Pete Cafarella – keyboards, vocals
Josh Blair – drums
Rafael Cohen – vocals, guitars
Justin Moyer “Destroyer” – bass, vocals
It was a dark and rainy night. Okay, I lie. It was a bright but cloudy day in Austin at SXSW. It had been pouring and people were scrambling from one club to another to catch this band and that. My catch was meeting Supersystem after their show at Room 710 where they performed at the Touch and Go Records/Kill Rock Stars showcase, enticing an enthusiastic group of kids to dance to and fro, causing heat to pour from the venue into the gloominess outside.
After being in existence for over nine years, Supersystem has spent the last year peeling off old skin and wiping the slate clean. First came the addition of Josh Blair on drums, allowing Justin Moyer “Destroyer” to focus on bass, keyboard, and vocal duties. Then came the name change, having to retire El Guapo when another Chicago band beat them to the trademark punch (“They are sponsored by Budweiser and McDonald’s…We might have the rights to the name; then again, we might not. We didn’t want to pay a bunch of lawyers to find out…We never really liked the name anyway”).
After that they kept themselves busy writing new material and leaving their former label Dischord for Touch and Go Records. But then, Supersystem (which I’m guessing they took from their 2001 release of the same name) is used to reinvention. For almost a decade the group’s music has continually taken on new identities, starting off with a more hard rock edge and to moving towards the waviness of experimental, to where they are now, in the middle of a frantic display of a pop, electro mixture where the Thompson Twins travel the Caribbean with Radio 4, and stop over in Calcutta along the way.
“We were playing really abstract music and went as far as we wanted to go with that,” said Rafael Cohen, guitarist and vocalist for the band, “Then it could probably change again.”
This comment is true even within the album itself. “Devour Delight” plays the backdrop to an exotic parade crossing the desert and carrying precious cargo, including the great Cleopatra, and the flash, you’re taken forward in time hundreds of years to “1977,” smack in the middle of a mosh pit shakedown at CBGBs, with a hawk to beat all get out.
To see the band play live, songs from their Touch And Go debut, Always Never Again, come to life even more, especially on “Defcon” where Destroyer seemed to hang from the rafters, hypnotizing the crowd with a frenetic musical display that 20 years earlier, could have easily been replicated by the young and viral Adam Ant, leading a parade of Japanese robots through the town of Tokyo on a Sake induced rampage. Keyboardists and vocalist Pete Cafarella, on the other hand, sported this continuous Cheshire smile as he worked the kids from behind his magical devices.
At this particular show, Cafarella decided to turn up the charm knob a bit to spite a parody Boy Scout Troupe that was attempting to entertain the crowd in between acts by taunting them.
“Those dudes were talking so much shit. I didn’t think you had to call people bastards. I didn’t think it was that funny,” said Cafarella, obviously annoyed.
Cohan replies to his band mate in his matter-of-fact manner, “That’s their thing though. I think they’re from Chunklet Magazine and just make fun of everything. I think their last issue was the ‘Most Overrated Bands’ issue, and I laughed.”
In the makeshift interview space within the confines of their tour van, we dove into the topic of how their abstractness hadn’t left them when it came to their lyrical concepts. The Samba-heat-meets-pop-rock-candy on “Everybody Sings,” they ask some Zen-like questions, “Do you feel a connection to people in your dreams…on the street…to everyone alive,” or, “Do you feel disconnected?” all with a huge ironic quality, since the pure level of passion within the song could cause one to make out with the stranger next to them, but with a familiar embrace.
“Six Cities” speaks of man-made communities, one made of steel, another of glass, and yet another of plastic, and the way the people within them lived. By using interesting metaphors, they seem to take an microscopic view of society and the cultures within which we live.
“I guess we’re kind of interested in the dream world, in a way…more abstract lyrics,” said Cohen.
Looking out the window for a minute to see the rain run down the windows, Cafarella explains, “We’re definitely influenced by the music of the whole world, so it would be great if some of that came across. I love music from Africa, Asia, and everywhere. I mean, everyone it seems these days listens to every kind of music. So much music is available now that hasn’t been in the past. It’s easy to get, legally or illegally.”
When it came to putting together Always Never Again, Supersystem had over half of the album already recorded when they first began talks with Touch and Go, and would then send them songs as they were finished.
“They heard almost all of it before we finalized anything with them, but it was a leap of faith on their part,” said Cohen, who ponders for a moment and then adds, “Um, I hope their pleased with it,” as the others laugh along.
In addition to doing all the recording, the band also performed all the producing duties. According to Cohen, the songs they began with at the recording sessions took on a whole new life in the post recording stages.
“I would say that most of the songs on the record were changed significantly from the first time we started playing them,” he states. “Whole rhythms of songs were completely changed, adding and subtracting different parts. I think we really fine tuned everything as much as we could. We looked at everything at the smallest possible level, and nothing was sacred. If something started like, as the basis of a song, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t gonna get axed and replaced by something else.
Putting their egos aside for the good of the album was essential to being satisfied with the final outcome. Reflecting on that for a moment, Cohen laughs, “Well, we’re at least trying to let go of our egos.”
Whatever the case, and with their reputation for turnstyling their musical formulas, the one they’re running with now is working splendidly. From beginning to end, existing fans of the El Guapo brigade to the new recruits of the Supersystem ship, rocked to their performance at Room 710.
“It seems that a lot of people will say after shows that they had fun. I think we all have a goal to make fun music,” said Cafarella.
As we get ready to bail out of the van and venture into the cloudy day, Blair speaks up, “We’ve been working on this for a long time. It’s a definite change from the last few El Guapo records. I wasn’t on them, so personally, I’m excited to have the record and have the whole thing complete and moving forward.”
Cohen adds, “We’ve been playing these songs live for a while, but now hopefully with the record they’ll get to know them.”
Cafarella shines his grin and jokingly says, “I’m just looking for a reason to smile.”
Supersystem played Cervantes the last time they came to Denver and this time around they’ll be at Rock Island Wednesday, May 4 with Denver’s Atlas before heading through to the west, and then finishing at the Drunken Unicorn in Atlanta. From there it’s a jump across the pond to Europe.
To get a listen, you can stream Always Never Again in its entirety at Touch and Go’s website, www.tngr.com.