Cairo - Interview

05 October 2015

An Interview with Cairo at Reeperbahn Festival 2015

An Interview with Cairo at Reeperbahn Festival 2015

Cairo are a home grown Canadian 5 piece who class their music as 'Orchestral Alt Pop'.  Formed in 2011 in Toronto, the band has evolved into a tight unit who produce some refreshing music, which, in today's world of sometimes 'crowd pleasing unoriginal pop' makes a pleasant change. We caught up with Nate, Caitlin and Dante when they visited Hamburg for Reeperbahn Festival.

Welcome to Germany! How has the Hamburg experience been so far?
Caitlin Grieve:  To be honest, we haven't really seen much of it yet. We just arrived late yesterday and it's been a pretty tight schedule.  

Dante Berardi:  We went for a really nice dinner last night with our manager, our label, publisher and a whole bunch of people.  Then went to a little bar for some drinks. It's been good but we haven't seen enough.  

So, is this your first time in Germany?
Nate Daniels:  No, we've all been here before for other reasons but as a band yeah, it's our first time.

You played in Berlin recently, sharing the bill with the great Scottish band Fatherson. How did you get along with those guys?
ND:  To be honest, we didn't really meet them. We were in separate changing rooms and, well, the show was kind of a cluster for us. We were doing an acoustic set because we didn't have a bass player. To be honest, the show was a f*****g mess! Ha ha... for us anyway. So it was just a bit of a 'hello, how are you?' We didn't really get a chance to hang out together.

DB:  We love to play, especially with the set up we had here today, folk get the full experience. The acoustic stuff is good but it's not really  what we do.

If we can go back to the beginning now, how did you all get together?
ND:  Craig's List! I started off searching for a drummer, I had met up with a guitar player and I guess the drums were the next part of it. It was basically one little ad on Craig's List after the other and we have been together ever since.

DB:  Craig's list is really big back home.  It's used for everything.

You are all from Toronto?
DB:  Nate is from Vancouver but we all reside in Toronto,  so yeah.

ND:  Yeah, I was living in Toronto when I met them.  

What sort of music scene did you follow growing up in Canada?
ND:  Grunge...

CG:  I played classical until I was about 18, then I laid off it for a while, tried some fiddling. I love playing classical but I didn't want to practise on my own for six hours. I like the dynamic of being in a band, I'm not too keen on the spotlight being on me as an individual, sometimes I kind of miss it but I prefer where I am now.

Did you all have musical backgrounds or musical families?
DB:  Yeah I did, I came from a really musical family. I grew up on the road with my dad, my family worked in big concert productions in Canada, on the East coast. My Godfather is the first Canadian to win a Juno and the first Canadian to do a Coke commercial, like kind of the Justin Bieber of the 50s and 60s. I didn't really have a choice, I wouldn't have chosen anything else, so I grew up in and around bands and stuff. Then came Craig's List! Who knew?!

Let's move on to the album. 'History of Reasons' was released at the beginning of 2015, what was the reaction to it back home in Canada?
ND: It's been good. It's still sort of this thing that's growing because we've kind of done things backwards. We had a release party for the album which was really successful, but we hadn't released any singles prior to the album release. We are only releasing the single to radio in Canada so it's only now that we might see the benefits of radio play. Overall though, speaking with Spotify and some of the streaming services, the numbers have been pretty incredible for a band with little airplay or exposure. We were actually quite surprised. So, for not having toured extensively around Canada or had much radio play, it's so far so good.

'A History of Reasons' is a bit of a departure from your previous style. Is that a direction you have naturally progressed to or was it a conscious change you made while you were writing it?
ND:  It just kind of happened. You know, there's some dark s**t brewing in this band and I think it's just bubbled to the surface [laughing]. Before I joined this band I would write acoustically, but I would only write if I was sad or angry or frustrated. Part of me really wanted to move away from that, the song 'With You' is kind of a departure from that. We have really dark influences or heavier influences but we also have the lighter side, which we try to remember when we're going into the writing sessions.  We needed to record the stuff we had been playing for years and that's where the album came from. Some of it is new and some of it is a few years old. So it is like a natural evolution of our sound... and I feel it may get a little bit heavier still.

CG:  Maybe a bit more electronic, who knows?

Without pigeonholing yourselves, where would you place your music?
ND:  It's difficult, I feel that in the beginning I'd been the primary songwriter and a lot of my influence came from people like Jeff Buckley. He'd done this song with Elizabeth Fraser called 'All Flowers in Time'. Although the song is not heavy there is a kind of heaviness to it and that kind of material always sits well with me. It's cinematic and it's the kind of music that we as a band enjoy playing. They aren't literally just songs, they are, I guess, these cracked out emotional journeys. If we were to lump ourselves into a category it would be soundtrack music but it could be a soundtrack to anything. We would love to get into that, the soundtrack to life I guess.

When it comes to writing, how do you do it? Do you have a certain process or democracy?
DB:  We've kind of coined this term of 'Cairo-ising' things. So a lot of times Nate will come in with a fully finished song and we put it through our meat grinder. Together we find a place where it can go, maybe it starts with a drum beat or a riff and it just kind of evolves from there. It's a very fluid, natural, evolving process I think.  We don't really know how we do it, there's no set way, it just kind of happens. Our end goal is to have something that we all really love. If one person is like 'meh' about it, we figure it out until we are all happy. We had 4 or 5 different versions of 'With You' and not just different arrangements. One was really rock, one was really digital, one was acoustic. Finally we found this place where we were all happy and that's the version that made the album. It's an evolving thing.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?
DB:  Yeah, always. We're maybe 5 or 6 songs into the new album. There's a few really great ideas that we are all happy with but they're not quite there yet.

