San Francisco-based Cables & Arms recently released a new EP, aptly titled EP IV. It was released in August via Wiretap Records. The EP is a follow up to their 2016 full length album Framing Defeat for the Critical Eye, also released via Wiretap.
I remember hearing Framing Defeat when it first came out. If memory serves me correctly, it might have been one of the first (if not THE first) bands from Wiretap Records that I had heard.
I recently had the chance to talk to Josh and Nick from the band. I talked to them about their songwriting process, how the pandemic has affected them, life in San Francisco, and other random nonsense.
I’d like to begin with introductions for those not familiar with the band. What are your names and what do you do in the band?
Josh Brown, singer/guitar player.
Nick Baker, guitar player/singer.
Paul Schultz, bass guitar.
Karan Bhatia, drums.
How did the name Cables & Arms come about?
Nick: If I recall correctly, Brad had a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge being built. The photo was a shot of the builder’s arms with a bunch of suspension cables. We wanted some sort of tie to San Francisco and this did the job.
How did the band originally get together?
Josh: I answered an ad the Nick had dropped on Craigslist. In the post, he listed bands like Hot Snakes and Texas is the Reason so I knew immediately that I had found someone with similar tastes. I contacted him, we met up for dinner and a chat, and the band was born. We decided to include a friend of mine as the original bass player (he was only in the band briefly) and on the night we decided to have our first practice, our original drummer, Brad, answered a similar Craigslist ad and met up with us the same night. Things clicked and off we ran.
Nick: Josh summed it up perfectly!
Was the writing and recording process different for EP IV than it was for Framing Defeat for the Critical Eye?
Josh: The writing process is pretty much always the same for us. Either Nick or I will come up with a song framework, which is then presented to the band at practice. We work through an arrangement and tweak from there. Everyone writes their own parts within that framework which gives everyone ownership of the song.
The recording process for EP IV was much different than anything we’ve done previously. The drums and bass were recorded at Moderntone Studios in Lafayette, CA. We then tracked the guitars and vocals at my house and I mixed the album once everything was complete. Framing Defeat for the Critical Eye was recorded and mixed at (the now defunct) Trilogy Studios in San Francisco by the great Willie Samuels. We took a much more DIY approach with this album.
Nick: Also, this was the first recording that we made without Brad (Kayal) on drums. Brad was more about rocking and out feel whereas Gideon Berger (played drums on EP IV) was more of a technical wizard.
Aside from the lack of playing shows, has the pandemic affected the band?
Josh: We don’t see each other! We haven’t been able to practice, which is a serious bummer. No practice means no new songs, although I’ve got a few songs that will be ready to go once this nonsense is over.
Nick: In a positive way, a surge of creativity on the song writing front. So many things to draw upon these days. But not getting together to jam with the guys is tough.
Can you tell me the meaning or idea process behind the song “False Flags?”
“False Flags” is about sabotaging yourself while denying that you’re doing it. It’s about wavering at the point that you should have conviction, and for some reason, not understanding that the things that are “happening to you” are self-inflicted.
We all have desires that need to be met, but sometimes these desires are unclear, or are motivated by things that we don’t necessarily like about ourselves. So instead of doing things to improve our situation, we instead do nothing and then bitch and complain about it, or worse, deny that we have any agency in our own outcomes. Or maybe that’s just me.
When did you all first gain an interest in playing music and were there any specific artists or bands that triggered that interest?
I wanted to be Eddie Van Halen when I was a kid. Full stop. I started playing guitar when I was seven years old, and my Mom bought me a classical guitar and told me, “If
you learn how to play classical guitar, you’ll easily be able to play that rock crap!” That’s all fine and good, but when you’re just learning how to play, you want to play the fun stuff.
A few other kids on the block were learning guitar at the same time, but they were being taught Van Halen and Metallica songs, while I was learning finger-picking classical songs. Needless to say, I lost interest, and put guitar down for a year or two. My Mom finally broke down one day and bought me an electric guitar along with a guitar magazine that explained how to play “Jump In the Fire” by Metallica. I took lessons for a few years, and got good enough that I could figure things out on my own. I never got to the Eddie Van Halen level, but I found more joy in writing songs than becoming a virtuoso.
