Il Cattivo formed when veterans of the punk and metal scenes in Denver came together to form a band that wasn't trying to fit distinctly in an already established rock subgenre. The five piece band sounded like it had been influenced by post-punk crossover bands like the Cult but also the metallic, heavier end of hardcore.
After founding members Matty Clark and Holland Rock-Garden left in 2011, singer Brian Hagman, guitarist G. Matthew Bellinger and drummer Jed Kopp were joined by former Burn Sand Burn bassist Matt Cavanaugh and Black Acid Devil guitarist Arj Narayan. We recently spoke with Hagman, Bellinger, Kopp and Cavanaugh about the band's history and the ideas and music that went into the writing of the new album.
Westword: Presumably this band came together in 2009 because you had all known each other from being involved in music for the previous decade plus?
G. Matthew Bellinger: Yes. I met Matt Cavanaugh when Planes Mistaken For Stars had that house back in 2001. The guy putting out our record, Jon [Wright], he moved out here with us, and he met Matt, and they became friends back then. We didn't see each other for years, and when Il Cattivo started, we found out he was working at Burnzwell.
Where was that Planes house?
GMB: 32nd and Josephine, Martin Luther King [Boulevard] and Josephine. We lived there for about two years and did awesome shows in the garage. We always wanted a name, but if someone else doesn't give it to you, it feels kind of forced. It was a blurry good time.
Matt Cavanaugh, what bands were you in before this?
Matt Cavanaugh: Burn Sand Burn around here in Denver. I'm originally from Kansas City. I was in a lot of tried and failed bands over the years.
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GMB: The past line-up was great, and it was awesome. I love Matty Clark and Holland Rock-Garden, and we have no hard feelings, but the energy level that Matt brought to the band and the positivity, the rest of us desperately needed.
MC: I think Arj came along about the same time I did, maybe a little bit before me.
GMB: It all happened within the same week. The other two guys were leaving and Matt sent us an email saying he was interested. And I saw Arj outside a Hi-Dive show and brought it up to him and within a week they came over for practice. We wrote a quarter to half of the first record in the first few months.
Il Cattivo as a name almost sounds like a play on words.
GMB: Holland came up with that, and it was from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. It's "The Bad."
Brian Hagman: It's Il Bruno, Il Bruto, Il Cattivo, so you think it's "The Ugly." Later we were corrected and told it was more like "the Horrid" or "the Horrible."
GMB: If you look at that movie Bad Lieutenant, the Italian version is "Il Cattivo" whatever. We're pretty bad dudes!
BH: I'll say! We've played under different names with art and everything. Bring on the Sirens, More, More, More and those would last a month. We were building steam, and we thought, "What do we tell a booking agent we're called?" I think it went on like that for six months.
Jedd Kopp: I think Il Cattivo stuck because we were sick of that.
GMB: The cover art is similar to the name for me because I had no idea what I was doing when I came up with the artwork. With the name, we had no idea what it meant at first. The more everything comes together, the more meaning I get out of everything just in my own head.
Is that a lobotomy on the cover?
GMB: It's an icepick lobotomy, yes. It's from actual asylum footage. My lady's spinal cord framing is on the left and right. The art on the back is brain activity of someone on psilocybin mushrooms. This image in the foreground is two separate images: a talisman I found online and a sign of Solomon in the middle. I knew nothing about what either sign meant when I came up with it. But the more I studied it when I overlaid the two, I found out the talisman is actually Shemhamphorasch. But Solomon is supposedly the first to use that symbol for demons and use demons to do his bidding. So I thought that was pretty fucking badass that I put the sign of Solomon in the middle. That's pretty evil! So I was stoked.
BH: That's pretty esoteric for a New Wave pop punk band!
Going back a little. In forming this band, did you have an idea what you wanted to do that was different from what you'd done before?
JK: I think right after Matt got back and Ghost Buffalo had just broken up, I knew Matt wanted to play harder, and so did I. I think that was the goal.
