Cold Blood Club’s Tom Stuart On Pop, Prose And The Pulse of NYC

Behold Cold Blood Club: a burgeoning Brooklyn band ready to knock your dancing shoes off. Fresh on the scene, the “gang of super-friends” just released their debut EP titled Headlines & Firefights on Mother West Records (if you’re a regular here, you may recognize the band from when they headlined the Sound Dessert showcase back in March). The six spirited songs will have you wanting in, luckily this ‘club’ isn’t members only, but to get into one of their shows, you’re going to have to pay dues at the door.

One gig you won’t want to miss: Cold Blood Club showcase their talent next week during CMJ, including their EP release show on October 18th at R Bar. See the full schedule here.

In light of the Headlines & Firefights release, I sat down with guitarist/songwriter/vocalist Tom Stuart about Cold Blood Club’s formation, the bands affinity for New York City, and why pop music is the most underrated genre. Have at it:

Sound Dessert: How did Cold Blood Club form?
Tom Stuart: After Radio America I was kind of torn and thought maybe that was it for me, I had my band and I did my best. I then started recording on my own, which I had never done, I’d always worked in a collaborative setting. There had been a long-standing serious joke between Kendra Jones (vocals) and I where I’d say, “I’m going to write you some songs and we’re going to put a band behind you, like a solo act. In the club scene she was the muse of a lot of people because she’s such a striking personality and woman. She can really carry a tune and was intimately involved in the music scene so I said, “Why don’t you throw your hat in the ring?”

I started recording at home and asked Kendra if she wanted to come and sing this material. Then I thought I’d still like some male and female vocal interplay and Brad Peterson(vocals) and I had played in a band called Earlymay for a few years and Brad hadn’t been in a band since Earlymay broke up, so I called him and asked if he’d like to come over and record some music. Then I went to Jesse Reno (bass) and asked if he was interested. So that’s how it started and it’s been the most gratifying experience.

SD: It’s unique to have a violinist in a band, how did Hilary Davis become involved?
TS: We’d met at a show around CMJ and I told her about the act. She came and saw us play this terrible show at Fontana’s and for some reason she had a good impression, despite one technical explosion after another. After Fontana’s people were telling us to get a drummer and get a guitar player, so I said I could really use a rhythm guitar player. Hilary said she could do a lot more on violin than with guitar, so I said, “Yeah, of course.” I’m willing to try anything. Watching Hilary in her element with the violin, I could really see her articulating herself. She is really great, musical, and has a million ideas. Then Jesse recruited Shin Kamei onto drums.  At the end of the day I wanted to have Shin in the band versus a drummer, I wanted Hilary versus a violin player. It’s more important to have Shin or Brad or Hilary in the room then it is to worry about someone being “this kind of player”.

SD: What’s the writing process like in such a large band?
TS: When we started the band I had a bunch of songs I’d already written which buoyed the band and allowed us to create a blue print of what we wanted to sound like. I had never recorded demos as potential songs before getting a band together before. With this project I did because it was my way of getting people interested in helping us manage, or put the record out and recruit members.

Our EP and then LP will be from that initial batch of songs and then we’re figuring out what the rest of it will be, but we all collaborate in terms of the dynamics in the musical construction. Jesse’s a fantastic songwriter, Shin makes incredible musical demos, he’s a great producer and an engineer by trade, Hilary was the primary songwriter in her band and she’s really talented, Brad wrote songs in Earlymay and Kendra and Adina Benno (keys) would love to write. I’m really excited to see what the future foretells because everyone has the chops and are brilliant contributors and writers.

SD: Your music is “an ode to urban life in New York City”, is there an element of ‘old’ New York that’s referenced in the music?
TS: I can’t speak for everyone in the band, but I know what punk rock meant to me growing up and what it meant to Jesse because we grew up together. And when we discovered it – basically together – that was it. It’s hard growing up outside of Boston to identify with say, late 70’s London, you don’t really have a concept of that, but you have a concept from all the images you’ve seen of the Bowery with Television and Patti Smith playing there on a double bill, so there is a romance to that.

