Songwriter Interviews

Hank & Cupcakes

by April Fox

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There is nothing in the world that compares to a Hank & Cupcakes show. They've been compared to the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills, but those feel like kind of a stretch, parallels drawn by process of elimination. As great as those bands are, they don't have quite the same raw, kinetic, sexual energy that Hank & Cupcakes let loose on stage.

Armed with a bass guitar, a mind-boggling array of effects pedals, a drum set, and a powerful voice that's downright shocking bursting forth from the diminutive Cupcakes, the duo seems on the verge of taking over the music world with their unique hard-driving pop sound, tinged with just enough punk rock attitude to keep you on your toes.

I've always been a fan of songs that juxtapose poppy, upbeat, punky music with lyrics that are unexpectedly dark or serious, so I was looking forward to talking with Hank (Ariel Scherbacovsky) and Cupcakes (Sagit Shir) about what they do and how they do it. The result was a conversation tinged with nostalgia, sweet analogies, and the kind of straightforward honesty that we should probably expect from a band that bares its soul so perfectly when they perform together.
April Fox (Songfacts): You write all your own songs. Do you write them together, or does one of you do most of the writing?

Ariel Scherbacovsky (Hank): Sagit writes them on the piano, usually.

Sagit Shir (Cupcakes): There's starting to be a change, though. Originally it was me writing all the songs on the piano, then we'd bring the ones that we chose for the band to the rehearsal space, and then we'd figure it out.

But things are changing. Ariel's just started writing songs for the first time, and we've started working together and just jamming in the space. One of the songs we're playing tonight is a new song; Ariel had a riff that he just started playing and jamming, and then I just started singing and something came out. That song is called "Kiss Your Face," and it's one of the first songs that we've made that way. I didn't write it on the piano first.

Songfacts: And you write all the lyrics, too?

Sagit: I write all the lyrics, but Ariel just started writing those too, so that's changing also.

Hank & Cupcakes have hit the US like a psychedelic tempest, coming from Israel to show fans that music as art is nowhere near extinct. Their live shows are nonstop motion, color and light, pulsating to the beat of the drums and bass and vibrating with a razor-sharp pop undercurrent.

The duo are no more restrained in their videos, and that fact is illustrated perfectly by the video for "Spin." Created with a series of rapid-fire still shots by fashion photographer Javier Ortega, the stop motion video fits the song perfectly, providing a sexy, playful, not-quite-chaotic backdrop for the music and lyrics.
Songfacts: Are there any songs that you don't like to play live anymore? Any that you're just sick of playing?

Sagit: There are a lot of songs that we try not to play live. Not because we're sick of them, although there are songs that we're sick of - not really sick of, I just don't connect to the song anymore, and it's hard for me to deliver it and believe in it. I don't want to be faking it, so I'd rather just not play it.

But there are some songs we avoid just because they're a bit too quiet, and a lot of times in the live show, we try to keep the energy very high. So it's hard for us to put in the quiet songs, because if we stick it in the middle of the set, it will kind of dissolve the energy building up and it's always tricky. We always try not to play more than one quiet song per set, but we do have more than one quiet song. I guess those are the songs that get eliminated for the live show.

Songfacts: What are your favorite songs to play?

Ariel: For me, it's always the new songs. The newest song is my favorite, and we have three now.

Songfacts: What are they?

Ariel: "Kiss Your Face," "Cheap Thrill," and "The Old and the New," it's called?

Sagit: I'm not sure that's going to be the name, but for now.

Ariel: They're so new, they don't even have names. They weren't even born, officially.

Songfacts: What about you, Sagit? Do you like playing the new ones best, or do you have old favorites that you really like to play?

Sagit: I get pretty excited about the new ones. It's something we haven't played a million times; it's like falling in love as opposed to loving, you know what I mean? Like falling in love with someone, there's always this initial bubbly excitement, and the person that you love and you're with for years, it's a different kind of love. There's this falling in love kind of thing that we have with the new songs.

Songfacts: Do you ever pull out the old ones? Because after a while, when you're with someone, you do fall into that place where you're happy and content, but then you go and do something completely different, or you take a trip to someplace new, and you kind of rekindle that and get that bubbly excited feeling again. Do you ever have that with your songs, when you play one that you haven't played in a year or two?

