Under the Radar – Caveman Feature
Caveman: Widescreen Rock
Jun 17, 2016 By Joshua M. Miller Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Issue # 57 – M83
When Caveman frontman Matt Iwanusa takes a listen to Otero War, the New York-based band’s new album, he can’t pinpoint any weak points. That’s because he went into the project fully focused and ready to spend time perfecting the songs. Iwanusa, the main songwriter in the band, put more effort in writing “basically finished songs” to share with his bandmates to make “sure we got things done right.” Once shared, they recorded and reworked demos in their practice space until they got the best version of each song. As a result, unlike 2013’s Caveman, they had the new songs basically ready to record before they got to the studio.
“The songs wouldn’t be what they are if we didn’t play them together and work them out for a year,” Iwanusa says. “The songs sounded like a full band before we even recorded them.”
Iwanusa often likes to picture how the songs he writes would fit in a scene of a movie he imagines. Many of this album’s songs fit this mold. The band wrote 2011’s CoCo Beware like a low-budget horror film and Caveman like a sci-fi thriller.
“I think I was still stuck on the sci-fi,” he says of Otero War. “But maybe more of an emotional sci-fi movie at times. This record is more upbeat than any of our other records, but there are a few moments that are low-key.”
The new songs sound like they have more of a Hollywood-sized budget thanks to production by Michael Brauer and Albert Di Fiore. The band first worked with Di Fiore on Caveman, where he planted the idea of going for a bigger sound. They hired him as producer to fulfill that, and recorded this album at his Brooklyn studio, The Rumpus Room.
Even after the album’s release, the band plans to continue the creative process by releasing 8-bit versions of the album tracks for an accompanying MegaMan-like side-scroller videogame based on the record. “It’s fun to do. It’s what I grew up on,” Iwanusa says.
The band had numerous guest musicians join them in the studio for Otero War. But Iwanusa’s favorite part of the sessions was having his father contribute string arrangements. His father wrote arrangements for “Lean On You” and added to the string parts that Iwanusa wrote for “The State of Mind.”
“I’ve always wanted to work with him on something,” he says. “When I was in college he did a arrangement for a movie I made…. It’s funny working with your dad. I was in the studio for a month and a half and he shows up for a day and I was more stressed than ever. But it still was a really great moment for me.”