The Caves call their new EP post-indie — whatever that means
David Gaumé has some advice for aspiring bands: “Step 1 — Don’t break up.”
Band longevity is about as inspiring as the U.S. divorce rate. But Gaumé and his bandmates — singer and guitarist Andrew Ashby, drummer Jake Cardwell and keyboardist Elizabeth “Bo” Bohannon — practice what the band’s founder (and bassist) preaches. The Caves have been kicking around Kansas City since 2004. They’re improbably gaining momentum at a stage in their career when many bands would have long since crashed on the rocky shoals of the music industry.
The band is a collective of local indie-rock royalty. Ashby and Cardwell came from the Belles. Gaumé has played with the Stella Link and Dirt Nap, among others. Despite their quasi-supergroup status, though, band members were perfectly content to play for one another and at sporadic gigs.
With a new EP, Five Songs With the Caves — a collection of acoustic, dreamy tunes that is the Caves’ first release — the band is finally taking a stab at mainstream recognition. “We’re late bloomers, I think,” explains Ashby, who writes all the songs. “We were a three-piece for a long time, but then we added Bo on keys, backup vocals and percussion in December. Ever since she joined, she’s added that fourth element we’ve been looking for.”
Adding her to the mix also seems to have helped whip the band’s work ethic into shape. “We’d never been very strict about keeping a practice schedule, and we were just playing these quiet little songs for ourselves,” Gaumé says. “Bringing someone new into the band and bringing them up to speed made us practice a couple of times a week for several months. All of a sudden, we got better and kind of turned into a real band.”
But even with Bohannon providing the ineffable X factor and the kick in the pants, the Caves found that something was still missing from their newfound maturation: actual music to sell. (The independently issued EP is available at bandcamp.com.)
“We’d been playing lots of good shows lately and actually drawing crowds,” Ashby says. “Everyone at every show would come up and say, ‘Why can’t I buy your record?’ We’ve now got five done and have Five Songs With the Caves. So there it is.”
The recording process was as stripped-down as any DIY project. “It was recorded at Innerhorse Studios, which is a loft space in the West Bottoms,” says Gaumé, who recorded and engineered the EP. “We would have to stop recording periodically because trains were passing by. I got the stuff pretty cleaned up in the final mixes, but in some of the songs, there are audible train noises. On another song, you can hear a dog barking downstairs,” he says. “What we lacked from not recording in an expensive studio, we gained in vibe.”
That vibe is low-key and atmospheric but difficult to pin down. “We have a lot of different sounds,” Ashby says. “We get the Americana tag every once in a while, but other songs are just drones. On MySpace I put ‘post-indie.’ That was the most clever thing I could think of. ‘Post-rock’ was such a funny term to me, so why not ‘post-indie’?”
Regardless of what their sound is called, the Caves have consciously cultivated it — soft-spoken and not in-your-face — and try to recapture it in their live show. “Most of the time, you’ll go see any live band of any genre and you’ll get hit in the face with huge volume,” Gaumé says. “There’s definitely a minimalism to our sound. That’s just kind of the way we learned to play together: by leaving a lot of space between notes.”
They can’t quite figure out why Kansas City hasn’t achieved the same recognition that other Midwestern music communities have. “I don’t know what the difference is between Omaha and Kansas City,” Ashby says. “I don’t know what Kansas City’s handicap is. There are world-class bands from Kansas City and Lawrence that never really took off. I just don’t know what the key is for them to get to a wider audience.”
In keeping with the Caves’ laissez-faire attitude, Ashby laughs and adds, “And I don’t really care, either.”
Gaumé then provides his second insight for up-and-coming musicians: “Step 2
— Don’t listen to us, except for the part about not breaking up.”