There’s still the vestiges of old New York and having seen the city evolve in the 12 years I’ve been here, watching the music scene shift, I have nostalgia about it. I remember when I first went to ABC No Rio thinking it was pretty sketchy and now I think there’s a condo where it was. There’s a car park where Luna Lounge was and I almost identify with the nostalgia of there being dark corners of New York that are yet to be discovered. I remember feeling that way and now having been here so long, I find myself writing a little bit about that.

SD: What’s the story behind the name Cold Blood Club?
TS: I always had a couple ideas rolling around in my head about band names that I might want to use someday and the band was almost settled on a different one. At the time it was 2010 and Jesse (bass) and Shin (drums) were playing with Angela Jane Bachmannin her band Angela Jane. I went to see them in Williamsburg and Jesse and I started talking about the project. We had played in Radio America forever together and I wasn’t sure if he was going to want to go back to the salt mines with me, but he seemed interested and it turned out the Angela Jane project was winding down – so we’re talking and Angela comes over and asks us what we’re talking about. I said, “possible project names for what we’re working on.” So I listed them and she goes, “Tom, if I saw Cold Blood Club on a chalkboard outside a bar while walking down the street, I’d be like ‘I’m interested in seeing what that’s about. That’s the one.’”

We had already been leaning toward this completely different name but Angela has such a naked energy and spirit, so when she said, “No that’s it, do that” we were like “Oh wow, you know what? You’re right.” So I started thinking of the band as kind of an art project, like lets get a bunch of artists coming in, making a statement, contributing what they can, when they can. CBC is like a gang of super-friends trying to make something together. That’s the way I viewed it after Angela’s impression.

SD: Have people had any interesting reactions to the band’s name?
TS: The story with Angela is the most memorable. What’s funny is people tying their tongues saying it.The name Cold Blood Club, I feel, is one of the initial assurances that we’re not going to be taking ourselves too seriously. The name, the number of us on stage, seeing us having a good time, we want the impact to say, “it’s ok not to take this too serious, it’s ok to dance.”

SD: What was one of the names at the top of the list that you didn’t use?
TS: Actually there’s a name that I’d still like to use at some point and that’s The Vainglories because I liked the idea that we were kinda striking out, since we had already all struck out with previous bands. Like one last go around for ‘vainglory’…taking the piss out at myself and all my failed projects and everybody’s collective failed projects.


SD: Is your former band with Jesse, Radio America, still active?
TS: I have a belief that it’s sort of a silly thing to break up a band especially if everyone is on good terms. There’s nothing happening with Radio America now but all the guys are my best friends in the world and we’re all doing really good things. Me and Jesse are in CBC, Gabe Wilhelmis in Raccoon Fighter, Robby Van Sanders is doing The Vansaders. Tim O’Brien is in film school. So we’re all artistically engaged. At one point in the band’s career, Tim got ill and had to recuperate and everyone had kind of moved on to other bands and projects. I made a decision that if we couldn’t play all together I didn’t want to continue and hire just anybody, because these were all my good friends. I didn’t feel comfortable saying it’s ‘Radio America’ if it wasn’t all those same guys.

SD: Who’s your favorite rock ‘n’ roll couple?
TS: I always think that’s the toughest thing you could possibly pull off. Even when you think every so often, “oh those kids got it made” then Sonic Youth and the Handsome Furs break up and you’re like, “well that was all we had, they were the exception proving the rule!” Didn’t Nick Cave and PJ Harvey cast a pretty good pair back in the late 90s? That was pretty cool.

On a selfish level I’d like to say my good friends Jen de la Osa and Henry Beguiristain. Musically speaking they are the rarest form of anything in that they can finish each others sentences, from my outsiders perspective, when they’re writing a song which I find unbelievable, like Gilbert and Sullivan style. They are the only rock ‘n’ roll couple I’ve ever been around and have only ever made fantastic music together.

