Episode 43 and this week I have a conversation to share with you as JOHN CUSIMANO (vocals / guitar) of FASTEST LAND ANIMAL is my special guest. John is also in THE CRINGE but our focus here was this 9-song, 30-minute album FLA just put out which is catchy, fun, rocking, energetic, punky with a sprinkle of THE BEATLES as well. John and I discuss drummers, their producer DON GILMORE (LINKIN PARK producer), Audiomovers, recording, living in New York, technology as well as perfection and inspiration.

If you want to jump straight to the interview, skip to 3 minutes 42 seconds

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*Please note that only the SPOTIFY version will have the full songs in the podcast.

Singer-songwriter John Cusimano still recalls the disappointment he felt this spring when SXSW was canceled. It was the first time in 13 years that his band, The Cringe, didn’t play the Austin music festival. “My bags were packed, and I was ready to go. Then the pandemic came along, and everyone’s plans changed,” he said nine months later. When New York closed down in March, Cusimano was at his summer home near Lake George. Instead of returning to his apartment in the city, he decided to stay there and weather the lockdown with his wife Rachael Ray (yes, that Rachael Ray). As days blurred into weeks, he often found himself in his home studio channeling his frustrations into loud and fast songs about escaping and being free. Before long, he had enough music for an entire album. Later, while listening back to those demos, he had an idea. “I thought it would be liberating for us to adopt alter egos and record these new songs as a different band; similar to what Green Day did with Foxboro Hot Tubs and The Network,” he explained. “We couldn’t change our situation, but we could change our perspective, which opened up some interesting possibilities.” Enter Fastest Land Animal. Cusimano had the songs and the sound, but he still needed creative co-conspirators to bring his idea to life. His first move was to recruit producer Don Gilmore (Eve 6, Linkin Park), who was behind the console for the two previous Cringe albums. They worked together over Zoom on song arrangements for a few days before Cusimano completed the new power trio with Cringe bandmate Jonny Blaze (guitar/bass) and friend Andrew Meskin (drums). Guest artist, Bob Schneider, co-wrote and sings on “Bubble Candy” As an album, Fastest Land Animal lives up to its name. Here and gone in about 30 minutes, the album maintains a frantic pace across all 9 songs. Despite that limited space, the group packs in a surprisingly wide range of sounds and textures, from fist-pumping riffs (“Answer In My Head”) and spring-loaded rhythms (“Bubble Candy”), to hummable hooks (“Too Close To The Fire”) and menacing grooves (Never Gonna Leave”).When the album was finished and being mixed by legendary engineer Chris Lord-Alge, Cusimano decided it was time to have some fun with Fastest Land Animal’s backstory. “We gave ourselves wild names and crazy origins. I’m ‘Screamin’’ Jack Novak, and I was born of a jackal and raised by my father, a nanny and two irascible rottweilers,” he laughed. He added: “My name’s actually a tip of the hat to one of my all-time favorite movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In it, Jimmy Stewart plays a character named Jack and Kim Novak is the star. I put those two together – threw in ‘Screamin’’ for a little rockabilly flavor – and ‘Screamin’’ Jack Novak was born.” The album would have been released sooner, but plans sometimes change, something Cusimano knows all too well. In August, Cusimano was still upstate when a chimney fire got out of control and burned his house to the ground. “It was devastating to lose so many personal things in an instant, but we’re fortunate that no one was hurt. Also, we were able to move into the guest house on our property. That wouldn’t be an option for most people. We’re very lucky.” There was, however, one extremely close call. Cusimano’s home studio – along with his vintage instruments and recording gear – was nearly consumed in the fire. “There was a hallway on the second floor of the house that connected to my studio above the garage. The flames burned the hallway, but stopped right at the studio door. That was the one small miracle out of this whole thing.” Coincidently, the first song on the album (and first single) is named “Too Close To The Fire.” “What can I say?” Cusimano asked. “I wrote a song about burning like a wire being too close to the fire, and then a few weeks later, my actual house burned down. It’s been that kind of year.”

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