Cannonball Statman has been described as the music freak folk by observers. But he is so much more than that, he is tall for one thing, with hair that has a life of it's own. If that is not enough he own's an old battered acoustic guitar, he keeps close to him at all costs. Plus he is visually and aurally completely yet utterly unique. In fact, Cannonball Statman himself discusses his ways with music and the plans he has with it.
1. Can you give me a brief summary as to why you wanted a career in music?
I had a lot of passion for baseball until I was about 8 years old; I played on a Little League team in Brooklyn, and was considered one of the best in my league, which I didn't like at all, because it led to a lot of expectations and attention that I wasn't looking for. Around that time, I decided to quit baseball, start writing songs, singing, teaching myself to play guitar and drums, and recording my songs into a cassette recorder. I was playing in bands, recording and releasing my own albums, and performing small gigs by the time I was 9, and I’ve been a musician ever since; I started touring regularly in the US and abroad in late 2013, around my 20th birthday, and that's my main source of income at the moment. I think being a musician gives me a lot more creative freedom than being an athlete would've, and that's important to me.
2. Why was Cannonball Statman chosen as the namesake for this band?
Cannonball Statman was the name of my childhood dog. He and his nephew Apollo feature extensively in the music video for my song “Manhattan, I am a Sheep”; they’re two of the sweetest dogs in the world, and they’re full of personality and spontaneity. Apollo is a chocolate lab, and Cannonball was a black lab. For a couple months in 2012, my left hand was out of commission, due to a sleepwalking accident involving a large kitchen knife, and I had to start writing songs in an alternate tuning in order to play guitar while my hand wasn’t working properly; by the time my hand healed, I'd adopted a completely different approach to making music, so I decided to change my stage name. Because my music became a lot more primal, raw, and percussive after my injury, and a lot of animals were coming up in my lyrics, my dog’s name seemed like a good fit. I've been writing, recording, and performing as Cannonball Statman ever since, and there are a few dozen Cannonball Statman albums and EPs floating around now; some are online, and some are only available on CD or cassette. Cannonball (the dog) died the night before I recorded “Cackles”, so I was in a sad state when I recorded that one. Apollo and I are still grieving, but we’re also happy Cannonball lived such a great, long, and full life.
3. What has influenced your sound and style?
Collaborating with other musicians always opens me up to a lot of new musical ideas, but for my own songs, my main influence is whatever’s around me; there are stories everywhere, and each story has its own sound. Coming of age in New York City in the years after 9/11, watching my neighborhood in Brooklyn and the rest of the city go through all the stages of gentrification over the course of a couple decades, and traveling around the world to perform and make art in the early 21st century, have all been really influential to me.
4. What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
Societal dysfunction (and dysfunction, in general), comes up a lot in my songs. Interpersonal conflict, metaphysics, forms of entrapment, and love also all come up a lot. All my lyrics are based on things I've experienced; some use more metaphor and symbolism, some are more literal and direct.
5. Do you write your own songs? (Discuss the songwriting process in detail.)
The writing process is different for every song, and that's part of why making music is so exciting for me. Some songs come out very quickly; I'm playing a few chords on the guitar and humming a melody, and five minutes later, I have the whole song. Normally, it takes a few days, and it can even take years. Each one of my songs tells its own story, and when I'm writing a song, the telling of that story is my main focus.
6. How do you describe your music to people?
It involves a lot of screaming, a lot of singing, a lot of jumping and running around, a lot of fast and a lot of slow, a lot of words, some audience participation, and a lot of fun. Some people have said I'm the “king” or “prince” of the NYC anti-folk movement, and I still don't know what that means, but I take it as a compliment.
7. Can you describe your guitar technique and how you came to choose this instrument as your main outlet for music making.
I play a lot of different instruments, but the acoustic guitar and voice combination works really well for the music I make as Cannonball Statman; it’s loud enough that I can play large clubs with it, it's portable and simple enough that I can perform on the street with it, and it has enough range that I can play full shows without a band. I do play with a full band sometimes, but I like to tour as a solo act. A lot of people tell me my guitar technique reminds them of punk, or metal, and both of those make sense to me; there's a lot of anger and energy, and a lot of technical playing and shredding. My technique’s also very percussive, and being a solo act, I try to get the most range of sound out of my guitar as possible.
8. What's your take on the EP "Cackles" as a whole?
It's a continuation of (and a huge departure from) “Hummingcone”, which I recorded on cassette in Oaxaca City, Mexico last winter, and is also available online. I was on tour in the US and Europe for the first four months of this year, and wrote a lot of songs, including the four songs that became “Cackles”, during that tour. My friend Mikado, from the German band PrunX, set up some free recording time for me at Culture Container in Berlin while I was touring Germany in March, and three other bands were planning to record that night; there was a terrible rainstorm, and I was the only one who showed up, so the engineer Franz Rodeck and I had the whole studio to ourselves for a few hours, and we actually recorded the whole EP in less than an hour. Franz had a lot of stories about living in Berlin for several decades, and touring around Europe with various projects; wonderful guy. Torsten, the bassist from PrunX (and also a really wonderful guy), lent me his homemade computer to mix and master the EP, and cooked some great meals for me while I was in Berlin. Back in Brooklyn, my friend Brian Kelly designed the album cover, and German Shepherd Records put the release together in Salford, England.
9. Can you tell me a little bit about it, what can we expect from it?
I wrote most of “Cackles” in crowded, disorienting bus stations around Europe, and while the last track (“ZOB”) is the only song that actually takes place in a bus station, the whole EP could easily be a trip through the mind of someone waiting for a bus. And that’s going to be a very active mind.
10. What is your favorite song on the EP and why?
I try to avoid judging my own work after it's finished. The whole experience of creating something is a real challenge, and it can be any combination of traumatizing and thrilling; once I've decided it's ready to be released, I don't think it's up to me to judge the quality of it. To me, each song on “Cackles” also has a distinct mood, and whether I enjoy them or not depends on my own mood. “Ailing in Leipzig” is a paranoid, apocalyptic song, inspired by some experiences I've had in the US and Europe in the past year. “Orbiting the Pacific” is a poem about the romanticization of what’s often called “the third world”, set to music. “Rabbit” is almost a love song. “ZOB” is hectic and absurd.
11. Would you say that this EP is your best work to date?
I don't know, but I was really happy with how it came out.
12. How would you say you differ from other bands and artists on the scene?
It can take bands and artists several years (or even longer) to find their own voice and artistic identity. I'm really lucky, because I was so young when I made the decision to become a musician, and even though I turned 23 last fall, I've had over a decade to put myself together. That's part of why I spend a lot of time helping other artists on the scene. I also think it's particularly important for us to collectivize and help each other out now, because in spite (and partly because) of the Internet, the art world is becoming more exclusive and incestuous, and a lot of talented, hard working artists I know and care about can barely afford to eat, much less make a significant contribution to culture, for reasons completely beyond their control.
13. What does next year hold for you?
This summer, I'll be touring around the southern US with fellow NYC native Caroline Cotto, which is a real treat for both of us, because we’ve been stuck on opposite sides of the Atlantic at all times for a couple years, and we had a great time recording Caroline’s debut EP “Devil in Me” up in the Catskill mountains together (I played drums) last time we were on the same continent. This fall, I'm heading out on another European tour, and this one’s going to be even longer than the last one; I'm planning to stay on that side of the ocean until next summer, taking some extra time to record the next album, and hibernate in Transylvania with a green-haired hitchhiker I met in a bus station in Vienna.
14. Describe yourself in three words.
A human labradoodle.
15. Is that your final answer?
Not until my larynx implodes.