Buffalo Punk trio On the Cinder started playing in 2013 and have kept pretty busy since the band’s inception. Their debut album, The Fight Against Ourselves, was released in 2016. They’ve played several tours and will be playing The Fest in Gainesville this year. They have played with bands such as The Menzingers, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Face to Face, Off With Their Heads, and many more.
I spent some time talking with their bass player, Mike Jacobs, about life as a bass player, life in Buffalo, and his thoughts on playing and writing music.
What first got you interested in playing music? That is, what got you interested in the idea of starting or joining a band?
Music has always been my way of having my own thing, a part of my identity different than most people I grew up around. My dad was all about sports and I did play those, but it was fun to be that kid on the bus with the guitar. Music definitely helped me find some confidence and my love for playing with others has kept me in this as long as I have.
So why bass? Why not play guitar? Or drums? Or the saxophone?
Classic story of three guys wanting to start a band, the lesser guitar player loses two strings and buys a junky bass to start playing shows, and that was 10 years ago so I’ve got enough experience to say I am a bass player (though talent is subjective). Growing up I played a lot of acoustic guitar and loved songs that used low end strings for leads like “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young and “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson.
Who are some of your major influences, both in bass playing and in songwriting and just music in general?
When it comes to songwriting, I definitely get inspired by writers who are overly honest, borderline masochistic with their lyrics such as Frank Turner, Tomas Kalnoky of Streetlight Manifesto, and Ryan from Off With Their Heads. Bass-wise I’m pretty much just playing the role of rhythm guitar with short walks to bridge sections, with an occasional weird rhythm, though people I’ve really learned a lot studying from are Mike Dirnt, Karl Alvarez, and Jason Black.
What sort of gear are you currently using?
I have my Ampeg 7pro head with the Tech21 Sansamp. I don’t collect basses, I just have my good bass an American Fender P-bass and my basement show bass which is the Mexican Fender P-Bass (lots of beer in the pickups).
What sort of routine practice agenda do you follow, if any?
As a bass player, what do you think the role of a bass player is in any given band?
Fill out the body of the song and add color in subtle ways. Complimentary rather than attention seeking.
What sort of involvement do you have in the songwriting process with On the Cinder?
I write a lot of the lyrics and chords to the songs, but it takes our whole band to make an OTC track. I bring a lot of the bones and then all together we manifest the blood, skin, and other vital organs to make it something coherent and worthwhile.
What are your favorite venues in Buffalo? Both as a performer and as a spectator?
Mohawk Place (on Mohawk Street, go figure) is our home, everyone has played there. It’s a great sized room for a band our size, cheap drinks, dive-y atmosphere without feeling dangerous. As a spectator and performer, it’s got an amazing vibe for independent music of all genres.
Speaking of Buffalo, do you have any favorite places to eat? Where is the best place to get wings?
The wing debate rages on; locals claim Duff’s is the preferred spot, where as Anchor Bar is the original recipe. Both are good.
Also, what sort of places would you recommend to someone new to the area that is visiting?
The Allentown neighborhood was our stomping ground growing up if you are looking for that mid 20s-mid 30s night life, with the crowning achievement being the Old Pink. Niagara Falls is a quick trip up the highway and you can walk to Canada over a bridge. The Albright-Knox Gallery is a gorgeous museum and is always worth a walk through inside or around the grounds. Delaware Park was designed by Frederick Olmstead and is also a fantastic place to visit as well. Buffalo has a great food scene and the bars are open until 4am. Come to live, stay to party.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing outside of music?
I love to travel. I spend a lot of time with my family, and my Buffalo Bills and Sabres fandom have each taken a turn ruining my life.
Back to bass playing, what advice would you give novice bass players that are just starting to learn to play?
Don’t get too comfortable; find ways to practice aside from just running through your own songs. Warm up exercises may be mundane, but can be building blocks to new ideas.
Do you prefer playing live or in the studio and why?
Bass recording is fun, usually it’s the first time someone in our band can pick out the little things I try adding to songs. Though playing live is what I live for. Some people call playing out their “therapy,” which it can be some times, though I find performing for people the most exhilarating thing you can do, especially when I don’t mess up and people are into the show.
What are some of your favorite albums to listen to? Any particular ones that have inspired you lately both as a bass player or a songwriter?
I’ve actually gotten into a lot of Broadway musicals lately, Book of Mormon and Waitress are often thrown on my Alexa dot. I always listen to new music from my friends’ bands with Among Legends’ Take Good Care and Bucky Harris’ Livertalk being frequently in my mix of music. Any time Frank Turner comes out with something new he gets one cry out of me and then I can leave it at that.
There is so much good bass playing out there, and when you play bass your ears cut right to that in the mix. Most people don’t notice it, but that’s why bass players gush on each other all the time, it’s kind of an “I do what you do, nobody else cares, but I do. Great fucking job.”
What is next for On the Cinder?
We’re playing The Fest in Gainesville the last weekend in October, then play Bovine Sex Club in Toronto Friday November 11th. Our third album is in the can and we’re just being patient with the release plan. Something will be out next year, but there’s a lot of the US we’ve still got to tour on Sedentary Escape so more tours will be in the works.