Gush is the first full length album from Washington, DC band, Cigarette. Richard Howard, Jonathan Howard, Evan Napala, and Drew Hagelin and I took over the back room at CD Cellar in Arlington where we dissected the album, recorded with Hays Holladay of Bluebrain in a make-shift studio behind a Peruvian chicken restaurant in Arlington, VA.
During our conversation, I uncovered the deep love the friends have for each other, an unbroken bond that is rare among a band of six. Their connection is the key to their musical success, exposing their most vulnerable thoughts to each other as the process by which their songs are written.
Gush will be released on vinyl this spring but you can stream the entire album exclusively on The Vinyl District this week before the official digital release.
Gush is hauntingly deep and honest. How did you go about incorporating your separate personal feelings into one song that shared the entire band’s perspective?
Richard: When we wrote “Waste You,” I heard the guys playing guitars through the floor and the words came to me and so I ran downstairs and just starting singing. That’s how we wrote that song.
Jonathan: It was a collaborative process, but every song is one feeling being expressed. One particular feeling doesn’t get distorted with all of us playing together. I feel comfortable with everyone in the band, knowing that nothing will be altered and lose its meaning. Playing live, it only works if we are in tune with each other, and everyone in the audience is really attentive. It’s emotionally draining, though if a show goes well and people are receptive, I need time after the set to relax.
Evan: There’s never been an intention, it kind of happened. The songs we write are very personal. The feelings are real and something we all experienced on different levels.
Richard: Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to play the songs in the live arena. It’s almost an out-of-body experience, each time we are re-visiting a particular feeling. A memory, a strange place… maybe I’m too sensitive. After we play one of those songs, the sponge is squeezed. The memory becomes something else. It’s manipulated, shared, given away, not completely ours.
Does it get easier the more you play?
All: No (laughs)
Evan: I get stomach aches right after I play. I instantly get these pains and I can’t move (laughs). It’s still weird to express these personal things with strangers. If you told me three years ago that I’d be singing in front of people, I wouldn’t believe you. But it’s also great because my favorite musicians are in the band–they all inspire me.
Jonathan: We are all in tune with each other. Evan and I have individually, and unknowingly, written the same songs.
You are soul brothers…
Jonathan and Evan: We even have had the same recurring nightmare separately since childhood.
There is a beautiful vulnerability you have as a group that seeps through into your songs. Can you each talk about which song on Gush means the most to each of you and why?
Drew: “Do Find My Love” is my favorite one. Sound-wise, it’s based off two acoustic guitars. It has a simple musical structure. It doesn’t sound as electric as the other songs. It has a cool clarinet that reminds me of New Orleans. It’s a simple song, but also powerful and haunting.
Evan: I’m going to pick the song that I wrote, “Medium Rare.” It’s the first song I ever recorded. It was cool to see the differences between the different engineers and their process, and seeing the way they played with tone or sound. My song embodies how I wouldn’t be singing if it weren’t for the Howard brothers, they pushed me to open up in a new way. The song is very lonely, telling of the time I lived in New York, surrounded by a lot of people, but basically alone. It was the parallel of how being a lonely person and being a ghost are similar.
Jonathan: I don’t know if this was your intention, but it kind of feels like group therapy right now (laughs). I love every single song, but I think I like “Waste You” the most, because of the lyrics. Instrumentally, it’s well arranged. The riff is the same thing throughout the entirety of it, but once the bass and drums kick in, the pattern changes. It gives the illusion that there is a change, but there isn’t. Also, I love playing guitar with Evan in the song, because we have particular picking styles that we like to do. Our minds always go towards something that is pretty or haunting. It’s a dance between what Evan and I do, almost like two people gliding around a ballroom together or floating in the sky together.
Evan: Yeah, it’s fun to share those different levels of playing music and sharing your feelings, never afraid to show it all with each other. In particular with “Waste You” it’s a fun song, but it hurts my hands to play it. They are simple chords but I stretch my hand out so much that it hurts bad at the end. You can hear it at the end of the song, which ends up benefiting it.
Jonathan: I really love our band–imperfection is something we accept. There’s always something we mess up, but there’s an imperfection within all the songs we write that shows exactly how fragile our songs are, because it’s never perfect. There are flaws, but we all relate to them and accept it.
Richard: Perfect does not exist.
Drew: We’ve always played best in non-venues. On a stage there isn’t as much comfort, and then of course people are always talking in clubs too.
Richard: I don’t understand why people don’t treat going to a show the same as going to a movie or the theatre. But as far as picking a favorite song, I enjoy how the whole record flows. You should sit down with it, but if you need a breather, I recommend doing so after the fourth track. The last three songs are what will be the B-side of the record. The flipping of a record is the timeless pause.
You describe your band as a labor of love, mentally and physically, down to carrying one heavy instrument up flights of stairs for six notes of play time that you feel makes all the difference. Listening to Gush, I hear the subtle and delicate feelings sewn into each song. Thank you for that, it’s quite the gift as a listener.
Evan: Thank you. It’s a big band, but the sound is not that huge. There are many subtleties. The theme I have learned through playing with this band is restraint. It’s easy to go off, but doing less and doing it slower makes so much sense.
Richard: When writing music, the way everyone talks about music is different, it’s six different languages becoming one, constantly for hours trying to translate to each what we mean.
Jonathan: If I come up with a part and ask Evan which one I should use, he tells me why don’t you do both. Then usually that’s what happens, using an ever so slightly variation of both – it’s stimulating.
You can catch Cigarette on their short tour this month, a treat for anyone in attendance. If you do get out, remember to give the band your full attention as they deserve it and so do you.
March 11th – Providence, RI at ‘Building 16’
March 12th – Washington, DC at Paper Sun
March 13th – Richmond, VA at PSK Manor
March 14th – Greensboro, NC at TYP Hause – 1015 Warren St