Given the notoriously stoic nature of Richmond audiences, Kemper Blair and Stuart Holt of Cubscout & the Rhinoceros are rightfully pleased about any movement from the crowd. “I think Cous Cous is the first time anybody's ever danced at one of our shows,” Holt says.
Fans have had plenty of opportunities to get acquainted with the music, as Cubscout just finished playing three local shows in one week. And because the musicians record everything directly to Holt's laptop, which is carried from house to house to practice space, new songs are always in the works. The two are about four songs into a second full-length album and they have a split 7-inch record with their friends Amazing Ghost coming out in the next few months.
Battling the (not swine) flu, Holt joined Blair and Style Weekly via speaker phone to help us determine whether or not Cubscout & the Rhinoceros really is a “fun-time band.”
Style: Tell us about that one song…
Kemper Blair: “Moneytime at the Eastern Express” is about playing scratcher tickets at a convenience store on Grace Street. And trying to win big. I buy scratcher tickets and lottery tickets there a lot.
Style: Have you ever won big?
Stuart Holt: That was the first song we ever wrote that had bass guitar. Up until that point, it was all acoustic guitar or piano. I would describe it as a fun, simple disco-punk song. It's faster, a little more punk rock, but also dancier than some of our other songs. At least compared to the songs we have on (the first full-length) “Greetings from Holly Street Park.” Most of our stuff is acoustic ballads or electronic dance music. Party rock.
Blair: Overall, I'd say the band is about having a good time.
Style: You both played in Dead Goats, which was a straight-up garage, rock 'n' roll band. What made you go in this direction?
Holt: We were still in Dead Goats when Cubscout started. Kemper and I started writing these songs that were a little poppier, basically songs that wouldn't work with Dead Goats. One day we were hanging out and started recording some of the songs.
Blair: When other people couldn't practice, Stuart and I would still want to hang out and play music. So, we'd go to his apartment and make up songs on his computer. It really took off when he bought a keyboard and got better at the programs on the computer. We'd been making up these songs the whole time, but it took us four years to play a show. We just enjoyed creating songs, not necessarily for anything. Once Dead Goats started slowing down though, we were like, “Screw it, let's play a show.” In the history of the band, that's our biggest achievement.
Holt: Also, Kemper and I have been in bands together for the past 10 years and this is the first band we've been in that released a CD with actual cover art (both laugh).
Style: You remixed “Little Secrets” by Passion Pit. How did that come about?
Holt: There was a remix contest where they posted a bunch of different stems from “Little Secrets” online that you could download. A band will cut up their songs into little samples, called stems, like the section of a track, or a section of the vocals, or a guitar lick. You have free reign to use them to make a remix. I threw together my version of what a remix of that song should be. We didn't win.
Blair: We actually set up a show with Passion Pit. Everything was set into motion and then they signed to a giant label.
Holt: Yeah, they were just a band from Boston that was barely starting to get some mentions for a track off their first album called “Sleepyhead.” I heard the track, too, and said “this is sweet.” So, I sent them an e-mail saying that we were this new band from Richmond, we loved their song, and we should do a show. They were like, “Yeah, whatever, that sounds great!” Literally the next week, they got signed to one of the three major labels. And we never heard from them again.
Blair: They went to Japan or something.
Holt: And we're on a never-ending Richmond tour. We're trying to play every venue.
Style: Do you think Cubscout & the Rhinoceros fits in with bands like Passion Pit?
Holt: There are a lot of bands like Passion Pit or MGMT who, when they're writing and recording the songs, it's just one or two people who do everything. When they go on tour, they translate their recordings into this full band where they have drums, multiple guitars, and all that. I think that is the main distinction from us. Kemper and I write all of our music and the two of us record it. We keep that true [for live shows]. Even though, a lot of times, that means more stuff is programmed or sequenced. We don't try to translate it into a rock 'n' roll type thing.
Blair: Basically, we'll cut out certain parts that can be played live. There will be an electronic bass track that I'll play on a live bass. Stuart will play the different keyboard parts himself.
Style: How does that compare to playing in a full rock 'n' roll band?
Holt: I will say, for me, I prefer playing rock 'n' roll live. The energy is better, the sweating and everybody getting into it. For live music, I like rock 'n' roll. But, I prefer the songs in this band -- the structure and the melodies and even some of the synthesizer sounds.
Blair: This band has a lot to do with the songwriting process as opposed to live performance. We just want to make songs that we have fun making. A lot of the songs are ridiculous, like the lyrical content, but it's supposed to be funny. We still play in another group that has a more traditional setup, two guitars and drums. It's a great outlet to just jam with people, instead of sitting in front of a keyboard and drum machine trying to think up a song.
Holt: When we get together sometimes, trying to write new songs for Cubscout, it does get really difficult. There are almost too many sounds and options. We'll spend weeks and weeks trying to write songs and won't be able to. But, when we get together to play [in the other band], we switch gears and it's all about playing simple rock songs. Then, we'll go back and try to write Cubscout songs and it's a lot easier because we've cleared our minds.
Style: How have your audiences changed?
Blair: When we played with the Dead Goats, the only girls that would be there were wives and girlfriends of bearded, sweaty, large dudes.
Holt: It was a total bro band. Cubscout is like the polar opposite. Now it's all young college girls coming to our shows. But, nobody talks to us still.
“Greetings from Holly Street Park” is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Rhapsody. You can also visit myspace.com/rhinocerosrva for show updates.