SD: What are some books you’ve read that have made the biggest impression on you?
TS: Certain songwriters or prose/poetry writers really resonate with me. My favorite book is Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, I can’t think of anything more beautiful in the English language. It was the compendium of everything he ever did and he would keep releasing new editions of it. “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is the most amazing thing I’ve ever read in my life. It sends shivers up my spine every time I read it.

I really like Hemingway too for his directness. The first time I read him as a teenager, A Moveable Feast meant a lot to me. Not the macho Hemmingway but how he uses that to marry his writings with an incredible amount of vulnerability at the same time. I feel like when people read him closely you can see how vulnerable of a man he actually is, but what people focus on are the guns or the cocktails or the wild cab rides or whatever, but even in the terseness of the sentences, it’s almost like an armor covering up the brutality of what he’s uncovering about himself and the people he loves.

What I re-read every couple of years is The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s just amazing. Dumas is such a fascinating character too, because he was a creole living in France so he has this outsider/insider complex that you feel he really invests in that book. It interests me as contemporaries (in say, New York), it’s as if we feel we are living in the first cosmopolitan society when in fact cosmopolitan societies have existed for centuries and there are these people, such as Dumas, representative of it.

SD: Cold Blood Club landed a placement for W Hotels New York Fashion Week 2012 coverage. What’s your ultimate dream placement / opportunity?
TS: The band has benefited from fortune in spades that I’ve never experienced in previous groups. People have been so kind to us and given us more and better opportunities. I’m speechless. Even to assemble the people in the band – I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

Conan O’Brien has been one of my heroes since I was a kid. I’ve dreamed a million times to play there. Or Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. So maybe I’m a little boring, but I’d love to do one of those shows.I could be happy for the rest of my life – and knowing we did it by being good at our craft.

SD: Name a venue you’d love to play
TS: In terms of New York, I’ve still never played Bowery Ballroom and I’ve played pretty much every other venue in the city that I’ve hoped to play. Everything is translated through my veneer as a fan: I’ve seen so many shows there, so I’d love to play there. Hopefully CBC is climbing up that ladder.

Nationally, the Hollywood Bowl. I can’t believe that’s even a place on earth, it’s the most beautiful setting. It would be the most divine place to do anything. I don’t even dare myself to dream this, but Hollywood Bowl or Radio City Music Hall. That those are even places that exist that you can aspire to is incredible. It seems like fairer beings than us put it on earth.

I love watching Austin City Limits on PBS so I’d love to be involved with that, because of the pedigree of the acts. There’s only so many editorial voices these days and the combo of ACL and PBS – it means something to be endorsed by that still. To have them, or Conan, pick you, it must be an amazing feeling.

SD: Is there a genre of music that you feel is underrated?
TS: If there’s an underwritten genre, an unheralded genre – and I don’t think the music press thinks of it as such but most of the time in global conversation – it’s pop. By pop I mean the construction of the A, B, C format of a song, because you can package any landscape you want: you can have really long verses, abrupt choruses, and really disruptive bridges, or pre-choruses, but a pop song can be Nirvana or Robyn. A pop song can be the Police or Motörhead. You wouldn’t think twice about it but the “Ace of Spades” and “Every Breathe You Take” are pop songs. They obey by certain situational laws of gravity. I guarantee Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and Sting listen to the Beatles a lot.

SD: What’s your blood type?
TS: I am an O+ so I’m not a universal donor, but I am a hunter-gatherer according to the Bloodtype Diet book. I don’t know about everyone else but I think Kendra is an AB, which I find fascinating because that’s really weird. I think Jesse’s an A, everybody else I don’t know. O is most common and according to the book, every blood type is slightly alkaline except for O, which is slightly acidic.

SD: Where do you see Cold Blood Club a year for now?
TS: Putting out a record people like and following it with an even better sounding full-length record. I’d like for us to do something that we can all be proud of – if it lasts for one year or five years. We want to play shows, continue to improve and be a band that’s admired for our consistency and craft. If we’re doing better than I imagined that would be great, and if we’re consistently playing than it will be a really great year. Ultimately, we want to be considered peers among other artists in the community.

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