of Goes Cube, a surprisingly heavy Brooklyn band on the rise. But the print edition only allowed a small portion of guitarist/vocalist David Obuchowski's funny, incisive and revealing comments to be included. Below, find the entire interview, conducted while Obuchowski was throwing T-shirts in a suitcase an hour or so before departing for Goes Cube's current tour.
Westword [Michael Roberts]: Where are you from originally?
David Obuchowski: I'm from New Jersey, and actually that's where I met our drummer, Kenny [Appell]. He and I had our first band together. I was in eighth grade, he was a freshman. It was this little metal band. And then when I graduated, I went to the University of Illinois, and that's where I met our bass player, Matt [Frey]. We met in our freshman year, and we had bands together, and years later, we all came together in Brooklyn.
WW: Let me slow you down a little. Where in New Jersey? And can you give me some background on your familiy?
DO: I'm from Morristown, and let's see... My folks, they met in Patterson, New Jersey, and I've got an older brother. He's nothing at all like me. Well, first of all, I'd describe him as one of my best friends. I love him to death. But secondarily, I guess I would describe him as being conservative and brilliant and not at all musically inclined. It's painful to watch him. When he gets within a ten yard radius of an instrument, the instrument just runs away. It pleads for its life. He would definitely not disagree with that either.
WW: I was going to ask if he influenced you musically. I guess not...
DO: Well, honestly, he did so indirectly in two ways. One of them was basically, he ended up trading some sort of electronic gadget when he was young — I'm five years younger than him — he traded this gadget for an electric guitar, which I took from him. My brother never had any interest in the guitar anyway, so my first electric guitar was one of his friends', and then it became mine.
WW: Why did he want an electric guitar when he wasn't musically inclined? Was he thinking about resale value?
DO: Knowing my brother, he probably was. Even at like fourteen or fifteen, he probably was thinking along those lines. I will say, though, when my brother was in high school, like many people in high school, he was very much into the Grateful Dead and those bands: classic rock. So when I was in sixth grade, when most of my friends were listening to — well, I don't even know what they were listening to. Probably some kind of pop stuff. But I was really heavily into Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. I was a hippie kid when I was like eleven or twelve. My peers sort of would make fun of me, and I remember saying to them a lot of times, "When you're in high school, you're going to love this stuff." And they did. But when I got to high school, I became the punk rock kid. I do credit him with introducing me to classic rock at an incredibly young age.
WW: Do you remember the name of that first band you mentioned?
DO: I do remember the name of the band. I was in eighth grade, so I was twelve or thirteen when we first started playing together. The name of the band was Section 8.
WW: Good name -- and it's got that number thing going, just like Goes Cube [which names each song numerically].
DO: See, you can draw a straight line. We were just a phenomenally bad metal band. Even though we had other members here and there, Kenny and I were the only people who played consistently. And we did play with our best friends at a lot of these battle-of-the-bands bills with this band called Pez, who later went on to become the Dillinger Escape Plan. When we were little kids, we would get together with Ben [Weinman] and Dmitri [Minakakis, who's no longer with the band]. We'd have jam sessions, and Ben and I would be shredding on our guitars, and Ben was always a lot better guitar player than I am. It was always funny. Kenny has always told me, "Man, if it was any other high school you'd gone to, you would've been the best guitar player. But you had to go to the one that the dude from Dillinger Escape Plan went to." But trust me, he deserves it.
WW: Did you play originals?
DO: We did play originals. Now, much more now, Goes Cube doesn't do covers. We're pretty against that. I'm sure at some point there'll be an occasion where that's appropriate. But even back then, I graduated to writing my own music, and the reason was... I mean, I think I'm technically an able guitar player, but you know, my own songs sound much better than me playing someone else's songs. I probably don't play them as well, and there's something to be said for tipping your hat, but when you're twelve, I don't really think Deep Purple needs a twelve year old kid in New Jersey to be playing their song. I don't think they'd know the difference. So we actually wrote a lot of original stuff, and in some bizarre way, you may be more likely to hear some of the Section 8 stuff than the early Goes Cube stuff. First of all, the early Goes Cube stuff, I think we all agree, is pretty embarrassing. But the Section 8 stuff is actually, bizarrely a little bit more appropriate. Because when Goes Cube started, we were using a drum machine and we had no idea what our band was going to sound like. But with Section 8, you hear Kenny, who even back then was just this monster drummer, and you hear me just fumbling around trying to find heavy riffs. It all sucked, but there is something strange about it. I think you can hear the very, very beginnings. And when Kenny and I finally got back together, after about ten years or something, there was no time lost. Literally, I plugged my guitar in, there was no one else in the room, and we immediately started playing, and three songs came right out. So we've always had a really good chemistry, and I just feel like you can kind of hear that, you know?
