Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin interview
There is a certain vibe somewhere between the California desert and the surface of the moon where sepia-toned nostalgia meets the warm, spacey sounds of modern psychedelia. Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin lies comfortably between these familiar facets of rock culture, carving out their own groove in a lately-stagnant scene by delivering an eerie, dark and fuzzed-out type of rock n’ roll with a psychedelic cherry on top.
Misty Woman is the group’s debut full-length album; likewise it is the first professionally recorded work of their catalogue. Previously a self-recording band with a home-brew analog-meets-digital rig, the trio ventured from their hometown of San Diego, CA to Austin, TX to record Misty Woman in a studio they felt would fit the vibe of their latest writing. The LP delivers the band’s usual reverb-drenched desert-rock sound with a tighter, studio-crafted approach incorporating new instrumentation and higher-fidelity psyched-out tones. Misty Woman sounds nothing less than a California band’s fuzzed-out, sun-beaten journey through the Texas desert.
Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin is:
Brennan Justice (guitar, lead vocals),
Anthony DeFreitas (bass, vocals)
Jeremy Luvaas (drums, percussion).
Misty Women pre-order via Nasoni Records
Would you like to talk a bit about your background? Who are Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin?
Brennan Justice: The band originally started with myself (Brennan Justice) on guitar, vocals and drums and Anthony DeFreitas on bass. We recorded our first 7” that way in my garage in San Diego, tracking bass and drums live and then going over with guitar and vocals, tambourine and stuff. We soon after realized that all the new songs we were writing called for a bit more complex of drumming than I’m capable of. And there the 3-piece was born. All recordings from there on out (Cabin Fever, Mud Room, and Misty Woman) feature Jeremy Luvaas on drums/percussion and since then that’s been the band.
“Drippy, eerie, kinda drugged-out heavy desert blues.”
How would you describe your sound?
To me, our sound is a drippy, eerie, kinda drugged-out heavy desert blues. It evokes more of a visual component than anything; makes me think of a particular set and setting for each song. I dig pursuing a visual or story-telling vibe when writing new music. For example, there’s a two minute interlude song on Misty Woman called “Grains of Sand” that we wrote specifically to try to capture an old west/Native American vibe, or something like walking out of a saloon in a small desert town. It forces me to get creative with the chord changes and lead phrasing and stuff. Within Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin, the guitar tones are so heavy on the western/surf vibe, and Jeremy and Anthony hold down such a hard hitting and stompy rhythm. So it really ends up coming out as a western, reverbed-out psychedelic-desert rock sound.
Are any of you involved in any other bands or do you have any active side-projects going on at this point?
I’ve always had my Bodhi Presman side project, it’s a one-man band writing/recording thing that I do. Currently writing and working out new material for a release for Bodhi actually. It’s more of a laid back, folky thing. I enjoy playing that style of music in addition to the heavier stuff. It’s also nice to have a project that I don’t take super seriously, if that makes sense? It’s enjoyable, I don’t have the biggest intention of pushing it to labels and building a band or anything, it’s just something to remind myself why I love writing and recording music.
Anthony and Jeremy used to have a band called Sleep In Mountains, just them two. Anthony on guitar and Jeremy on drums. I believe that’s how they met actually. It was kinda like an alt-prog heavy blues thing from what I remember.
Nasoni Records will be releasing Misty Woman in a month or so. Are you excited about it?
Super excited. Misty Woman is the first release for us where we’re not just writing track-by-track. There’s a vibe to the whole thing that is intentionally written in. For our former releases, the writing process wasn’t deliberate like that. We’d just take 4-5 songs that we play live, shrink them down to a recordable form (i.e. not 15 minute long jams), capture it and release. This time, way different. We tried to shift our thinking from song 1, song 2, etc to writing for the entire piece. It’s easy to think like “ok, we’ve got this mellow groove, then we need to get heavy and the whole thing to crescendo!” It’s like, no, the song before this had its energetic part, and this is the time when the album gets mellow. In the end gave us something different than any of our EPs, for sure. So yeah, we’re stoked.
It’s the group’s debut full-length album; likewise it is the first professionally recorded work of your catalogue. Can you share some further details how your latest album was recorded?
