CUZCO IS NEW SCHOOL AND THEY'RE HERE TO STAY
Updated: Dec 24, 2018
This Charlotte based Math Rock band has made a splash, got everybody wet,
and gave you a second EP
It's timing, it's the moment, it's hearing a song at the right place and time to want to play it again. If a band can transcend the listener into a place with no sense of their daily struggle then they've made it. It is safe to say we have found our "ARTIST OF THE MONTH", Cuzco.
If you ask the members of Cuzco about their music they will tell you they are "mathstrumental" with a smile. The instrumental math rock band, hailing from Charlotte, NC, draws in listeners with a plethora of twinkling guitar riffs, immersive time signatures, and a melancholy saxophone. Cuzco sets listeners into a trance as they envelop you with their instrumentation and soothing imagery, before bringing you back to the present with a catchy riff that gets your feet moving.
Now, if anybody has the opportunity to see them live it's highly recommended! I saw these guys on their last stop of their 2017 tour when they played Chicago's very own Subterranean. A cozy bar, a bar that might take a second (depending on the crowd) to flag down the bartender, and most importantly a bar that puts on GOOD MUSIC. Some great bands have played there, "The Night Game", BORNS, WARPAINT, Lil Peep, and many more. This particular night all I remember was Cuzco. I ain't talking about the Emperors New Groove Cuzco, but the sound of Cuzco. Tight, on time, energetic, and fun. Put it this way, when Cuzco went on people not only came pouring back into the bar, but they stayed! I instantly could tell these guys were actual musicians. Lets take a second to wrap our heads around what actually makes a band mesmerizing. Yeah, yeah, it's one thing to be able to do it on record, but it's even harder to be accomplished live musicians. At this particular show it was the lights surrounding their stage, it was the noticeably intriguing musicianship, it was the gum I stepped on and forgot about, and it couldn't have been better.
The band began in 2015 as a couple of friends with a love for math rock music. As the friendship grew the band took shape and shortly after they set out to spend 2 weeks at a lake in North Carolina with engineer Cade Ratcliff, recording their debut EP, "A Medicine for Melancholy". Cuzco self-released the EP over the winter of '16/'17, selling out copies of the 7" within weeks. The band drew praise from all over, including a shout out from one of their biggest influences, Clever Girl and sharing the stage with another, TTNG. Over the next year, they hit the road touring throughout the east coast and midwest, started writing new music, and signed with Refresh Records with plans to release their debut album. The band went through a few lineup changes before kicking into 2018 with a new split 7" record on Refresh Records with the Charleston, SC based instrumental band, Catholics.
Today, Cuzco is thriving and reinvigorated as they focus on their upcoming album. The comfort and chemistry between the members is ecstatic, and they are excited to hit the studio as well as the road in 2018. Keep an eye out for new tour dates and album updates in the coming months.
What was the intention behind a medicine for melancholy and how did it change going into Cuzco / Catholics - Split?
There wasn't really any intention specific to what the record is about, we were just lucky enough to have found members who all enjoy and wanted to play the same genre of music. I suppose it was originally an idea (after the songs were written) that Will had where he wanted to create a character and portray each song individually as a short story. The character is actually the little guy that is on the cover, he was going to be named Cuzco. But we didn't want to be entitled to keep the character through records to come so we dropped the idea, and let the listeners imagination run wild.
When Cuzco began, non of us had really any knowledge as to how math rock or instrumental rock worked. We all we learned it together and A Medicine For Melancholy is the product. The Split with Catholics is more or less the leap from A Medicine For Melancholy in terms of how much we grew together and drove ourselves to make every song better than the last. When we'd finish writing a new tune we'd always say to each other "Man, this is the best song we've ever written." And strive for that each time following.
What are each of you guys' listening backgrounds?
The bands collective listening background as of recent has been all within the math rock and instrumental realm. To name a few, Just Neighbors, The Most, and Tangled Hair has been on the list, Clever Girl and TTNG have always been there too. Each of us really enjoy The Mars Volta and Circa Survive which are very much on the experimental side of things. Will Cuzco's guitarist, is really into the twinkly major things such as American Football and the darker sides of Grizzly Bear's first few albums. Kevin, Cuzco's Saxophonist has been dabbling with Kamasi Washington, Gogol Bordello, and Stage Kids. He comes from listening to a lot of instrumental music and various culture's folk style. Arman Cuzco's guitarist, always has some sort of mid-west emo song playing when he pulls up to practice usually Algernon Cadwallader or Palmkite, not to mention the occasional Buckethead. Justin Cuzco's drummer, has a doom and progressive metal background but in terms of his genre switch upon joining Cuzco, he's been really into TTNG's newer record along side of bands we've shared the stage with such as The Most. Lastly, Daniel, Cuzco's Bassist, listens to a lot of At The Drive In, and Tiny Moving Parts, in the progressive experimental spots.
How much preparation goes into a Cuzco live show? Considering you're a band that is strictly instrumentation timing is what can make or break a show.
I'd like to think of Cuzco's live shows more of a performance within theater rather than a live band's show. We really want the listener to have so much in front of them including our instrumentation and persona as a group that they never get bored. We dress the stage with low warm lights, twinkling string lights, lamps, flowers, weird props, projections, etc. Just in consideration to the fact that not one of us stands out from the other in the band, as there is no front man to look to and sing the lyrics to. We practice two or three times a week, even playing songs we've written over two years ago just to keep fresh, so the timing is always really tight! And now that I think about it, we really haven't ever had a "broken" or "bad" show. Of course we've fumbled a couple notes here or there, or strings break or a beater falls off mid-set, but that's all inevitable, it's live! If there isn't anyone there, we just have a glorified practice, if it's packed, we all smile and have the time of our lives!
Talk a little bit about your songwriting process.
Our song writing process is kind of odd really; It usually begins with a guitar riff that Arman or Will writes and brings to the band at practice. We then spend about an hour just playing the same riff over and over until everyone has a solidified part that each of us love playing ourselves. There isn't much criticism from member to member at all, it's just "hey, that sounds cool" or one of us to another "Does this sound alright?". Usually within that hour someone else comes up with another riff, and we do the same process until we have roughly 5-10 parts depending. We come up with the transitions between each piece as to how we get from here to there comfortably and then name each part we've just come up with some witty one liner (because there aren't any lyrics) and write it on a white board, next to it how many measures we play it for. Then we try to play it from the start to finish without messing up, which has never happened in the history of Cuzco.
For this new album who have you guys been listening to and who have you been working with?
We haven't been working with anyone for the new record, just ourselves within ourselves, we also aren't even sure who we are going to record with yet, but the music is coming along. Some of the things we've been listening to upon influence to our writing is just as diverse as to what we all listen to individually. I'd say the Connecticut band The Most has been a huge influence on how we have begun to implement dynamics in volume fluctuations and a more jazzier playground. Tangled Hair and The Dear Hunter have been on repeat for some of us as well. But then again, most of the things that we all individually create for each song is really true to ourselves as musicians before it's solidified as a Cuzco song, and out of some sheer craziness that's how most of Cuzco's songs are completed.
What should we expect from this new album? And when does it come out?
There isn't a date for the new record, but guaranteed we will be entering a studio of sorts before the year is out to begin tracking. In it's entirety, the expectation of what is on the record is really in the ears of the beholder. We're just thankful that people are sharing and enjoying the art we make. To be ironic though, expect twinkles, and only ever expect twinkles.