WW: What did you major in at the University of Illinois? Music?
DO: I majored in English. I had the incredibly vague notion or dream that I would be a writer. My parents would say, "You're going to major in English. Does that mean you want to be a teacher, does that mean you want to go on to grad school?" And I was like, "No, I'm going to be a writer." And they'd say, "Writer isn't really a job." But it's actually what I became anyway, and actually what I just quit my job as. I went to college, and to get some beer money, I'd go around to local businesses and say, "Your commercials on TV are pretty bad, and I'm studying to be a writer. In three years, I'd charge you thousands of dollars to write a commercial, but I'll only do it for a hundred bucks." And surprisingly enough, I had some takers. By the time I got out of school, actually, I had some copywriting experience, and that's what I've been doing to pay the rent.
WW: Did you work for an agency?
DO: You know what? I've never worked for an agency, but I've been on retainer for some really large companies, and I worked for a magazine for the last year.
WW: Could you name some of the companies?
DO: I probably couldn't, I probably shouldn't. I think I may have even signed contracts saying I wouldn't. Suffice it to say, the companies had nothing to do with rock and roll, and if their clients had any idea it was a long-haired, bearded, twenty-year old kid writing the copy, they would probably be surprised to say the least. It's nothing bad. It's just a completely different world.
WW: How about the magazine?
DO: I'll have the same answer for that. There have been a couple magazines. They're business oriented.
WW: No music magazines?
DO: No, I wasn't writing about music. But I've always wanted to code into my articles something about, you know, the New Bomb Turks or something. It's hard to do that. That jumps right out.
WW: How did you and Matt meet?
DO: Matt and I met our freshman year on the first day. I was excited to get out, I was excited to be away from New Jersey and starting a new adventure, as it were. We were in the same dorm, and I had my brother's I.D. It wasn't a fake I.D., but it wasn't my I.D., and Illinois is notorious for how — first of all, their bar age is 19 even though their drinking age is 21. It's always been the source of some controversy there. They look down on underage drinking, but then the sort of environment there, it's not hard to drink. So I thought I'd make friends rapidly with my snazzy I.D., and I think it was in the men's room. Matt wasn't quite my friend at that point. I was just kind of like, 'Hey, how are you?' And I don't think he liked that. But then I think it was a couple of days later, when we saw each other on the floor where he was like, 'Okay, this guy's kind of funny,' rather than creepy.
WW: Do you just stepped into the bathroom and announced to whoever was in there, "I have an I.D. Let's go drinking"?
DO: You know what? We've told the story so many times, it's hard to remember, actually. But if I had to guess, Matt was the dude who, obviously from looking at him, had about 500 punk-rock seven inches, and I was the same kid, except he was from Chicago and I was from New Jersey. I think I looked at him, and instead of a frat boy or a football player, I saw a guy who looked like I did. So I was like, "Hey, man, I'm David. You want to go out and get some beers tonight?" Except I happened to do it in the bathroom. If it was ten feet away from that location, we would have been friends two days earlier.
WW: Did you play in bands together during college?
DO: We did. I had actually vowed to stop playing music, because after Section 8, I was in a band called the Sick Terrific Nosebleeds. We were this punk band. Kenny wasn't in this band, and I was really into the New Bomb Turks and Gaunt, and I would mail our practice tapes out to Eric Davidson [of New Bomb Turks] and to Jerry Wick [of Gaunt] out in Columbus. And two years after doing that, I actually got a phone call from Eric, and he was like, "Hey, man, you guys are actually getting pretty good. I listen to your tapes every time I get the package." And he would do cool things like send me stickers, or send me a rehearsal tape. That was amazing, it meant so much. But he ended up telling me, "You guys are really good now. I'm going to put a song of yours on a compilation I'm putting out." And this was unbelievable. At the same time, this local punk label came in and signed us for a seven inch, and it was within days of each other. This limited edition twelve-inch compilation LP with some of our favorite bands, like Showcase Showdown and the Candy Snatchers and the X-Rays, came out on Anyway Records in Columbis, Ohio, and then our seven inch came out on this New Jersey punk label. And the New Bomb Turks came out to New York, and they were like, "You can open for us," and we were opening for the Oblivions and the Pristines and the New Bomb Turks. And then Eric talked to this guy at Sympathy for the Record Industry, and he was interested. He was like, "We're going to put something out by these guys on a split ten-inch with a Dutch band," and everything was amazing. I was seventeen, and I was like, this is exactly what I want to do with my life.
