Cheap Time’s Jeffrey Novak Digs His Bandmates, Talks Possible Covers Album
(CBS Seattle) — The legendary Kid Congo Powers and his backing band the Pink Monkey Birds are making their way back to Seattle (Ballard) on Friday, setting up shop at the Sunset Tavern. Powers (or Kid…or whatever you’d like to call Brian Tristan) has a resume unlike any other; Guitarist for the Cramps, The Gun Club, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — not to mention he is the former west coast president of the Ramones’ fan club. His latest project (with the Pink Monkey Birds) is another chapter in a psychedelic forest in which he rolls over the terrain with primitive hooks.
But also on Friday night’s bill, however, is a rock ‘n’ roll trio not to be missed: Nashville’s Cheap Time.
Fronted by prolific musician Jeffrey Novak — who emerged onto the garage rock playing field as a one-man band, Cheap Time has been pumping out singles and albums since 2007, including three full-lengths on In The Red. Novak finds a way to squeeze in a plethora of influences into stripped-down, two-to-three minute songs. At times, the band boasts a sprightly howl that echos The Saints and The Real Kids; and two-and-half minutes later you might be hearing the sleazy, tremolo-heavy sludge of The Cramps; but Novak will be damned to leave out a Kinks-like hook on an album.
Despite several lineup changes, Cheap Time has powered through the rock ‘n’ roll touring circuit in clubs, headlining tours and opening for bands like Mudhoney and Guitar Wolf. Last fall the band released its third full-length album, Exit Smiles.
When it comes to making a recording, do you look for consistency with Cheap Time’s sound or do you see each session as a time to mess around with new techniques?
Yeah, it’s looking at what mistakes we made last time that we can try to do something different this time. It’s always an experiment, that’s the fun of making records. But then, promoting them, and playing shows, is a different thing than making them …. There’s a few songs on this album [Exit Smiles] that we’ve never even played live. They make sense on the album, but then you really wanna have a tight set …. I think the next album we make is gonna be a rearranged covers album.
What are some songs?
Well, we’re in the middle of recording the new studio album with all new original songs, but after that my idea is sort of to do a tribute to my teenage years and cover all the great bands I followed when I was a teenager — but rearrange them so none of the songs really sound the same …. I’ve come up with a list but I haven’t had a chance to really work on any of them. Definitely Jeff Evans, ’68 Comeback, The Bad Times, The Lost Sounds, The Reatards, The Compulsive Gamblers, The Cheater Slicks-
What Cheater Slicks song?
Oh, the best Cheater Slicks song, “Thinkin’ Some More.” I don’t know yet how I am gonna rearrange it. A lot of these songs I used to cover as my one-man band when I was a teenager and seeing all these bands play. I’m at that point now where I’m like, “oh that would be so cool to make a record and try and rearrange these songs in a Cheap Time-sorta style” — kinda the way we recorded a John Cale cover for Third Man [Records]. Third Man didn’t even know it was a cover and didn’t credit his name on the record which really pissed me off. And, we toured with Mudhoney who are big John Cale fans and they didn’t even know it was a cover! It was weird, because I didn’t think we rearranged it that much. But then it gave me hope in that I can do interesting things in rearranging these songs …. But I just came up with this idea, maybe it’ll develop. I hope it does.
Yeah, you’ve got this fine line between tastefully re-working a song past recognition, but at the same time you don’t want to stump people or have them think it’s your own song.
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s exactly what it was for us. I was like, “Damn those Mudhoney guys are so cool, they’re totally gonna call us out.” And I always want to do that — I want the audience to call us out …. Steve McDonald years ago told me covering songs, rearranging songs and making them your own is just as important as writing your own songs.
Ryan Sweeny is the longest tenured member of Cheap Time. What is it about his style you like?
He’s extremely dedicated, he truly gets off on the music; he always enjoys the challenge that every new song and album brings. The drums just get more complicated on every record, ya know, really hard to play …. I come up with these beats to get him to play that sometimes just seem impossible. But I know that if he can get it down, it’s gonna sound so cool — and it’s not gonna sound like anything else. And I really hope Jessica [McFarland] wants to stay in the band now; she’s been in the band over a year. I don’t think I’ve gotten along better with anybody ever in a band …. Jessica’s like the sister I’ve always wanted. I mean I’ve played in a band with my sister too…and I hated that! [Laughs] But, I’ve never played with a girl who’s as serious and committed to rock ‘n’ roll as she is …. Ryan and Jessica and I are all from small towns; we all grew up nowhere. So we have this sense that we made it out. That’s a very bonding thing I’ve never had with two other people like that.
–Chris Coyle, CBS Seattle
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