Toning down a band's math-rock inclinations can be good for the spirit, as Matthew Whipple can attest. "It's more fun to be in Cymbals Eat Guitars now than ever," he says of the Staten Island indie-rock band, which is currently touring behind its third and most recent album, Lose.
A bigger, more direct record than 2011's math-rock-ish Lenses Alien, Lose was deliberately designed to connect more directly, both on record and onstage.
"We wanted to make more of a rock record, and we wanted to put on more of a rock show, rather than a meticulous indie rock thing," says the musician, who came onboard after the departure of original bassist Neil Berenholz in 2009. The new sound, he notes, was "just a natural progression for the band."
"It's more instantly engaging and a little more fun to play night after night. It's definitely something we intended to do. It was a conscious decision."
Cymbals Eat Guitars started out in 2007 when guitarist Joseph D'Agostino and drummer Matthew Miller — who had graduated from Southern Regional High School in Manhattan just a year earlier — began making music that drew heavily on indie rock of the '90s, à la Pavement and, to some extent, Sonic Youth. The group's name is lifted from a quote Lou Reed used to describe the sound of his influential band, the Velvet Underground.
The band's 2009 debut album, Why There Are Mountains, landed Cymbals Eat Guitars on shows with the Flaming Lips and at the influential Pitchfork Music Festival.
Lenses Alien, its first release on current label Barsuk Records, introduced a revamped lineup, and the following tour continued to raise the band's visibility. Now Lose, which chronicles impending death, disappointment, and maturity from D'Agostino's point of view, has brought more attention to the band — which is difficult to get in an era dominated by pop, hip-hop and EDM.
"There's a sense that rock bands and rock music isn't the hottest thing to be writing and talking about," Whipple says. "But it's still filling rooms around the world. There are still tons of bands making rock music and people coming to see it."
That observation was borne out at this year's South by Southwest, where rock is still alive and well.
"We played with some amazing people we're thrilled to be associated with, like Courtney Barnett and Iceage," says Whipple, who's steadfastly optimistic about the state of rock. "It's still out there. It isn't disappearing or anything like that."
Meanwhile, Cymbals Eat Guitars are doing their fair share to keep it alive. The group is touring hard behind Lose. The album is filled with songs that rise to majestic, layered guitar crescendos, something that's not all that easy to translate in live performance.
"That's the one main thing live, it has cathartic moments that flow up from within the songs," says Whipple. "We work really hard to make it that way."