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Croatian-Americans The Cynics waited till their 40s to release best yet
By John Kraljić, Esq | Published  12/22/2007 | People , Culture And Arts | Unrated
The Cynics released the critically acclaimed "Here We Are" in 2007.
The year in local rock: Cynics waited till their 40s to release best yet

Thursday, December 20, 2007
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 L-R: Michael Kastelic and Gregg Kostelich
The Cynics released the critically acclaimed "Here We Are" in 2007.

Five long years went by without The Cynics rolling anything new out of the garage.

But "Here We Are" proved to be worth the wait. The Garage Kings returned with what is arguably the best record in a career that goes back to the '80s. The USA Today even called "Here We Are" "one of the best neo-garage-rock albums in years."

It began as just an acoustic demo for the principals, Gregg Kostelich and Michael Kastelic, but it turned into a rock 'n' roll explosion with the help of producer Jorge Explosion, who recorded it in glorious Mono at his Circo Perrotti Studios in Gijon, Spain.

Jorge told us, "It is strange, but I always consider them as a pillar of the garage style but victims of the modern production techniques."

Well, he fixed that, fleshing out these great songs with a sound that screams "Nuggets" box. The Cynics followed with a release show on the South Side and a European trek through Norway, Italy, France, Austria and Greece. Recently, we caught up with the K-men for an update.

How was the European tour?

Kastelic: It's always an adventure. It's always different and always the same. There's no sleep; we took boats, ferries, planes and vans to every corner of old Europe. It's so great to meet the fans. We are really lucky to have a lot of loyal people who have stuck with us for years as well as a constant stream of new kids who come to see us. The garage rock scene in Europe is an institution, not a fad or a label, as it tends to be in the U.S. press.

What were the highlights (and lowlights)?

Kastelic: I had a bad case of sinusitis and laryngitis before we left, so that wasn't fun. I saw a doctor when we got to Amsterdam, and he fixed me up.

I know that Croatia was a highlight for me. Those people are so beautiful and good-hearted. It is Gregg's and my homeland. We ate dinner at the promoter's house with his family, and it so much reminded me of my youth and eating at my grandparents house. They even looked identical!

Also, the shows in France were so intense. It was really nice to be in some warmer weather after a cold spell in Germany and Italy, and the clubs in Paris and Rennes were like sweatboxes. In Paris, all the public transportation was on strike, no buses, trains, or subways. We were worried whether people could get to the city, but the show was packed. I love Paris!

We have had good and bad experiences there, but this was great, and like New York or Chicago or Madrid, there's absolutely NO place like it.

Kostelich: Greece was great as usual -- 1,200 garage fans in Athens. One person complained we were too heavy sounding, and Michael cries to me, "See see, blah blah blah.' You know, the one black speck on a white canvas thing. Glass half full or empty.

How were the bands that you played with?

Kastelic: Most of the shows were a concert type of situation, and we were the only act. The average ticket price was 20 to 40 euros, which is a good amount of money by our U.S. standards and what we can ask for here. I would have liked to have seen more opening bands. The Sonic Flowers were good in Munich. They did a cover of a Cynics song, "Never Again" of all things, from the "Learn to Lose" record. I think every band that opened up for us did a Cynics cover. The Nice Boys in Croatia did two!

Ron Splinter from The Outsiders joined us on stage in Amsterdam. He was the guitar player in our fave Dutch '60s group, a bloody legend.

We played on a German TV show with The Pretty Things, another legendary '60s band. They were really good (unlike when we played with them in NYC a few years ago).

Are you pleased with the reaction to the record so far?

Kastelic: I didn't approach this record with any thought about whether anyone would like it. I just wanted to have a record that I would enjoy listening to. I don't know how many more records I've got left in me, so I wanted to kind of expand from our sound while keeping the raw punk feel.

It turns out that it is still a classic Cynics-sounding record so, I guess we have a "sound" that is just innate at this point.

I'm really glad that people like the new record because I love it. I think the lyrics are the best I've ever written. I spent a lot of time refining them. There were concepts I have been pondering for years and keeping in notebooks, and then when I got a piano in my house it really helped me to finish them.

Kostelich: Yes, I am. It's selling steady and people are finally coming around after a few listens and saying it grows and grows on them. I have to agree, you have to give it a second and third chance. It's like an old rusty tank getting movement, but once it moves, look out, you're gonna get creamed. Sort of like me getting up and starting work these days.

Aside from the Cynics, was it a good year for garage rock?

Kastelic: We have been so busy that I haven't kept up with the trades, but garage rock isn't really mentioned in the states anymore, is it? It's all just grouped in with "rock." But garage rock is only really garage rock if it is underground. The moment it gets in the spotlight it's automatically not "garage" anymore. It's the ageless conundrum, the underground is no fun when it becomes overground.

So all is as it should be. I think it was a great year for garage rock because it went back underground!

There are some really amazing teen bands doing purist garage stuff, scattered around the globe, and that's all that matters. A lot of them don't even have records out, or just a single, but you can hear them on their MySpace.

What are your favorite albums of the year?

Kastelic: The latest LP by The Fall is always my top for ANY year. I like The Ponys LP and The New Pornographers. I love all of Jay Reatard's stuff. I haven't really bought any records this year because we've been traveling and I have so many good MySpace bands to listen to. We are so lucky to have such talented friends and fans! It's like going to bars and basements and checking out brilliant bands before they know that they are brilliant.

Kostelich: Paul Collins, "Flying High"; Ugly Beats, "Take a Stand"; Cynics, "Here We Are" -- all on Get Hip.

What were the best bands that you saw?

Kastelic: Jeepers, I know I saw a lot of good shows. Patti Smith was the best as always. She played at that neat place in Homestead. She always just radiates so much love and positive energy -- oh, geez, I sound like a hippie -- and that's a great venue to see a show in Pittsburgh!

Kostelich: Blue Cheer. I personally want to thank Manny Theiner for taking the risk like he always does and never gets credit. He took the risk, brought Blue Cheer in after all these years and turned out a great night at the 31st Street Pub. [My wife] and I drove straight from the airport returning from Spain and just missed half of the first song. Everybody came out, Manny broke even, and he and [Pub owner] Joel Greenfield were so thrilled. I got to meet the band after the show, which made me happy. I told Dickie Petersen how the first record made my dad so mad, he scratched the record off the turntable. He laughed and said, "That was a goal."

Scott Mervis can be reached at

First published on December 20, 2007 at 12:00 am

Formatted for CROWN by
  Marko Puljić
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