Sink Tapes is a loosely self-defined alternative rock band from New Brunswick, New Jersey. They recently made the trip into the big city to sit down with us at a dessert cafe somewhere in Koreatown. We talked about New Jersey, the value of the demo, and how living together and being best friends since grade school affects their style of music making.
Rare Candy: Who writes? Is it collaborative, all of you?
MATT: Just however, you know, it comes out.
GABE: We all write separately for the most part.
MATT: And then we just bring together a full thing or a part of a thing to the table. It’ll just be like ‘let’s do this’ or ‘I have this what can you guys do with it.’ So just really every song is case by case, I guess.
GABE: Yeah, usually it’s like somebody brings a song and we all learn it.
ALEX: There’s Ricky songs, and there’s Gabe songs, and there’s Matt songs.
ST: And there’s Alex songs . . . sometimes
ALEX: Yeah, no.
Rare Candy: So who does the Mattress Cowboys slow sad songs?
GABE: Yeah well, me and Ricky did that.
RICKY: Almost like right down the middle for that.
GABE: So I guess [Mattress Cowboys] was when we first moved into New Brunswick. We were still rehearsing at my parents place, so like we didnt have our set up there. We just kinda started writing acoustically around that time I guess. That’s just what happened. But then we ended up making New Brunswick where we rehearse and stuff.
Rare Candy: So it was really just practicality at the time then because you lacked your full set up, you did acoustic.
ALEX: We were just kind of hanging out watching TV, playing acoustic guitar.
MATT: This is it!
Rare Candy: But you record all of it.
MATT: Yeah! So far yeah! Most of that stuff has just been a product of who’s living with who in New Brunswick at the time. So they lived together, we lived together, we lived together, like all in the same place.
Rare Candy: Do you guys all live together now?
RICKY: No, no, no. But at one point someone was always living with someone else in the band. For the past few years.
ALEX: No one lives together right now. Which . . . I don’t like.
Rare Candy: You want to all live together?
ALEX: Yes! Except for Matt. (laughs)
GABE: But I guess also the whole acoustic thing there’s stuff that will end up on different releases because we’ll do—it’ll start as an acoustic thing but then because we record a lot—it’ll just get worked on as a full band thing. So there’s a lot of crossover on mine and Ricky’s songs that are on something acoustic and then again later with the full band.
Rare Candy: I noticed you have A Carnival’s a Sure Thing on Mattress Cowboys but then also with a different title on a non-acoustic album.
ST: Oh yeah, Dr B. Dr B is on two.
Rare Candy: It was cool to hear. It’s obviously the same song but . . .
MATT: Yes, totally different when all the other pieces come in.
ALEX: Yeah, that was really one of those quick songs where it was like: I don’t know how to play that song, I don’t know the chords in it. But it was like I could play, and we could record the whole band on it.
MATT: Same with with Railroad I guess too. Cause that was acoustic first, right?
MATT: Yeah, there’s a bunch of songs.
GABE: I think that also has a lot to do with living together, and then doing something on your own, and then recording that. Then we all learn it, and then we kind of make it a new thing. So the early, at home demos have been released, but then sort of fleshed out on later releases and done again.
ALEX: We’ve all played guitar. Gabe plays guitar, Matt plays guitar too. So they write everything of their songs, but none of us play guitar in the same way. So like on some demos that we’ve recorded twice over you’ll hear a song where only Gabe is playing, and it will sound really different than it would be if me and Ricky had played it.
RICKY: They usually end up sounding like two different songs by the end. Just through like, not even just like we have the demo-y version, usually that’s the case too, but usually they end up changing in some way too, very subtle-y. There are usually two separate things.
Rare Candy: Cool. Yeah, I’d like to hear a little more about New Jersey. It sounds like space has had such an effect—like living together, being together, not living together. Just because of the way you guys organically have songs on your own and then work on them together.
ST: Yeah, definitely.
Rare Candy: New Brunswick, New Jersey, are there New Jersey bands you guys all like? Is there a New Jersey sound?
