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Photo by Nicholas Troughton

Interview: Max Gerlock of Super Cassette

Recently, I reviewed “Better in Reverse,” the current single of California alt-rock quartet Super Cassette. Once the band shared my review, frontman Max Gerlock agreed to a follow-up interview. We discussed Max’s formative musical influences alongside identical twin brother/co-frontman Nick, their initial success with Super Cassette, the thematic intentions behind “Better in Reverse,” as well as what they have gleaned from their time together as a growing unit. The band has another release in the works, with an upcoming tour in August.

ME: Back in April, you wrapped up your mini tour. How was that for you?

Max: It was good! It was kind of a last-minute thing with some random gigs here and there, but it was really fun. And it was great to be on the road with our new drummer. We all had a great time!

ME: Prior to that, you played some acoustic shows, and I understand that your electric sound contains an arsenal of fuzz and dirge. How do the acoustic arrangements come out?

Max: That’s a good question! It’s interesting because we do have songs that lend themselves to acoustics, but as you’d said, others are dirgy and fuzz-sounding. I think it’s really the energy of the song and what you involve in it that changes, more so than the physical volume, but the energy still translates. It’s totally different, but there’s a certain way about it that reaches people more directly. We’re actually booking a tour for August, and some of the shows on it will be acoustic with just me and my brother Nick. Hopefully, we’ll have more opportunities to do that.

ME: When you and your brother were growing up, what kind of influences shaped you as musicians?

Max: For me, the time that I started really listening to a lot of bands was about 11 or so — a lot of mainstream stuff. My favorite band was Green Day, and even now, they’re still a guilty pleasure of mine. I remember Nick really got into They Might Be Giants, so there’s kind of a duality of influences there. By high school, I think we both got into Radiohead. Also Animal Collective, who influence us to this day, and Sufjan Stevens. Those were what you’d call our teenage influences. I guess Nick and I have pretty similar tastes. Early on, I was more straightforward pop punk, and he was more alternative, but it’s those differences that have influenced our sound in a positive way.

ME: Yeah, I notice that as an identical twin myself. It’s interesting how your paths change as you grow older.

Max: Yup. I think when you’re in that situation growing up, part of you wants to establish your own identity versus how you are with your twin, whether it’s intentional or not.

ME: I can relate for sure. Now, before including him in the band, you were originally coming up as a solo artist, right?

Max: That’s right. We actually both went to Berkeley, and I graduated a semester before him. That was when I finally had time to pursue music. I played some live shows by myself first, and when I wanted to get Nick on board, he reluctantly agreed (laughs). Once we played a show together, it was really awesome, and we put the band together based on how good that show was.

ME: From the success of your show, that also translated into your first single, “Colorblind/Sober” receiving pretty sizable recognition. How did that feel?

Max: That was awesome, and kind of unexpected. Honestly, I’m pleased with “Sober.” “Colorblind” I would have done something different to, but they’re both really good songs. I credit part of the single’s success to a post I made on Reddit. Our dad makes guitars by hand, and when I graduated, he made me a custom guitar, which is cool. So, I posted a walkthrough video about the process and linked it with our music. That helped it spread a little bit. Also, since we released the single through Bandcamp on floppy disk, the site took notice and included it as a highlight release for that week. It’s incredibly humbling and gratifying to have experienced that level of exposure.

ME: Off the success of your single, how did Cathode Ray Tube come about?

Max: We wanted to do a full-fledged release, so we wrote six songs together and recorded them. It didn’t catch on as much as “Sober” did, but it came out really well, and we did a little tour around it, so that was fun.

ME: In terms of handling production, do you produce everything yourself?

Max: That’s right. With the exception of a couple of songs, I’ve recorded and mixed pretty much everything. It’s really cool since you have total control of the sound. After you initially record everything in the studio, you can come back to it yourself and refine anything that’s missing. I like to approach it as if I’m fleshing out a painting. Adding those additional textures can really transform a song into something that feels like a piece of art, or something that can fit on an album.

ME: Do you consider the process to be an accumulation of trial an error, while gradually teaching yourself the more technical aspects?

Max: That’s kind of how it went, yeah. Our early recordings were pretty rough (laughs), but yeah, it was down to trial and error, as well as reading stuff online. What especially helped was taking a couple classes. If I didn’t have that experience, I wouldn’t insist on producing our music. It takes a lot of time to get good at, but I’m glad for having taken that time, so I can feel proud of something that I did by myself.

ME: When it comes to your new single, “Better in Reverse,” what does that song mean to you?

Max: For me personally, it resonates on the level of a personal relationship, as well as a large-scale view. It’s cliche to say there’s a political slant to the song, but I do acknowledge that we’re living in an era of tremendous backward thinking. In a broad sense, it addresses the destruction of relationships, the climate, and the exploitation of natural resources. Sometimes, that comes with the question of, “Why did we fall out of the primordial ooze to make ourselves unhappy and fierce?” and that maybe it would have been better to stay a lifeless universe.

ME: In your own experience, how do you see yourself through those tough times?

Max: I’m immensely grateful and fortunate to have food to eat and a place to sleep at night, so I can’t complain too much. I do get a bit cynical, though, when I see certain things in the world aren’t largely improving. But even if you can’t improve the world on a grand scale, what you could do is embrace your personal relationships, as those are some of the most important things in your life.

ME: I like how the music video progresses, whereby at the end (or I should say the ‘beginning’), it seems like the fight was over a slice of pizza!

Max: Yeah (laughs)! Though I’d like to think of it more as just we were eating pizza before the conflict happened, and we actually left it ambiguous as to how the conflict was actually started. In the video, me and Zach, our former drummer, are having an argument that basically gets out of control. When we were filming, we didn’t know what the argument was going to be about. So, we just improvised and talked about the Shrek movies. When Zach referred to Shrek as a Disney movie, I was like, “It’s a Dreamworks movie! What are you talking about?” You can’t actually hear us talking about that in the video, but the theme represents, as you’d said, how something so trivial can spiral out of control.

ME: Will we see this theme expanded upon in your upcoming release?

Max: Probably. I think it will go into more of a narrative about personal relationships, but there will definitely be more of a variety of topics that are viewed with a kind of sarcastic outlook.

ME: Do you ever take a step back and recognize what you’ve learned, both in forming this band, and going through the motions?

Max: Yeah, and I think we’ve grown a lot since we formed. We all feel like there’s still a lot more to accomplish, in a good way. I’m excited about what we have in store down the line, and I’m inspired to keep working hard. Since the beginning, we’ve gotten pretty tight playing live, and it’s a unique feeling that differs from being in the studio. But from a recording standpoint, too, I feel like our direction is a lot more focused, and my mixing skills are getting much better. Yeah, I’m really glad to see our growth.

ME: Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Max: Look forward to new music! We have a bunch of new songs that I’m mixing and getting mastered. We’re also hoping to get off the west coast at some point to reach our further out fans in Michigan and Boston, and we’re excited to see you guys.

Super Cassette Socials:

Official Website|Facebook||SoundCloud|Bandcamp

About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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