Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not To Be Cynical

cynics no way
Renaissance Fair

In September 1983, the punk-rock cover band Jetsons guitarist Gregg Kostelich struck out on his own and formed the Psycho Daisies with Mark Keresman (vocals), Pam Reyner (bass) and Bill Slam (drums).

Slam quit in a snit when he found out he wasn't gonna be the front man. Bill von Hagen took his place pounding the skins, and they changed the band's name. It was the birth of the Cynics, perhaps the best garage band to ever come from Pittsburgh.

In 1985, the Cynics released their first 45 on California's punk rock Dionysus label, "Painted My Heart" b/w "Sweet Young Thing" (ID 074501) with Keresman doing the lead vocals. It was Dionysus first vinyl ever, and it got them off on a good foot. The label is still going strong today.

That's also the year they shared the stage with Michael Kastelic, sound engineer of the Wake. Wake, a promising band, broke up after some in-house sniping, and Kastelic joined the Cynics, not as a roadie but a full-fledged member of the group and singer. It would prove to be a hook-up made in rock 'n' roll heaven.

A second 45 on Dionysus, "No Place to Hide" b/w "Hard Times" (ID 074504) was their first with Kastelic on vocals. The band formed its own label, Get Hip, and released its debut single "69," a cover of the Arondies hit, b/w "Friday Night" (GH 100) with Keresman on vocals. Released may be too strong a word; it was actually a fans-only disc, sold mainly at the their shows.

In all, the Cynics would release 25 big 7" records, mostly on Get Hip.

They cut their first LP in 1986, "Blue Train Station Sessions," recorded on Skyclad (NAKED 2). The Cynics were then made up of Kostelich, Kastelic, Beki Smith on organ, Steve Magee on bass and von Hagen on drums. Remember Kostelich and Kastelic. They and future drummer Tommy Hohn are pretty much the only constants in the band, which has gone through nine or ten configurations since its Psycho Daisy days.

"The day it hit the streets in New York," Kostelich recalled while talking to the Post Gazette. "I got a call from a promoter who said 'This record is great. I want to talk to Gregg from the Cynics,' because we put our phone number right on the back of the album. This is before you had faxes and e-mails." It led to The Cynics making their first New York appearance.

The wax was followed by 1987's "12 Flights Up," (NAKED 5) and late 1989's "Rock and Roll," (NAKED 25) their biggest-selling album, both on Skyclad (The Skyclad sessions would be reissued by Get Hip). R&R featured an original ballad, "Close To Me," and rockers "Girl, You're On My Mind" and "You Got the Love."

The popularity of "Rock and Roll," sent the Cynics to Europe in 1990, where audiences still pack the house to see them gig.

The LP also caught the notice of the major labels - eleven offered the Cynics recording deals. They spent 1990-92 touring and pondering going on a major label, but ended up empty handed.

But their recordings kept coming. A Spanish label, Impossible Records, released a live recording, "Stranded in Madrid," (017) in 1991. Get Hip later reissued it as "No Siesta Tonight," (GH 1014) in 1994. Get Hip cut the live "VPRO Radio Broadcast" LP (GH 1002) that same year. In 1992, a compilation, "Cynicism," was put out by 1 + 2 Records, a Japanese label (1 + 2 CD 15).

In 1993, they followed up R&R with "Learn to Lose" (GH 1008). Kostelich says it was more grunge than garage. Old Mon can't really tell the difference, but apparently the fans can - it fizzled.

A year later, the Cynics released "Get Our Way," (GH 1030), returning to their garage roots. It was to be their last hurrah for a while.

On New Year's Eve, 1995, Kastelic left the band. It was widely credited to burnout, which was indeed a major contributor, but actually, it was the flu that lit the fuse that blew up the Cynics. The story, according to the Post Gazette's Ed Masley:

A week or two before he left the band, Kastelic and Kostelich had a major blowout on the way home from a Detroit gig. And he was still upset that Kostelich had let stomach flu keep him home from a Cynics appearance at Cavestomp, a garage-rock festival in New York City that went on to play a major role in the current revival of interest in all things garage.

Kastelic was already in New York with the other two guys in the band hanging out at the club when Kostelich decided he was just too sick to load the van and drive the whole way there alone.

