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Cassavetes: The Band To End All Bands.

March 21, 2014

CassavetesOnline01Text by Beth Ann Downey. Image by Jessica Flynn.

It would be metaphorical if Fishtown’s Kung Fu Necktie was fixed with a revolving door. That’s what Cassavetes, the Philly-based band who is playing there tonight, has become for to various punk musicians in search of ’90s rock nostalgia.

Cassavetes began in 2004, when founders Josh Agran and Pat McCunney started writing melodic, grungy rock ‘n’ roll as an outlet different from the punk bands they’d performed with since elementary school.

“We were writing this stuff from being influenced as guys that were in punk and hardcore bands, involved in the West Philly Stalag 13 scene,” says McCunney, Cassavetes guitarist and former member of Kill The Man Who Questions. “But the type of stuff we were writing was completely removed from that, so it felt fresh and reminded us what we listened to before we got into punk.”

With at least 10 or 20 songs under their belt by 2009, the two musicians started trying to put a band together. But much harder than the music-making was finding a steady line-up. Mike Sneeringer (Purling Hiss, The Loved Ones), Justin Collier (Man Overboard), Sean McGuinness (Pissed Jeans), Ryan Ellis (Pony Pants), Brad Wallace (Orchid, Transistor Transistor) and Ben Pierce (Restorations) have all come and gone from the Cassavetes roster over the years.

In December 2012, after a brief stint with the name Night Genius (which Agran admits wasn’t a group favorite but was decided in the throes of line-up frustration), Agran and McCunney finally found members they believed would stick. They were Jon Murphy of Sore Saints on drums and Steve-O from The Holy Mess on bass. Two or three weeks after their first practice, the group was in the recording studio.

“It came together very fast,” says Murphy.

“We hit the ground running,” adds Agran, vocalist and guitarist for Cassavetes, who also plays guitar in Paint It Black.

Chris Sigda (Likers, Koji) ended up taking over bass duties after Steve-O quit due to The Holy Mess commitments. Agran, McCunney, Murphy and Sigda are now the ones sitting here, scarfing food and passing around pitchers of Kenzinger at Johnny Brenda’s after the KFN load-in. The guys joke around, discuss other local groups and upcoming shows. Agran and Murphy walked half of the short distance between venues holding hands. It’s also  McCunney’s birthday.

It’s clear these guys know each other and see each other quite a lot. They cringe at the term “side project” being associated with Cassavetes.

“This is my outlet for everything that I want to write guitar-wise,” says McCunney. “It’s me, and that’s refreshing because I’m not trying to sound like this band or sound like this genre. It’s just whatever comes out. It happens to be heavy rock.”

“I absolutely adore being in Paint It Black,” Agran adds. “But now it has kind of taken a backseat in my life. We’re still playing of course and we’re still making records. But stepping back gave me more time to pursue this band, which is mine and Pat’s baby that we’ve been working on for so long.”

Currently, Cassavetes has a three-song EP of older material that’s available online and about to be released on tape. It’s aptly named Cassavetes, a Tape, and was recorded a few weeks into the previous line-up. The band’s upcoming full-length was produced by Jeff Zeigler of Uniform Recording (Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss) and features collaborative songwriting with only a few examples of older material.

“In my mind, the best bands utilize their bandmates to the nth degree,” says Agran. “Chris actually wrote a song on the record by accident – or spur of the moment. I’m not the kind of person who is like ‘I do everything…’  I’m very open to other people who I respect.“

“It’s collaborative as fuck,” adds Sigda. “It’s kind of a mixed bag, the full length. It’s not so much like the demo at all, with good reason.”

With that same “good reason,” Cassavetes has translated their new-found and long-awaited energy from the studio to their live show. The set has more structure and better flow. They just bought a brand new, very blue tour van.

The bandmates hope to tour soon but they also enjoy the thriving, incestuous scene that made them who they are. Though all members in other projects have no plans to slow down, Cassavetes has their full, undivided attention.

“I didn’t want to do this band unless I was focusing on it fully,” says Agran. “I always knew, no matter what, for the amount of years we were working on it, that I wanted it to be done right. I was willing to wait for as long as it took to find the right mix of dudes, and we found it.”

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