MATT: Nah, yeah no I don’t think there’s a sound necessarily. Like that’s something people definitely say, and want to say.
Rare Candy: People always ask me if there’s a San Francisco sound, and I’m never sure.
GABE: Yeah, like there’re so many different types of bands in one state.
ALEX: I don’t know I don't think there’s like one sound. Some of the big ones like if you jangle, like a little bit, it’s like: ‘Oh that sounds like Real Estate, the New Jersey sound!’ And it’s like . . . well I mean there are bands that also sound like Real Estate way more than we do. So why do we get compared to them.
MATT: People try to make connections, I guess.
RICKY: Yeah, like I wouldn't say there’s an overarching sound.
MATT: I mean nah like especially when you're bookings shows. We’ll play a show one day and not know what the bands sound like, and there’re four bands and they're all completely different. But there’re all Jersey bands. That’s more common than playing with a band you sound like.
Rare Candy: Right, and do you guys mostly play with other New Jersey bands? Shows in and around New Jersey?
ALEX: We don't play a lot of Jersey shows.
MATT: Yeah, I’d say we actually play more out of state than in state.
Rare Candy: You guys played that North New Jersey Indie Rock fest which looked cool
MATT: Yeah totally, those are cool. Those are through connections in Jersey. That was through both of our labels that we’re working with now. So stuff like that will get us playing in Jersey. But we don't necessarily say like we need a show to play here this week. It’s just like when it comes up. We’re more concerned, or it takes more attention, to book shows out of state, so I guess that just happens more.
ALEX: It’s better.
MATT: Yeah, it’s also better out of state.
Rare Candy: Why is it better out of state?
ALEX: Well like, in New Brunswick, it’s like you could play New Brunswick for however long but…
MATT: It’s not that people get tired of it, and it’s just like, you cant go to the same show ten times a month.
GABE: On tour, we’re playing to new people, who don't know who you are, every night.
MATT: Or also there are some cities where people do know us, but we only go there on tour and so people come out because they know Sink Tapes from Jersey and they're not here every weekend.
GABE: I guess the only way to be an actual band is like to tour and have people find out about you. It’s not like we don't play in Jersey, we play in Jersey it’s just probably like once every month, couple months, and then we just work on recording, get a record, and then tour with that record. I mean it’s been a steady formula . . .
RICKY: It’s fairly consistent. Like I’d say every four months we’re gone for at least two weeks. So usually it’s like we start in New Jersey, end in New Jersey and then in between we’ll hit like a few other states. And so yea every four months we’re leaving for a few weeks. And then in between that time we don't want to overdo it playing in New Jersey, and we’re still writing songs and recording.
ALEX: We’re going like up to Chicago and playing all the cities on the way. And then we’re going down south. Doing that two, three times a year.
Matt: It’s just more fun! We get to drive around and hang out.
ALEX: I swear we play Cleveland like four times in one year.
MATT: Yeah (laughs). But they’re close enough that like in two or three days you're there without having to spend money on gas. So like . . . why not? We can so we do.
GABE: I think also, I feel like it makes scheduling things easier. Because it’s like: ‘Alright, well we know we’ll need this time off and within that time we’re going to play 15 shows or however many shows.’ So I guess that’s been fairly productive.
Rare Candy: You guys have been together for a long time doing this steady cycle . . . Since like 2012, 2013, earlier
RICKY: Yeah, earlier than that. I think like 2010.
ALEX: We’ve all known each other for a long time. So I’m not even sure when we first started. I don't know because me and Ricky have been playing music together since we were like 15.
MATT: Same with me and Gabe.
Rare Candy: All of you guys have known each other that long?
ALEX: We’re from different areas though.
MATT: Yeah, they’re from the same town, and we’re from the same town. That’s why we’re on different sides of the table.
(the band then proceeded to give me a New Jersey geography lesson involving baseball analogies)
Rare Candy: What kind of music do you guys listen to? Same music, different music?