Do you have any favorite eateries in San Francisco? Is there any food that could be considered San Francisco cuisine?
Josh: Burma Superstar! Best restaurant on the planet. Every single thing on the menu is fantastic. Not sure about cuisine… maybe sourdough bread?
Nick: Yes, Burma Superstar! Plus you can’t go wrong with Taqueria Cancun.
What sort of things do you guys do outside of music?
Josh: I work a lot, and I’m fortunate enough to still have a job, and even more fortunate that my career is in audio engineering and producing. I like to ride my motorcycle as often as I can (I’m a rain-or-shine commuter when I actually have to commute) and hike with my wife and dog. Is booze considered an activity?
Nick: Skateboarding, traveling, hiking, kayaking. Just being outdoors.
What are your favorite movies, TV shows, or books?
Josh: I’m a “first nine seasons” Simpsons snob, and I like some of the other animated shows. Can’t say I watch a whole lot of TV unless my wife is around. For some reason,
I’m reading Watership Down right now.
Nick: Movies – I have seen Pulp Fiction a lot! As for books, I like books that make me feel very uncomfortable. The Consumer by Michael Gira definitely does the trick.
Getting back to the music, what is the overall process of writing like for C&A? Do lyrics come first or music? Or does the material come from jam sessions?
Josh: Music first, always. I once read that Fat Mike from NOFX always writes out the lyrics first, but I think that’s because he writes the melodies for the songs before he writes the actual songs. I do the opposite: I sit down with my guitar and either 1) know what I want to write because I have something in my head or 2) just want to play for a bit and see what happens.
Can’t say I have a preference, as I’ve come up with some (what I think are) decent songs using either approach. The lyrics and melodies come way, way after; usually not until the song has been presented to the band, a final arrangement has been established, etc. I think “Roll My Eyes” (from EP III) and “Hang the Moon” (from Framing Defeat) were exceptions, where I wrote out the song, melody, and lyrics all in one shot.
Nick: For most of my music playing life it was music first. With C&A it is different. Sometimes I write lyrics and come up with a melody later. On occasion, I will have lyrics in my notebook and a riff I recorded that weren’t originally meant for each other but they end up working out (Division).
Does the current socio-political climate affect the way you approach songwriting? Does it help or hinder the writing process?
Josh: For me, I just kind of absorb what’s going on around me, and try to make sense of it. I’m sure I’m not unique in that approach. I wouldn’t say the current sociopolitical climate helps or hinders the songwriting process, but it naturally affects my emotions and how I view the world. It’s definitely easier to come up with subject matter for the songs. No one needs another fucking breakup song.
Nick: There is no shortage of subject matter! Most things that are happening today are a result of past actions. I grew up on bands like the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, and The Clash. They are more relevant now than ever!
The punk scene in San Francisco has gave us some pretty great bands. Can you tell me your personal impressions of the music scene there?
Josh: There’s a scene? Kidding. San Francisco is tough, because it’s such an expensive place to live. We’ve seen tons of really great bands decamp and either move elsewhere, or throw in the towel completely. None of us had any delusions of “making it big” when we formed the band, not only because we’re kind of playing niche music, but also because we all are keenly aware of the need for day jobs. The rent for our practice space alone is $800+ a month.
We got started right when San Francisco hit its next tech upswing, so many artists and bands were driven out of the city because of the high cost of living. Not only that, but venues started closing down like crazy. In fact, Slim’s just closed its doors permanently, which is a huge blow to the music scene. It’s a shame, honestly, and I think San Francisco deserves better, especially because of its long history with counter-culture.
Nick: I couldn’t have said it any better. The pandemic will either be the final nail in the coffin, or the start of a rebirth of the scene. It will be up to the musicians and music fans to make it happen. That being said, check out Songs for Snakes. They are an amazing SF band that has been holding it down for years.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
Josh: Learn how to play an instrument. Start a band. Go to shows. Build a community. Believe in yourself, and stand by others who haven’t yet found that confidence. Have conviction, but be kind to those around you. We don’t all have to agree to get along.
Nick: What Josh said! Now more than ever it is important to support the artists and labels you love. Buy a record or a shirt. Your support is more important now than ever