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Personalities

Shy Child

New York City ‘Synth-rock’ duo Shy Child makes a unique type of music, an amalgam of synthesizer and live drums, with energy and precision. They spoke with ANDREW WOMACK about what’s happened, what’s next, and what’s in a genre.

TMN: First, please introduce yourselves and tell us what instruments you play.

Nate: I’m Nate Smith and I play drums and sing in Shy Child.

Pete: I’m Pete Cafarella. I play gui-board and sing in Shy Child. I play other keyboard-based instruments as well. I guess I also ‘play’ the computer sometimes.

TMN: So, how did the band start? How long have you been playing together?

Nate: Pete and I went to college together and played music within the same community of people, and after school we both ended up living in D.C., playing in El Guapo. Eventually we both moved to New York and started playing together, and Shy Child came out of that in the summer of 2000. Pete also still plays in El Guapo though I can’t finagle the long-distance thing.

Pete: The band started as a result of Nate and I having similar taste in music and other media. It’s also a result of our friendship. I was actually kicked out of the first band I was in with Nate.

TMN: Are there any plans for a tour?

Nate: We’re trying to put together a week-long East Coast tour this summer but if we don’t get our asses in gear to book it soon it might have to get pushed back till August or later. But we are definitely going to start touring here and there whenever possible.

TMN: What is a ‘Shy Child?’ Were you shy children?

Nate: Coming up with a band name is like voting in an election—there are no real good choices but you have to pick something. Shy Child was maybe the fourth or fifth name we came up with and it was better than the rest. I wasn’t a particularly shy child but I wasn’t super-gregarious either.

Pete: I wasn’t one. I like the name because it’s awkward to me; it’s not really ‘cool’-sounding. I don’t think the band name means anything specific.

TMN: Do you like Rush?

Nate: Yes—the trio of albums 2112, Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres, at least. I could take or leave the rest of their stuff. The song ‘Cygnus X-1’ on Farewell to Kings is one of my favorite songs that breaks the ten-minute barrier.

Pete: I appreciate the mysterious side to Rush. They care about myth, which is important to me in making music. They’re not really among my favorite bands, though I have a lot of their records.

TMN: Are there any influences—musical or not—you’d note to give people unfamiliar with your music an idea of what it sounds like?

Nate: Um, this is actually a hot topic with us and the people at our label trying to promote us, because we’re picky about who we say we’re influenced by, or at least I am, but that admittedly comes from being a bit of a music snob. I usually say Kraftwerk, Kraut- and Prog-rock, ’80s New Wave, and ’90s electronica to simplify it, but we really draw from all the music that both Pete and I like, which spans a lot.

Pete: It’s a pet peeve of mine when people can’t describe what their band sounds like, but when I try it I always get frustrated. The musical influences for me range from Kraftwerk, to Black Sabbath, to the music my peers are currently making.

Nate: It’s an ongoing problem, trying to answer this question. After being asked this numerous times, I usually say synth-rock or a synth-and-drums duo. Anything more complex is too specific and people don’t want to hear it. It’s the perpetual struggle of musicians—‘What do you sound like?’ ‘What kind of music do you play?’ etc.—and everyone usually says ‘I mean, I don’t know, like, I guess we sound a little like [fill in the blank] but whatever.’ Although there are some people who’ll be like, ‘We sound like the Stooges!’ or something, very intently. You have to say something, though, so I usually just say ‘synth-rock.’

Pete: Synth-rock.

TMN: What do you think of the ‘Electro-Clash’ genre? Are you ‘Electro-Clash?’

Nate: I think the term Electro-Clash is kinda silly, but I like a lot of the music that falls into that category, though admittedly the whole retro-’80s New-Wave thing is getting a little tired. I really like Soviet, Fischerspooner, Mono Troma, and also bands like Centuries who I think don’t really fall into the Electro-Clash category but get labeled as such, but there’s a lot of terrible bands that are trying to look and sound just like New Order or Gary Numan without doing anything particularly new or interesting. People seem to think we are part of the whole Electro-Clash scene, because we’ve played a number of shows with Soviet and Créme Blush and we have a synth. I saw an article in a magazine that said something like ‘All my friends like to stay out till the wee hours snorting cheap coke at Shy Child and Adult shows,’ and was like, ‘Interesting, I didn’t know that we were a ‘cheap coke band.’ I thought it was pretty funny. I think the thing that sets us apart from the Electro-Clash bands is that we’re more about playing music and performing as a band than we are about dressing up a certain way or maintaining a certain image. That kind of thing only goes so far, you know. And musically we draw from a lot more than just ’80s synth-pop.

Pete: I like a lot of local bands that could be described as such, but I wouldn’t describe Shy Child as such, mainly because we have live drums.

We might be labeled Electro-Clash because I play a loud synthesizer.

TMN: Tell us about the recording of the new album? How did it all come together?

Nate: The new album is actually pretty old, for us. We recorded the album in the fall of 2000 and spent a long time mixing and perfecting everything until we were happy with it, and in March 2001 we pressed up 100 copies to give away and send out to labels as a demo, but nothing really happened. Last fall we pressed 50 more and somehow got it into Mondo Kim’s [record store in Manhattan], and they played it in the store a lot and people seemed to respond well. Eric from Grenadine Records heard it in the store while he was visiting town and contacted us, and things kinda fell into place with them after that. We’ve recorded all our newer material recently and are mixing it down now, and hopefully we can get a second album done in the not-too-distant future.

Pete: We recorded it ourselves on my computer with a Digidesign 001 sound card. I didn’t really know what I was doing engineer-wise. Since then I’ve learned a lot and acquired better gear. We have the instruments for the second album recorded, just have to do vocals…

TMN: Looking forward to the results. Thanks for your time.

[ site | MP3s ]

biopic

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack