Local Indie Rockers Cereal Banter Embrace 'Fuzzy Fidelity' on New Cassette-Only Release

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By indie rock standards, Joseph Joseph was a late bloomer. Joseph, who leads the highly prolific locally based experimental indie rock act Cereal Banter, didn’t play on stage until he was 24.

But that hasn’t stopped him from devoting a serious amount of time and money to the band. The group will celebrate the release of its latest effort, the cassette-only Oatmeal Outburst, with a show on Nov. 8 at Now That’s Class. And the group has another album, Junk Jazz, slated for release in January.

“I’ve played drums since I was 14,” says Joseph one afternoon from Platform, the Ohio City brewery that’s not far from his Hingetown home. His drumming skills even landed him a feature in DRUM! Magazine. “As a kid, I recall being able to do algebra in my head without showing my work. And teachers would deduct points from my grade, thinking that I cheated. I was in honors math classes because I was able to ace multiplication quizzes faster than anyone in the class. I liked the rhythmic drumming of someone like [Rush’s] Neil Peart or [Smashing Pumpkins’] Jimmy Chamberlin spoke to me.”

He asked his father for a drum set and then set it up in the living room, where he practiced relentlessly.

“From that point on, I became obsessed with drumming,” he says. “I would put the Cranberries album and follow the snare work. I’ve never had lessons. I’m so passionate about it but I can’t teach someone to play like me. I have no technical knowledge. I sawed my bass drum in half just so it fit in my Honda Accord at the time.”

One night when he says he was high, he had the realization that he thought he was good enough to play in front of people. He subsequently joined a punk band called You Are The War That I Want while at Youngstown State University.

“It was a tight-sounding band, and I developed the ability to play in the pocket,” he says.

The band would split up and Joseph would start a short-lived alt-weekly in Youngstown before he moved to the Cleveland area to take a job as a proofreader at a company in Independence. Eventually, the company promoted him to an international marketing role, which he held down for several years.

After moving to Cleveland, he joined Scotfree & the Guilty Plea. In that band, he met bassist Tony Moscorelli.

“We formed the notion of the Cereal Banter concept in 2009,” he says. “We had the same mindset and wanted to get away from the singer and guitarist model and have this two-piece thing. We had enthusiasm for minimalism for what we could do with a drummer and a highly technical other player.”

The Flaming Lips’ album Embryonic made him think forming his own band was doable.

“It was very thin sounding album but also very complex,” he says. “It has these Miles Davis moments with the instrumentation and noise and these dark and stark Krautrock stompers. The drums are distorted and louder than they should be and everything surrounding it sounds supplement. We were obsessed with how fast we could play and how interesting we could make something minimal sound.”

With the group’s debut single, 2010’s “Edible Confetti,” a song that features squiggly guitar riffs and echoing vocals, the band set out to show just how off-kilter it could be. 

“If you listen to the song, you can hear David Bowie vibes as far as the vocal approach goes,” says Joseph. “It’s full instrumentation — synthesizers, guitars and bass and acoustic guitars for the layering. We put out that single with bedroom type recordings on side B.”

After releasing some live material, Joseph asked Molly Pamela to join the band, and another era began.

“I saw something special and wanted to keep it moving forward,” he says. “We played one big show at the Grog Shop, which was great just because it was the Grog Shop and that was a goal. We were doing lots of shows at the [now shuttered] Bela Dubby and the Grog was a step up.”

The band recorded the subsequent album, Lights Lights Lights, live at WRUW. One reviewer asked how high were they when they made the album.

“It was a new approach,” Joseph says of the album. “I was playing drums with a new person on who didn’t know how to play anything at all. But we found a way to play in this freeform fashion. We put that out on the basis of how exciting it was. It was improvisation and just had that vibe.”

In the wake of the release of 2012's Sunblur, the band played “tons” of shows. Pamela played loop pedals and Joseph played synths with left hand and drums with his right.

“We did whatever we had to do with the two-piece,” he says. “I was adamant about sticking to the two-piece. I didn’t want it to be a traditional band. I wanted it to be an egocentric project, which it is in the nicest fashion.”

Recorded in Greenpoint, New York, at Lone Pine Road Studio and engineered/mastered by Guardian Alien bassist Eli Winograd, the band's 22-minute song/album, Sties of Pigs Flying with Flowers, Fields of Green Watered by Showers, is another step forward. The song/album offers good, noisy fun that starts slow with some stuttering drum beats but picks up serious steam by song's end as Pamela provocatively screams "we're all animals" over pulsating synthesizers.

“I wanted to take it to a place like that with people who understood what we were going for,” says Joseph. “We did a 30-minute piece with improvisation and scripted sections and cut it down to a 22-minute single.”

Joseph says he and Pamela wore themselves out playing shows. Last year, Joseph teamed up with singer-bassist Nicholas Gunzburg, a local musician who was a fan of the band. They've collaborated on the new cassette-only Oatmeal Outburst.

“The tape is two different tracks that Nick and I wrote,” says Joseph. “This side of us is the wild turn on the tape and see what we can do to challenge each other. It’s all unscripted and reminiscent of Lightening Bolt or anything of that nature with a visceral sound. The second side has this fuzzy fidelity that goes with the mentality of what we set out to record.”

At the time of the recording, they didn’t realize it would become a studio release. But they liked the jam session so much, they decided to officially release it. They’ve even finished a new album, Junk Jazz, due out in 2017.

“The intent is to write compositions and put out more of a concept than two guys thrashing,” he says of Junk Jazz. “If you listen to Junk Jazz, we want it to be more sophisticated and pop tune heavy but retain the improvisation and drum fills going to the next part and stuff like that. That’s what makes our music special. You don’t know what will happen next. It’s conceptual not so much lyrically but musically in the sense that there’s a similar theme in the opening as there is in the closing track. We use a different synthesizer on every recording just so you can identify which era of the band you’re hearing.”

Joseph admits the band’s music can be a difficult listen. And finding a local audience hasn't been easy either.

“I think we’re a little too pop for the straight up noise scene and too obscure for the rock scene,” he says. “It’s not so much a challenge, but it seems like bands in Cleveland are one thing or another. We try to be more versatile. For the Happy Dog, we play more of the pop stuff and for Now That's Class, we can turn up the volume and no one will remember a mistake, which is a nice approach.”

In typical fashion, Joseph has already started thinking about the album that will follow Junk Jazz.

“I’d like to make a mono type recording where the drums are panned, kind of like the early Beatles records,” he says. “They sound like something is turned off. That’s the only concept. We just want to turn ourselves on if we want to keep doing this. We don’t want to play the same songs. It’s about winning the audience over with energy more than anything else and not playing the songs as they sound on the recordings.”

Crown Larks, Beef Jerk, Hiram-Maxim, Cereal Banter, 9 p.m. Tuesday, No. 8, Now That's Class, 11213 Detroit Ave., 216-221-8576. Tickets: $5, nowthatsclass.net

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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