The Cringe are a great rock band who are, sadly, pretty unknown here in the UK. That’s despite having been around for a few years and having built up a big following in the U.S. Hopefully, however, this is all about to change! Their brilliant new album,”Hiding In Plain Sight”, will be released over here shortly (review coming soon!). They also managed to secure a surprise support slot with Steel Panther on their recent tour. This should hopefully introduce them to lots of potential fans, as they not only have brilliant pop rock songs, but are a very sharp live act. We got the chance to catch up with guitarist Roto, bassist Johnny Blaze and main man JC, just before their show at Nottingham Rock City.
PH: Ok, can we start with a quick resume of the background of the band and how you first got together?
Roto: J.C. has had this band, well at least the name, since High School where it started out as a kind of joke, punk band. It was a punk rock, garage thing that at first he considered so bad that the only thing people would do, when they heard the songs, was to cringe!!
JC is a very loyal guy, and a great friend, so has remained loyal to the name and just couldn’t let it go, almost in honour of it’s former members.
We still have that punk ethic to the band. JC is a big punk guy, that’s punk in terms of the likes of Husker Du and Minute men – that early eighties post punk sound, maybe like The Replacements as well. Although he grew up on stuff like The Who, as well as the whole Seattle scene.
PH: You can still hear that in the sound, under the melody there is still an ‘alternative’ sound.
Roto: Well yeah, alternative maybe, but I think we are more just a classic rock band, Deep Purple rather than Pearl Jam
Jonny Blaze: Pearl Jam are a classic band now!
Roto: I guess they are, better be careful, as I am showing my age now! Anyhow, I joined the band about seven years ago and then Jonny was about five years ago. We were all busy New York guys and were session musicians, as well as having our own projects running along at the same time. We all come together in The Cringe and get to do something different to those projects. My own stuff is more acoustic, melodic, Beatles stuff and then Johnny does a load of producing for other artists. We get to have a lot of fun with this and play the sort of thing we did in the ninth grade.
PH: I have just reviewed your album, which I loved, and whilst it is classic rock, there is a pop melody and a good tune underneath it all.
Roto: Yeah, that’s where I come from, and so does JC. We are all mad Beatles fans and can’t imagine a song without a melody.
PH: Some bands these days do try hard to avoid it!!
Roto: They do, that’s right! When rap started there was just the words and one melody, bands lost the idea of having a melodic thread in the songs and that principle of building the song with a chorus, bridge, verse, it just doesn’t happen these days.
PH: Does JC do most of the writing?
Roto: He did, he’s still the major song writer, but we all contribute, argumentatively, to the arrangements. Rehearsal sessions are a smack down! with us all coming up with arrangement ideas. Also, from a writing point of view, JC and I have been really coming together. I write a lot of the bridges and then JC will do the verse and chorus. There are a couple of songs on the record, “Lord Jim” and “String You Along”, that are my tunes and I sing them as well. We’ve developed this nice double vocals thing on stage. We love Alice In Chains for that reason, it’s hard rock, but you still have the melodies.
PH: There’s a variety of experience in the band, rather than just being a group of guys who grew up together. Does this pose any problems?
Roto: Yes! sure it does, not in an ugly tensions way though, we get along fantastically. We will, however, all bring our own point of view and you may both be right, but each guy will have a different view as to how the song should sound.
PH: How would you describe the bands sound?
Long pause, both look at each other and Roto tries to throw the Q over to Jonny!!!
Jonny: Wow, you mean like an actual title?? like ‘Post Alternative’?
Roto: That’s not a bad one, I almost want to say ‘Pop Metal’ but that’s already something like Bon Jovi or Poison in the States. Our sound is a mix of classic rock and power pop, but also close to what we call ‘Alternative’.
PH: I used the phrase power pop quite a bit in my review.
Roto: We think of power pop as being more jangly and we are definitely not that.
Jonny: But power pop can also mean Cheap Trick?
