Cute Is What We Aim For / Matt Squire -...

Interviewed by
Cute Is What We Aim For / Matt Squire -...This is a two-part e-mail interview conducted with Cute Is What We Aim For vocalist Shaant Hacikyan and the producer of their debut album, The Same Old Blood Rush With A New Touch, Matt Squire. In this interview, I tried my best to clear up every major rumor surrounding the band and the new record. Most of these questions were at least partly inspired by Absolutepunk's users, and I think it came out rather well.

If you dig the music, support it. If you don't, remember there are people who do. This interview goes out to both of you.

Special thanks to Shaant for taking the time to answer all of my questions in such depth, Matt for breaking down production for us outsiders, and John Janick for coordinating this.

Note: Because this was an e-mail interview, it is not necessarily 100% grammatically correct; I apologize--I felt it was more important to leave everything exactly as it was typed.

Cute Is What We Aim For's Myspace

Part I: Absolutepunk's Interview with Shaant Hacikyan

AP: Where did the name of the band come from?
Shaant: ha, the name is something that derived from a childhood joke between my best friend and i. he and i moved from different schools in the beginning of 8th grade so we were already outcasts considering the fact that everyone else around us had been together since 6th grade or even earlier. so we began saying the word 'cute' in place of saying cool. it was just something that we would say and it eventually caught on within the school... all of our friends began saying 'cute' instead of cool and it eventually caught on with the rest of the school. so when i was sitting and thinking about a band name it just clicked. i write about social situations constantly. the record is all about the social aspects and pressures of growing up as a teen these days. so the name reflects how everyone in high school is struggling to be 'cool' or excepted. everyone is trying to find their place in society although looking back on it, the status you have in high school really means nothing in the grand scheme of things but back when i was in school, it meant everything to me. its just like anything, when you think something is such a big deal and the people around you with an objective opinion can see that things aren't such a big deal.

AP: You guys have your Fueled By Ramen debut, The Same Old Blood Rush With A New Touch, coming out June 20th. What should we expect?
SH: i want to say that you should expect a record that will be a lot of fun to listen to when you are out this summer with all of your friends just driving a long having fun but at the same time, i hope you can expect something that will make you think and allow you to relate on a deep level.

AP: What's going to be the lead single? I understand you just finished filming the video in Tampa a few days ago. When¹s it due to get on MTV and Fuse?
SH: the lead single is 'There's A Class For This...' and yeah we did. we just finished up a video directed by Jay Martin (Death Cab For Cutie, Thrice, Jack's Mannequin). I think it will be used with the piece we did for 'You Hear It First' on MTV that will be airing the week of our release. So right around June 20th.

AP: What do you think separates the band from all of your contemporaries? Are you afraid people will see another FBR release and just instantly lump you in with the successes of The Academy Is, Panic at the Disco, and Fall Out Boy without really giving you a chance? And most importantly, how do you plan to keep that from happening?
SH: i don't think anything separates us from our contemporaries. We just do what we love to do. We don't worry about all the comparisons. If we did, we could get lost in that negative energy. I think every band has a chance. It just depends on how they carry themselves.

AP: A lot of bands focus much more on the image of their band than the music. How do you try to keep from falling into this trap?
SH: There really isn't too much to our 'image' .. we all wear the same stuff and behave the same way we did prior to starting the band.

AP: Can you talk a bit about the writing process that went into the album? How do you guys sit down and write a song?

SH: It's a tricky thing. I am always writing lyrics...whether it’s in my FBR journal, personal blogs, or random scraps of paper whenever I have an idea. Along with those lyrics i generally have a melody in mind. Sometimes we use the melody i have already thought of and adapt the music to it or sometimes i adapt a melody to the music that we all write...we all sit down and write the actual music and I write all of the lyrics and melodies.

