By Ryan Alexander
For those who doubt the value of GarageBand, think again. With a little praying that your laptop’s audio input actually functions, and some good old fashioned speakerphone capabilities, this handy production software makes any interview possible (at least in theory). Okay, so maybe this technique could use some upgrading, but when Brooklynites Tamara Jafar and Joe Durniak agreed to speak with me, I found a way to make it work. Amid my often random and unmusical ramblings, we somehow found the time to touch on the logistics, formation, and development of this duo’s ever-growing electropop creation Cultfever (link).
Meeting each other in 2010 as self-proclaimed “chosen family”, Cultfever found its footing almost instantaneously. The origin of the name, you may ask? Mostly an arbitrary product of conversation, somewhat thought out: a decent mixture of the two, according to Durniak. Wasting no time, this musical powerhouse compiled and released their freshman album Cultfever within the first year. Garnering critical acclaim and attention, this album led the band to SXSW, among other notable performance opportunities. As time progressed and their fan base grew, Jafar and Durniak decided to produce Animals (2013), containing two favorites “Animals” and “Chicken”, as a sort of self-described “one-off”. Riding on these successes, Cultfever continued to refine their process and sound, culminating in their most recent release, “Gloria” (October 21st, 2014). An evocative and almost cinematic experience, “Gloria” gives listeners an exciting glimpse into the group’s future. Their full length sophomore album will surely quench the thirst of Cultfever die-hards, while warmly welcoming any and all newcomers.
Before diving into the interview, let’s get a couple of facts straight. I, for one, can think of at least three distinct ways to pronounce the name Tamara. To spare you the awkward “How do I pronounce your name?” moment, here it is phonetically, or in IPA for you linguistic nerds: tah-MAH-rah (tα-`mα-rα) – thanks, Google! Finally, if your next New York adventure lands you in a somewhat dingy bar with Cultfever playing on stage, just drink the Kool-Aid. Don’t question it. This band won’t lead you down any path you wouldn’t already want for yourself.
Anyway, without further adieu…
I’m always curious about this when meeting artists, but who were you pre-Cultfever? Do you think things are essentially the same, or have things changed quite a bit for you individually?
Tamara: Joe was a dairy farmer.
Joe: Tamara was a rocket scientist. I feel like we both had to make really big leaps into the next stages of our lives, because there’s a lot of technique that goes into either one of those fields. You can imagine the fins on the rocket need to be just right. So you know, you had skills, and now you’re going to apply what you’ve learned and put it into what you’re going to do with music.
Tamara: That’s a very interesting question, because it’s hard to, and I don’t mean to give you the sort rote response on this, but it’s actually kind of hard to objectively say who you were and who you would have been with or without something. When we met each other, it was almost instantaneous. It was, again I feel like this sounds a bit cheesy, but it was the natural next step for each of us. It’s rare to meet another human being when where you are in that moment in your life is exactly right for meeting them. It’s true that we’re both also aging, so we try to grow up a little on our own, but then the project, it certainly helps us too. For me, and I don’t speak for Joe on this, things like communication skills and being a reliable counterpart to someone really make a team project work.
So then, how did you meet each other?
Joe: We met when Tamara came to New York, and we just became very quick friends. Somehow that turned into, “Let’s work on, you know, music together.” I would say within a month we had a few songs and we looked at each other and said, “Okay this a real project.” Cultfever had its legs and we were off running.
I know you guys have a lot going on with the release of your new single “Gloria”, tell us a bit about it.
Joe: So that song originally started as a thing where we would sit on the couch, and it would come out more blues oriented both lyrically and melodically. It didn’t necessarily sit right with us, so we kept going after it and we changed it quite a bit. It is actually, besides the title “Gloria”, indiscernible from what we started with.
Tamara: Yea, the song is actually a catalog in and of itself of the experience of creating this next album. I think there was a lot of internal pressure that we placed on ourselves to make something that we believed in, and to conversely not make something that was bullshit. Our hope is that when we share it there’s a place for it.
What would you say about your sound now as compared to on your self titled album, or “Animals”?
Joe: Speaking of sound alone, we talk about music in cinematic terms because we look at it almost visually. The first album already had that feel, along with Animals, which was kind a one off. “Animals” was a piece we had been playing with for a while, but it never really felt right with other material. “Chicken” was something that we had always played live because it’s really fun, but we’d never recorded it. We wanted to release something, so we put those two guys together, and it was a little more pop-like compared to the previous album, which was slightly darker, a little weirder. People have asked us if “Chicken” or “Animals” will be on the new album. It’s really just a completely new project. On this album we’re pushing ourselves thematically. We’re still pushing how we can layer sound and how we can create an environment for the listener. That’s a little why it’s taken us longer. We’re striving for something particular to us.
You’ve clearly grown together as a band, but do you feel you have maintained growth as an individual musician?
Tamara: Totally! I think that for the two of us we’re the reason – and mark my words on this for all relationships you ever have – I think that we’re successful as a team because we push each other to grow and space exists for each of us to grow. We have curiosities, and there’s been room for that in the project and as an individual. Knowing that there’s room for this individuality allows for the growth of the project overall. So, apart from the fact that we also finish each other’s sentences, which is totally crazy, we also have our own identities in life. It’s nice to know that that can happen.
For readers new to Cultfever, what’s one personal fact you would like them to know?
Tamara: Last year we both dressed up as taxidermy for Halloween!
Joe: And I figured out how to use a stuffed turkey doll from Target to make the ears for our costume.
Let’s twist up that question a bit. Joe, without much thought, what’s the quintessential random fact any fan should know about Tamara?
Joe: Wow… without much thought? She, she’s got an extremely sharp sense of humor.
Tamara, if Joe were stuck in a broken down car in the middle of nowhere, what three items would he have regretted not packing?
Tamara: His seltzer machine. Oh my God, I almost feel like that’s the thing. Just that.
Here’s the thing about Joe. If he were stranded in a car, broken down in the middle of nowhere, he would probably be the only human being to have it figured out within fifteen minutes. So I think it’s just the luxury of the seltzer machine.
If I were to drop everything right now and hole myself up in a room for 24 hours, what book should I read? What album should be playing on repeat in the background?
Tamara: Oh my God… hold on, can we talk about why you holed yourself up in your room for 24 hours? Was it a peaceful reflection moment, or were you on the edge?
Hmmm. I’m feeling on the edge.
Joe: Read Carl Sagan’s Contact because Jodie Foster didn’t do a good enough job in that movie. It’s his only fictional work and it’s a good one. Then there’s an album by a band called CAN, and on one of these albums there’s a song called “Vitamin C”. Look this up and just put it on repeat.
Tamara: I would say, to spin off of that, you should also then do a really thorough Google search for the sounds that human beings recorded and projected into space around Carl Sagan’s time. That LP [the Golden LP] will either depress you more or less depending on who you are and how you receive it. The book: Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude helped me off the ledge, quite literally.
I was just talking about that book yesterday.
Tamara: Oh my God! And how the names of the characters don’t actually matter, but everybody freaks out about losing track of them. And I’m like, “Dude come on, that’s not the point!”
To finish this up, do either of you have any really terrible jokes?
Tamara: I literally only have one joke that I’ve had my entire life. What’s long, white, hairy, and lives at the bottom of the ocean?
I have no idea.
Tamara: Moby’s dick.
Joe: I feel like Peter Gabriel just came on with some 80s slow clapping to that.