New Music Friday: Caveman talks upgrading to a major label and evolving from ‘drum-circle stuff’

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Caveman can see the light on their new album, Otero War, out today.

Caveman has never claimed to have invented the wheel, but they may have reinvented themselves along the way. Formed in 2010, these Brooklyn bred indie rockers have carved out (pun intended) a name for themselves among festival goers, film buffs, music fans and the like. Their new record, Otero Warcomes out today, and it’s the band’s first release with local label Cinematic.

When I spoke to frontman Matthew Iwanusa on the phone, at the beginning of the call he told me “I apologize if it gets a little loud, I’m right by the bridge.” Turns out, he was actually between two bridges — the band has a practice space in Dumbo.

“It’s kind of the perfect spot for a practice space,” he said, “because of all the noise from the bridge. Nobody complains about the noise coming from us.”

Iwanusa, 30, is a Park Slope boy through and through. Born and bred there, he still calls the neighborhood home. The other members of Caveman are scattered throughout Brooklyn as well.

Otero War is the band’s third studio album, but it’s the first they’ve released through New York label Cinematic. Their first record was self-released, then re-released after they were signed by indie darling label Fat Possum. Upgrading to a label made a major difference, Iwanusa said.

“When you have a label,” Iwanusa said, “there are just more people doing the work for you. It’s a little easier that way. You know, instead of doing everything ourselves — from booking shows, to printing records, to making flyers and T shirts — we actually had a team of people doing it with us. Plus, there’s a little more money involved. It’s pretty cool.”

And transitioning between record labels was just a natural occurrence.

“We had a two record deal with Fat Possum,” he said, “and then after those two records were done, Cinematic approached us. They’re friends of ours, and they offered us a pretty sweet deal. Plus, prior to us, they only released music by hip hop artists. We’re their first rock and roll band. I think that’s cool.”

Iwanusa says their music has evolved (I can’t stop with the caveman puns) since forming in 2010 and releasing their first album in 2011.

“On our first album, we were trying to make it almost like drum-circle stuff,” he said. “The second one got synth heavy, but then it was more like a full-band situation. On the new one,  we kinda cleaned it up, we really thought through all the parts and made sure everything was intentional.”

And that evolution is present in their videos, too. Iwanusa went to film school, which shows up in videos like “In The City,” starring Julia Stiles. (Side note: I’m really tired writing this, and just typed out that the star of this Caveman video was, in fact, Julia Child. Which would be a very different video, and also something I’d pay to see. I feel like more indie rock bands should start including charming lady chefs in their videos.)

“I always did both film and music. I went to school for film because I figured that whatever I went to school for would end up being something I’d get tired of,” he said. “I could get tired of film, but I didn’t want to get tired of music.”

The video follows a young couple who visit New York City, and it turns into a mini horror movie. It’s really great, and pretty dark, and it takes place at the Jane Hotel, which — fun fact — is the historical hotel where the Titanic survivors were brought after they reached New York. (It’s also the hotel where my mom likes to stay sometimes. Hey, mom, hey.)

With the video for “Never Going Back,” though, off Otero War, the band opted for a more direct approach.

“For this video, we wanted to make it a little less dark. ‘In The City’ was on another planet. ‘Never going back’ was one of the first ones we were actually in, and we thought that a more direct video with nice images would service the song a little better,” he said. “People could actually pay attention to the song itself rather than an elaborate storyline.”

Storytelling hasn’t left them, though: the album’s title, Otero War, came to Iwanusa in a dream. He says there are plans to release a whole story around that, but he doesn’t say what they are, other than: “stay tuned.”

Over the years, Caveman has played their fair share of summer music festivals. This year, they’re playing seven (seven!) festivals, among them New York’s own Panorama. Since festival season is upon us, I asked them for some tips and tricks. Matt suggests hanging out backstage, finding the places with free drinks (because that’s a thing, apparently), and coming prepared with sunscreen and water. And, naturally, I asked if the guys of Caveman had any favorite festival fashions.

“Maybe a very loud shirt,” he said. “Or some fringe. Or a little cultural appropriation.”

Catch Caveman’s new album TODAY. It’s great. And check them out live this summer at Panorama and a bunch of other shows.

Lilly Vanek is the music editor for Brokelyn. For more about local music, festival fashions, and speculations on elderly female chefs in music videos, follow Lilly on twitter . And to pitch Lilly for New Music Friday, email her at lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com.