Cachabacha to Play Groove On Grove

“Please, no more of your sweets,” sing sisters Natalia and Andrea Stevenson on “Stitch Me Tight,” one of the eight striking folk-pop songs on Reboot/Repeat, the 2014 set from Cachabacha. The Stevensons don’t want any of your phony compliments — they’re ready for the kind of salutary truth-telling that often stings during application. The arrangements on Reboot/Repeat are pared down to the basics: Andrea Stevenson’s swift-picked guitar, a whisper of percussion and uncannily tight vocal harmonies that broadcast the singers’ family ties. It’s the sort of record that radiates candor, and it establishes Cachabacha as a Hudson County band to watch. In the past, Andrea Stevenson would stomp a drum as she sang and picked her guitar; lately, though, the sisters have added a live rhythm section to the group and have rearranged the Reboot/Repeat material to accommodate the new lineup. You’ll get a chance to hear the four-piece version of Cachabacha on May 13 at Groove On Grove at 6 pm. The Stevensons and their new bandmates are part of a night sponsored by local independent label Mulberry Sound Recordings. We asked Jersey City resident Andrea Stevenson about her label, her influences and her distinctive guitar style, and her decision to expand Cachabacha.

Have you and your sister been singing together as long as you both can remember?  Did the band grow out of that relationship? Or did you or she prompt the other one to form a group?

There was never quite a single moment that Natalia and I decided that we were going to do music together. Music was a huge part of our childhood, and it just gradually turned into a more serious commitment as we grew older. When I was 14 and Natalia was 13, we actually recorded a 10-song album that was never shared with anyone. We had already written and performed a lot together by the time we released the Sidewinder EP when I was a sophomore in high school, but that was the first time that I felt we had a collection of songs that was recognizably ours and able to be shared. My writing spanned across many styles for several years before we developed our own sound.

The Cachavacha is a cartoon witch, isn’t she? A little bit irascible, a little bit lovable? Does that describe the band? Or are we way off base here? 

Yeah, Cachavacha is the name of a folklore witch from Argentina, where our mother is from. We wanted something that represented our background a little bit but also harbored some of the quirkiness that we play with. We try to be a band that doesn’t take ourselves too seriously, and that juvenile, troublemaker, quality about La Bruja Cachavacha is something we like. Also, we like the name for phonetic reasons. It sounds just as playful as she is.

What prompted you to base the band here in Jersey City, rather than Central Jersey or New York City? Where in New Jersey did you grow up? Are you finding Hudson County a good environment to make music? Anything you wish you could change?

Well, last January we got signed to local DIY label, Mulberry Sound Recordings. We quickly made a lot of friends on the label and in the area and found ourselves spending every weekend hanging out in Hudson County. I graduated high school in June and soon afterwards moved into a room in the Jersey City Heights. We grew up in Central Jersey in a small town called Dunellen, where Natalia still lives with our mother.

There is definitely a great music community here that we are thrilled to be a part of. There are a lot of talented local bands and artists that totally rock our socks off. We all work together booking and promoting shows, and it’s a very cohesive and healthy environment. I don’t think competition is any fun, so I’m happy that’s not part of the dynamic around here. Although, I do wish there was a bigger house show scene in the area, but not every town can be a college town like New Brunswick.

Reboot/Repeat is a really beautiful collection of songs. How did you get that twinkly Paul Simon-like guitar sound? It feels like you’re pulling from pan-American folk traditions. Is this something you’ve studied, or something you’ve lived? 

Growing up our father played a lot of Neil Young, Bob Dylan. I never quite decided to turn to American folk; it’s just how the music came out. I grew up listening to all different kinds of music and still do. I think is more that I’m drawn most strongly to music that has this kind of home-made feeling to it. A lot of folk music sounds humble and approachable that simplicity is something I always appreciated and try to maintain in my music.

Without being showy, the playing is impressive. That’s true whether you’re playing a tricky pattern like on “Mother Tongue” or strumming like “Fort Song.” Did you (or your sister) take guitar lessons? Or did you just learn from playing along to favorite records?           

I would say a huge part of how I play the guitar is due to the fact that drums are actually my first instrument. I had played drums in and out of school projects for most of my life. Although fingerpicking is not always associated with rhythmic music, when you really dissect fingerpicking it’s a very rhythmic way to play the guitar. Each finger and each string is assigned to a different beat. So coming to the guitar as a drummer, fingerpicking became the most exciting way to play.

