Although it might not come across in the band’s mellow demeanor or songs—actually, if you’re talking to the band, they’re called “jams”—Caveman wasn’t messing around when they came to Austin’s South By Southwest in 2012, the band’s second outing in two years to the week-long event.
“This is a business trip for us,” Caveman guitarist Jimmy Carbonetti says. “It’s fun to see your friends, but brass tacks, you have to stay busy.”
“The schedule is extremely full, but we wouldn’t have it any other way really,” bassist Jeff Berrall agrees. “If you’re coming somewhere to work, you might as well work.”
And the band’s been doing just that for years. Caveman formed late last decade in Brooklyn over long-time friendships, guitars and mutual enthusiasm for each others’ respective projects. Carbonetti met drummer Stefan Marolachakis and vocalist Matthew Iwanusa while he was still in high school, and Carbonetti also worked in a guitar shop for years with Berrall and keyboardist Sam Hopkins. Out of this mutual respect and desire to play with each other, the guys started working out jams, and the result is their notably focused, confident debut, Coco Beware.
“It was great being best friends before we decided to marry each other, and that’s what being in a band is,” Carbonetti laughs.
The elements of the band are simple: Iwanusa has a knack for crafting hummable, reverb-soaked melodies, and the band sets the backdrop with wiry guitars, layered tom-tom beats and treble-heavy synths—think if Fleet Foxes developed an aversion to acoustic guitars and decided shoegaze was more up their alley. But if you ask the band, that deliberate, focused base doesn’t steer their writing process.
“We don’t think much further than ‘I’ve always wanted to play with these dudes and this sounds really good,’” Berrall says about writing songs with Caveman.
It’s the fourth day of the event, and the band tells me about their exhausting SXSW schedule, which has the guys lugging gear, setting up, soundchecking, performing and tearing down their equipment at seven shows in four days. But as far as performing is concerned, this is just the start for Caveman, who plan on launching right into a 29-date U.S. tour immediately after their SXSW dates. And with a handful of songs that the band plans to include on the follow-up to Coco Beware, the guys couldn’t seem happier to be on the road.
In the year that’s passed since the band’s last SXSW appearance, there’s been a few big changes for the group. At the beginning of the year they joined the ranks of The Walkmen, Yuck and Tennis by signing to Fat Possum Records, where after some great demand, they will rerelease their debut album for a third time.
“It was pretty unexpected,” Carbonetti says about the signing. “When we met them was in the green room at the Echo in LA. It was funny to meet them there first, because we were both out of our element. We were vibing.”
But the appeal to sign to Fat Possum wasn’t tied in with some slick, super-deluxe remastering of the album, which the band pressed independently for the first time and then again on their own Magic Man! label. The band felt most comfortable with the label because they didn’t want to do much of anything to Coco Beware.
“They haven’t touched it, and that’s a huge reason we respect them, too,” Carbonetti says. “We just came to the table not pussyfooting around. We have all the time to hang out and talk about the weather, but when you’re going to meet about business, it’s great about getting to the point. They’re real men.”
And one of the new opportunities that came with this new signing is the chance to introduce audiences to new Caveman tracks, something that didn’t happen with their debut, which was recorded before the band really started touring.
“Stuff’s coming pretty quickly,” Berrall says about working on album No. 2, which the band says will be recorded this summer. “As far as a change in direction or sound, we haven’t comprehended what we’re thinking yet, we’re just letting the ideas flow. When we first got together, we didn’t have those questions. I guess the main difference is, we didn’t really road-test the first record so much. You learn stuff when you play in front of people, which isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s just different.”
And if the band’s lack of intended direction is part of the same path that led them to Coco Beware, fans should be okay with that. After all, they’re trying to capture a feeling, not a studio sound—and definitely not perfection—on tape.
“You can sit there polishing a stone all day; it’ll still be a stone,” Carbonetti says, before Berrall jumps in with what might be the closest thing the frequent experimenters have to a rule: “A vibe is most important. You just have to have a vibe, any kind of vibe.”