bill bodkin chats with the newly revitalized Burlap To Cashmere …
When bands reunite after a long hiatus, it’s often for a reunion tour, a walk down memory lane, a rehashing of former days of glory to the excited cheers of fans who’ve long to see their musical heroes return to the stage.
Very rarely do you see a band reunite and try something new, to reinvent, to re-imagine their sound and image. In the case of Burlap To Cashmere, not only has the band reinvented themselves, they’ve done so with magnificent results. Their self-titled record, to be released on July 19, is a beautifully mastered piece of music. It’s rousing, it’s soulful, it’s immediate and it’s a work their longtime fans and fans of good music in general can really fall in love with.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with the band’s longtime drummer Teddy Pagano right before their return to performing in New York City on May 25.
PB: Can you explain the origin of the band’s name?
Ted Pagano: The band started out when Steve [Delopoulos] was in college. Steve went to Marymount College in Manhattan and was a theater major. He had a final project project and he asked if he could a musical piece. He put a show together with actors and dancers and everything. He invited his cousin John [Philippidis, who was still in high school] out to play and the show was packed for two nights. As for the name, Steven’s roommate named the theater performance “Burlap to Cashmere” and it stuck and became the name of the band.
PB: How was the band initially discovered?
TP: The band started after that performance. Steve got serious about playing music and he started doing gigs in uptown New York at a place called Avalon. He asked Steven and a friend [read: Ted] to perform and give it a shot. We then brought in another friend or two and it started to turn into something. We ended up becoming a seven piece band. Then we ended up playing The Bitter End [in New York City] a lot; it became our home. The shows went from three to ten to twenty people then the place was packed. Then record companies started showing. We were a bit left of center, so they were interested. Next thing you know the fans couldn’t get into the club because it was full of record people. Then that faded as fast as it came. Then we eventually signed with A&M Records.
PB: For those who are unfamiliar with the band during its heyday, talk about the height of the band’s fame in the ’90s?
TP: It wasn’t a boom. While we were signed, people kept coming out to see us. Then we started working with a promoter, Scott Clayton. He was booking bands at the time like Train and Guster [both in the early stages of their career]. He started booking us in all the little clubs and we hit them hard and then it became bigger clubs, colleges. We fought for every little bit of what we got. It was a long, arduous road. Then we made our record [1998's Anybody Out There?] and we just started touring and touring. We played in festivals. We did one in Italy with a crowd of 3.5 million people. Things just kept growing and tensions grew as we toured. We toured ourselves into the ground — burnt ourselves out. That was around 1999/2000.
PB: Why after a 12 year hiatus did you decide to comeback?
TP: We all went on to different things. We were a seven piece band and we got married, had kids, families. Johnny went onto do session work, Steve recorded some solo stuff. The members that are no longer in the band started families. I worked abroad (in the UK) for IKEA and Apple.
I had been out of music [for a while] and I split from my wife and I had wondered what we would sound like together now, 10 years later. Back then we were so layered and grandiose. I imagined how we would sound if we were to get together and performed something cooler, something stripped down. [According to Pagano, the three original members of the band got behind this concept and the idea of reuniting and decided to reform Burlap to Cashmere this time as a stripped-down five piece band instead of a seven piece band.]
Then I moved back to Brooklyn and we decided to recapture our fan base. We [called] Scott Clayton and he’s back with us now — he’s booking Guster and Train still but also Kings of Leon and John Mayer and other bands.
PB: Why go for the stripped down sound — you had such a rich sound?
TP: With the seven-piece everyone had different influences. We had singer-songwriter Cat Stevens/Bob Dylan sound, percussion with an Afro-Cuban sound, a flamenco sound, Greek ethnic influence and of course a pop influence. It was seven guys bringing it, cleverly putting it together. It was exciting live, now I wouldn’t want that again. We tuned more into a Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, great 70s folk stuff. The Greek and ethnic influence is a little less, but it’s still there, like Cat Stevens.
PB: The self-titled album has a really awesome, timeless feel to it — just wonderfully crafted.
TP: I’m glad you thought that. We really have to give a lot of credit to Mitchell Froom, the producer [of the record]. He’s brilliant. He’s worked with Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits. He knew what we wanted to achieve with this record and through his musical knowledge he was able to make this record timeless.
PB: You were signed to Sony/Jive Records recently. How did you get on this label? How hard was it to get signed, and what has this label done to get behind you guys?
TP: [When the band decided to come back,] we played a lot of A&R showcases. I remember we played a day showcase for them [Sony] and before we went onstage we were like ‘What are we doing here? This is the label that has Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake on it.” But their A&R guy, who’s worked with 311 and Cage The Elephant, he had heard us and fell in love with the band. He knew about our past but it wasn’t really a factor in him signing us. In the end, everything [with Sony/Jive] worked out perfectly.
PB: Can you talk about being in the industry then versus being in the industry now?
TP: It’s very different, yet still very much the same. Deals and decisions, the rapport you have with people in the industry is the same, — just much more streamlined these days. We never got the amount of attention back then as we do now. It’s fantastic. And of course you have an extremely powerful tool that you didn’t back then — the Internet. I mean, it had just started to spread back in the late ’90s and our site was well-trafficked, but now, it’s an amazing tool. People are posting your songs all over, music’s on your phone. At the same time, it’s very in-your-face, and you lose an element of control. You’re constantly being documented with all the new phone and video technology.
PB: Can you talk about the soul of the new record?
TP: The record is a culmination of songs written across 15 years. The song “Tonight” was written along time ago [when the band was still touring in the '90s]. Some of the other songs were written in studio as we were making the record. I mean, Steve [who writes all the lyrics] has just grown and grown man. Think about [this record] as a snapshot in different moments in time that equal out to who were now. This sort of record tracks all our growth during the years we weren’t a band.
PB: What can people expect from Burlap to Cashmere in 2011?
TP: I tell you what: we are ecstatic for the amount of opportunities we’ve received. And if this doesn’t happen, then it’s nobody’s fault — people just didn’t hear the music. We are going to tour our butts off, we’re putting together a really intelligent tour schedule in areas where our music is getting airplay. In terms of a live show — we want to keep the excitement of our old shows but leaving the clutter behind. When we were a seven-piece we were young and there was a lot of “Hey, look at me play!” Now that we’re adults it’s not superfluous. We basically had an orchestra playing with us now we’ve just added a Hammond B3 player who tours with Crosby, Stills & Nash, so we have a little more of that vintage folk sound, but still high energy.
PB: Finally, you mentioned that you were trying to recapture your fan base. How easy/difficult has that been?
TP: We’re extremely lucky and fortune that a great deal of our fans have come back. They’ve been super supportive. We were getting messages on Facebook, like 15-20 a day, asking us to “come back.” And when we did our fans came out in droves. We’re also winning over a lot of new fans. To be getting new fans and doing this well in the music industry at this time is really super.