Cayetana Hits Reset
The Philly punk trio put the music industry behind them to self-release their new album, 'New Kind of Normal,' and they're a lot happier for it.
Photo by Emily Dubin
Allegra Anka needs to quote Sex and the City for a second. The bassist for Philadelphia indie-punk trio Cayetana is referencing a scene in which Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall) is explaining how to determine if you're in a good relationship or a bad one. "The test of a good relationship is: are you like this," asks Jones, pausing to contort her face into a winced frown, then jumping right back in, "or like this?" slyly smiling and flipping her hair back. Anka describes the scene, using it as the framework for her larger point: "It's like, clearly, if it makes you happy, it's the right thing."
But Anka isn't talking about a romantic relationship. She's not even talking about the relationship with her bandmates. She's talking about Cayetana's relationship with the music industry, and how, six years into the band's existence, they are once again independent.
After self-releasing their three-song demo in 2012, the band quickly gained attention in the Philadelphia scene, which was exploding in popularity due to rising acts like Modern Baseball and The Menzingers. Tiny Engines, the independent label run by Chuck Daley and William Miller, was interested in Cayetana, first releasing the two-song Hot Dad Calendar EP, and then the band's debut full-length, Nervous Like Me, in 2014. A couple years later, Cayetana would release the Tired Eyes seven-inch on Asian Man Records, a bastion of DIY punk and indie bands since the mid-90s. And while Cayetana is thankful to the labels and the people that supported them—noting they maintain healthy relationships with their past labels and still lean on them for advice—Cayetana was over the industry, and all the stresses that came from operating inside of it.
"The music scene, and everything in general, can add a lot of pressure and undue expectations that no one can fulfill," said Augusta Koch, Cayetana's guitarist and vocalist. Following the release of Nervous Like Me, the band toured for the better part of two years, and while Cayetana was becoming more successful, at the same time, they knew that whatever benchmarks they hit would have to be matched going forward. "When we got to play a festival that No Doubt was on," said Anka, "I remember being like, 'This is fucking crazy!' But once that starts happening, you feel the need to keep going, and keep climbing and climbing. And that can be so stressful. And, if it doesn't happen, it can be devastating."
It's why for the band's second album, New Kind Of Normal, they applied that phrase to the band. Instead of hustling to find a label, they launched their own called Plum Records. "Being able to just call your own shots at all times is just really refreshing," said Kelly Olsen, the band's drummer. She continued, "I think it's more of an empowering thing for us. Because instead of waiting around for someone to pick this up and turn it into something for their company, on their label, it was more of us picking up ourselves."
It's not that labels weren't interested in Cayetana—they were—but the band needed to tap back into what made them pick up instruments in the first place. "I think we got to a point where we were stressing out so much about all the minutia that it just became not fun anymore," says Anka, noting that going from an upstart band to one playing Riot Fest in the span of just a few short years can make it so you're never enjoying your successes, just racking them up. "I never wanted to get bitter or jaded," says Koch, "So we essentially hit the reset button."
Hitting the reset button involved taking back control of Cayetana, with each member having a stake in the band's music, record release, and overall aesthetic. "Our first record happened and we were kind of thrown into this situation," says Koch, "It's like when you start a relationship, and you're in the honeymoon period, you're just happy and not really thinking about anything and you don't really have any expectations. But now, it's like we're in the sixth year of our relationship. And it's like we're renewing our vows. It's like, we want to be here. We still love this, but it is kind of a new beginning."
This new era of Cayetana sees the band breaking from whatever standards have been set, even for an independent band that operates in the modern punk scene. While bands starting their own labels and releasing their own music isn't a revolutionary idea—or even a new one for Cayetana—for them to make the choice to prioritize their ambitions, and take a deliberate step away from playing the industry's game, they give themselves something many artists want but so rarely have: full control.
That control is mirrored in the album itself. Throughout New Kind Of Normal, Koch opens up about her struggles with mental health, and her work to find a peace within herself. Songs like "Am I Dead Yet?" and "Bus Ticket" see her at her most vulnerable, and the band at its most dynamic. Here, Cayetana doesn't sound like three friends playing music, it sounds like one massive force. Across the albums 12 songs,, the band is still dealing in bouncy pop songs, but they've got the forward momentum and combustive urgency of punk, with Koch's unmistakable rasp making every song feel like a life-or-death statement. Both musically and on the business-side, Cayetana stands as a singular unit, unencumbered by what they should be doing, and instead just trying to have as much fun as possible.
But the flipside is that it makes New Kind Of Normal a record with a lot riding on it. In a way, it's almost a second debut for the band, this time with the members of Cayetana putting themselves out there with no safety net. As Koch notes, it's a dangerous prospect, and they know it. "If it fails? It's us," says Koch, pausing briefly to let the gravity sink in. But just like Samantha Jones, she knows there's an upside. "But if it succeeds? That's us, too."
David Anthony is no kind of normal. Follow him on Twitter.