AP: What is it about pop music that you love so much that made you guys decide to make it such a focus of your band?
SH: pop music is what started all of our interest in music. it was what we were raised on and then we ventured into pop-punk music. but there is something about 'pop' aspect that caught on to us. there is something about the song structure and the way you can litter a pop song with hooks that attracts me. now, i know how so many different genres of music are able to house such hooks but for me...as a matter of preference ...'pop' rock is my favorite.

AP: You guys had the opportunity to work with Matt Squire, who's really making a name for himself lately with great releases. How did you decide to go with him, and what was that experience like?
SH: We made a short list of producers that we were interested in and his name was at the top of the list to begin with. One of the main reasons that we ended up going with him was because John and FBR had a rapport with him due to the P!ATD record. After I spoke to Matt on the phone a few times it just felt so right.

AP: I¹ve heard bits and pieces of how he locked somebody out of the studio. What happened (if anything)?

SH: no one was locked out of the studio. ever. i think that¹s the most insane rumor ever. i mean... why would you want to lock anyone out of the studio when you are recording a record? it just doesn¹t make any sense at all.

AP: One of the things I always hear about bands who work with or have friends on Fueled By Ramen is that it¹s one big family. How did you guys get set up on the label, and who's your favorite band on FBR?
SH: That's super true. I mean when I have time off..instead of flying home I stay at FBR. there is just something about everyone here (i am actually in Johnny Minardi's office right now). even the interns just understand and fit right into the family roll. the staff is always hanging out even when they aren't working...i mean last night 12 of us all went to the movies, and tonight we are all gonna go play some basketball. It's an unreal environment to be in. I mean even on the road. So many of the bands on the label are friends...That's what this label is based on when it comes down to the core. The way we were set up on the label was that I was called by John Janick (president, co-founder) last summer. He had heard about us through online buzz and decided to contact me so he could see us live. he saw us and invited us to the office. after that initial meeting we left to go do some already scheduled demo's in NYC. he was in the area during the recording process and visited us in the studio a few times just to see how things were going and to just get a better feel for each other. once we finished the demos he was eager to hear them. we sent them to him and it's all history from there. The best part of being on FBR is that I am such a fan of the bands on the label. I have been a HUGE fan of Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is... prior to signing and all the new bands coming out just keep getting better and better...like Paramore, This Providence(is going to blow your mind) and Forgive Durden. I am still a fan and will prolly continue to be a big fan of the FBR family just because the label seems to have great taste. haha. I have called numerous bands just to tell them how much i love them and thank them for the music they make...and it's such a neat thing to be able to do. I am just a kid who loves music. That¹s how it all started and that's how it will always be.

AP: How much of an impact have the internet (sites such as Myspace) had on the past and present of Cute Is What We Aim For? Do you think you guys would be at the point in your career (signed, touring with artists like Jack¹s Mannequin and Anberlin, releasing a CD later this month) that you¹re at now without it?
SH: oh man, if it weren't for the internet then none of this would have been possible for us. we are sooo lucky to have the online communities support what we do and spread our music. up until recently, the internet was our only medium for people to hear our music. so to answer the next part of the question...we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are in our career if it weren't for the internet.

AP: Given what happened on Absolutepunk the other day, who actually wrote the letter to the best of your knowledge?
SH: the writer of the email to Tate was Fred. he wrote it right before he and the rest of the band jumped on a plane to head home. we all woke up and were sitting around checking our emails and routine sites...so once he saw the post on AP.net he got really upset about it. but at the same time... he had told us that he wouldn't write anything about and i told him to just let it go because that has been our stance since day one. people will talk, so let them talk. i suppose he didn't think that a personal email would be posted as news and sadly some of the sarcasm that was thrown in the mix def. did not bleed through via the text. Fred was angry about all of the things that have been said obviously and he let it get the best of him.

AP: Was this some sort of publicity stunt on either yours or the label's part?
SH: if it was... then i am very out of the loop on things. hah. i can say with every inch of my being that i do not think that this was a publicity stunt by any means.