Sagit: Yeah, we've been taking breaks from some songs on one tour and then bringing them back on the next tour.

Ariel: There are definitely songs like that. There are a couple that we didn't do and then we brought them back, and then they disappeared and now there are three new ones, and there are a couple of really ancient ones from the beginning that I'm fantasizing about recording for the next record.

Songfacts: The first time I heard you guys play, about four years ago...

Sagit: Where was that?

Songfacts: Some sketchy little bar.

Sagit: The Hole in Da Wall? That place got closed down because someone got murdered there. We played at MoDaddy's, too.

Songfacts: Yeah, two people got shot there. I think the first time I saw you play was actually at MoDaddy's, and you played a song about some guy who had you on a TV show.

Sagit and Ariel: Oh yeah, Jimmy.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about that song?

Ariel: We met this guy at one of our shows.

Sagit: The same night we met our former manager, it was like a very cosmic night for us.

Ariel: And the guy has a TV show in New York, and he invited us to go on the show. We went and hung out at some club he took us to, a members only club, and he was all jokingly cocky about having a TV show. He was like, "Yeah, I got a TV show! Who the fuck are you? Do you have a TV show?" It was really funny, it was so bizarre and crazy, that the song came about. He's very proud of that song, by the way.

Sagit: We called him, and we said, "Listen, Jimmy, we wrote a song about you, but if you have a problem with it, we'll change the name." But his ego couldn't come to terms with the fact that we might change the name, so he went with it and he loves it.

Songfacts: I have to ask who your influences are. What made you decide you wanted to write and play music?

Sagit: That's an ancient question, because it's not related to Hank & Cupcakes. I started writing music when I was 16, and it was not anything close to what we're doing right now. So are you asking what the influences are in general, or for Hank & Cupcakes?

Songfacts: Both. Whatever you want to tell me.

Sagit: In general, the first song I composed was a poem that my dad wrote. That's really cheesy, but my dad wrote poetry and he had a stack of hand-written songs in his desk, and I just took them out and put them on the piano and started composing his stuff, because I wasn't writing yet. So that's how I started writing songs. And with Hank & Cupcakes, I don't know what our influences are, because we really don't listen to anything that anyone references us to. People say that we sound like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and tons of other things that we had never heard of when we started this band.

Songfacts: Sagit, how long have you played drums?

Sagit: Probably 13 years, 12 years?

Songfacts: And Ariel, you do some crazy stuff with the bass. How long have you been playing?

Ariel: I've played since I was 15, so like 20 years. But the bass insanity started with this band. Before that, I just played bass. Now, it's a very different concept of playing bass than usual.

Songfacts: What do you guys listen to when you're not making your own music?

Sagit: A lot of comedy.

Ariel: Today we listened to some bluegrass, some really good program.

Sagit: We listened to a Q&A with Edward Snowden. We used to listen to Howard Stern interviews, like 80% of the time when we were on the road. We're kind of sick of it already. We've heard so much. We don't really listen to music that much when we're not playing.

Songfacts: Is there anything else you want everyone to know about your songs?

Sagit: I think there's something about the songs that works on two levels sometimes. On one level, a lot of the songs are like fun, dance-y, a party vibe, so if you don't really listen to the lyrics, you can just dance. But there are those songs that do have lyrics that are meaningful and sometimes with social commentary and content to them. Usually people don't notice that. Usually when people notice the lyrics, they'll come up to me after the show and comment on that, and it's interesting how they work on both levels.

Songfacts: What about you, Ariel? Is there anything else you want to share about your songs?

Ariel: No, I don't usually say anything about the songs. Everybody makes their own opinions. I don't feel like it's interesting to hear my opinion about them. I do want to tell everyone to check the tour dates, so you can come out and hear them.

Songfacts: How long are you on tour?

Sagit: We have four months left, and then we're going to tone it down but still stay on the road while we're writing our third album.

Songfacts: Do you have any idea when that album will be out?

Sagit: Well, we already have three songs, and we're just going to do it as fast as we can. The last album, we thought would take three months and it took a year, so maybe it's better not to say.

July 14, 2015. Hank & Cupcakes are touring the US and Canada through September 4, 2015, in support of their latest album, Cash 4 Gold. Visit Hankandcupcakes.com for tour dates and more information.
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