Life is short and the last thing we want to do is waste your time. By now, you already know the myriad feats Cute Is What We Aim For have accomplished since forming in 2005. The band’s 2006 debut The Same Old Blood Rush With A New Touch spent countless months on the Billboard Top 200 Charts; the group successfully headlined Alternative Press’ Bands You Need To Know tour (and graced the cover of the magazine) and Cute Is What We Aim For were named one of Rolling Stones’ 10 Artists To Watch—all while the group were still teenagers living in the dreary blue-collar town of Buffalo, New York.
While the band managed to exceed even their own expectations with their debut, being thrown into this type of whirlwind success forced the group to grow up quickly—and this marked maturity is evident with every note of the band’s follow-up, Rotation. “We’re not seventeen anymore; there’s so much to be said about these past few years of being in a pressure cooker and learning what the real world is like,” explains vocalist Shaant Hacikyan, stating that this time around the band decided to make a record for themselves without taking any scene politics or trends into consideration. “I think this record is going to do such incredible things and launch us to another level.”
In order to fully realize their vision, the band—which also includes guitarist Jeff Czum, drummer Tom Falcone and new bassist Dave Melillo—holed up in Los Angeles with Goldfinger’s John Feldmann armed with only a blurry sketch of what the songs that would eventually make up Rotation. “We only had one full song written going into the studio and I thought we were going to get kicked out,” Czum explains with a laugh, adding that he felt some extra pressure considering the fact that Goldfinger is one of Czum’s favorite bands. “Thankfully, we work best under pressure and I really think that added stress helped shape these songs.”
“A lot of the bands I’ve worked with don’t want to experiment too much, but these guys were really open-minded and I think that’s why this record turned out so good,” explains Feldmann, who has previously produced and discovered artists like the Used and Story Of The Year. “I just tried to push them by putting a piano in front of them instead of a guitar and making them write on that instrument or by putting them in different physical environments,” he adds. “I always like to try and push artists, I felt like these guys allowed me to push them as far as I could. [Making this record] was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in the studio.”
Listening to Rotation, this urgency is almost palpable and Feldmann—whose production techniques ranged from making Melillo throw punches at Hacikyan during tracking to literally tracking songs on the beach near Monterey—pulled something special out of the group by getting them outside of their comfort zone. This is immediately evident with the first single “Doctor,” which features singing synths and a new-wave sensibility while still retaining Cute Is What We Aim For’s caustic lyrical wit and penchant for soaring choruses. Alternately, “Loser” evokes classic material by pop-punk royalty like Green Day, while the electronic flourishes on “Navigate” show the band stretching out and exploring alternate forms of arrangement, instrumentation and, maybe most importantly, collaboration.
Hacikyan explains that this time around he was more influenced by classic songwriters like Tom Petty and John Lennon instead of anyone in the current music scene—and that’s obvious while listening to the lyrical progression on Rotation. “We realized ‘How are we going to make a statement if we’re trying to just go along with everyone else?’” Hacikyan explains, adding that the lyrics for Rotation were improvised in the vocal booth to keep them from sounding too calculated. “I think we just realized that if anyone is going to take us seriously, let’s take the classics. Why not be influenced by the masters instead of individuals with the same influences as me?” He also adds that the band’s newest member Melillo was instrumental in the writing process and, maybe, more importantly made the band feel like a cohesive unit for the first time ever.
If the band had to name one lyrical theme on Rotation, it would be “change,” which makes perfect sense when you consider the plateaus and pitfalls the band has endured over the past few years. “This one had such a cohesive message of change: external change, internal change, global change, political change, social change—everything on this record has a message,” Hacikyan elaborates. “The last time we made a record it was all me and the other guys wouldn’t do anything because it was an unhappy environment,” he adds. “We didn’t know any better [then], but this time we had a vision we could follow artistically.
“Making this album was such a learning process and I want to stress not just musically but from a life perspective I think we’ve developed so much,” Hacikyan summarizes. “We realized this is a career and we have to go for it; we can’t just be kids and take it for granted. At times, I didn’t appreciate our situation because it happened so quickly,” he adds, reflecting on the band’s tumultuous few years of inner-band struggles and member changes. “Now there’s so much satisfaction in understanding life isn’t about the destination, it’s in the journey.”