“Three young lads with a passion for music and having fun” would be a pretty correct summation of Cable 35 if you’re only looking for a quick-fire description of this energetic trio. Beyond the kicks and an ever-present sense of humour, however, they are three dedicated and focused musicians who are very much in control of what they’re doing and where they’re heading, as I find out when I sit in for an exclusive advance listening session of the album they’ll be launching this Tuesday.
Before the music starts to play, they – guitarist and singer Jeffrey Zerafa, bassist and backing vocalist Kriz Zahra and drummer Chris Mallia – bring me up to date with what their year has been like so far. The album was recorded in separate sessions. They started at the end of last year, laying down the instrumental parts first, with Zerafa recording all the vocals after the other parts had been done. In between, there were gigs to play, several of them outside Malta. “Last February we went on tour for a month,” says Zahra. “It was a good experience, but there were some bad moments too – the worst being when tour van broke down on the way to Milan, before we had even played our first gig.”
Cable35, by the way, are probably the only Maltese band that has ever gone abroad on tour using its own transport all the way from Malta – twice. They had made a similar trip last year but, being their first experience, it wasn’t quite perfect in terms of planning. “We learnt a lot from that tour, so this time we planned our schedule better and fitted in more gigs.”
Starting off in Milan, where they got lost while walking around the city, Cable35 then stopped in Belgium for a couple of gigs before crossing the channel to perform two more gigs in London, three in Birmingham and another in Leicester, where they hooked up with their friends, The Reluctant Heroes, who have also performed in Malta in recent years. “We doubled back through Belgium for two more gigs and played the final date in Amsterdam,” Zerafa says. “That last gig was fantastic; some Maltese friends of ours flew over especially for it and we spent five days there to chill out.”
They have an endless stream of tour-related stories to tell, but time is pressing and there’s still an album’s worth of new songs waiting to be heard. The play button is pressed and I brace myself to absorb the all-new music that kicks off with Cow Head. The track is the quickest song the band has ever written, as Mallia points out. “We wrote the music and lyrics in just one take – all of us in one room, playing loud, live and raw.” It is a pummeling slab of alternative rock that hits hard, clearly spelling out the grunge-rooted co-ordinates that have increasingly inspired and diverted the band’s musical path away from the pronounced melodic punk pop inclination that defined their 2007 debut EP.
The next track, Can I, sounds even more primal, its rough edge nimbly punctuated by some sharp dynamic breaks; the interestingly-named Bobby Funk – a bass and drums driven number – reveals Zerafa’s versatile vocal delivery. Shrouded in a claustrophobic muffled effect, the vocals echo the theme inspiring the song, essentially the graphic scene from A Clockwork Orange where the notorious main character Alex is subjected to the intense Ludovico Technique therapy. “The vocals project the same sick feeling the scene in the film does,” the singer explains. “And there’s also a local connection, because Anthony Burgess, who wrote the book, lived in Malta for a while.”
For those familiar with the band’s work to date, the curious song titles are nothing new. “We usually pick titles at random when the songs are still a work-in-progress,” Zahra says. He explains how they used to record rehearsals and save them as untitled tracks, which got confusing after a while, so they started to give them names that popped into their heads on the spur of the moment. One such example is Fact in Spain, which really has nothing to do with the Iberian peninsula. Another fine piece of dirty dynamic distortion incorporating a quiet/loud break that underpins its urgency, the song’s lyrics reflect the title’s meaninglessness by drawing comparisons to the new trend of disrupting live music events that seems to have caught on with the local forces.
Factory Floor and Come Down to Party unveil different aspects of the abrasive mesh of altered rock riffage that seems to be the album’s gelling factor. The two songs flow along the same currents that propelled Nirvana towards the mass market without relinquishing their authenticity. The latter, in particular, loosely inspired by people getting ready to go clubbing, starts out as a mellower, strummed number that disperses into the ether. Lost City, the album’s only ‘ballad’, feeds off this same ambience in a dirge-like flow, revealing another side to Cable 35’s musical vision that has rarely showed itself before.
The album’s second half (bar a sonic interlude called Abducted and a bonus acoustic version of Lost City) is emphatically powerful. Saturated is a standout moment; a menacing juggernaut in which the band’s punk, grunge and hardcore influences blend impeccably. I try to coax the story behind the song out of the band, but somehow the discussion takes an unexpected turn and brings out a barrage of humorous interjections which I am sure have no bearing on the song, and so we move on.
House of Fire maintains both Saturated’s pace and crossover style. “This was the first song we played in every gig on the last tour,” Zahra says. “It proved to be very effective in grabbing the crowd’s attention, which is all the more important given we were playing to new audiences each time.” Surfing Africa, the band is quick to point out before I even have time to ask, has no connection to the Beach Boys’ Surfing USA. As it turns out, it also has little to do with Africa itself. Versatile in its structure without losing grip of the album’s stride, the song was apparently written about those moments when one gets separated from his friends in a big crowd; make of that what you will.
The band’s current single, Memories, is probably the only track here that balances a hefty chunk of melody with the record’s grungey outlook. Unsurprisingly, it’s been doing relatively well on the local airwaves, auguring well for the band to maintain its presence at the forefront of the local scene. Towards the end of the album, Fat Snowman, Crops and Matonto offer a triple barrage that serves as an unshakeable reminder of where the band is headed musically, as well as powerful examples of how the littlest thing can inspire a song – from overweight pushers to burning fields of grass, and strangely enough, a plane that happened to be flying overhead when the band was at a barbecue.
“The word Matonto doesn’t really have any meaning, but we’re confident it may one day be incorporated into the Maltese vocabulary,” Zahra says rather seriously…or maybe not. Overall, it is more than evident that the grunge factor the band has openly referenced during interviews has been essential in shaping the new songs. More than the popular form of the genre however, it is the earlier Subpop period that seems to have been their main inspiration. “We’re still in touch with our punk roots, but over time we’ve been listening to lots of other stuff, mostly grunge and alternative bands… music that has a dirtier sound.” Blending various styles makes it difficult to describe Cable 35’s music, but they quickly resolve the problem: “Just call it fungus rock!”
Cable 35 will launch their as-yet-untitled debut album (the name will be revealed on the day of the launch) on Tuesday with a live performance at V-Gen in Paceville. Three Stops to China will also be performing and Davide Zane will be playing DJ sets in between bands. Entrance is €7 (or €12 including CD). Log on to Cable 35’s Facebook page to stream the music videos for Memories and Cow Head.
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (26 June, 2011)