GMB: Drummers are, first off, the hardest thing to work with and find. He's awesome, and we work together pretty well. At the end of Ghost Buffalo, for me, that last record we did, I was wanting to get more aggressive because Planes had been done for me. I went cuckoo for a little bit, and I needed a good release. I'd been very fortunate to have awesome lyricists from Gared [O'Donnell] to Marie [Litton]. When I came back to Denver, I was like, "What the fuck? I don't have the confidence to do that. I second-guess everything I do." I wrote lyrics for one Ghost Buffalo song, "Bones," on the first record, two lines, but that's it.
I thought of Brian. I met him when I moved here, and found out he had a pretty wide range in tastes. [We were in my car one night], and I was listening to Gentlemen by the Afghan Whigs, and he was singing along to every word. From then on, we stayed friends, and I just knew he had it in him, and I fully trusted that whatever he came up with would be awesome. I texted him one day on a whim, and he got back to me immediately.
Brian, why did you want to work with Matt right away?
Black Lamb had played with Ghost Buffalo a few times. I'm super fan of music, and any time I see anything I really like...When Planes came here I was like, "Up in Them Guts! That's awesome! This isn't what genre I would be pigeonholed into, but this is exactly the kind of music I like -- visceral music that doesn't seem like it's contrived. This is just what came right off the dome."
MC: From my perspective, I got to join my favorite band after that first Il Cattivo record. Planes were my favorite band before that.
GMB: Going on what [Brian] was saying, that's the only way I want to look at music going at it is to have no preconceived idea of doing this metal record or whatever. If I do that, I usually lose interest right away. I don't have the attention for that.
Related to your point about great lyricists, some of us only know that Hagman writes superb lyrics because of his bandmate in Black Lamb, Tim Vigil.
BH: Yeah, I don't enunciate well. That's why we paid money to print the lyric sheet.
GMB: Tim has had his back ever since I moved back here, too, and he went over Black Lamb lyrics with me.
JK: I think they're left vague enough that you can make up your own storyline.
GMB: It can be surprising meeting Brian and read his lyrics and see how much depth there is and his writing ability. Tim would talk about what a crazy genius Brian is.
The title of your new album and the song "Damages" has an interesting story. Would you mind sharing that with us?
BH: The working title of the song was "How To Assess Your Damages." In 1996 I was outside of Kurt Ottaway's warehouse on 8th and Santa Fe, and this guy was upset. He felt disrespected in some way. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he was the kind of guy who couldn't have his ego bruised in any way, so he got his car and drove up on the sidewalk and ran me over outside of the party. Then he came around the block again to try to finish the job. It's kind of a vague representation of that kind of guy.
GMB: When he says, "Don't touch the ground! Not even a little bit!" he's talking about holding on to the chassis of the car.
BH: It's a metaphor as well. Don't get bruised physically or otherwise in life. That was the first song when Matty Clark and Holland Rock-Garden left the band. How to assess your damages? Put it right back together again. Stitch yourself up and keep on strolling.
The guy in question had got into a fight, and I helped him up and said, "You're basically kicking your own ass by doing this." Somehow it embarrassed him, and he waited all night for the party to get out. He was focused not on the people that he was in an altercation with earlier but on my words.
He drove over me a couple of times with a Volkswagon hippie van. It was a lotta grill! I thought, "This can't be happening. Is he really driving down the sidewalk?" He was originally from Oregon, and he had come out here, and he was trying to make friends too fast, and I guess it hurt his ego. Now he's a forest ranger up there. No hard feelings at all.
So you kind of kept in touch with this guy?
BH: Well, no. I ended up getting all kinds of hospital bills. My mom had a trophy/skateboard shop in Arvada, and a private detective came in, and my mom told him, "My son had this happen and he gets all these bills. He doesn't drive, obviously, because he's an alcoholic. How does he get insurance to pay for this?"
