisco stamp on the band.
Dave: For those who have never heard the band, how do you describe your music?
Josh: Pissed off but catchy. We definitely have an aggressive edge, but we do try to make it accessible to people who might not be into post-hardcore or punk in general. I’m not sure how successfully we do that, but we do recognize the need to add melodic elements to the material. We want people to be able to sing along with us.
Dave: You recently released your full-length Framing Defeat for the Critical Eye. What’s the story behind the record?
Josh: The title refers to the way that people contort their perspective of life’s little defeats in order to project a sense of confidence to the larger world. In other words, denial. It seems that perception-bending is a necessary skill these days. The way that technology has changed our lives in terms of communication is incredible, but whether the end result is advantageous is debatable. Sure, anyone can get a message out there on social media, but every little detail of that message is scrutinized before publication in order to shape the audience’s perception. When you are speaking to an audience from a script, how genuine are you really being? It’s like you need a fucking marketing degree in order to effectively communicate, otherwise you open yourself to scathing criticism (Facebook and Reddit would be a perfect examples of this… either have the same homogenized viewpoint that everyone else has, or get ready to be attacked for your views). We can all curate how we want people to view us through careful planning, but it’s not who we really are. So, we lie to ourselves, and we lie to each other, and we pretend that things are not what they are. It’s all a sham. But the end result is that people are constantly trying to manipulate others, and after a while, it just starts to feel disingenuous. The songs on the album are about feelings of loss, anger, confusion, and betrayal by things seen and unseen. The difference is that we don’t give a fuck about the framing, or the defeats, or the criticism. They’re all a part of life. We want people to get off the carousel.
Brad came up with all of the artwork for the album, and when we saw the mock-ups, we all loved it. I’m particularly fond of everything being white. It’s as if to say, this is what you get when you drain the emotion and passion out of life by over-scrutinizing every little detail: a white surrender flag, neatly pressed under glass. I think it sums up the album perfectly.
Dave: You recently signed with Wiretap Records. How did you get hooked up with the label? Will they be re-releasing the new record?
Josh: I was reading Punknews.org, and they had an announcement post about Wiretap Records’ new compilation album (which is fantastic, by the way). I hopped over to their website and started listening to the bands on the label, and realized that all of the bands were kind of slightly in between genres. They’re all really good, but might be overlooked because they don’t fit squarely into any singular area in the music spectrum. I think that’s exactly where we are as a band. Some of our songs could be considered post-hardcore, while others lean more towards punk or even pop-punk. We’re not aiming for any particular genre; we just write songs that we like. So, I submitted Framing Defeat through their band submission form on a Monday morning, and I heard back from Rob within an hour or two. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even listen to the whole record; he wrote back after listening to only the first three songs, and was pretty excited about it. He asked if we could chat on the phone, which we did the next day, and by Wednesday we had a deal.
Wiretap will be re-releasing the album through their website, and you’ll also be able to find it in all of the usual places online (Google Play, iTunes, Spotify, etc.)
Dave: Do you have any plans to tour in support of the new record? What are some of your favorite places to play?
Josh: Unfortunately, we all have day jobs that we can’t simply drop to go on tour. We are planning on playing shows up and down the West Coast over the Summer, but getting east is going to be a lot harder for us. We’re not ruling it out, but it will take a lot of careful planning to pull something like that off.
We’ve been fortunate enough to play some of the best clubs and venues in the Bay Area, but I think our favorites would have to be The Hemlock in San Francisco (where we are doing our record release show on Thursday, March 24th), Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and 924 Gilman St. in Berkeley. All these venues seem to really care about supporting local bands, and they all sound great.
Dave: Do you have any specific type of songwriting process?
Josh: I write about 85% of the base material, and I usually do so at home and then bring the songs into practice. I play them for the guys, and then they kind of critique it and we discuss what could be improved, what should be cut, etc. There are usually some things that I want to hit, but everyone writes out their own parts around what I would call a song skeleton (think: my guitar parts are written, now everyone write around them). We’ve been playing together for so long that the guys usually know exactly what I’m trying to achieve. It’s not uncommon for a song they’ve never heard before to be completely finished within one practice, and then we’ll record a crappy one-microphone demo so that I can write out the vocals. I’ll occasionally write out the vocals when I write the song, but that’s kind of rare. I usually write everything out on guitar and worry about the vocals later.