Roto: That is a band that we all really connect with
PH: They’re a band who are huge in the States, but not so much over here, but they influenced so many bands.
Roto: Most notably Nirvana! because that’s it, it’s heavy guitars with Beatles’ melodies.
PH: This is your first tour in the UK, as The Cringe, why has it taken so long?
Roto: The opportunity hasn’t really arisen before, I don’t know if any of our records have been distributed over here yet, which is a big issue and we also haven’t had much press. So for those reasons, we have been waiting for the right time to come. We are in the same business area as Steel Panther so that has given us the chance.
Many people have questioned this tour or suggested it’s an odd match. What I feel is, it may be odd on paper, but – they love big end of the world drums, we love big end of the world drums; they like shredding guitar solos, we have them; we wear denim and leather … they wear spandex!!
It’s a different era of Hard rock but we are not worlds apart, it’s not like we are an electronica band or a folk band, we’re a hard rock band.
PH: Behind the joke/fun side, Steel Panther are good musicians.
Roto: Oh yeah, trust me, they are brilliant. They walk a very fine line between parody and celebration of Hair Metal. They are also very politically incorrect and offensive whilst still being hilarious to men AND women! I’m really not sure how they do it, they must be really charming bastards, they’re getting away with murder!!
Satchell is a serious guitar player though, and he is a top class metal guitarist who has taught at some serious places and Michael Starr is like Dave Lee Roth!
We are then joined by the lead singer and founder member of the band,JC, who also demonstrates that he shares the other guys love and passion for music.
PH: Were you ever in to glam metal, any embarrassing pictures from back in the day?
Roto: My favourite guitar player at a certain time was Eddie Van Halen. So much so, that I use to wear suspenders (presumably he means this in the US sense!!!) and knee pads. I also bought the same sneakers as him and insisted my lead singer wore white gloves like Dave Lee Roth.
We all love Glam rock but in the sense of Bowie, T-Rex, heck I mean he (pointing to Jonny Blaze) even looks like Izzy Stradlin!
PH: The new album comes out here in early April, but I believe it has been out in the States for two years, is it weird being considered a new band?
JC: Yeah, it is, we’ve never played the UK as a band and we first played in Newcastle on this tour, but the fans have been really great, really enthusiastic and accepting. We are a rock band with hooks and melodies. Our performance may not be as outrageous as Steel Panther, but the fans can appreciate similar music, even if it fits in a different genre. The fans appreciate that if the songs are there, that’s what matters. We have the energy and we have loved all the people we have met over here.
Roto: We are not pretentious, yeah we hope the songs are creative, but we are hear to rock!
JC: We’re certainly not shoe gazers!
PH: Have you actually had the chance to see much of the UK?
JC: We stopped by Stone Henge which was fun, and Roto lifted his arms and had an incantation to bring the gods of hell down!!
Roto: Oh yeah, I brought a huge hail storm down on us!
JC: You must have brought out the wrong spell! Mind you, the weather this year in New York has been really bad.
PH: You’re all from New York, which is a great vibrant city.
JC: Well, London is very similar, that’s a vibrant place as well, they have a lot in common. I lived in London for a few months and if you’re comfortable there, you will be in New York.
PH: Any plans to return to the UK, perhaps on a headline tour?
Roto: If you’ll have us, we’re here! The idea would be to come back in say six months. The rule of thumb is that if you go somewhere on tour, then you go back within six months, as you’ve planted the seeds and then you want them to grow!
With that promise, we leave the band to prepare for the gig that night (see our review here https://thesoulofaclown.com/2014/03/30/the-cringe-live-at-nottingham-rock-city/Speaking to The Cringe, the one thing that is clear, is that they are real music fans who have a great appreciation for what makes a good song. There are no pretensions with the band, but just a group of guys dedicated to making great pop rock songs and then performing them live. Having undertaken this tour and with the imminent release of their album, let’s hope they get the exposure and credit they deserve, so that we can entice them back over for those headline shows as soon as possible.