Once a respected, elitist pastime akin to speaking Latin or breeding show dogs, music snobbery is now a cheap commodity of sorts — as downloadable as a random Radiohead B-side. Thanks to sites like Pitchfork, one's 20 years of meticulous research into the inner workings of the band Pavement are now easily accessible to any literate kid with broadband and a free afternoon. Worse yet, that same kid will almost inevitably go out and start his own band, which snobs everywhere will immediately need to take notice of. In this case, that band is called Cymbals Eat Guitars, a New York quartet that sounds far more informed, refined, and ambitious than any group of college-age kids ought to.
The aforementioned "kid" and frontman of Cymbals Eat Guitars is Joseph D'Agostino (aka Joseph Ferocious), a 21-year-old New Jersey native who was in diapers when Pavement first formed, and 10 when they broke up. In some respects, he's the prototype for the perfect modern-day music snob — absorbing the history and complexities of the '90s indie-rock he mostly missed out on (early Built to Spill, Bedhead, Modest Mouse, etc.) and channeling them into an explosive new sound with a wider, more contextually aware focus. Almost disappointingly, though, D'Agostino doesn't exactly come across like much of a snob. Instead, the singer-guitarist is humble, grounded, and routinely star-struck when he recounts Cymbals Eat Guitars' whirlwind year since the release of their acclaimed debut Why There Are Mountains.
"I mean, every time we go to a new city, or a new country, and find that there are people willing to pay hard-earned money to see us play — I cannot express how gratifying it is, how exultant an experience it is each time," he says. "Playing in front of thousands of people at the Pitchfork festival; opening for the Flaming Lips in London and watching the explosion of confetti and lights at the beginning of 'Race for the Prize' with tears of joy running down my face; standing next to my parents who had traveled to London to watch us; meeting Nels Cline in Germany where we shared a festival bill with Wilco on my 21st birthday!"
Suffice it to say, D'Agostino's list of highlights goes on for a while, but he describes each moment more with wide-eyed disbelief than a sense of accomplishment. That's a refreshing departure from the too-cool-for-school perspective you'll often get from other so-called "Pitchfork artists" — the indie-rock acts that shoot to stardom after a strong review from the influential website. Still, D'Agostino has no interest in disassociating himself from the Pitchfork tag or its sometimes backlash-enticing connotations. He might be young, but he certainly has learned not to bite the hand that feeds (Pitchfork gave Why There Are Mountains a superb 8.3 rating out of 10).
"I couldn't be happier to be associated with Pitchfork," D'Agostino says. "I have been a devout daily reader for years and years, since my freshman year of high school, really. I would wake up at 6 a.m. before I had to catch the bus and read each review carefully. I discovered The Meadowlands [a 2003 LP by the Wrens], Transaction De Novo [a 1998 LP by Bedhead], Emergency & I [a 1999 LP by The Dismemberment Plan], Internal Wrangler [a 2000 LP by Clinic], and pretty much every big record of my life through Pitchfork. In those days, there would be meta concept reviews and a lot of eccentricity that they've since reined in, but I dig the serious, analytic music journalism too, so it's all good. I mean, [Pitchfork's review of Why There Are Mountains] instantly granted us an audience. One could definitely argue that the devotion level of every new fan may not be lifelong, but how often are fans unshakably 'for real'? I feel like we still have a lot more to prove to everyone, anyway, starting with making a bangin' second record."
In regards to that much-anticipated follow-up, D'Agostino says Cymbals Eat Guitars will "certainly" ink a deal with a label this time around (their first was self-released), and he seems confident the band can top itself despite the huge sound of their debut.
"We can do so much better!" he says. "Since our lineup solidified, we've really learned how to play with one another and write songs that sound good with four people playing them, rather than playing catch-up to an overdubby behemoth of a record. I think folks can expect a more focused, economical record with more interesting, ornate guitar work and much more melody and lyrical complexity and heft."
Fair enough, but what can they expect from the big Pavement reunion this summer? Greatness or a cash grab?
D'Agostino chuckles. "Can't it be both? Just so long as they don't make another record, right?" Ah, spoken like a true music snob.