Rare Candy: Do you guys hate each others music?!
Rare Candy: Who’s music do you hate?
MATT: Yeah, mostly mine. To be honest.
ALEX: Like when we travel together the big stuff we listen to is always a lot of Tom Waits. More 60s stuff too. And then we’ll also do like a round robin in the car so everyone gets to have the AUX cord for a bit.
Rare Candy: Very democratic
ALEX: Most of the time we skip Matt though. Honest to god.
MATT: I wouldn't say I get skipped for entire sessions, but like Gabe will be sure to say ‘Let me get it instead of Matt this time around.’
GABE: That is not true. “Hold on I got another one” (laughs)
ALEX: A lot of country music.
GABE: Wheeler Walker Jr. that goes on in the car.
MATT: Can we get that on the record, Wheeler Walker Jr.
Rare Candy: How have you guys managed to release so much music?
MATT: Living together helps.
ALEX: We do it when we want.
GABE: Yeah, I guess. I mean. How do we make so much music? Well if we’re all songwriters, and we all write songs you don't just like turn it off. We’re just all always writing. And it’s just like: alright, it’s written, and now let’s record.
RICKY: Yeah, it’s never like once it’s written we want to wait six months. Once we get four or five ready, it’s like, when are we doing this?
GABE: All of those 60’s bands, it was like a release every six months. And like that’s not really that far fetched to do. I don't know. I guess I’ve always really liked bands with that much output. Guided By Voices… I’ve been listening to The Fall a lot again. And they’re another one with just crazy amounts of music. I mean, you just can’t even keep up with it . . . I think it’s always there if you want it.
Rare Candy: I guess the Beatles did record like a song a day.
GABE: Yeah, and I guess some bands are a little more on a schedule. Since we mostly are putting everything out ourselves and self recording we aren't waiting to book time in a studio or anything. We can just do it whenever we want, as quick as we want… I guess that’s also why right now we haven't released anything in a minute, because we are trying to book some studio time.
MATT: All these songs we’re trying to record now in a studio have all been done in a different form already.
ALEX: We’ve got one in the vault now.
GABE: It’s going to be on the deluxe edition.
MATT: The double box.
ALEX: Triple LP. (laughs)
Rare Candy: You guys did release an album of all your past music, your b-sides etcetera.
GABE: That was like, again, the whole recording the demos, and then doing the same song again in a different way. We were just like, ‘let’s just put it all out.’
MATT: And that’s going back to the whole “we play instruments a different way.” Like, I’ll send him a track where it’s guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Gabe will do the same thing. Ricky will do the same thing. But then when we do practice it together it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that sounds different.’ So now we have two different songs. Just with the same name and lyrics maybe. That’s a big part of that album.
RICKY: Sometimes when you do get the deluxe edition of like The Replacements album. Sometimes the demo is better.
Rare Candy: Sometimes they're the best songs!
RICKY: I wouldn't want to think someone like wouldn't hear that.
ALEX: What’s the last song on “Sorry Ma” like Raised In The City. That’s the last song on it, and then the first song on the next disc is the demo of it. And it’s so much better. I think they definitely did it on purpose where they're like back to back, and this is the better version.
Rare Candy: Would it be too much to say that you guys are sorta anti-perfectionism? That you just believe in writing your music, and recording it, and getting it out there.
GABE: I guess the song is going to have a totally different feel depending on how fleshed out it is, like when you have time to be like, “Oh let’s try this, or what about doing this.” It’s going to be way different than just spur of the moment.
Ricky: Perfectionist is a weird word, because like it’s really whatever sounds good. We’ve spent a lot of time on tracks that we just didn’t think sounded right.
MATT: Yeah, and when it’s there it’s there.
GABE: We’ve definitely done stuff too, a song like Bugs, it was just me and Alex, no idea of words yet, no idea of anything, and it just sort of became the album version. It was just sort of working on an idea. Sometimes the demo just turns out to be good enough.