Chris Cohen is a member of the band Cryptacize, an indie quartet whose recently released LP, Mythomania (Asthmatic Kitty), is a fascinating, oftentimes whimsical, affair. It traverses myriad musical genres: psych-rock, alt-folk, non-Western music, and echoes of Fifties-era pop balladry. The album’s artwork, drawn by Nat Russell, mirrors the band’s sense of inquisitive playfulness.
Cryptacize has been touring up a storm in support of Mythomania, driving from gig to gig in a tiny Toyota Corolla, necessitating a stage show employing miniature amps and a spare drum kit. The band’s turned this supposed limitation into a virtue, ramping up the performance energy level as they bring down the amplitude; providing their entertainment up close at intimate venues for enthusiastic audiences.
Carey: What inspired the title Mythomania?
Cohen: The filmmaker Raul Ruiz was talking about Hollywood movies or something – we just liked the word for some reason. Actually we had to look it up. But ‘mythomania’ is also good if you don’t know what it means – ‘myths’ and ‘mania;’ both pertinent to our album. “Mythomania” really means compulsive lying, where you have to make up one story after another to justify previous lies.
Our music is created by a process something like that – not that we’re lying – but one thing leads to another in a compulsive kind of way, and you end up with something in the end that’s really weird and isn’t what you’d expect originally. I think that in general a person’s sense of reality goes something like that too – the narrative we feel like we’re living sort of self-generates and sends us on a very particular, self-determining path which seems somehow already decided.
Carey: I really enjoyed the CD’s artwork – how did you decide on images from the book This is the Smoke that is Inside You?
Cohen: Nat Russell is our friend from Oakland and we are fans of his work. We just came across the drawings and said ‘yes!’
Carey: Cryptacize’s sound brings together a bunch of influences, including Non-Western rhythms and vocal inflections. Would you tell me a bit about some of your favorite reference points from outside the Western pop canon?
Cohen: We are interested in all genres. If you check our blog, we post mixes there of stuff we’ve been listening to lately, so you could get more detail… anyway I would say I like individual artists in every genre, but never every artist in any genre. Lately I really like Selda Bacgan, Fairuz, the film composers Shankar-Jaikishan, Group Doueh, Etoile de Dakar, the Pearl Sisters… we’re pretty much open to whatever is unique/exceptional… a lot of that music is older stuff. I like new stuff too, like Fiji music, but I don’t know about as much there. It’s kind of like African highlife music mixed with rap, just drums and vocals, and they have really good videos on YouTube.
Carey: At the same time, pop styles from early rock ‘n roll to psych-rock are palpable. It’s great to hear you bring an intricate groove together with more straightforward rock signatures on a song like “Tall & Mane.” How did that arrangement come together?
Cohen: Thanks – I don’t know – Mike and I just started playing that rhythm pattern together on the cowbell and guitar. It was trial and error like everything else. We wanted it to sound frantic so we brought in the sped-up guitars…
Carey: “Gotta Get Into that Feeling” and “I’ll take the Long Way” are examples of another kind of music-making at which Cryptacize excels: the ballad. Sometimes, it’s startling how earnestly presented your ballads are. Given how cynical pop culture can be, is it difficult to allow a song to be earnest in its emotional appeal?
Cohen: No it’s not difficult. That’s just our natural personalities… I guess I think a cynical ballad would be horrible. Ballads should be sad! They should make people cry! How are you going to do that and be cynical?
Carey: Are you still driving a Toyota Corolla to gigs?
Cohen: Yes, although not for too much longer… 4 people’s starting to kind of push it for space.
Carey: Using mini amps and a small drum kit certainly keeps things streamlined for touring. How have they affected your musical approach?
Cohen: The tiny equipment pretty much made it possible for us to go on tour. On the money we make, we can’t afford to pay for much gas. We do like the sounds of our tiny equipment though! And it makes the sound-person’s job a lot easier, they like things pretty quiet on stage usually. I don’t know why, I love little amps. And my back loves me not carrying heavy ones anymore!