We made the voyage to a real studio!
But yes, rather than our usual DIY process, we had Adrian Quesada producing us at his studio, Electric Deluxe Recorders in Austin. A while back we had sent him about 12-13 demos we recorded at our spot in San Diego, and basically he told us which ones work best together and which tracks he felt he could amplify from some studio magic and creative overdubbing and stuff. From a recording standpoint, the biggest difference with Adrian is that we were able to track everything live. We don’t really have enough mics to do that justice at our space here, but it made the biggest difference. Nearly every song is the original live-tracked guitar, drums and bass, overdubbing some leads and fuzz tones, and vocals. He has some epic pedals and outboard gear that we messed around with and got some really killer sounds, and he also invited his neighbor Peter Stopschinski over to track organ and keys in certain parts which is also a first for us.
“Psychedelic desert rock”
You ventured from your hometown of San Diego, CA to Austin, TX to record Misty Woman. What was so special about that particular studio?
I know, right? We have some solid studios here in SD and LA is just a couple hours away, we could have stayed local and got equally as amazing tones for the new record. The choice to go to Austin was multi-faceted. We build a relationship with Adrian that I feel was extremely beneficial for the band from a growth standpoint. We knew he was a cool guy and had heard some great recordings that came out of his studio.
Also, there’s the entire dynamic of making the trip out there. We’re writing this album which we call “psychedelic desert rock” and lyrically writing about isolation, change, relationships, and even quite literally about the eeriness of the desert. The opportunity presents itself to trek 1300 miles out across the desert, across the American southwest and stay in Austin for a bit, home of Levitation festival and an amazing psych scene, and record these songs in a backyard studio in the heat of summer. It fits too well. So for me, how do you not take that opportunity? We had to.
The trip very much affected our recordings too. About 4 days before we left for Austin, my longtime girlfriend of several years told me she had cheated on me and we split up. That whole thing really got in my head, I ended up rewriting nearly all of the lyrics just in those few days to resonate with what I was feeling, about resentment and love troubles, trust and pain, it’s a pretty dark album lyrically. Adrian was so cool about everything though, he could tell I was a bit beat up. But the whole trip out there and working with him and the band every day really turned things around for me. It all seemed like terrible timing at the start of the trip, but in retrospect it sort of made this album what it is now. Almost seems like perfect timing, in a weird way.
How pleased are you with the sound of the album?
To be honest it took me a bit to acclimate to the process of working with a producer and mixing engineer. Usually, I’m sitting in that chair and have full control over the sound. Adrian has got a great ear and makes me feel heard when I’m chiming in for sonic input. But, I was skeptical of a lot when we first started getting mixes back. Once I settled into taking a back seat to those decisions, trusting him and his process, the album totally opened up for me. I think it’s the best sound we’ve gotten to date, objectively. Him and Beto Martinez (engineer) pushed the best takes out of us.
I can also be weird about recording my vocals. Everything has to be exactly right for me to dig a vocal take. Every syllable, every consonant I’ve thought-out in my head, and if it doesn’t come out right, I hate it. So, working with other engineers was weighing over me from a vocal standpoint. But they really worked with me to get the best takes, had input on articulation and phrasing that totally resonated. I think the tracking on the final product is really cool. The playing sounds tight, but not overly-perfect or anything. You can still hear imperfections and a bit of slop, but to me that’s what makes great music.
How do you usually approach music making?
For the most part I write the chord changes and melodies, usually on an acoustic guitar, then take it to the band and we work it out. We change things, switch up some parts till we’re all on the same wavelength and we’re “getting” the sound. Then we start to incorporate it into our live set and usually it ends up changing a bit there as well. Lyrics are the typically the very last thing. Half the songs I’m singing live don’t even have words yet, I’m just making something up on the fly. That can be fun.
What does the name “Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin” refer to in the context of the band name?
When Anthony and I first began to work out material for Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin, everything had this 70’s American desert kinda vibe. We thought it could be fitting for a movie, maybe like a western horror film or something. So, we thought, if this story was written into a novel, like a 70s murder mystery set in the California desert, what is that book called? If you’re at a book store what catches your eye? Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin just seemed to fit. Like some creepy old Aunt Cynthia, nobody knows what she’s up to living out in the desert and god forbid you have to stay at her cabin, hear of some trippy stories out there at her place.