WW: This doesn't sound like a story about why you'd want to stop making music. What happened?
DO: What happened was, I needed to make a decision. It was basically, I'm going to graduate from high school, and our drummer was a private school kid who was a year younger than us, and he was like, "Listen, I'm going to Harvard. That's my dream." And it was clear we weren't going to be able to tour. We were going to graduate, but this kid's still in high school. So we ended up recording, but the record never came out on Sympathy. It never came out, period. And to be honest, I was so fucking bitter. I felt like it was so close, and I felt like life had backed me up against the wall. At seventeen, I felt like I was somehow late to the game. And then I went to college, and my parents were like, "Look, college is expensive. You're doing this for real. You're going to be an English major." And so I was like, "Man, I can't do this. I get way too into music. I can't do music again, because I won't be able to do anything else." So it was really out of joke bands that Matt and I started to play music together to make myself grounded, but to keep me in touch with music. It was like, "Let's do a joke band." So those were the kinds of bands Matt and I played with.
WW: How did that evolve into a non-joke band?
DO: Well you know what? I graduated college and I immediately started working fulltime as a copywriter, and here I was convincing myself, "Hey, I did it. I beat the odds. I'm a professional writer. I have benefits. I have a salary." And I was actually living in Austin, Texas, and it was horrible. I can't even describe. It must be a bad reflection on me, but living that life of being in an office every day just destroyed me.
WW: It probably didn't make things any easier being in Austin, since it's such a great music town.
DO: No, it didn't, and I think there was sort of a bitter confusion I had in my mind about that. Like, this is supposed to be such a great music town — and I did play in a band, but it just wasn't going to work with a fulltime job. And, you know, I got into a relationship and I ended up moving to Chicago, but I ended up working remotely. But I couldn't escape it. As long as I was working, I was absolutely miserable, and it poisoned every other part of my life. So the relationship ended, and I do think a big part of that was because I was so fucking miserable, because I wasn't playing music, because I was working a fulltime job and I felt like I wasn't going anywhere. So I was like, this is it. I'm going to New York, meeting back up with my best friend, my creative partner, and I'm going to do it one last time and just go for it all. And that's really how Goes Cube started.
WW: That was a gutsy move.
DO: Yeah, and one of the wonderful dynamics that the band has, particularly between Matt and I, is that I came out here and Matt was like, "We don't even know what kind of music we're going to be playing." And I was like, "Well, you're going to play bass." And he said, "I've never played bass before." And I said, "That's beautiful. It doesn't matter. This was meant to be. We're just going to fucking go for it." And Matt was like, "Hold up." I think we need my idealism and my constant persistence as much as we also need Matt to ground everything. If it wasn't for Matt, I think we probably would have played every single night of the week for the last three years. Because he's the guy who said, "We don't have play every show. Be careful." Because I was ready to go on tour when we only had three songs. So I think because of Matt's clear-headedness, I think we balance out nicely.
WW: Why did you use the "beating machine" [the name they gave to their synthesized drum device] rather than a real drummer at first?
DO: Well, the beating machine, yeah. I hadn't been back in touch with Kenny yet. I didn't know where Kenny was at that point. But the beating machine, I had it, and from our perspective, it was like, there's no place to practice, because we're in New York, and Matt doesn't know how to play bass, and we're getting him up to speed on that. So it was just kind of like, why add more obstacles? We've got the drum machine. That's easy enough. Let's just use that.
WW: How vast are the differences between Goes Cube with the beating machine and Goes Cube with Kenny?
