Cal Rifkin - Sound In The Signals Interview

Micah E. Wood 
I recently had the opportunity to interview Cal Rifkin. We discussed how they formed the band, recording new EP ‘Better Luck Next Year’, musical inspiration, songwriting, filming videos, releasing cassettes, and more. Check it out below. 

Can you tell me how you started the band for those who may be unfamiliar with it? How did you initially become interested in music?

I started writing the first batch of songs after I graduated from college up in Boston. I had played guitar for a few different bands but always wanted to start my own project. I convinced some friends to go into the studio (It was a 10pm-6am time slot) and record an EP. When I moved back to DC where I grew up, I showed Robin, our bass player who I’ve been friends with since preschool, the EP and he was really into it. Robin was playing a Jazz gig with Keith (our drummer) and pulled him aside to ask if he wanted to play in an indie rock band. Keith grew up playing in rock bands and also liked the tunes so we all met up to jam and eat pizza. We all immediately vibed and the band was born.

You recently released your new EP ‘Better Luck Next Year’. Where did you record the EP at and what was the writing process like for it?

For the new EP we sort of jumped around. We started tracking at Ivakota studios with Ben Green, then I overdubbed most of the guitars and vocals at my home studio using my trusty SM7b. I love recording guitars and vocals at home because I can take my time and experiment with guitar parts and vocal layers.

To me, the EP has such great spring/summer music. I really like the vibe. What sounds and styles influenced you when you were writing the songs?

Thank you! We were originally going to release the EP in February but I’m glad it got pushed back because it is definitely more of a spring/summer vibe. In terms of vocals, The Beach Boys are always a big influence. I’d been listening to a lot of power pop as well like Big Star, Sloan, Mathew Sweet and Teenage Fanclub. I’m a sucker for songs with big catchy hooks.

A favorite song of mine from the EP is “Break My Heart”. Can you tell me about writing that song specifically?

Yeah, for Break My Heart I was just noodling on the guitar and came up with that opening riff and then wrote the rest of the song around that. I was in sort of a complicated relationship at the time and felt like the best outcome could be to just rip the band-aid off and end things. I thought it would be sort of a funny idea to write a song about asking someone to just “go on and break my heart”.  

Keith and Robin really brought this song to life. They gave the verses a little bit of a dancey feel that is really catchy and creates a really cool contrast to the driving chorus.

You released a video for “I Know I Can’t Stay”. It looks like it was a fun video to shoot. Do you have a favorite moment from it?

Oh man, that was a really fun shoot. Only thing was that it was super cold that day and we all had to dress in a way that would make it seem like a warm summer day. My friend, Sadie Leigh, really made that video happen. She came up with the idea and got the dancers and videographer together. It was a pretty loose plan but worked out great since the dancers were so good at learning moves on the spot and Sadie and Blythe, the videographer, were great at improvising. A highlight was when some random girl walking on stilts asked to be in the video and Sadie rejected her in the most direct yet nicest way possible.  

You signed with Really Rad Records. What made you want to sign with them and how has the experience been so far?

Yeah, we had originally planned on just releasing this EP ourselves. I’d been following Really Rad Records for a while though and loved a lot of the music they put out. We ended up talking with them and they just seemed really cool and down to earth. You could tell they were just in it to help out bands and because they love good tunes. It's been great working with them so far.  

You released cassettes for the EP. They feature different artwork. Where did that artwork come from and what made you decide to use alternate artwork?

Well, if I’m being totally honest, the cassette tape art was originally going to be our EP art as well. We did a photo shoot with Micah Wood though and the photos were too good not to use for the EP art. We thought the cassettes just looked great though with the collage (shout out to Rachel Jones) so we wanted to keep that design as is.  

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

Thanks so much for having us and for supporting smaller artists like us!

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