Breaking Out: Cymbals Eat Guitars

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Cymbals Eat Guitars, shot for SPIN's October 2011 issue by Josh Goleman
WRITTEN BY
Caryn Ganz

By the time Cymbals Eat Guitars' Joseph D'Agostino was 15, he'd already amassed a formidable stockpile of ?instruments in his suburban South Jersey bedroom. There was the Stratocaster knockoff, a big ol' Hammond organ he'd bought from an aging jazz musician, and the 12-track digital ?recorder he'd pleaded with his parents to purchase for him. "They were like, okay, dude!" he says, laughing. "They were willing to go the extra mile."

Though his nascent career has since rewarded his folks' faith, D'Agostino wasn't always sure of himself. As a teen, the singer-guitarist, now 22, was a prolific songwriter -- nurturing deep loves for Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham -- but a reluctant fraternizer. ("I didn't really have much in the way of a social life," he says.) Eventually, though, he began jamming on Weezer covers with high school frenemy -- and eventual ?Cymbals drummer -- Matt Miller.

Then, during his first year of college at New York's Fordham University, he studied guitar with one of his heroes, the Wrens' Charles Bissell. After a few sessions, an impressed Bissell offered to record demos of his student's songs. The ensuing sketches eventually grew into Cymbals Eat Guitars' widely hailed 2009 debut, Why There Are Mountains. "There was very little technical guitar stuff," ?recalls D'Agostino about his studies. "We talked about books and poetry. It was awesome."

The months following the album's release were, like the adolescent D'Agostino, a bit emotional: The band lost two original members, swapping in bassist Matthew Whipple, 27, and keyboardist Brian Hamilton, 28, both of whom helped shape Mountains' ?riveting follow-up, Lenses Alien ?(Barsuk), produced by John Agnello (the Hold Steady, Sonic Youth). This fall the foursome are bringing their heady mix of spiraling guitar lines, ?explosive spazz-outs, and D'Agostino's remarkably nimble vocals on tour. "Some people say, 'What I make is from my heart,' but what I make is from my brain," explains the frontman. "I'm trying to make something that's complex and powerful."

That doesn't come easy -- the ?boyish-looking D'Agostino says he feels "fucking 55." But "when I'm working on music," he adds, "that's as close as I get to happiness."
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