As Kostelich recalls, "That was the straw that broke the camel's back for Michael. He thought I blew him off. And that's where the argument started. And the backstabbing. If they would have stayed in Pittsburgh and we'd all gone up together and I bundled up, I could have done it. We used to take pride in not missing shows, but when you're left alone in Pittsburgh and you get the flu that bad, you can't be driving. But Michael, 'til this day, he doesn't believe it."

Told that Kostelich has said that, Kastelic replies with a laugh, "Well, to this day, even if he wasn't faking, he should have come."

Still, all's well that ends well. Kastelic sees his four-year separation from the group as a good thing in the long run.

"If we wouldn't have taken that break," he told Masley, "we probably would have kept plugging away that whole time, and by now, we would have been burned out and definitely broken up. And then, we would have missed this whole resurgence of interest in what we were doing."

Kastelic played with the Honeyburst after the divorce, along with former Cynics bassist Mike Michalski on guitar and current Cynics bassist Smith Hutchings on bass. Kostelnic ran Get Hip, and the life of a business dude was boring him silly.

But after an invite to play a sweet garage-fest arrived, K&K buried the hatchet, picked up drummer Tom Hohn and guitarist Woody Bond of Highway 13 to play bass, and the reunited Cynics headed west.

In July 2000, The Cynics were back at the Las Vegas Grind, a brief-lived festival held in 1999 and 2000, staged at the Gold Coast Hotel. The show starred bands that were part of the garage rock scene of the 1960s, like The Remains, The Standells, Lyres, and other regional acts from across the country and world. It was a perfect place for the Cynics to reemerge.

It launched them on the second half of their career. Two months later, they were off to Spain (Kastelic's wife, who serves as the band's business agent, is Spanish) to gig, this time with Smith Hutchings on bass, and have been touring like dervishes ever since. In fact, it became their main stage.

They do extremely well as artists in Europe, but Pittsburgh shows are rare things anymore, due greatly to the fact that their bassist and drummer live in Spain.

In 2002, the Cynics released "Living is the Best Revenge," (GH - 1050), produced by R&R guru Tim Kerr in Austin's Sweat Box Studio. It was their first session album in 7 years, and covered the gamut of Cynic sound, from uptempo folk to fuzzed out psycho-garage beats.

In fact, a 2003 gig in Madrid almost altered the singing dynamics of the Cynics for good. Kastelnic did a split on stage, and landed on his "unmentionables." It took several weeks for the singer to recover after slicing his urethra. And while the nearly sex-changing accident wasn't funny to him, their Euro promoter waxed ecstatic over the incident - it kept them in the news for weeks!

They got an added and much less painful boost when their records got some love on "Little Steven's Underground Garage," the nationally syndicated show that features Steven Van Zandt's personal rocker list. He plays the old stuff that lights his fire, not the suits, sorta like the Porky/Mad Mike era with guitars.

They got to strut their stuff and fame on August 2004, when they joined acts like the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, and the Strokes, at Little Steven's International Underground Garage Rock Festival in New York.

The Cynics cut "Here We Are" in 2007 (GH - 1141), produced by Jorge Explosion, who recorded it in mono at his Circo Perrotti Studios in Gijon, Spain. USA Today called it "one of the best neo-garage-rock albums in years."

The Cynics have been keeping the garage torch burning since 1983. Along with bands like the Sonics, the Lyres, the Chesterfield Kings,? and the Mysterians, the Shadows of Knight, New Breed, DMZ, the Fuzztones, the Chocolate Watchband and the Standells, they're keeping it real, 60's style.

Though Old Mon has obsessed (as usual) on their discography, the Cynics have a great live show, honed by countless gigs in Europe, Japan, and at home (In 2010, The Cynics played Russia, Norway and Finland). If you're looking for some nosh-pit energy, catch a performance. Rock 'n' Roll is here to stay, and hey - The Cynics are supposed to have a new album out in 2011.

Kastelic says it never gets old for them. He told the Post Gazette's Scott Mervis "How many chords are there? There's about four or five. Five tops. Three that are good. The thing that garage rock has is that primal beat. It's the drumming of Mo Tucker, it's the drumming of the Standells, that really primal caveman beat. Bah bah bah. It's three chords. It's verse-chorus-verse-chorus, double-chorus-out. Something that's so innate, it's like stick against stone. That's why it will never die. It was around before punk rock."

"People as old as me and Gregg are still finding new things to do with same formula. It's always been the best music to me."

The Cynics - "Girl, You're On My Mind"

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