CSTVT: A Discography
There is no band that better represents the early days of the emo revival better than CSTVT. It was this brief moment that was bursting with creativity and it seemed like everybody was trying their hand at the Midwest emo thing coincidentally. What made it feel special was that each band had its own take. Some were high-energy, taking from the school of Cap’n Jazz and Braid. Others were grabbing from the tree of American Football, making music that was closer to indie rock. CSTVT in their short time encompassed it all, starting in the post-rock world before quickly becoming one of the best high-energy acts, even releasing one screamo song.
Unfortunately, like many before them, their story ends abruptly, stopping in 2013 before releasing the follow-up to the very underrated record Echo and The Light. I’ve always been curious as to some of the context for the band and its hiatus. Below is a run-through of their discography from their 2008 demo to the last release, with 3 of the 4 members giving their thoughts on it. I was sadly not able to coordinate a chat with singer/guitarist Nick Wakim.
I Know What a Lion Is (2008)
Josh Snader (Drummer): Those three songs were all part of the session that ended up being part of Summer Fences. They were unmastered, unmixed tracks so we could show people a snippet. When we put that out, we didn’t tour on it or anything. We played a bunch of regional shows, weekend warrior tours, and the random Chicago basement show.
Ron Petzke (Bassist): I Know What a Lion Is came out of the same recording session as Summer Fences. We had been working on writing material for an album. Once we started recording it, we had Dennis Pleckham — who was in Bongripper with me and recorded that album — take three of the songs so we had something for shows. The original [recordings] did sound different. It wasn’t quite as clean and clear sounding. We physically burned those CDs and put them in slipcases. They weren’t anything special.
Will McEvilly (Guitarist): The demo is just like three tracks that were on the final album that was just a first or second mix. We were just excited to do something. So we made that silly demo CDR and on my lunch break at my job at the time I went to FedEx Kinkos to make a bunch of copies. I sent a handwritten letter to Punknews with the demo. That was the farthest we ever took doing promotion. Thank goodness they listened to it and wrote it up or we would have been even less relevant.
Summer Fences (2009)
JS: This was the first record I ever drummed on that was released. Count Your Lucky Stars wanted to put it out and that was cool. I was always super thankful for them. They’ve probably been the most upstanding people that run a label that I’ve ever dealt with. After that, we just started making more friends on more weekend tours. Grown Ups had gained some steam, so we did an east coast tour with them, and we were well received by everyone and we got to play in a lot of cool places.
RP: From a bass playing perspective, CSTVT was the first band I played in that wasn’t a true metal band. It was my first time being a sort of different bass player. I was used to doubling down the guitar part and holding down the rhythm section for many years. I was getting to experiment a little more and play around. I don’t love the bass tones but it was before I understood what I wanted to hear.
WM: We recorded it at our friend Denis Pleckham’s house. He was living with his parents at the time so we recorded the album in his parent’s basement in two days. I remember tracking guitars next to a washer and dryer. It was the first time I ever recorded in my entire life. I was pretty terrified about playing to a click track and having that kind of pressure.
Nick Wakim went to an Empire! Empire! show and I think Keith Latinen was the first person we gave the album to. We didn’t give it to Keith for him to put our band out. We were just excited to share it with people. If all we ever did was make Summer Fences a free download on our Myspace, I would have been stoked. Keith was super enthusiastic and was like, “this is awesome, I want to put this out”.
The Echo & The Light (2009 & 2010)
JS: That first one that came out was a weird six-song thing and I feel like we went up to Ann Arbor for that one. When we were writing those songs, I just remember the guys saying they wanted to trim a lot of fat and shorten some parts. I always took it as a “make people want a little bit more”. We can still keep some post-rock elements but we’re not outwardly being post-rocky about the song. We are including the aesthetics of that style but we’re not writing songs that are the same length.
RP: We basically recorded them back to back. I forget the name of the engineer we recorded with but he was out in Michigan. We did the original CD version which was six songs. And frankly, we weren’t really happy with how it turned out. We decided to do just a tour limited edition run of the CD so we had something to bring with us. I think we made 40 or 50 copies of it and that was it. When we came back from the tour we hit up Dennis again and said, “hey we wrote this album and we want to re-record it but add a couple more songs”
The change really came from the energy of the shows we were playing. The first song CSTVT ever wrote was “Beating High Schoolers at Arcade Games”. If you listen to that one closely you can totally tell that it’s an American Football worship song. We only played that song once live because the one time we did it, it killed the vibe of the room. It was too chill. So we realized that people were getting hyped and pumped up about the faster, shorter songs. So when we moved into writing for Echo and The Light we were focusing on the stuff that’s working live and refining it.
