Sex and Rock ‘n Roll have been lumped together so long that many now assume they’re two sides of the same coin. For those with more extreme inclinations its not unfair to argue that Rock ‘n Roll was created solely for the purpose of sex. In spite of these associations, Cantalouper’s newest release, “Reproduction,” somehow avoids cliche. “Reproduction”–beyond the obvious mention of sex as reproduction–conjures the ultimate purpose of coitus by featuring a lone sperm about to fertilize an egg, all with a sea-green color scheme on its cover. Though connected to sex, the music of Cantalouper does not remind me of Mick Jagger or Slash. Instead, Cantalouper’s music, under the strong guidance of Levi Dolan’s talented songwriting abilities, seems like a group of anti-hero songs meant for those who are down and out.
Over the past few weeks I dove into the music of Cantalouper and sent some questions to Levi, to which he responded promptly with candor. On May 8, 2015 “Reproduction” will be released for purchase and download. Until then, consider helping Cantalouper and enjoy Levi’s answers to my questions. He’s a genuine guy and deserves all the success he hopes to achieve.
Could you tell me a bit about the band? What’s Columbia like? How’d you guys meet?
Our band members met through mutual friends when we were all looking for a way to develop some kind of musical project, and I was the one with a bunch of songs and a band name. We’ve had a couple of lineup changes along the way, but Cantalouper has been going steadily for the last seven years. We’re in a college town where there are lots of small, specific niches of interest. We want to reflect our musical influences genuinely, while also being true to the fact that we’re a Midwestern band in the present day. In terms of the band’s sound, that means we look for ways to have a strong songwriting core, with interesting textures and atmospheric ideas layered throughout.
Do you have any good stories from trips on the road?
It’s amazing how much fun it is to think about uncomfortable moments on the road after enough time has passed. One early fall, I was on tour with my friends Nathan and Chris of Spoken Nerd. The van’s air conditioning was broken, and it was still hitting ninety degrees every day in the Ozarks. So we rolled down the windows and kept listening to a spooky, garbled, tape of Elvis singing hymns. Sometimes his muddy voice would pop out just for a moment as we slowed down to round a bend, in a way that was somehow both annoying and creepy. Eventually our driving time degenerated into taking turns making up parody versions of each other’s songs on Chris’s ukulele. Those moments are the indie rock version of bad family vacation stories.
What are some of your interests outside of music?
I really love hearing different kinds of writers talk about their process and philosophy. My favorite author I’ve found in the last few years is George Saunders. He writes short stories that often deal with the blue collar world, with science fiction elements. His stuff is both funny and sad, with a very satisfying economy to it.
Could you expand on the story of meeting David Bazan? How did he reach out to you? How’d you approach him with your tape? What was his reaction?
I used to go to every Pedro the Lion show within a day’s driving distance of Columbia. I had an extremely vague idea of wanting to write songs and record them and have someone hear them. I made lots of four track tapes and would fill up a shoe box and then put the box in a drawer and start another one. I was not a good writer. I eventually decided I needed to share what I was doing with someone. In a hero-worshippy but genuine way, I trusted that Bazan would get the part of what I was making that was important. I used to always wait after shows and listen to other people talk to him; I was too shy to say anything for a long time. Finally one night I gave him a cassette tape of my best stuff and we talked about it at another show later on. He told me he liked it and wanted me to come out to his house to make a record. Eventually that morphed into me recording most of the first Cantalouper EP at home, and then going out to Seattle to track a couple more things and mix the songs with Bazan. Working with him was one of the best things I’ve ever got to do. And that led to me leaving my bedroom and getting the band going. So I’m very grateful he was so kind to me when I was tentative and very naive about anything that had to do with rock music.
Name your two favorite bands from pre 1970. How about two from post 1970?
Pre-1970, what I’ve listened to the most the last few years is early David Bowie and then Leslie Gore’s first records. I just love how dense and compact the song structures can get, while still delivering the hooks. Post-1970, my favorite band of all time is Starflyer 59. They’re a good band for learning about how to communicate emotions sonically, how the sounds of words are part of their meaning, and how that moment when the melody and the words meld together and form something that’s not quite either one can be the greatest thing there is. Another really big reference for me post-1970 is the band Bedhead and the Kadane brothers (I found The Finger because of the interview your publication did with Matt Kadane). For me, Bedhead really opened up what rock and roll can be. I deeply connect with the how deliberately the song structures build and release in their music. Before hearing Bedhead, I couldn’t articulate how much I love it when the most cathartic moment in a song can inform you about ideas which preceded it. And when they rock, they rock so hard.