Nick writes the rest of the material, and the process is usually the same. He’ll come in with an idea, we write around it, and then he figures out the vocals. But again, it’s a group process; none of our songs would be the same if everyone didn’t contribute. And there are songs that we’ve written that just don’t survive the creative process through to fruition.
Dave: What are your thoughts on the music scene in San Francisco?
Josh: I guess that depends on what you mean. I think there are a lot of really great bands in the Bay Area, and we’ve been fortunate enough to play with some of them. But we’ve also played with bands that literally pack up and leave as soon as they’re done playing (and usually take whatever fans they have with them). To me, that’s just shitty. Hell, we’ve let bands borrow our gear, and not only did they not even thank us, they left the venue as soon as they got off the stage. If you are musician out playing shows, don’t do that.
As for the kind of music being played, well, that’s up for debate. There’s a fairly broad spectrum in the Bay Area overall (Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, Marin County, etc.), so you can pretty much find anything you’re looking for. There’s a ton of indie rock, so if that’s your thing, San Francisco is great. There are also a lot of bands around here who it seems are deliberately trying to be avant-garde weirdos, but to me they just end up sounding like aimless horseshit.
And the local media… I’m struggling to find something nice to say. They’ve done nothing for us (save Radio Valencia and bff.fm, shout out to those champions). They claim to be covering the entirety of the local music scene, but what I think they really mean is, “we cover bands who are friends with one of our writers, as long as they sound like the same boring indie rock you’ve heard a million times before.” So obviously we don’t stand a chance of being covered by the local press, nor do a lot of other bands much deserving of attention. As is the case elsewhere, I think they are more interested in being a part of scene than actually covering it.
That being said, we absolutely love Songs For Snakes and Ordinary Neighbors, who are playing our record release show. We’re also fond of Great Apes, Get Dead, Sea Knight, Tet Holiday, Civil War Rust and Kowloon Walled City. I’m sure I’m missing a few bands, but those are our favorites off the top of my head.
Dave: This is a High Fidelity inspired question. What are your top five favorite bands, albums, movies, television programs, books/authors?
Josh: My top five favorite albums are probably Quicksand – Slip, At the Drive In – Relationship of Command, Planes Mistaken For Stars – Fuck With Fire, The Bronx – III, and Hot Snakes – Thunder Down Under. Favorite bands overall would be much harder to pick, but I can tell you that my favorite band of all time is Rocket From the Crypt. Their live show is just the best thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them play many, many times (I even flew down for their “last” show on Halloween 2005… what a fucking blast that was). I’m pretty much a huge fan of anything John Reis. Movies would have to be Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Snatch, Reservoir Dogs, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Shining. That list would probably be totally different if you asked me tomorrow. TV shows: Game of Thrones, Cheers, The Simpsons, Futurama and Black Mirror. I don’t read a ton of books, but I’ve recently enjoyed The Passage by Justin Cronin, The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Next on my list is Ghost In the Wires by Kevin Mitnick.
Dave: What’s next for the band?
Josh: We want to play more shows up and down the West Coast, and we’re going to do our best to play as many shows as time permits for the next six months or so. I’ve also got nearly an album’s worth of material written for our next release. Honestly, it’s hard to even think about going in to record any time soon, as the process is kind of brutal. It’s a tremendous amount of work, and nothing happens quickly. However, I’m sure we’ll be back in the studio before the end of 2016. I would count on it.
No matter what happens, we’ll keep writing songs and playing shows. We do this only because we love to do it. If it turns into something we don’t love, we’ll stop. Until then, we’ll soldier on.
Dave: Any final thoughts?
Josh: Make something. Try something new. Kiss the girl, write a poem, ride fast and take chances. Put yourself out in front of the world, and don’t let anyone discourage you. For some reason, a lot of people really seem to get off on tearing others down. Don’t be the person that gives up because of someone else’s criticism, as there is an endless supply of it. Die without regrets, because as we all know, it’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done (cue Sweat Loaf by the Butthole Surfers). Get out there and be somebody.