ND:  This process is a lot different from the first album where we brought some skeletons in with us. This time we get to into the studio with brand new material, we have pieces of things and we can build on it like we have never really done before. I made a point that on this album not to be the person who brings in the songs. I wanted to see what comes out of it first then form things around that, rather than the other way around.  

What do you hope to achieve by being in Hamburg?  Have you come here to do business?
ND:  Yes. Our goal in Canada was always to leave Canada! I'm not sure if I should say that out loud! I might get into trouble for this but Canada has a very hard music industry because it's limited in it's scope and vision, and, geographically, it's huge. It's difficult to tour, the genre of music is very pigeonholed and coming here, it's just a completely different reception for us. When we were having meetings with our label we always had the intention of coming over here, when we found out Reeperbahn had accepted us to come over it was a no brainer. We were just recently in the UK, in May, so this is our second time crossing the pond, again it's a different kind of reception. The way people listen to music, the way they perceive music is very different and it's more our vibe.

DB:  The Canadian people as a whole are very intelligent and are very advanced with how they consume music, it's just a lot more difficult to reach them I find. Like this type of thing, coming here, being a band that's never been at this festival before. We don't have any label partners here, in fact we only recently got the booking for here and Switzerland. But to come and there's a line at the door for our show is insane. That's not just us, a lot of the bands from Canada that we talk with and play with and when they come over here it's a different world. 

The volume of Canadian talent in Hamburg this year is incredible, is that a measure of the scene back home?
DB:  Yeah, it's crazy. Between this festival and The Great Escape where we got top play with Arkells who we are all fans of. Then coming here and playing with The Zolas, The Franklin Electric and Half Moon Run. They are bands that we, as Canadians, are fans of and listen to.

ND:  We actually got the first album done because we worked with the same producer as Half Moon Run. So there are people in Canada who inspire us, I just don't think the industry is there yet. It hasn't caught up with what everybody else knows, maybe it's not their fault, maybe we are a little bit handicapped because of our grant systems.  We maybe take for granted that we have free money coming in and we may not be willing to take risks because we don't have the capital.  Hopefully it will change.

How's 2015 been so far?
ND:  It's been a cluster f**k!

DB:  Yeah, it's been a rollercoaster. Really, really high highs and really, really low lows, and in very quick succession. We've been over in Europe and UK, we played some incredible shows in Canada, we're doing our first cross Canadian tour, really good numbers on Spotify. We've had a really good reception in our home country and added some really pivotal people to our inner circle. It's been great. But, you know, with every up there's a down.  Theres the waiting and the situations like the other day in Berlin, it comes with being a musician.

Do you see this trip as the beginning of you breaking out of Canada, will we now see more of you in Europe?
CG:  Well, we've talked about moving here.

DB:  Yeah, we'll see what the next year brings and where it takes us...

ND:  The next three months anyway...

What can we expect from Cairo in 2016?
DB:  Ahhhh... we don't know!

ND:  As we progress as a band I would like to see us be more involved in the control of our creativity. I want us to be more involved in the bigger vision, you know. When it comes to doing music videos, writing songs, putting on shows, I want us to be able to be part of that process instead of giving it away to someone else which is what we have been doing. That's ok, but I feel like I really want to be one of those artists that is instilling a vision and working a vision by channeling it through someone who has the tools and means to do it.  It's building that Cairo house I guess, of having people who understand what we are doing and building. So when we are creating music or filming a video I want us to be involved in every part of it.

DB:  It's funny, because we are the pickiest band in the world but we are also very indecisive. The people we have on-board from our label to our management, these are all people that have relationships with that have grown over months, sometimes years. We don't rush into anything, anyone that is involved with our project is in love with our project and in love with us. We are also in love with them, it's a very symbiotic relationship, you know.  We want people around us that are genuinely invested in what we do and have the same long term vision.

How far along the road do you think you are as a band?
DB:  Oh, we're babies!

CG:  We're like about 12 -  Pre-teens almost hitting puberty [laughing].

DB:  We're happy where we are at the moment. Obviously everyone wants to be 10 steps ahead but we've seen how great it is to have time and to use that time.  Everything is like, get it out, do it now but that's where the team we and relationships we have made have have paid off.  Like, the album took us 2 years and we love it, we're all so happy with it.

What's the plan for when you go back home?
DB:  We have 2 weeks off then we go across Canada and back. At Christmas time we have a big show to close out the year, which is exciting.  As for the new year... we'll see what happens.

When were you happiest?
CG:  Where I am currently.

What is your greatest fear?
CG:  Fire.

What is your earliest memory?
CG:  It's a long story, do you want the full version?  I was in grade 2 or 3 and was having lunch. I dropped my apple and it rolled underneath the cupboard in the classroom and I worried about it for 2 weeks. I thought it was going to rot and get me in trouble. That's my earliest memory.

Have you ever licked a battery?
CG:  No.  I think that goes back to my fear of fire.

What do you owe your parents?
CG:  There's a document I'm supposed to sign saying I'll take care of them in their old age.  I owe them everything.

Where would you like to be now?
CG:  I can't answer that! [fits of laughter]

ND:  Is it dirty?

CG:  Yeah!

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