|Aquarian: Cropduster, Through the Past Lightly|
Despite this lurking opacity that seems to shadow the band, Cropduster aren’t your token indie band hidden behind a wall of non-sequiturs and red herrings, incapable of conveying genuine emotion. Comprised of Maurizi, lead guitarist and back-up vocalist Tom Gerke, Lee Estes on bass, and Scott Kopitskie saddling drums, Cropduster are clever chaps for sure, but they’re not binded to cognitive “gotchas!”
Instead, Cropduster have deeper, mentally attuned trust in instinct and intuition, a ride-it-where-it-takes your spirit reminiscent of the Grateful Dead (minus the tediousness- check their blazing live take of the Dead’s “U.S. Blues”) and contemporary kindred spirits, Ween. In fact turning left when the listener’s mind says “right turn ahead” it’s a time-honed skill of Cropduster, whose songs have been keeping fans on their toes with knees bent since day one.
A slightly tipsy Gerke elaborated on this in a ridiculously unprofessional 3am discussion after a classic 66 Johnson St. rock-fest also featuring True Love and Mike iLL: “The whole first record, none of the choruses came where they should’ve. If they’re at all, they’re at the end of the song.
While acknowledging Cropduster’s mindbending unpredictability and brotherly telepathy, no one could’ve predicted (well except for the band and producer machine) their crown opus circa 2001 - the undeniably addictive, pristinely recorded We Put Out Records release Drunk Uncle- on all levels one of the year’s top independent releases. States Maurizi, “we don’t really dig the low-fi aesthetic. Sure, our demos sounded like shit, but the things we do with other people sound great. Low-fi gives way to the technology factor eventually. If you can make yourself sound better, you will.” Antenna fully extended, Maurizi then adds, “to me music is music. The songs are songs. Whether they’re low-fi or hi-fi, at the end of the day it’s the songs.”
And songs, Drunk Uncle has. Nine tracks, no filler-just like the classics. Hitting number 22 on the CMJ top 200, Drunk Uncle is nothing short of godsend to the poor, huddled masses known as “rock fans”. Breathing new life into the rotting, cash-encrusted corpse of the Rolling Stones (but without the gallingly exhibitionist Mick Jagger-wannabe posturing), Drunk Uncle is a time-spanning chronicle of all that’s dear to a rocker’s ear: the crashing denoument of “Golden Sunsets,” which flaunts gorgeous sounds of a tornado unfurling backwards. Then there’s the petulant stabs of frenetic guitar that make a bloody delightful mess of the initially genteel beauty “An Then There Was You”; haywire feedback aside, their most comforting cocoon of a song in that Mutations kind of way.
These gleaming nuggets have caught the ears of some pretty impressive
industry power brokers as well. Uncle’s “Nothin’s Gonna Change”
helped Cropduster garner the 200 Musician’s Atlas Independent Music
Award for “Best Rock Act”, voted on by a panel of judges including
Amiee Mann, Ben Folds, and Pat DiNizio.
Embellishments aside, the boys are quick to steer much of the back patting toward producer Machine, who minted six of the nine Drunk Uncle tracks as well as a bulk of the debut.
“It was sheer serendipity, hooking up with Machine. We were jamming in a practice space in Passaic, where Machine had his first studio. We were friendly from there, and as we know knew him from his bartending at a Hoboken bar we’d play occasionally. We always talked about recording, but just never hooked up. Then his career took off, and like, a year later we saw him at the Loop Lounge right after the had done the Pitchshifter record.”
“This re-established the tie and soon after we were playing a blues jam in Hoboken (by the way, our most horrendous set ever- check that- the worst set by anyone ever) so of course we bugged him there, and just blurted, ‘Whaddya say Tuesday!’ And that was our first record. He produced six of the eight tracks on that one, “ Gerke Reminisces.
Knob mastery aside, Machine is also given credit for his George Martin-esque conceptual approach, for Maurizi’s songwriting development is also slightly indebted to the man who has given a sonic buffing to Zombie and the Step Kings shiny metallic armor: “He taught me so much about songwriting I never even thought about; distilling your artistic vision into something that makes more sense o everybody else. Sometimes I’d get a bit esoteric with the songwriting otherwise.”
Machine accolades notwithstanding, if there was one producer in the world they could’ve worked with, it would’ve been the architect of the Stones apex, “Jimmy Miller- though it would be funny to thin of what Todd Rundgren would do with us!” opines Murizi.
This peek into what Cropduster holds dear in their hearts is very telling. By marrying the old hat of the Rolling Stones with the similarly renegade spirit of Guided by Voices, Cropduster have created an altogether new paradigm. You see, time is on Cropduster’s side. Unlike past bands that have tapped the Jagger/Richards vein, the seepage of Pavement and Beck into the mix creates a whole new alternative. A new alternative that ironically, isn’t far from the earnest country shuffle of Beggars Banquet. Not unlike the anachronistic Old 97’s, it’s a sound that is currently as rare as a tasty steak in Britain. This irony isn’t lost on Maurizi, who amidst chuckles ponders, “We’re playing a sound now that sounds new-how funny is that?”
With dates with those Texas-based masters of restraint Spoon fast approaching (Maxwell’s on May 2, Philly’s Kyber Pass on May 4), as well as just confirmed dates in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, and Richmond with Sub Pop’s Arlo- whose High Up In The Night is a hard rock powerhouse- the time is now to hop aboard the best thing to rise from the murky riverside hamlet of Hackensack, NJ, since Richard Pryor patrolled centerfield in Brewster’s Millions (okay that’s not saying a lot). ‘Cos contrary to Billy Joel’s lyrical nod to Hackensack- Cropduster aren’t movin’ out, they’re just movin’ up.