AP: Did you actually get $500,000 to start a band from your parents?
SH: hahaha...noooo. our parents have helped us out with the little things here and there. but i had been working for 3 years up until getting signed in which i was saving money so that i could provide for recording costs in the beginning. so all of the initial demoing came out of my personal pocket.

AP: Did the label give you an advance anywhere in that ballpark?
SH: nope, we weren't given an advance from FBR. We were given a tour support fund just like every band on the label...but that’s it.

AP: Was this band just started to get famous?
SH: we started the band just because we all knew each other and we had a common love for music. we had no idea that this band would get the breaks that it has gotten. we know we are the luckiest bunch of kids...but we just wanted to go out and make music we loved. of course all of us dreamed of really making it one day. everyone in a band dreams of pursuing their music on a professional level but you can't be in a band just to get famous because where is the inspiration in that? how can you sleep on floors and play in front of 2 ppl just based on the desire to be famous? it just doesn¹t make sense. the percentage of success rate is far too low. every band wants success so they can support themselves...but in my eyes...doing it to be famous is the shallowest reason ever.

AP: In your opinion, is it important that all bands work their way up from the bottom, and if they catch some breaks along the way, does that dampen your view of the band's image? As a second part to that question, if a band is "manufactured," do you think that goes against what this "scene" is all about? (the do-it-yourself ethics, for example)
SH: I think that bands need to work at what they have just so they can have an appreciation for it all...but at the same time. who am i to say who works hard enough and what breaks a band does and does not deserve. The only thing that dampens a bands image to me is if they are mean to those who support and allow them to live their dreams. If by manufactured you mean something along the lines of N'Sync then I suppose so. but i haven¹t run into any cases like that in the music
community that we are involved in.

AP: Has Fueled By Ramen asked anyone in the band to look differently, act differently, or be different at all from the way you were when they first looked at signing the band? (Note: this comes in part from a question in which someone said that they heard the label asked Shaant to act "sexy" or "mysterious")
SH: Fueled by Ramen has never asked us to act or look or talk any different than we did when we met them.

AP: Do you guys think with some of the heat you've taken over the past months that you now have something to prove?
SH: i really don't at all. a lot of the heat we have taken is due to false rumors circulating around or just people stating their opinions. we are going to do what we do and try and make the best of it. we cannot please everyone. we can only be grateful and willing to put the hard work in to make the best out of this amazing opportunity we have.

AP: What is your opinion on autotune on CDs? I know a lot of albums use it, but how much is too much, and how much do you guys use it at on the upcoming CD?
SH: I don't think it's as uncommon as people think. We used it a little on our record, but not to any extreme like you'd hear on a dance record or something. Too much would be if someone can't sing and you use it to try to mask their real voice. You can definitely tell it's me singing on our record.

AP: Did you hire or ask anyone to co-write any of the songs on the album?
SH: when we were writing we would ask our buddies to come over and listen to what we had written, and some of them gave us feedback. But no, no one outside the band wrote any of the music on the record.

AP: I¹ve been told you kept a song from your old band, Cherrybing that you actually wrote. This wouldn¹t seem to be a problem ordinarily, but allegations of stealing music have come up about you guys. Can you clear up what actually happened?
SH: i did take a song that i wrote with Adam of Cherrybing. he and i wrote the piano stuff together and i wrote the melodies and lyrics. the song (I Don’t Care If It’s The Moon) was very special to me because it was about the demise of Cherrybing for me. We weren't getting along at all and the lyrics reflect it. the band (Cherrybing) was against using the song at all for the EP because it was just done in one take. so i posted it on the cute pureVOLUME in the first couple months of the Cute's existence. i even put that Adam was the one who co-wrote/played the piano for it. It was never a case of me claiming it to be my own. former members have claimed that they wrote the song but that couldn't be further from the truth.

AP: Do you purposely target your music at any one particular demographic or does the music itself dictate that? (This came from a question asking "do you purposely target your music at 15-year old girls?")

