Cannonball Statman: the king of modern antifolk

Cannonball Statman music is a super modern mixture of distortion and psychedelic atmospheres; he tells nonlinear stories with surreal imagery and unexpected twists and turns!

Hi Cannonball Statman. Can you please introduce your project to our readers?

Someone asked me a similar question last week, and I had no idea how to answer it, but my friend Brian Kelly was in the room at the time, so he jumped in to rescue me. He said something along the lines of “Cannonball is the king of the modern antifolk movement; he attacks his acoustic guitar with the force and speed of a metal or punk guitarist, and he tells nonlinear stories with surreal imagery and a lot of unexpected twists and turns. I’ve been a fan since I first saw him play.” And then I blushed and stared awkwardly out the window for awhile. It’s good to have friends like Brian.

Your music is a super modern mixture of distortion and psychedelic atmospheres! How do you compose it and where did you get inspiration for your music?

I decided to start playing guitar and drums in bands, singing, writing, and recording my own songs when I was 8 years old, in early 2002. Because of what happened in September the year before, and how our government responded to it, there was this suicidal, dystopian feeling in New York and the rest of the world, which hasn’t gone away; growing up in New York in that time was really strange. And that whole experience, combined with hearing the Beatles for the first time, was what inspired me to start making music. Musically, I was basically self-taught. I learned a lot from friends and bandmates, from watching other performers, and just getting out there and performing in front of people at block parties and those kinds of events. Some of my early recordings are still online; I’ve changed a lot since then, but I think my core drive was the same. I compose every song differently, but they almost always start with the lyrics, and the process always involves me locking myself in a room with my guitar for hours to figure out exactly what I want to do with it. And all my songs evolve and transform over time, whether I want them to or not. There’s always a story behind how the songs originally came about, and I’m surprised I still remember most of those, because I’ve written hundreds of songs. A few of those: I wrote “Tiger” after I had a vision of a black cat walking out of my bedroom and a middle-aged man staring longingly at a street lamp, and suddenly this whole narrative about murder and loss of innocence came up. The guitar part for that was written while my left wrist was recovering from surgery after a freak sleepwalking accident 5 years ago, so I was only using one finger on my left hand, and tuning my guitar like a sitar, which gave it this intense grungy sound. “The Final Mission” and “Days in Paper” are my only two songs that came directly (lyrically and musically) from nightmares. “Rockport, ME” and “My Mind is Cold” were inspired by a week I spent in a psychiatric unit when I was 15, but I used a lot of metaphor and changed a lot of things around. And then some songs are basically stories from my life that I set to music, like “Gaslit” and “I Feel Home (Again)”. I’ve been writing a lot of songs like that lately, with some of the wild adventures I’ve been having on tour.

Cannonball Statman – Rockport, ME

Which artists have influenced your style & sound, if any?
People often tell me I sound like Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed, Frank Black, Daniel Johnston, the Ramones, Jonathan Richman, and Jeffrey Lewis, which is great, because I wouldn’t know who any of those people were if I hadn’t been told I sounded like them, and now they’re some of my favorite musicians! But I wouldn’t say they influence me much more than anyone else. To me, it seems like all art’s a collaboration between the audience, the artists, and the ghosts of all the artists and audiences who’ve come before us, even when the artists want it to be some kind of solitary ego-wanking.

Tell us something about your new album called ”Hummingcone”!
“Hummingcone and my album “Break the Law” are actually Siamese twins. I think “Break the Law” is all about destroying the fabric of the universe and rebuilding it from scratch, and “Hummingcone” is that scratch material. Unfortunately, those two haven’t been getting along very well lately. They’re always screaming at each other about something. I can see why; I can barely live with myself, so living with a conjoined twin must be unbearable. I didn’t intend to bring them into the world this way, of course! It all happened because I took a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico last September, to help my parents and our two dogs move all our belongings down there from our old apartment in Brooklyn. They’d spent over 5 decades living in NY, which is at least a dozen times more than most people can handle, so they figured Oaxaca would be a nice place to retire. It’s a beautiful region with some of the best food in the world, it’s extremely affordable, the people are great, and there’s some cool art and music popping up down there, a real chaotic energy to the place. So I decided to spend a few months playing gigs around Oaxaca, living between cheap hostels and my parents’ new place, before going back to the East Coast of the US for a month of gigs and sleeping on friends’ couches. And while I was in Oaxaca, I wrote kind of an avalanche of new songs, sparked by a kind of bizarre falling out with a former band mate, who’d been pursuing me and multiple friends of mine, sending us these infuriated, methamphetamine-fueled love letters from the Mexico City airport, where he was working at the time. That avalanche of songs became those two albums, which I recorded on my old cassette recorder I brought down from Brooklyn. How they came out as Siamese twins remains a mystery, though.

Do you plan to have a tour in the next future? Tell us something about your next shows!

