By Bryan Cipolla
For the past three years, Ithaca’s own Caution Children have proven to be a refreshing edition to the local music scene. A six-piece band including a saxophone and keyboardist, the band delivers fun, sincere rock ‘n roll to the masses. On the verge of the release of their debut album, I sat down with band’s founder Steve Burton at Pete’s Cayuga Bar in downtown Ithaca to discuss the group and the upcoming album.
How did the group get started?
Well I had written a lot of music on my own. It was always just in Garage Band and by myself and never any instrument playing involved in it. Someone suggested that I play an open mic in the beginning of my sophomore year of college. I didn’t want to just do something on my own, so I just found some people that I knew to play stuff, and it was mostly toy instruments. And from there we started adding things like guitar and bass and drums and everything and it just kind of evolved slowly to a point where it was in the form that it is now.
What’s the writing process like and how do you guys go about forming songs?
I’ll usually write a song based on some particular phrase or something coming to me and then I put it to chords and melodies and it’s usually very bare bones. I have a general idea of what I want it to sound like or where I want it to go. Then I’ll present it to the band and I’ll give them those instructions and we’ll work out the combination of what I’m going for and what feels best and what feels different, what’s going to keep people having fun playing it and what’s going to sound good. Because a lot of times if you were to get a group of five musicians and have them play a song in the way that’s the most interesting or the most fun for them it’s going to sound like shit to the audience, just because they’re doing everything that they find is the best and none of it’s fitting together to make a song.
What are the biggest influences that you see for the band? Can you describe your sound?
I’m most influenced by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. I try to go after that. And also, I’ve been trying more and more to find influence from the sort of source material of his stuff. Older rock ‘n’ roll like, Jerry Lee Lewis or Sam Cooke, things along those lines. The way that I’ve thought about it is pop songs that are played really viciously.
I see you as trying to cut through a lot of the bullshit. Just playing rock ‘n’ roll.
That’s been my issue with some of the college scene, is this idea of like reveling in your own musicianship. Where it’s cool and maybe it’s fun to dance to sometimes but it just seems like musical masturbation. What I’m trying to do is have musical sex with everybody. [Laughing] That’s what I think about every time I’m onstage: undressing the audience and fucking them with my music.
Can you talk about your live show and what you try to go for?
We try to play high energy because that’s simply more interesting I think than standing at a live show and going “My gosh, look at that guitar line he’s doing. That’s technically interesting.” Just because that personally doesn’t move me much. I think that having energy and just trying to be into it so that the crowd feels okay being into it. And part of what I try to do is to be showy. I’m not usually a showy person in real life, but if you can create a character and make it benefit the show, that just seems more interesting and more engaging for me and the audience.
I feel like you guys have definitely grown as a band within the Ithaca music scene. How do you feel like you fit into it?
I think that there is definitely a place for us within the Ithaca music scene and I think that there’s a demand but there also isn’t big a demand for it at the same time. [There aren’t many other guitar bands in Ithaca.] All that really means is that we can’t play every two weeks or else no one would come to our shows. But as far as the people that have come to our shows, I think that I’ve been really happy with the reception that we’ve had from people within the Ithaca music scene. The best I can say is that I think that’s great because my sort of formative music scene experience is the Ithaca music scene. So I have a sort of emotional connection to it but I can also see why there aren’t that many Indie rock bands in Ithaca because ya know…every person that would be interested in that sort of scene is sort of broke. Or they’re college students and they like can’t get out of that bubble of things in their comfort zone.
How are you guys going to release it?
We’re probably going to do a digital release, as well as a vinyl release. We’re probably not going to do the ole plastic.
Can you talk about the album?
It’s a lot of the songs that we’ve been playing for a long time. We moved toward really playing balls to the barback kind of songs and tried to play high energy and [the older songs that were more on the poppy side] we decided not to do because it [didn’t feel right for where we were at]. And not to say that there’s no dynamism to it. There’s some more lighter moments.
So how many tracks is it going to be?
It’s going to be ten tracks, which is good. I like shorter. You look at these albums from the 70’s like, Born To Run and Turnstiles by Billy Joel. Dudes used to make albums with like eight or nine songs. Granted they were longer songs. I think that, that just seems like a really appealing thing to me. Sometimes, especially with young bands, I think that a tendency is we’ve got all this stuff and there’s like, if it’s your first album, a lot of the songs on there, there’s an emotional attachment to them. So you have a tendency to throw 16 songs on an album, when really it’s much more suited to be parsed down. So that’s what we did. There’s just something that’s more appealing, having fewer songs but more songs that work together as a unit.
Pretty much all of your songs are about fictional characters I feel like. Do you like telling stories or do you ever write from personal experience?
I haven’t written that much from personal experience or like personal feelings. I mean there’s stuff that is definitely informed by my experience because everything is informed by your experience. But it’s more about trying to capture a different experience just because I don’t think I’m all the interesting.
So where do these characters come from?
I don’t know. I never really form the characters that fully. It’s more just more trying to like put myself in the shoes of some particular situation. To put yourself in a particular mindset and think about things in that way and what would be an interesting thing to happen or thing to consider. The line, “You sound like shit when you sing, so why don’t you stop singin?” That’s autobiographical [laughing]. (“Burning Up The Night”).
Is there any overall theme to the album?
There’s a big theme of believing in things and asking: what do you believe in? And not just like religious or spiritual wise in that sort of sense, even though that does come up a lot. It’s also like believing in love. Like with “Lites Lites,” the fact that you believe in what you have so deeply that you will set yourself on fire. I guess it’s about that struggle about trying to find something that you can hold onto. It’s also not a very singular album. There’s a lot of “we.” The album as it stands begins with the words, “We belong to a different time…” so the fact that it starts with we and it’s about a lot of relations with people or with things and sort of more collectively than on your own.
There’s a lot of religious, Catholic imagery. Is that just something that you grew up with? Because I know Bruce and The Hold Steady talks a lot about that, which are two of your influences…
In the fact that in general I’m writing songs about faith or trying to believe in things, that sort of reference point, that’s the touchstone for what I think about. And also, I’ve always thought that religious things are very powerful in themselves without having to lend much weight to them. It’s a good way to give a sense of what you’re going for without having to expound too much, without having to create significance for that because they sort of have built-in significance.
To wrap up about the album, is there anything else you want to say about it?
I think that the way we did it was really good because we kind of put ourselves in a building for a week knowing that we just had a week. We worked our asses off for a week and I think that there’s a sort of moment feeling about it, as opposed to if we spent a lot of time on it, it wouldn’t have such a distinct feeling.
We’re going to play at Ithaca Festival. We’re going to play where we can this summer. Hopefully do some little weekend things towards the end of summer after the album’s out. A lot of us are leaving college and have other things, as music isn’t our only passion. Repaying student loans is another one of my passions, so I’m going to pursue that.