SH: I am not too sure of where our music falls into place at this point just because it's only been distributed online...but by no means is it targeted to any audience. we write music that reflects us...and we are teens.

AP: Why do so many people have this opinion of the band that you're cocky,
undeserving, overrated, frauds, or anything like that? Do you have any idea why you have this huge target painted on your backs?
SH: A lot of things have happened so fast for us...and we have kept to ourselves. we have never taken the time to give our side of the story...a lot of the reason why we haven't is just because so many of these rumors are so far fetched we just don't even want to give them the time of day.. i mean such as... the thing about us getting HALF A MILLION DOLLARS to start a band..!?!? come onnnn.. hahaa i mean how could that make any sense at all. we are a van band. if we had that kind of money a lot of things would change...for instance...Jeff and i would have matching grillz that read 'Shaantastic and Zum Man'.

AP: I hate using this term with a passion, but the question was asked. Do you think you're "indie" or "scene" as a band? I guess the first question should be, what is your definition of "scene" and then do you think CIWWAF fits it? Does it matter at all to you guys or your fans whether you are or not?
SH: I don't have a definition for the word 'scene' by any means. we are what we are and we do what we do. i don't mean to be short on this answer but there isn't much else to say on the subject. each person has a way they are and some bands are composed of similar personalities.
(i don't know what else to say)

AP: What sort of touring can we expect from you after the Anberlin shows that are upcoming? Anything overseas as well?
We will be headlining in the north east with Forgive Durden, All Time Low and Boys Like Girls for about two weeks to coincide with our record release. and we will be doing about 2 weeks with June, Spitalfield, Valencia, and Lydia that will bring us to the westcoast once again....after that we will hit up the full US with Paramore, Hit The Lights and This Providence on the 'Fueled By Ramen & Friends' tour from August - September...then the UK for a little bit. A lot more is planned but isn't in being announced just yet.

AP: Shaant, does all that hair in your face get itchy?
SH: noooppe. i suppose i am just used to it by now.

AP: What CDs have you been listening to lately?
SH: Forgive Durden 'Wonderland', The Outline 'You Smash It, We'll Build Around It', Kanye West 'Late Registration', The Format 'Dog Problems', and the new This Providence record is AMAZING! I can't stop spinning it.

AP: Is there anything else you would like to add to Absolutepunk's readers? And thank you very much for taking the time to answer all of these questions.
SH: I just want to say thank you for everything. I dreamed of someday being on this site when i was in 8th grade...haha i remember the sound of the dial up modem just logging on and the first site i would punch in would always be Absolutepunk.net. Although i dreamed of the feedback being a little differently buuuut none the less...it's still super amazing that you guys have made the site what it is today. thanks for giving bands like mine a chance.


Part II: Absolutepunk's Interview with Matt Squire

AP: How did you get started working with Cute Is What We Aim For?
Matt Squire: John (Janick) from FBR sent me a demo and I really dug it---it was “Teasin to Please”---I contacted Shaant and we started talking about Cute’s vision and I got really excited about it. I knew right away that that we could make a great record together.

AP: Did you record the demos with them and then agree to do the album afterwards? Or did you work them both out at once?
MS: I never did demos with Cute—just the record.
Interviewer's Note: I was misinformed on this point; someone suggested it and I did not double-check if Squire recorded the demos or not. A guy in Buffalo named Mike Brylinski actually is credited for producing the demos.

AP: What exactly is autotune and how does it work? Does it ever make a CD sound bad if used too much?
MS: Auto tune is a computer program for vocal editing. It helps vocals to sound more in tune. It works by detecting the notes that someone sings and then “moving” those notes to perfect pitch. I use the “graphical” mode of auto tune—the program shows me one line that is the actual vocal performance and another line that is the “desired” pitch. I can then choose what words I want to tune and to what degree. To answer the second question, it depends on the technique and how often it’s used.