You’re from San Diego. There are a lot of great bands from your city. Are you very involved with the local scene? Has it played a large role in the history or evolution of Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin?
I should say yes, but if I’m being honest, definitely not. Most of our listeners are in Europe. We have more of a following in LA even than San Diego. We don’t really feel like we fit the scene here, not a ton of psych heads or big music fans at all. It’s a tourism city, it’s a beach city, people want to listen to reggae and dance.
How would you describe the local music scene there?
A lot of cover bands. For original music it’s alright. Some of my friends are in some awesome psych bands in town, we love putting together an awesome bill and the shows are a ton of fun. Puerto, Drug Hunt, Los Feliz, Loom, Weasel Dust, AJ Froman, they’re all awesome and some have become great personal friends of ours as well. And we’ve found our niche crowd that comes out to the shows and supports us, very thankful for them. The venues, the radio stations, the local press, from a personal standpoint and professional standpoint, they could give a shit about us.
What are some bands/musicians that have a big influence on you?
All over the place! Some modern influence has definitely come from Dead Meadow, Kikagaku Moyo and All Them Witches. I take a lot of writing influence from Brian Jonestown Massacre, Jay Reatard, Acid King, and older stuff like Spirit, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Blue Cheer, the 60s heavy blues stuff. I know Anthony loves Brand New and Nirvana, too.
Lyrically, I take a lot of influence from Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. His writing is so honest, it’s an amazing balance between straightforward story-telling and creative poetry using symbols and metaphors. That’s a hard line to toe. I want to get my message across in the song, but at the same time I don’t want to be pushing anything down the listeners throat, I want to leave some open for interpretation and leave some mystery behind it. To me, Jeff Tweedy does this perfectly in nearly every Wilco track. It’s incredible.
Do you often play live? Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?
Absolutely, for about 3 years Anthony and I have been playing 1-2 shows a week, Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin lately has slowed things down because we’ve felt it helps from a promotional standpoint. In addition to the local psych cronies that we play with in San Diego, we’ve loved playing with Brother Earl and The Cousins (Ventura, CA), Dizz Brew (Juarez, MX), Acid Carousel (Denton, TX), The Burning Peppermints (Burmingham, AL), PKWY (Los Angeles, CA), Drowsy (Los Angeles, CA) Lunar Hand (Temecula, CA), Banana Gun (Pheonix, AZ), Evolfo (Brooklyn, NY), the list goes on!
Would you also like to share a few words about Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin self-titled release via Feedbands?
Sure, we had 12” vinyls printed courtesy of Feedbands Records that is basically a collection of songs off our first 3 releases. It’s great quality 180 gram colored vinyl, they did a great job.
What are some future plans?
Still writing new songs all the time. We’re gonna keep at it and see where Misty Woman takes us, the momentum is on right now so feels good to be releasing soon. The new material (post-Misty Woman) is shaping up to be pretty epic, some grungier stuff, some more laid back surfy stuff, and some really really heavy stuff too. I dig it.
I mentioned we recorded 12-13 demos to send to Adrian a while back, before we recorded the new record. We will probably release some selected tracks from there, there’s some gems that should be heard, I think. They’re garagey and lo-fi and raw, but great energy.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Well, I’m not sure about “new”, but here’s what I’ve been digging lately:
“Heaven is Humming” – GOON, 2019
“To The Moon” – Easy Giant, 2017
“Dark Thoughts” – The Shivas, 2019
“Call The Doctor” – Puerto, 2020
“Orang-Utan” – Orang-Utan, 1971
“Phafner” – Phafner, 1971
“Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music” – Numero Group comp. release, ’68-‘70
“Parachute” – Pretty Things, 1970
“Felt” – Felt, 1971
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Thanks a ton! We have one more single releasing before the full album drops, at the end of January, then full album beginning of Feb 2020. Hope everyone enjoys listening to Misty Woman as much as we did writing it. We’re stoked that magazines like this are keeping our kind of music alive. Cheers.
– Klemen Breznikar
Nasoni Records Official Website