DO: Tremendous, absolutely tremendous. When Kenny first joined up, aside from three songs, our set consisted of songs that were drum-machine songs previously. But it worked out perfectly timing-wise. We really shouldn't have gotten Kenny any earlier. And we shouldn't have kept the drum machine any longer than we did, because the last song we wrote with the drum machine, I still remember: It was "Goes Cube Song 23," and it was trying to be such a heavy song. And in fact, I think the song is a good one, and Kenny, who's our resident death-metal head, loves that song. But we just got to the point where we were exhausted by the drum machine, and it wasn't doing what we wanted it to do. It was running out of memory, and it was just like, it got to the point where writing songs was becoming a little bit tedious for Matt and I. It wasn't becoming a fun thing, like it was when we would first write songs and we would put it all together and go, "Wow, this is a great creation." This time it was like, "Fuck, this song just sounds weak."
WW: And Kenny revitalized everyone?
DO: Yeah. Kenny came in and it was literally like someone taking the leash off our necks. We just ran toward the horizon at full speed. We were like, "Yes! This is what we're supposed to do!" That was huge. Kenny really allowed us to be the band we were trying to be, and then some.
WW: Why did you decide to name all the songs generically, using numbers? Was it meant to be a way of forcing listeners to come to each song with a clean slate, with no hint about what a certain song might sound like?
DO: The number thing... Well, Matt and I were in the same college, when people really become the most pretentious. And he was into photography, so he was in the art school. When you think about it, all day I went to literature classes, and I minored in cinema studies, and Matt was in the art school. So we would be surrounded by people who were very pretentious, so we always kind of laughed at that. And one of our in-jokes was, people would take this as sort of a heady artistic statement, and it's not.
WW: What is it, then?
DO: Actually, what it was, it was entirely practical. And it wasn't sarcastic, either. It wasn't meant to be a dig at anyone. The drum machine, when we programmed the beats, it was like, you've got all these patterns, and you compile it down to one thing. And the drum machine needs to know, "What do you want to call this compilation of information?" And the way I write lyrics, I don't write lyrics until the song is done, because I need to know how it sounds. So we were just like, "Okay, this is Goes Cube Song number one." And so on and so on, twenty-three times. And after you've done it twenty-three times, it was just like habit. We didn't have lyrics, but damn, it's a great song, so it's the twenty-fourth.
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SHOW ME HOW
WW: To me, you guys don't sound like what a lot of people think New York bands are supposed to sound like these days. Is that an accurate perception? Or am I off-base?
DO: I think that's an accurate perception, actually. We don't sound like a lot of New York bands, and that's not to say we have this brilliant, unique sound that's never existed before, because clearly that's not the case. But New York really isn't in a stage right now where, I think a lot of the bands are still doing the... this is not a criticism. Bands should do whatever music they love, and what moves them. And I think what's moving people a lot is sort of the dark, new-wavey type of stuff, and there are still a lot of dancey things going on. And there is a band we played with out of the blue called the Hull that just blew us away. They got on stage and they sounded similar to us. They've got three guitars, so maybe they sound more like an Isis or a Pelican. And that was literally the first time where we went, "Wow, I can't believe that's a New York band" — although technically they might be from New Jersey, so that might me wrong. But you just rarely get that. There are some bands, like Nakatomi Plaza, who we're playing with in Austin [at the just-completed South By Southwest confab], and who are our friends, who have more of your classic early '90s emo-like Braid sound. But it hasn't won us too many fans in New York. The fans it has won us seem to be really into it, but for the most part, people don't really know how to take it.
WW: Is that one reason you're so excited to tour?
DO: I think that we're really curious to see what the reaction is like elsewhere in the United States. Everyone in the industry we know is like, "You've got to go on tour, because the kids are going to love it." I think that some people in New York don't really get it. It's not a negative thing. When you go to shows and you see people the way they're acting... Some people are just amazing. Like the Mercury Lounge, every time we play there, it's an amazing show, and the crowd is usually really into it. We play with a band called the Giraffes, I should have said that earlier, and they don't really sound like us, but at least they're metal. And those crowds really get into it. But there are a lot of people who are self-conscious, and our music's not guarded. We're not into irony, we're not into being that subtle. When we get up on stage or we record a song, we have no problem saying, "We love this," and we have no problem putting it all out there. And I think as an audience, you have to be willing to do that, too, in order to understand us, because we try to really make it an hour-long experience.