Music is more than just a few progression, some slurred vocals, and a half-heartedly picked solo. Music and its arrangements have the magical power of translating aural experiences into feelings and images. Ever happened to you? It happens to me all the time. I listen to a song and I see an image in front of me, be it a memory, a photograph, or a movie scene. I listen to a song and it provokes – or it should – a certain picture, a mood arising from deep inside. With their cinematic style of music making, Austrian Duo Cari Cari has forged a special connection between the visual and the aural.
Stephanie Widmer and Alexander Koeck have been making music together for several years and gained recognition with their first EP Amerippindunkler. The meaning of the band name, by the way, is a well-kept secret between the two; they wouldn’t even give up to me. ‘It is only interesting until you know it’ Alex laughs. So we will have to wait this one out a little longer, at least the duo spilled some beans about their songs.
A musical and visual journey
Success took a little longer in their home country yet, Cari Cari’s songs were quickly adopted by Hollywood and ended up as soundtracks to US series like Shameless. Their full-length debut ANAANA follows in the footsteps of the groovy stripped back progressions. Unhurried vibes, thought-through arrangements, and a special spirit of artistic harmony and animalistic rawness flow into the release. It would not surprise if they were to become Hollywood bait again. As they jokingly said, they only started making music to have their songs featured in one of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. And anyone who has ever watched a Tarantino flick can certainly approve of the association.
‘When we write a song and we immediately associate certain images to it, we know we are on the right path because then the music moves and triggers something.’ Stephanie says about their writing process. So, when I met the two musicians in Berlin, we set out to do some translating work and I asked them to associate each track with a scene from a movie or another visual experience.
Light fading into darkness at dusk
‘Writing ‘Summer Sun’ I had Space Odyssey on my mind. The scene where the main character is flying towards the lights.’ Stephanie gives me a little insight. The inspiration also clearly flowed into the video to the track. ‘It would also fit a slow-motion fight scene’, adds Alex. And regarding their favorite filmmaker; ‘It would probably be the best fit for ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’. For the other Tarantino movies it is not raw enough I think and it does draw from 60s influences. Maybe the scene in which Brad Pitt picks up the girls from the Manson Family.’ As cinema enthusiasts the musicians had of course already seen the new Tarantino flick. They were amazed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting but throw-off by the overly violent Tarantino trade mark towards the end. ‘You have to watch the movie as if it were a painting. It is an tribute to the era but somehow does not come together as intended.’
No question here that the mellow groove of the single would be the perfect fit if dear Mr. Tarantino had just discovered the band earlier. The laid-back guitar riff from Alex smoothly bends over the steady drumbeat on this aching ballad for a sunny day. Both of the artists sing and their voices in an odd harmony somehow seem to rub against each other creating another sound entirely. In the lengthy instrumental parts, Alex took the chance to integrate a steely bluesy guitar riff going back to the very roots of music.
The title single ‘ANAANA‘ of the record found a special place. Guinness used it for the TV campaign telling the story of the first female rugby team in Japan. ‘We are very happy that they chose our song. It promotes a great message,’ the band comments. Especially to Stephanie being a female drummer in a male-dominated industry, the message is important. In 1989 in Japan women were not allowed to do anything they pleased due to strict social conventions. That year a team of women decided to rebel against this injustice and founded an own rugby team. Without a trainer or budget, they trained themselves and went to the world cup. Fitting the fierceness of the females is the song’s heavy driving beat and blues-tinged guitar riff. The battle cries of Stephanie and Alex shouting ‘Anaana’ – a Maori world meaning something like earth and lava – round it up to an anthem for conquering the opposing team or whatever might be standing in your way. ‘Was there ever a better song written for a rugby video?’ Alex wonders. I doubt it. Yet, the single would also be a good match for Kill Bill’s legendary fight scene – the bride against the crazy 88.
Meaning ‘raccoon’ in Spanish this single is probably the least serious on the album. ‘We had everything down for the song already but it was still missing a spark to finish it. Then, we heard a Spanish friend drunkenly giving his girlfriend the nickname ‘mapache’ and it clicked. We finished the song right away in the next room. The image of the ironic chase and the Spaghetti Western followed immediately.’ Refreshingly self-ironic is also the video, showing Alex in a full-body raccoon costume stealing from Stephanie dressed up as a ranger. The fun clip was filmed in Croatia on desert-like hillsides and could not be a better fit for the single. Like Cari Cari’s other videos this one was directed and written by the duo themselves. They learned the hard way to trust only their creative skill after some collaboration went wrong. ‘The costume designer was quite glad that the idea for my costume was not hers,’ Alex tells me. ‘She felt bad for me sweating so much in the raccoon fur. The makeup was running all the time but it was worth it.’
From blue to black at Nightfall
‘’Mazuka’ is really about an abduction in a caravan in Africa. It is probably the only real story on the album. The song always evokes a warm and humid vibe, reminding me of Mexico maybe.’ No question, this song would be placed best in ‘Django Unchained’. Fitting the story told in the lyrics, Alex suggests the opening scene showing Django marching among other slaves.
Nothing’s Older Than Yesterday
‘When I listen to ‘Nothing’s Older Than Yesterday’, I always see a road trip into the sunset. That was also the idea that inspired the video. It is about leaving everything behind and just doing what you want. So in the spirit of the song, we dropped everything, flew to Japan, and shot the video there.’ Cari Cari already released the track previous to the LP and it was a step towards artistic freedom. Alex had played in a band of professionally trained musicians before but felt the polished sound did not resonate with him. He broke free from the stuck-up thriving for commercial success when he first jammed with Stephanie and they immediately clicked. ‘We started making music just because it felt right without any ambition and we got positive feedback right away. It felt great to realize that we could make music the way our hearts told us to without expensive equipment and it would resonate. That moment opened our eyes and freed us creatively.’