AP: How often did you use it on Cute Is What We Aim For’s upcoming album, The Same Old Blood Rush With A New Touch? Was this more or less than normal? MS: I use the same technique on all the records that I make---it is very time consuming because I like the singers to sound natural and not computerized. So I go through word by word and decide which notes to tune and which to not--Shaant has such a cool, unique style to his vocals and I wanted to preserve that while accenting the melodies and harmonies with auto tune rather than make them feel mechanical or robotic. His performances were spot on—the auto tune just helped them to sit in the mix with the guitars a little better and it tightened up the harmonies.

AP: Can you talk about the recording process as a whole—just an overview and what you did to the album after it was done being recorded (and how that compares to other bands you’ve worked with to give our readers a reference point)?
MS: Cute wanted to make a very natural sounding record---we spent a lot of time in preproduction getting the record arranged right. Contrary to some of the rumours, the band wrote every song on the record. There was no outside songwriting help. After preproduction, we tracked drums---On most records, I usually “beat detective” the drums, which is a technique used to make drums perfectly in time. However, on this record, I didn’t use beat detective cause we wanted to preserve the “groove” of Tom’s drumming. After that was bass and guitars during the days and vocals at night---I like to stagger instruments so that every song can have a unique feel. After we finished tracking, I prepared the mix---On most records, at this time, I “trigger” the drums, which is a technique that I use to “thicken up” the drum sound. However, CIWWAF was very opposed to using triggers so I did not use them on the record—it was a fun challenge to make the drums sound punchy without them and I am glad the band pushed me on this issue. Mix prep is also when I used auto tune. After the editing stage, I started mixing—I spent several days doing “first drafts” of the record and then I asked for comments from the label and band. I incorporated the comments, finalized the mixes and sent the record off to mastering---Hearing the record done for the first time was a great feeling----So much hard work went into making it and I am really excited about the end result.

AP: Did you kick anyone out of the studio during the recording process?
MS: No.

AP: Can you talk a little bit about the dilemma that makes producing an album so hard—it’s always between making a band sound as good as it possibly can and making them sound manufactured or have an album that they can’t possibly repeat in a live setting. How do you keep the music sounding good but also doable in concert?
MS: It’s always hard to find a balance between what is going to sound good in a recording and what is going to sound good live—as a producer, I just try and make the best decisions to achieve that balance. When a band plays live, their stage presence can drive a point home. But that doesn’t translate to the recorded medium, so maybe it’s a guitar overdub or a backup vocal. I believe that you need some of that stuff to create dynamics in a song but I try not to go overboard.

AP: Is there anything else you’d like to explain that I’ve missed? Anything you’d like to say to the readers at Absolutepunk?
MS: This record was a real pleasure for me to make---I’m really proud of it and i’m really excited for people to hear it. I’d also like to say a really big thank you to the absolute punk community for their support. I really appreciate it!
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 405
10:25 PM on 06/16/06
poppa Q
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poppa Q's Avatar
I look forward to reading this.
10:41 PM on 06/16/06
on the edge of summer
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No Avatar Selected
this was a great interview. CIWWAF just moved up 100000 notches in my book.
10:43 PM on 06/16/06
Registered User
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pretty much what you would expect them to say
10:47 PM on 06/16/06
Scott Weber
Live Like a Legend
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Scott Weber's Avatar
he's certainly got a lot of nice things to say about the new this providence record.
10:48 PM on 06/16/06
Tony Pascarella
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Tony Pascarella's Avatar
Originally Posted by Scott Weber
he's certainly got a lot of nice things to say about the new this providence record.
Yeah, that really intrigued me. September is too far away, man.
10:55 PM on 06/16/06
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Nowisnotthetime's Avatar
So Jason just made everything up? I highly doubt that and I think very few people on ap.net think that Jason would ask those questions without having good cause. The bassist flatout lied about the autotune thing. People can try to say he may not have known but anyone who's ever been in a studio knows that if you're going to use autotune, it's discussed with the whole band beforehand. As far as I'm concerned, this band is a total fraud, regardless of which specifics are true. There's enough from what they themselves have said that make me say they don't deserve my cd or merch money.