I’m actually on tour in Europe at the moment! It’s my third European tour; I’ll be over here until the middle of May, and then I’m doing a Latin American tour or a US/Canada tour immediately after I leave. Haven’t decided which one I’m doing yet. Both could be nice. And this tour’s been great so far. Started with a show at a squat in an abandoned gelatin factory in Hasselt, Belgium, and then I played an anarchist center in Gent, and then a place called Celtic Pub in a town called Tarbes in southwest France. Next stop’s Bremen, then Leipzig, Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague, Tallinn, Ternopil (Ukraine), Spišská Nová Ves and Trenčín (Slovakia), Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and a few others that aren’t confirmed yet. I organized the whole tour myself, with a lot of help from a lot of other people. I’m calling it the Frostbitten European Cannonball tour, because I’m playing in a lot of cold places in mostly cold months, and I’m not particularly dressed for this weather. Brrr.

What’s the best live act in your city? What’s the best live music show you’ve seen recently?

That’s a tough one, because there are hundreds of great live acts in NYC, and I’ve been lucky enough to organize shows and perform with a lot of them. And I’ve seen a lot of good shows all over the world, so it’s hard to narrow it down. Toranavox is a really good live band in Brooklyn right now, they’re a punk duo with explosive energy, it feels like they have at least a thousand people on stage with them. Pinc Louds is another one, their show at the Basement Bar last summer was the best show I saw last year. They’re also extremely energetic, but in a completely different way; lots of puppets and sociopolitical humor and costumes. And their songs are amazing. They perform in the Delancey Street station in NYC all the time when they’re not doing regular gigs, and they tour a bit too. We bumped into each other on tour in Berlin last summer, that was a nice surprise!

Tell us something about your best and your worst memory on the road.

Haha, that’s another tough one; multiple great and horrifying things happen every day on the road, and I’ve been touring pretty regularly for a few years now. Here’s a good one: a couple years ago, I was touring with Mallory Feuer from the Brooklyn-based psychedelic grunge band The Grasping Straws, around the US and Canada in her dad’s 1987 BMW. And the hood of the car kept overheating, to the point where there was smoke coming out of it. So we had to turn the heat on full blast inside the car to stop the hood from catching fire. Keep in mind, this was the middle of summer, we were driving 6-8 hours a day with the heat on full blast for weeks, playing on hot stages every night, and sleeping inside the car (which was also filled with mold) in Wal-Mart parking lots, often with nowhere to shower. So our own bodies came quite close to overheating, and we smelled like rotting skunks bathed in kimchi. It got really bad on the last leg of the tour, when we didn’t have a place to shower for 6 nights in a row, and we were playing shows around Quebec, Vermont, and Maine. During that week, we went to visit my friend Bernard King’s ancestors, who were buried in Napierville, QC. When we got out of the car, it was a sunny day, not one cloud in the sky. As soon as we started walking over to the graveyard, it started pouring rain. We ran back to the car, bolted out of Napierville, and within 15 minutes, the rain stopped completely. After that, the same exact thing happened at every town we got into; sunny day, sudden rainstorm the minute we got into town, stopped within 15 minutes every time. At the time, we joked that it was Bernard’s ancestors pissing on us, but now that I think about it, maybe they were giving us a free shower? We clearly needed one; even a dead person could smell that. We really should’ve gotten out the soap and taken advantage of that! And then, this guy at the venue in Burlington, VT was running around the room with an empty clipboard, talking about his life as a monk, seeing visions of deities telling him to get jobs in coffee shops in Oregon, cataloging various tribes of homeless people (he advised me to quit making music and join one of the tribes he’d been cataloging; the tribe had a name, but I forget what it was), and doing energy work in Brooklyn neighborhoods to stop babies from being born with developmental disorders. I offered him one of the (now out of print) Cannonball Statman “Shriekofafreak!” stickers, but he refused it, because his path didn’t allow him any material possessions (other than an empty clipboard). And we met a number of fascinating characters like him on that tour. I somehow doubt they’d have been so inclined to talk to us if we’d showered in the past week. The last show of the tour was at an organic restaurant in Portland, ME, and we smelled worse than the most foul-smelling New York subway station stinkopotamus I’ve ever had the luck to encounter. Half the crowd were noticeably repulsed (surprisingly, no one vomited), and the other half really dug our music. There was even this band in the audience from Connecticut, the Foresters, who gave us some of their stickers. And the owner seemed to like us; maybe the food was so good there that her nose was distracted.

What do you think of

I’m really glad Livetrigger’s around; I think it’s extremely important to have websites devoted to the music community, especially for live music, because that’s still how most musicians make a living (and actually now, more than ever, with the decline of the record industry). And I like the interface of it. I haven’t used it enough yet, because I’ve been extremely busy since I joined, and all the communications for organizing this current tour had been initiated before I joined the site. So I’m looking forward to using LiveTrigger on future tours and projects! Thanks for making it possible.

Main pic by Carla Rivarola in a graveyard in Oaxaca City, Mexico