WM: What had a lot to do with the change in sound was that Summer Fences was written before we ever played a show. Echo and The Light came after we started playing shows. Summer Fences has some long-ass songs and I was noticing when we played the fast songs people were moshing and singing along. The energy was really picking up. Getting that kind of feedback was the most fun part of playing live. Maybe consciously or subconsciously, we said “let’s write more streamlined and high-energy songs.”
Snack Town (2010)
JS: Shortly after we had gotten off The Echo and The Light writing sessions, we had started writing this new stuff. Will and Nick would get together and just write riffs in Will’s apartment. I felt like every other practice there would be a new riff.
We played a show at Strangelight where we took the picture for the cover of that record. And that day was one of the worst days of my life. I had the worst sunburn I ever had that day. I was in so much pain. I got stoned and went to the beach and forgot to put sunscreen on. It felt like there were razor blades on my legs.
RP: “Chillsen” is our only instrumental song despite there being some songs with very sparse vocals. And “Get Bucktown” was just a fun punk song. Those two were written together to work in tandem. That’s how we opened up a lot of shows.
WM: When we were tracking Echo and The Light, I just always noodled cause I’m anxious and struggle to talk to people. I came up with a melody that sounded good and told Dennis “could you record this guitar part?” And we used that part to write the song “Chilsen”. “Get Bucktown” was written after we toured with Grown Ups. I was super stoked on upbeat pop-punk with lots of riffs and really tight structure. That was probably my favorite recording we did.
JS: Nick had started playing drums in Stay Ahead of the Weather with Evan Weiss. We recorded the seven-inch and somehow managed to pretty quickly get some test press copies so that we can go on tour with them. And this was another east coast tour. I’m pretty sure that’s the last tour we went on.
Nick was more responsible for label stuff and label correspondence. Run For Cover might have reached out to us to do something. After we released S/T, we had started writing what would have been a third full length that I’m pretty sure was supposed to come out on Run For Cover.
RP: We had wanted that to be a split but couldn’t coordinate it so we did the whole painted record which looked really awesome. That release has my favorite bass tone. I don’t know if we ever did a true mp3 master for it. I think we only did a vinyl master which is why it’s considerably quieter. I really like the bassline in “Rogers Alexandria”. I remember we didn’t play it live very often because it was exhausting to play for Will. It was to the point where he wrote something too complicated for him to play. That one didn’t get put in the setlist too often.
WM: On that record, I had a song ready and Nick had a song ready. I really like Nick’s song. It just felt kind of different and a little more angular. Part of me kind of hated my song. Playing it was a nightmare. I was just painting myself into a corner with guitar parts. That was the hardest song to play in the world without fucking up and it was so fast. And all the songs that you hear us play on record we would play three times as fast live.
JS: I think it just ended up that Nick had too much to do with school and being an ER doctor. That took a lot of his time and all of us had other projects. Ron still has Bongripper. I think Canadian Rifle and Sea of Shit were both going full-time. And Will had just started Rectal Hygienics which was huge. So I feel like Nick being able not to get together as often, it slowly just stopped.
From what I remember, [the third record] was a lot like The Echo and The Light but with some more math. We had gotten so good at playing with each other that we got to experiment. We were still seeing what we were capable of being able to do with each other. I remember there being some poly-rhythm stuff which I couldn’t remotely even do anymore.
RP: We had eight songs written. It was ready to be an album. I feel like it was an evolution of the band. It still had the high energy, fun math stuff. But there was also an eight-minute epic post-rock song with soaring leads. It’s hard to remember because we didn’t get any recordings of it. I remember this one song that had this angular guitar part that we referred to as the Majority Rule song. I’m still upset that there’s no recording of it because it was one of the best songs we ever wrote. It’s unfortunate we never got to do it and we’ve made efforts over the years to try and remember it. We met up a few times to try to remember four of the eight songs and try to and release those. It just never worked out, unfortunately. It is an album that is lost to time.
People were just losing interest. We had other projects. It kind of became that people were practicing less and less because they were busy. Nick was in med school for most of the tenure of the band. Will had started up a couple of projects and those were kind of taking off. Josh was in three or four bands at any one time. Frankly, Bongripper got way more well-known around that time as well. We just drifted apart and stopped playing regularly.
WM: The Toe show was the last show we did. We had actually put a pause on things before then. Speaking personally for me, outside of the band my life was kind of a shit show. I had to take myself out of the band for a while just to get my shit as together as I could at the time. But really by the time the Toe show had come I think so much time had happened since we played our last show or practiced together. There was this implicit “oh yeah this is going to be our last show”. There was never any big moment or blowout.
The third record probably had the best songs we ever wrote. They were really varied. I felt everything we had been doing up until that point was starting to come together. There were songs that were really fast. There were really heavy songs. We wrote a song that sounded like Envy. Now as an old man, it is kind of a bummer I couldn’t get my shit together to make the third record happen.
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