Interview Cerebral Ballzy Talks About Their Love For Old School Punk

Interview with bassist Melvin Honore  |  By Janelle Jones  |  Photo by Alan Snodgrass

In between tours this spring, Cerebral Ballzy bassist Melvin took the time to talk about the old-school punk loving band and their sophomore album Jaded & Faded.

Did you just get back from tour?

We had a break in between the two legs, so we did a West Coast run just now with Off! and the last show we taped for Carson Daly at The Roxy. Now we’re winding down on our two weeks off, and then we go out again in Minneapolis, and then go throughout the East Coast. It’s still a bit of time, about a month more of touring, and then we end off in Vegas for the Punk Rock Bowling festival.

You mentioned Off! It seems like you’ve played with them a bunch of times.

We have. I guess when we were supporting our first record, we kinda ran that one out a bit, and we just spent a lot of time on this new one. We’re still playing a lot of our old stuff and [Off!] are friends of ours. When it comes to touring, they think about us first and, if we can’t do it, then they go elsewhere. It’s really fun touring with those dudes. It makes sense too, sound-wise.

Off!’s Keith Morris is from Circle Jerks. They must’ve been one of the bands that got you into all this.

Yeah, totally. He’s awesome.

You’ve played with FLAG, Fear…

It’s really cool that those dudes essentially validated what we were doing.

When you guys first got together, you just knew the style you were going for and everyone was on the same page?

We were all on different pages. [Laughs] We didn’t actually start this band as a band really. We were just a skate crew that would drink excessively. Eventually, because I was in a bunch of bands before and I had a bunch of amps in a basement, whenever the guys would come hang out at my place, it would be like we’d just plug in here and make some noise. It was more than just us, it was a crew of kids. We’d just make noise and then all of a sudden, it became a song. So after all that shit, we had four songs and we played basement parties throughout Brooklyn. One of them ended up being a CMJ show that our friend whose venue now is shutdown had an opportunity to get us involved in. People started paying attention to us because the name was so ridiculous, we had this high-energy party vibe, and we were like, “Holy shit, are we a band now?” We only had four songs. What the fuck are we supposed to do? Then from there it just spiraled out, but we got a tour offer that ended in SXSW at some point within six months, so from there we kept going. And then, I guess we started taking ourselves seriously and it was like, “All right, maybe we should actually try and write an album now.” [Laughs]

Yeah, and I just saw you were featured on Spin’s site and in NME, you guys kinda got big. New York Times and stuff. From humble beginnings…

It’s literally a fairytale story.

And you play a lot in the U.K. They must really love you there.

Yeah, it’s funny, the U.K., they kinda latched on a little bit faster. I think they just caught onto it. Since that caught on, it just became financially sensible for us to go to the U.K. rather than to do a U.S. tour. We went wherever kept the lights on for us. We did that for a while. I feel like we’re making a little more noise in America now. That’s exciting for us.

I saw you have one show at the Bowery Ballroom coming up. Does it feel a little more special to come back home and play NYC now that you’ve been all over?

I’d say so. We have a lot of friends here still, so it’s always a homecoming vibe to us. No matter what size the show. We still try to make something a little special about N.Y. That’s where it all started and that’s where most of us are from.

Have you always had the same members or has it changed over the years?

It changed. It was the same for the first three years and then our drummer had to leave. Now we’re inbetween because our guitarist Mason is having personal issues, so he might not be able to go out on the road with us this year. We’re debating being a four-piece as we speak.

How did you get with Cult Records?

They essentially came to us. Julian Casablancas is actually a big fan of ours. I think he discovered us through the NME coverage we got on the last record, because we had a couple features in there. I think they gave us a spread for the Christmas edition. I think that’s when he ultimately caught wind of what we were doing. I know he and [vocalist] Honor [Titus] run in the same circles back in N.Y. and go to the same vintage shops and have a couple book stores in common, so there was something more organic brewing on that end. We didn’t even know he ran that label until he actually came to us. It’s like, “Hey, Julian from The Strokes digs us, that’s cool.” But then it’s like, “Oh shit, he has a label and wants to put us out,” so it was really a no-brainer on all sides. To have someone that excited about what you’re doing, and in the position where he can do something about it, that’s an exciting feeling. We’re just ecstatic really.

One of your recent singles came out on good old cassette. I know that’s kinda the “cool” thing now. I still have a cassette player in my car and my stereo at home.

[Laughter] I feel like you’re a rare breed. I think most people get the cassettes and view them as collectible.

So why this format?

It’s tangible, it’s punk, it’s fun. It makes it kind of rare in my mind. Why not? It’s like saying I hate vinyl. Many people still appreciate that format. I feel like making everything digital-only is just becoming a shame. People are becoming detached to what it meant to be involved in a certain culture. Everything’s becoming intangible. Part of being a music fan is going to venues, or readers going to a bookstore and picking up your favorite hard cover. Everything you can download and click and have it instantly, it [takes out] the heart and soul that was put into what you are absorbing. We’re always gonna have that tangible vibe.

A lot of the songs on this album have different vibes. Even though I love hardcore punk, I still really like “Lonely as America” and “Off With Your Head.” You switch it up.

I love those ones actually. It’s funny, because those were the two songs. We knew we wanted to push the envelope with us at least showing a melodic sense, and those were the iffy tracks. We were kinda nervous, didn’t know how people would react to it. In a sense, we don’t care, but it’s more that you wanna make a concise piece of work. We opted to do them, but there was a bit of doubt.

So how did you decide?

At the end of the recording session, Dave [Sitek] was really excited about it. And we were singing it the entire time on our way out from the studio. We kinda just let our guard down and just went with the flow on that. Not to sound cheesy, but that’s literally how it went.

Cerebral Ballzy play main stage at Punk Rock Bowling on May 26th.

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