An interview with Asher Rogers of Cactus's - August 31st, 2010
By Myles LaCavera
For those of you lucky enough to have stumbled upon Cactus’s Tropical Terror EP last year, or one of a handful sonically assaulted live at The Bovine Sex Club, you’ll already be familiar with the band’s crass, tropical interpretation of punk rock; for those that missed out, well, sorry about your luck. As Nashville’s best kept secret, it’s a wonder an album as aggressive as New Bones can be heard above the twang and slide guitars – it’s Nashville’s bastard son that the locals can only whisper about , it lurks in back alleys rank from a good kicking around the gutter and sounds even better because of it. This is truly one of my favourite albums of this year and probably the best album to come out of Nashville since Presley shook the town up, or Cash and his Tennessee Three conquered it. Nothing will rattle your bones like “Where Is My Skeleton?”, no other track will juxtapose tropical musical spice with Arctic love imagery like “I’m The Whale”, and certainly no other punk song will give you a greater appreciation for your father than “Daddy”
Cactus’s lead singer/guitarist, Asher Rogers was kind enough to take the time to talk to us about Kamikaze Kangaroo’s, the Korean connection, and guerilla art… if that’s not enough to get you interested, well, there’s tons more than that! You can buy New Bones now and you can catch these guys live over the next couple days (see the list of dates at the bottom of the interview).
I didn’t really get the whole Tropical punk thing until I saw you guys live. The tracks from Tropical Terror, I don’t think really captured that aspect of your sound but when I hear a song like “I’m The Whale” or “Flag Pit” you can really hear that come through. Who came up with the idea of “Tropical Punk” and are you guys taking inspiration from somewhere
Well "Tropical Punk" was more accurate than just punk or rock or any specific genre we would classify ourselves as. Everyone knows trying to describe your music with a word or two is kind of impossible so that’s where we ended up.
When I saw you guys at The Bovine a while back Jru was playing in booty shorts being sold by another band playing that night, does he routinely play sets in women’s underwear? And is it difficult for him to keep his hands attached to his arms, something’s gonna fly off sooner or later!
Jru usually plays in his underwear if only for the amount of sweat that would accumulate and weigh him down if he was wearing any more. If you've seen him play you know he's a beast so the less amount of things that get between him and drums the better.
Even though Nashville is one of the most important music markets in the world most people don’t associate it with punk – OK, no one associates it with anything other than country. Is it all that country music that fuels the aggression in Cactus’s music
Although we live in "Music City" we really don't encounter a lot of country music so it’s not something we have to rebel against. It is tough being a punk band in a country town though. Its more industry people and singer songwriters trying to get noticed than "fans of music". I don't think our music is fueled much by Nashville itself though. We just love what we create and want to share it.
What’s the punk/metal scene like in Nashville?
There really isn't a punk scene in Nashville. There was a pretty big metal scene a few years ago but it was a really young metal scene that quickly moved on to whatever was popular next. That being said, we don't consider ourselves metal by anyone’s standards.
You have some pretty unique guitar phrasing, I was a little curious about what you played along to while learning to play guitar.
Learning to play guitar was kind of a fluke actually. I wanted to play drums but it was too expensive so for Christmas I was given a guitar instead sometime in middle school. I wasn't really too amped about playing guitar until I got into The Vines and At The Drive In during high school. I was also blessed to have been raised on a healthy diet of XTC (British punk band) all throughout my life.
What happened to Sam and how has Will changed Cactus’s – you can hear a noticeable difference between the TT tracks and the ones on New Bones?
Sam is now happily married and has kids on the way actually. He parted ways when Cactus's decided to spend some time living and playing in South Korea. Obviously a line up change in a 3 person group affects the sound. We definitely started pushing ourselves to write music that reached more bizarre depth and we're very satisfied with "New Bones".
Why re-record the tracks from Tropical Terror?
"Tropical Terror" was actually never supposed to be released. The 6 tracks were demos we recorded that ended up sounding so good we just pressed it. Not planning on repressing "Tropical Terror" we decided to re-record the songs and breathe some new life into them.
What is the band’s connection to Korea? And what is the band’s reception there like?
Jru was raised in Korea and grew up playing in bands there so being connected to that music scene we have spent some time there playing shows and enjoying the wonders of that magical land. I would say the shows there were among the most fun shows I've played. People are really excited about music there and that is contagious.
There is a preoccupation with animals and fruit in the song’s titles of New Bones. Seriously, what’s the deal? Not that I’m complaining or anything. “Kamikaze Kangaroo” definitely ranks in my favorites and “Queen Bee” is tops.
There isn't an intentional push towards animals or anything specifically. Lyrically speaking I just think most music nowadays is incredibly boring and repetitive. We just try to create visual lyrics that are intriguing as apposed to the rehashed "die/cry/lie/why" high school style of writing that is so prevalent.
Man, when I first heard “Daddy” I was sure the song was meant as some jaded, sarcastic rant on some one’s old man but you’ve introduced the song live as a genuine ode to Dad’s that don’t get enough love for what they do. I thought that was even more awesome, or are we just getting towed on a line there?
'Daddy' is definitely not meant as a tongue and cheek gesture. It is exactly what it says. An ode to how great fathers are.
“Hanging Meat” seems to pull some feel from Rage Against The Machine a bit and you guys riff a bit of ska sometimes too like on “Yellow To Red” (one of my favorites off the new disc) but it dissolves into a really menacing rock. Is it important for the band to mix things up and do you think that may prevent people from identifying with the band?
I don't think anything we do strays too far from what Cactus's is overall. There's only 3 of us, so there’s only so far our sound can be stretched outside of its natural confines. The attitude might change but the spirit of the music we're chasing is always the same.
The imagery for the cover is pretty interesting (looks like a coyote or wolf with a tarantula in its mouth) did you guys come up with it yourselves? Why didn’t you use the crazy wolverine/owl you guys posterized Nashville with?
We do a lot of guerilla art like the 4x4 ft paintings we hang on telephone poles but that art didn't really seem appropriate for the album. We definitely do all our own art. The album art was basically just inspired by the music we create. No specific origins at all much like our songs.
You can catch Cactus’s around Toronto this week:
Sept. 1 @ This Ain't Hollywood, HAMILTON
Sept. 2 @ Sneaky Dees, TORONTO (w. Mad Ones, The Archives)
Sept. 3 @ Kenzington's, BARRIE (w. The Balconies)