I started listening to the The Tallest Man on Earth when I was 14, and he had a profound effect on the way I approached the guitar. I never had an attention span long enough for music lessons, so YouTube taught me the basics of Travis picking. From there I just practiced every day until I was able to play a simple rendition of “The Sparrow and the Medicine” by the Tallest Man on Earth. I’ve worked on my picking technique every day since then.

On “Pulmoncito,” you sing that you’ve learned to sing with one lung. What do you mean by that? What’s a pulmoncito, anyway?

Pulmoncito means “little lung” in Spanish. My junior year of high school I underwent a lung surgery after my right lung collapsed several times. It was a prolonged period that took a toll on my physical and emotional health. “Pulmoncito” was the nickname given to me by my family with a very sensitive sense of humor. But with that line specifically, I’m trying to come at the situation with a positive disposition. By the time I wrote “Pulmoncito,” I was done feeling sorry for myself.

Tell me more about Mulberry Sound Recordings. It’s a Hudson County collective, right? How did you get to know them? 

Mulberry Sound Recordings is a DIY music label founded by Timothy Erbach of Perennial Reel, and Marcel Rudin of Morus Alba. They created Mulberry to showcase some of the great talent that is coming out of Hudson County from bands like Rest Ashore and the Kadian Quartet. I met Tim a little over a year ago in Tea NJ in Jersey City to speak about becoming a part of Mulberry. It’s crazy to think how much has happened in the little time since. Mulberry is a group of very original artists and very dedicated people. A lot of what I have learned about doing music I owe to Mulberry Sound.

Now that Cachabacha is a full band, was it tricky adapting your material to a live rhythm section? Has it changed the way you write? Did you feel the need to be bigger and louder? Did you just want to decorate the house differently, so to speak? 

It’s not so much that I felt the need to be louder, just groovier. In my opinion, a lot of the world’s best music has both a strong rhythm and intricate melody. Such as Cuban music featuring both strong hand rhythms originated in Africa and guitar parts from Spain. Or a hip-hop song with a great beat and beautiful sample. Music such as that is both cerebral, in how it plays with your head, and visceral, in how it makes you move. It was important to me that we didn’t lose the sensitivity that Natalia and I had created with our melodies and guitar parts but I also wanted to start making our audiences dance at our shows. I also wanted to dance around myself, as opposed to being anchored to a kickdrum, Shakey Graves-style, which was how we performed as a duo. Anders on drums, and Aaron on bass, have done an amazing job at helping me strike that balance.

Writing for a full band has definitely changed the way I write songs. Before, all the energy of our songs basically came from 2 places: the guitar and vocals. But now that we have two new instruments, it gives me a little more room to work with. I would like to say it has spiked my creativity.

Where did you get the bassist and drummer from? Are they musicians you’ve collaborated with in the past or people you’ve met recently?  

Aaron and Anders are in another band based in New York City called Losergroove. We had some mutual friends and played a couple shows with them. Natalia did a great job of laying down some vocal tracks on their EP Rodent Noiseover last summer. A few months later in January 2015, Aaron became my roommate in Jersey City, and we started playing music everyday together. A few weeks later we asked Anders to join us, and it all clicked into place. Being experienced composers themselves, Anders and Aaron have proved to be the perfect band mates to help Natalia and I push Cachabacha into our new identity, and future plans.

Will you still doing songs from the 2014 set? Or have you retired those in favor of the new stuff? 

We have adapted most of the Reboot/Repeat songs for a full band, such as “Mother Tongue,” “Landmines,” and “Pulmoncito.” There is a big difference, however, in the songs that we added a rhythm section too, and our newer songs that I wrote with Aaron and Anders. The rhythm section in the older songs are more supplemental than the newer songs, such as “Killer Clown,” where Aaron and Anders play a more integral part in the song. Our set still includes a lot of Reboot/Repeat songs, but I’m proud to say that we are working at a pace where most of the songs we perform are from our next studio album.

Follow Cachabacha on Facebook and listen to them on BandcampCachabacha will play the Mulberry Sound Showcase at Groove On Grove on Wednesday, May 13 along with Rest Ashore, Kadian Quartet, and Professor Caveman, at the Grove St PATH Plaza, at 6 pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit jcdowntown.org or the JCI Cultural Calendar.

Jersey City Independent is proud to be a media sponsor of the Groove on Grove music series.

Photo courtesy Cachabacha

Tris McCall

For the past twenty years, Tris McCall has been preoccupied with the art, music, architecture, politics, and public culture of New Jersey. For the past fifteen, he's been writing and singing about the Garden State wherever and whenever he can. The Trespassers, his first novel, was released in 2012; another not-dissimilar book is on the way. You can read more on his blog trismccall.net.