Oh, and no one hates you for how quickly you became a known name. People hate you because you come off incredibly insincere and your live show is an atrocity.
10:56 PM on 06/16/06
Seattle Scenester
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WSUskee's Avatar
Very well done interview. They seemed like fine tuned pros with their answers.
10:59 PM on 06/16/06
Blake Solomon
every outcome's such a comedown
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Blake Solomon's Avatar
good interview. I think you worded the questions in a very non-confrontational way and really got some good answers. Im glad they were given a real chance to tell their story and put an end to the crazy rumours. They also moved up in my book, too.
11:00 PM on 06/16/06
feels good man
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mogwaifearsatan's Avatar
Not too bad. He at least seems to have his shit mildly together.
11:01 PM on 06/16/06
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IcedOpethBlind's Avatar
shaant seems genuine.
i think he may turn alot of inital naysayers to actually check the band out.

note: i'm not incredibly into this band or anything, but i respect those that respect their craft, so CIWWAF move up a few ticks in my book.
11:07 PM on 06/16/06
Reality vs. The Optimist
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No Avatar Selected
Originally Posted by IcedOpethBlind
shaant seems genuine.
i think he may turn alot of inital naysayers to actually check the band out.

Anyone that has ever met Shaant in person can attest to how genuine the guy is.
When I met him again at Bamboozle he recognized me as 'the kid that posted on AP about them being signed to FBR' after I had seen them and Shaant hinted at the label 'its like drive-thru but not'.
I was amused.

I'm seeing them Wednesday.
I have been listening to the cd all day.
It came out pretty good, I think.

I definately can't stand the overuse of the word 'gent' though.
I should have asked that...but I will ask Shaant myself about it.

He uses terms like 'bro down' and stuff. (But is embarrassed to admit it)
I can't see him saying gent. Its just weird.
11:24 PM on 06/16/06
Is it a Pony?!
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MakeDamnSure's Avatar
Tony, those are excellent questions. They were very well-worded and they addressed most of the issues surrounding the band. I like how they were dogged, but not incredibly confrontational. As always, I love your work.

As far as the answers, I dislike the grammar, punctuation, and word choice in some places. However, as far as substance, Shaant comes off incredibly nice and an all-around good guy. So many people have been horrid to this band on this site, and he had a great attitude with this interview. I will find it funny how easily people will stick to their rumors instead of what they've been told point blank.

P.S. The person that said "we hate you because of your insincerity and atrocious live show", who are you to doubt their sincerity? They play what they like, they write what they like, and you don't seem to know them. Forgive them for your misconceptions. People don't hate them because of their live show. Plenty of fans on here seem to love tons of bands with horrid live shows. So, that generalization holds no weight. I address this to you, but you probably won't read it. People on these threads tend to just look for their name in quote boxes, and not at other posts.
11:37 PM on 06/16/06
We, The Vehicles
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skeeter988's Avatar
Originally Posted by Nowisnotthetime
So Jason just made everything up? I highly doubt that and I think very few people on ap.net think that Jason would ask those questions without having good cause. The bassist flatout lied about the autotune thing. People can try to say he may not have known but anyone who's ever been in a studio knows that if you're going to use autotune, it's discussed with the whole band beforehand. As far as I'm concerned, this band is a total fraud, regardless of which specifics are true. There's enough from what they themselves have said that make me say they don't deserve my cd or merch money.

Oh, and no one hates you for how quickly you became a known name. People hate you because you come off incredibly insincere and your live show is an atrocity.
o you're cool
11:38 PM on 06/16/06
Registered User
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No Avatar Selected
The CD's already available at the Fueled By Ramen merch booth at Warped and I picked it up yesterday. Definitely a huge guilty pleasure. I like! Enjoyable interview.

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