Old City, New Scene

Photo by: Blythe Kuhnhein Bundy

Sitting at MOTR, gnoshing a tasty burger and sipping a fine barleywine after work one night this summer, I found myself chatting local music scene with Dave Cupp. Some of you may know Dave as the chill bar friend with the great pour; the more fortunate know him as the drummer for Old City. But, if you’re down with the sounds of a solid rock trio, then get to know the latter Dave. It’s a way fun story.

As we talked about upcoming shows and big events, he mentioned that Old City had been working to release their first full-length, independent and self-titled vinyl album on August 23 in a glorious release party at the Southgate House Revival. I thought, dude, yes. With the rampant freeshare-firmware-wedontpay-noonecares condition of today’s digital music market, it’s refreshing to see a local vinyl hit the shelves -- check it out here

Old City is fairly new on the Cincinnati music scene -- about two years old now -- but its braintrust is no virgin. Singer-songwriter and lead guitarist Sammy McKee is a veteran of the local soundwaves (view-finder, Bitter Airplane, Charlston Entry, Kaptain), as is Cupp (Man Halen, Caterpillar Tracks); they’re joined by friend and fellow Cincinnati talent Gabe Molnar (Sometimes, Little Lights, 1000 Arms) to bring a groove that has flavors of Neil Young, Polvo and Fugazi, but is hard to pin to a specific genre (which, according to McKee, is exactly how they want it).

I sat down with Cupp and McKee over another brew to find out how they got started, why the band shifted from electronic to rock, and how releasing their first vinyl may or may not give them the feels.

RS: Dave, how did you and Sammy first meet?
DC: We met maybe 15 years ago; he had a label called the Unlike Label. I think he put on an Unlike Label showcase at the Southgate House, and we played together. That must have been sometime around 2001. We’ve been in separate bands since then, sharing a practice space, so I think we’ve developed our own kind of communication since then. We really got to know each other better when I helped record one of his other band’s records… I think that was in view-finder.

RS: You’ve known each other for 14 years? how did Old City come to be your perfect convergence?
SM: The Old City project started as a solo thing. I’ve done electronic music before, and I wanted to do a solo outlet of that. I was in Bitter Airplane at the time, so I wasn’t really looking to do a band and that was kind of on hold. I did a solo show at the Avenue in Covington, and I just felt like it was the worst thing I’ve ever done (chuckles). I mean, people liked it, but I didn’t like it. David drummed with me at shows before, and we’re good friends so I asked him if he wanted to drum. It just kind of took off from there, and became the main thing I was doing. 

RS: There’s not much evidence of electronic influence in Old City’s repertoire. How did it evolve so far from electronic?
SM: Well, the songs, they were kind of loud anyway. There was guitar involved already, so it worked well with the drums. I guess it wasn’t too far fetched. 

DC: Yeah, when I first started playing with him he had a mini Korg, so there was still electronic stuff when I started playing. But that eventually just fell off. It’s been stripped down to the raw stuff.

RS: Walk me through your creative process a little bit. Where would you say your spirit and originality comes from?
SM: I don’t know, I’ve always just written songs. I don’t know how or why, they just kind of come to me. You know, generally how our songs develop is that we’ll bring in an idea, and we’ll craft them together. It’s not like this is a “this is where the chorus is, this has to be like this, etc. etc.” situation; it’s complete democracy at that point, and we talk things out to develop them. 

DC: The process is pretty quick too. We get to a finished song within a practice sometimes, and it’s done. We don’t tend to mull over the same thing for a long time.

SM: IT kind of has to be like that for me, because I’m always popping out ideas.

DC: Yeah, he gets bored quick.

SM: (Laughs) I do. I’m like, “that song from three weeks ago? It’s gotta go.”

RS: What influences your sound, as individuals or as a band?
SM: I think we influence each other, kind of feed off of each other. When I’m throwing these ideas out, I don’t ever think of what I want it to sound like. I used to a lot more, and then I would just kind of overcomplicate things -- and that’s never good. But now I’m starting to realize that they come out the way they do for a reason, and if it’s bad then the whole idea is bad. You just move on, and do another idea. That’s really kind of how it goes. But I don’t think about how it should sound; I don’t want us to fit into a certain sound necessarily. I just want to write good records and have them be what they are. 

RS: What else? Who do you guys listen to, and how does it affect your style?
DC: I think there’s a little bit of late 80s and early 90s in there, people have noticed that. But not grunge at all. Think Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, Neil Young.

SM: I'd say the more popular stuff -- Nirvana has always been kind of a big band for me. I grew up on punk rock too; that's kind of why the songs are so short, coming from that perspective. You don't want to wear out your idea… you just kind of want to punch people in the face with it.

RS: How would you describe the feeling of releasing your first full vinyl together?
SM: It’s awesome. I can't wait to hold it, it’s been a long time coming. People should buy it! It’s on sale at our shows, Rock Paper Scissors, Shake It Records, Everybody’s Records, Galaxy Records. We’re excited about the big show on the 23rd with the Black Owls, R. Ring, Umin, and my son’s band, Man Kitten. 

RS: Let’s talk about one or two of your favorite tracks on the album. What makes them stand out? 
DC: “Sink” -- track two -- is a good sign of things to come from Old City. It’s a very loud, bombastic tune, and I think that’s what most of what we’re working on is going to be like. The slower, more stripped down ballad-y type stuff is probably not going to be as prominent in the future. So yeah, “Sink” is pretty awesome. 

SM: We have a video for “Inside” that we'll be releasing soon. I like the words to it; I  usually don't like the words to my songs, at least the ones I write. but I like the words to this one. There are certain songs that every time you play them live, you feel them, and that's one for me. 

RS: What's next for Old City?
SM: I’m just excited about the new stuff. We have four ideas that we’ve already started on, so we’re going to go record something over the winter. We’ll see what happens. 

DC: We're going to try to play out of town more. We have a show in Columbus that we’re going to do a second record release for, they’re awesome up there. But we’re going to try to do more things beyond that. I think the hardest thing is getting people to listen to your music, unless they see you live and know what you’re all about. There’s a lot of folk and electronic music out there, so if you’re missing a high-energy rock trio then you should come see us -- there’s not a lot of that happening right now.

You can grab tickets and information to the Old City Vinyl Release Party at the Southgate House Revival this Saturday, August 23, as well as the details you need to snag a vinyl for your own collection at www.oldcityband.com. Until then, catch a groove with this fan-made video for “Inside.” 


Our Weekend Picks :: August 22, 2014

Each week we will highlight a few of our picks for the weekend. Some may be local, some may not, but as long as you are seeing live music in Cincinnati you are contributing! Our picks are below, but you can choose for yourself with our calendar here. (Or download our iPhone app here). Friday,...