Cheap Time ignores trends, charts their way by heart
Jeffrey Novak on his single-minded songwriting direction
Published: January 15, 2014
CHEAP TIME with Golden Pelicans, Moonmen From Mars
8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21 | Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. | willspub.org | $7
Those really driven by their muse don’t even have time to look out the windows. Take Cheap Time’s Jeffrey Novak, who developed his garage-punk style in the shadow of Jay Reatard, and pursued it with such single-minded passion that he almost put off critical surgery to finish work on their next album.
“Since I was 15, I’ve never had another goal in my mind. Success has never mattered to me; money has never mattered to me. All I’ve cared about is making another album,” says Novak, from his Nashville home convalescing after an appendectomy.
Growing up in Hendersonville, Tenn. (pop. 5,670) absent any fellow musical obsessives, Novak got a four-track machine in his teens and became a voracious home recorder. After high school, he made frequent trips to Memphis and developed a friendship with late garage-rocker comet Reatard, who produced his old band Rat Traps. They became roommates, sharing a similar passion for grimy garage-punk. Reatard would master Cheap Time’s eponymous 2008 debut.
While that first album’s manic energy earned comparisons to Reatard, Novak was not one to stand still, moving toward power-pop for their 2010 sophomore album, Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations). It didn’t turn out quite like he wanted; the recording sessions ended when producer Mike McHugh ordered Novak and company to leave the studio at gunpoint.
Like Pinkerton, this darker, less immediate album met a lot of resistance, something that caught Novak unprepared. “All the choices I made that I thought were good artistic ones seemed like the opposite of what people were expecting,” he says. “I don’t think people ever had expectations for me before that. I was just thinking about my own artistic expectations.”
After the experience with McHugh, Novak decided to record at home on a 16-track reel-to-reel he’d gotten from Reatard. That’s how he recorded 2012’s Wallpaper Music and their new disc, Exit Smiles. With each album, the sounds continued to evolve, blending elements of punk, garage, glam, power-pop, prog and psychedelica in a surprisingly seamless manner.
“I’m always going to write punk songs, as much as I love progressive rock and more complicated stuff. That’s not the stuff I can necessarily play live,” he laughs. “So, it’s got that influence there, but it all sounds the same to me in the end.”
With Exit Smiles they widen their sound with some of their longest songs to date, like the five-minute “Country and City,” which suggests Buddy Holly exploring surf-psych, and the snarling six-minute “Modern Taste,” with slinky guitar lines that recall Television. The project was guided by Novak’s desire to write an eight-track album after penning ones with 14, 12, and 10 songs.
“It took almost two years to write eight songs that went together,” he says. “I don’t want to waste people’s time. So I want every song to be exactly what I want it to be and to have some lasting value. I think on the next album most of the songs won’t be as drawn out. It was a hard thing. I wanted these drawn-out songs, but somehow have them not get boring.”
That’s what he wants for his career as well, which makes him feel out of step with his carpe diem-ing peers.
“I’ve seen so many bands come and go in that time that I’ve been active in music, and I never know what their goals were with things,” he says. “I always got the vibe that other people always want to have more of a good time than I want to have.”
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