The detective asked me to explain the story to him, and I did, and within 24 hours, he [found out he] had moved back in with his mom in Eugene, I think. And he called his mom and asked him to get the insurance information to pay for the medical bills. I didn't want to sue him or anything. Soon after, he had a lawyer contact me, and the lawyer came out and said, "I'll give you $8,500 if you shut up." I said, "Sure!"
Later, the guy was apologetic or saying the eleventh step or whatever. "I made sure I left an open end on the No Fault on my insurance policy in case you have recurring injuries from this." I told him, "Oh, no, that's the one injury. Every time I trip over a stone, I'm not gonna blame you. Good on you, man. Thanks for manning up after five years."
So this label, Bird Dialect, that's putting out the record is based in Peoria, Illinois, right?
GMB: Yeah. Jon, his band, Lark's Tongue, they were here recently. He was supposed to put out the Planes' second album Knife in the Marathon, but that didn't happen. So I'm super stoked him and I are still friends. The other band on the label, Men of Fortune, are guys I grew up with.
Who put out Knife in the Marathon?
GMB: Deep Elm. We signed a contract because we were in a predicament. We didn't for our first record. Jon was going to do the second. That didn't work out, but we had the record done, and we had to get it out. But I think eventually No Idea got it and put it out on We Ride To Fight-First Four Years. It's good people I wish still lived out here, but we're going out to Illinois to play in May.
You do a cover of "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely" by Hüsker Dü on the new record?
GMB: Brian and I were deejaying at 3 Kings, and he played that song, and we realized how much we were into that song.
MC: Arj knew how to play it.
BH: I remembered Arj was from a sludge metal background, and he said, "Oh, I know this song."
GMB: As soon as we brought it up with the new line-up, Arj said he already knew how to play it, and he took the hard part out of it for us.
Why that song in particular?
BH: It pre-dated Descendents-y style pop punk, but still had a weird hardcore-ness to it somehow.
GMB: I could just tell there was some synchronicity to it all that got me motivated to do it.
BH: If you only hear so much of it, it sounds like K. K. Downing or something -- like metal. Then if you hear the whole thing, a piece, it's a beautiful song, but it has these tight, metal-y style parts but also melodic as hell. It's a super awesome break-up song.
What do you like about Hüsker Dü?
BH: I was more into New York style hardcore. Then in the band I played in when I was younger, Wretched Refuse, my neighbor Bob Blinder, Bob the Butcher, turned me on to the Replacements and Hüsker Dü, and when I heard it, for whatever reason, it brought out a thing in me similar to New York hardcore but it was less machismo. It's a different palette of the same expression.
GMB: There's a lot of that steel factory worker, Pegboy, Naked Raygun, Replacements [sort of thing].
BH: These guys were going through the same kind of "struggle" but singing from it a different perspective.
The song "Jesuit" seems very different from most of your other songs.
JK: For me it's very different.
GMB: For it's like "Flagship." That's why it's at the end of the record. There's a moment to take it all in for a second.
BH: It's straight up like a hymn for me. It goes: at the end of this, everybody get up and open up their hymnal and read this and at the end, "Rejoice!"
GMB: God bless the heretics.
What did the Jesuits mean to you?
BH: I wouldn't say the Jesuits are literally the questioners of belief, it was just a more lyrical way for me to say gnostics or people that aspire to learn and to educate and question the good word around them without taking things at face value, people that question the rules and the dogma of the time. You know, "You taught me to read, so I'm going to learn things on my own." Jesuit had a prettier sounding ring to it than gnostic. So the song is called "Jesuit."
Jed, you say it's very different for you. How so?
JK: I believe it's the one part on the album where it's bringing it down and not rocking out completely. The album starts in a completely different frame of mind, like any good album should. I remember when Cavanaugh came up with the riff, the bass line. It feels different to me. I feel like I'm playing it from a different space.
GMB: It probably doesn't sound like this at all, but I equate it to some dark Cure stuff with bass and drums being the primary factor of the mood, and it can carry it, and the guitars can just cut out. That's why I always wanted to start it with just bass and drums because it is so heavy without being heavy.
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