‘Nothing’s Older Than Yesterday’ symbolized the outfit’s return to doing it their way. After the Australia Tour, they had gathered several offers to record in a studio but didn’t like the outcome. This single marked the first step towards artistic independence again and set the base on which the entire album was built. ‘We realized that it does not have to be perfect as long as we feel it. We had learned to trust ourselves again.’
Darkness all around at Midnight
Moving on to the nocturnal parts of the record, we have ‘Mechikko’. Alex’ raw and deep vocals transport the single from a basic groove to an elevated song. The finely tuned blues riffs are used sparsely, like an expensive spice, just like they should. ‘Death Proof, one hundred percent,’ the singer says about this track, ‘It would match a scene of death and destruction,’ he chuckles. The lyrics, as well, speak of the story of a murder.
After the Goldrush
Diving further into the night side of the album, ‘After the Goldrush’ finds its spot. The single is stripped back to Stephanie’s echoing vocals and a simple guitar progression. ‘What if I hate my generation’ she croons laconically. Cari Cari aimed to capture the surreal vibe in London after the Brexit vote. ‘You could really feel the tension in the streets. We tried to work that feeling into the song.’ Slowly trickling by the single bears an unsettling gloomy mood. Listening to it I can see the smoke rising from factory chimneys fading into the dark city’s skyline. ‘The mood would fit a grim city scene,’ agrees Alex. ‘I see it in a noir-style vampire movie, like ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’.
Dark Was the Night Cold Was the Ground
‘This reminds me of the scene in ‘Kill Bill’, where Uma Thurman is buried in the coffin.’ Alex says immediately. But Stephanie thinks of another image ‘to me this is ‘The Revenant’. I can see the Rocky Mountains snowy and dark.’ The lonely blues riff kicking off the song resonated deep. Minimalistic and unhurried Alex lets the edgy notes pearl off his fingers until he whispers pained ‘bitter sleepless night’. The vocals transport the doomed and lost vibe perfectly. In sinister melancholy, the nocturnal single seems to be mourning the loss of livelihood. ‘The track is inspired by Blind Willie Johnson’s song and his personal story – a traditional Delta Blues Artist,’ says Alex breaking loose a ten-minute long chat about my favorite genre. Especially the stripped back guitar and vocal style has struck a chord within the musician. The swamp-style blues resonate deep into Cari Cari’s creative output, as well. Blues progressions, aching vocals on each song leave no question.
Before the break of dawn
‘This is another mysterious made-up word’ they say right away, to stop me from further investigation. Cari Cari associate the single mostly with their tour though Australian, which was their very first tour as a duo. ‘We wrote the song out of necessity for more material to play live in 2014. Since we have developed it through hundreds of live shows. It is probably the first song we wrote and the last one we finished for the record.’
Translating a song from an energetic live show into a studio record can be challenging. That is why it took Cari Cari several approaches. ‘Camoubee’ might not be as explosive as their live show but it conveys the crashing energies in a different, in no way lesser, way. ‘In the end, we recorded the single on our own on an old tape recorder. It is one of the last songs on ANAANA that still features the Didgeridoo.’ The native Australian instrument is another souvenir from their trip. Stephanie learned to play the long pipe-like instrument and even brings it on stage for live performances. The unique sound gives the single an exotic ring.
‘Camoubee’ was supposed to be the energetic opener of the album but was moved to a different position. ‘When you listen to the album back to back, it is like a journey from sundown to sunrise’, Cari Cari say about the record. ‘Camoubee’ is a good fit towards the end as its dark groove sounds like a nocturnal journey through the outback of Australia.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
‘This is a hard song to play live sometimes because it is very personal’, Stephanie says. She wrote ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ for her grandfather when he was sick. It displays the emotion of being torn between wanting the person to be able to let go peacefully and still desperately wanting them to cling on. ‘Even though the sentence does not appear in the lyrics, it was the perfect title’, Alex adds. ‘The Dylan Thomas poem is about the same situation. The title gives me goosebumps every time I read it.’
‘You’re up in the sky with you thoughts and your dreams’
Looking forward into the new day
Cari Cari’s album is a journey through what seems to be a hell of a night. From the hot and humid Mexico, to the busy Japan, to New Zealand’s Maori tribes, past Aboriginal culture and Hollywood, while dragging the essence of music history along with them – the blues. Aiming to write a song featured in a Tarantino film might have been what got this wheel turning but the band is also on their very own track. Directing the music videos themselves, they share a little bit more of their artistry. The storytelling clips are almost movie-like and present just how much there is to this band. Cari Cari connect sounds to images within the listener but also within themselves in the process. They connect music and film and using traditional and analog equipment, as well as, modern technology they connect the old and the new. This method works especially well for the duo as it gives them the opportunity to create a rich sound by looping and layering.
Not just technically but also musically Cari Cari connect the old and the new. With the passion for traditional blues and roots music they bring the raw sounds, which form the very core of the development of any style of music, to the 21st century. Dusting off the blues and recalling the old masters is an important task in a time where the hottest new artist is just a click away.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP with special thanks to Cinestar Kulturbrauerei.