At Baby’s All Right, Cultfever played an energetic set for an enthusiastic hometown crowd before setting off to SXSW. The Williamsburg venue’s backdrop, a mosaic of lit-up glass bottles, cut cheerful silhouettes of the band members. Lead singer Tamara Jafar leaned over the lip of the stage, looked at the people ten feet away and crooked a finger; on demand, everyone moved up.
A week later, Cultfever took the stage in the concrete back courtyard of Rusty’s, the sun washing the crowd as they slowly filtered outside to listen. Jafar prowled from one side of the stage to the other in chic flowy black and then stepped into the patio and crouched on top of a sub, leaning into the crowd. There were a lot smiles, and people tapped their feet, nodded, and hinted at wanting to dance.
Jafar announced that she had “left her voice” in Philadelphia, where the band had performed on their way to Austin. Then, proving her abandon, she launched into “Collector,” howling the refrain “I don’t care what state you’re in.” The band presented a song from their unfinished album, and a couple of die-hard fans shouted along to the singles “Knewyouwell” and “Animals.”
Before SXSW (they play Maggie Mae’s this Friday at 12:30 p.m.), we talked to Jafar (keys, vocals) and Joe Durniak (guitar, vocals) over coffee and found out that they were looking forward to “street curb taco eating” in Austin.
Tamara: There’s a trend towards or a resurgence of vinyl right now. And it’s interesting that we can gauge a nostalgia for these moments when digital media is pushing us towards an mp3. It’s a great way of experiencing a sound.
Joe: We record digitally… but there’s something to the sound. We’ve played the two things next to each other—the wav file of the mastered song and on vinyl. There’s something to the way the needle interprets the groove on a piece of plastic sounds. It may be noisier. But it has a feel to it that’s very enjoyable. And growing up with vinyl… seeing your music on a piece of vinyl–it’s one of those moments. This actually happened. I can hold this now.
Tamara: It’s the privilege of a complete experience with the music.
Tamara: I think both of us have an admiration for the iconoclast. We see rock performances as something visceral that happens. We recognize that we like to exercise our drama on stage, and get a little manic.
Joe: That’s easier to do as a rock vibe. And let the record be a record. It was a recording of a nuanced thing with many different textures, and you’re not gonna be able to get that on a PA system sometimes.
Tamara: The record is an approximation of a song always, and our live performance is living, breathing.
Joe: We like it a little more aggressive. We like staring people down and going after them. [In recording,] we’re not setting out to make dance songs, that’s not our mission statement. We use it if it means song is going that way, and we need a four-to-the-floor kick.
Tamara: It really is asking, how do you convey an idea best?
Joe: Most of everything we do [when recording], if it’s a vocal embellishment that’s put in, it gets distorted—not actual distortion, but the word, “distorted,” from how it was originally put in. Recently in a song we’re working on, there’s a fuzzed out guitar that I made sound like a baritone sax. I wouldn’t have gone to that directly, but you think, “that sounds like that,” and then you manipulate it further.
Tamara: We’re good bullshit detectors with each other. If something doesn’t sit right with one of us, we flag it. I much as it can mean having to redo something that one of us might have believed in.
Joe: We wanted to get back down there. We have friends playing. It’s a great meet up.
Tamara: We’re collaborating with the producer [and legendary DJ] Mike Realm. On some visuals for our live show, and website, and music videos. For the next album we very much want to thread all of the visuals with the music.
Tamara: I think we both think about the live performance a lot. In the live show, we do want to incorporate an element of play. We don’t want to be self serious. At the same time we want the music to be taken seriously. They’re the moments at which we can connect to people. And also, we are in the same room as the audience. We’re experience the music at the same moment they are. When we are playful onstage, when we engage. When Joe hops onto an amp, or when I climb a PA, or do something stupid like try to get the audience to hold the mike stand. Those moments are moments where we’re looking at the audience and saying, “We’re all in the same room together.”
A live show is a just a fantastic love affair. You spend hours and hours preparing for it… [and then] it’s all for a bunch of strangers who can receive or reject it. It changes the minute you’re in a room with other people. It ends up being this really lovely courting ritual.
Sometimes the dude with the crossed arms in the front row giving you Sally Stinkeye is actually the guy after the show that says, “I loved it.”
Bradley (@13_Spinelli) Spinelli is the author of “Killing Williamsburg.”