Monday, July 11, 2011

Great Cynics

When Giles Bidder dubbed his solo project Cynics, it seemed like a perfect fit.

The project itself seemed to emerge suddenly and out of necessity, since some of Bidder's bandmates were preparing to attend college. “It sounds lame talking about it now,” he remembers, “but we had a bit of a band conversation. Half of us wanted to tour for a year or so, just to see how things would happen, and the other half was like, 'This is bullshit. We're never going to do anything with this. This is just fucking stupid punk music,' or whatever. I think I called one of the guys a fucking cynic, and thought in my head at one point, Hey, that would be a pretty cool band name.”

So, Bidder began writing pop-punk songs by himself on his acoustic—wild, lively songs that, though poetic and introspective, might make an entire living room of tipsy listeners shout along despite not knowing the words—and started reaching out to the right people. His earnest, honest songs and personality earned him some lucky opportunities to open for local bands like Apologies, I Have None and tagalong with whatever tour passed through. “If it's just you and an acoustic guitar,” Bidder explains, “it's quite easy to jump on bills.”

These successes, however modest, made the Cynics moniker that much more powerful and demonstrated that Bidder could push past the skepticism, past the pessimism, and fulfill his passion for playing music. “That's the reason I started writing songs under the name Cynics,” he states. “I didn't necessarily know if I was going be writing solo for the rest of this project or whether I'd be in a band, but the name's about when you start a band or start writing a novel—if you're doing anything creative—there's always going to be someone putting you down. It comes down to blocking those from your head, doing what you fucking want to do, and having fun with it.”

This is why, when Bidder received a cease and desist order from Pittsburgh band the Cynics, it was little disappointing.

He was ready to release his first full-length Don't Need Much through Kind of Like Records and Household Name Records when he received the threatening email. Though the jackets and booklets for the records had already been printed, Bidder—with his new bandmates Bob Barrett and Iona Cairns—were more worried about being sued than losing the name that represented their philosophy and challenged naysayers. “At first it was a bummer,” Bidder says, “but Iona, Bob and I got over it pretty quickly.”

“I have this theory that it's the band that makes the name,” he continues. “I mean, when was the last time you saw a band's name and thought, Shit, I'm going to have to check them out because that is a fucking awesome name!? I can only think of two bands ever whose names really stuck out for me before I'd heard anything: The Weakerthans and Calvinball. We're now called Great Cynics and apart from a ball-ache with the LP jackets, it wasn't a big deal.”

The story of Don't Need Much consists of more than the band's name change, though, and begins with Bidder's decision to add drums to his stripped-down acoustic sound.

Following his first tour or two, Bidder recorded and released Stones I've Thrown; this four song EP, consisting of three originals and a cover of Paint It Black's “Memorial Day”, captures the spirit expressed when Bidder gets behind his acoustic guitar. The record's strength is in its simple, bare-bones approach—as each song is almost literally limited to a voice, a guitar, and a handful of handheld percussion instruments (a restless tambourine, the wispy shadow of a shaker, et cetera)—but Bidder wanted his debut to feel fuller, and he wanted Great Cynics to feel less like a project and more like a band.

Bidder didn't know Barrett too well when he tapped him to play drums for Don't Need Much. He had seen Barrett play in bands since he was fifteen, but wasn't sure he'd agree to record a full-length record, let alone become a full-time band member. “He seemed like a nice guy,” Bidder said, “so I gave him a text saying, 'I'm going to do an album with Peter Miles'—this producer that a lot of my friends' bands have recorded with—and he said he was up for it.”

Don't Need Much was recorded quickly and simply, with Bidder and Barrett respectively recording electric guitar and drums live in the same room (which is the reason why the snare on Barrett's drum buzzes belligerently in the background during the intros to songs like “All the Time Every Time”, “Stones I've Thrown”, the opener “Home Measures”, and others—a small detail that makes Don't Need Much seem raw and real, and makes Bidder beam with pride). Bidder added a track of acoustic to some songs, scoring each with its subtle strokes, and producer Miles added bass and Hammond organ. “He learned and recorded the bass for all the songs in about two hours,” Bidder laughs. The entire tracking process took two days total. “I don't get it,” Bidder continues. “Maybe it's because I haven't ever experienced being in a band that does everything perfectly, but I don't understand how a band goes in for two weeks to record an album. We just had fun with it.”

Somehow, despite its added instrumentation, Don't Need Much sounds as simple and sincere as Stones I've Thrown, and it's because Bidder recorded it with the same minimalistic mindset. “Moorhen”, the song that concludes side A, for example, features Bidder with just his Epiphone Broadway, a guitar that grunts and snorts and whinnies with life; attempting to tame this animal as it bucks, Bidder's voice rises and ducks, roars and dims along with its every move. Like its counterpart “My Quiet Lunch Breaks”, which closes side B and also displays Bidder by himself (strumming an acoustic, though, instead of an electric), “Moorhen” is dynamic and dramatic, making it one of Don't Need Much's most powerful songs.

The minimalistic mindset is applied to all ten of the record's tracks, though, and not merely those two solo songs. “Stones I've Thrown”, which was written right after Bidder recorded the initial EP, is a slower song with those same snorting, grunting guitar chords strung between swaying beats. With an airy Hammond hanging above him, Bidder sings about the simple pleasures of friendship. “Everyone has a person in their life that they'll always be walking home with at 2 AM from a party wasted,” Bidder explains about the song's lyrics, “that guy who looks after you when you're passed out, someone you grew up with.”

Bidder would say that the songs that came easiest to him, the ones that he had to think about the least, are, in fact, his favorite tracks. “Like 'Stones I've Thrown', for example,” he explains, “and 'Dave & Angela', which was just a thing where I was hanging around my guitar and that little riff kind of sounded cool to me, so I played it a hundred times and it made a song. As a guitar player, when you play something and it sounds pleasing, you get that sort of buzz. I think I just go off that.”

But that's not to say that Don't Need Much, as a album, is dumbed down, or that Great Cynics is an unsophisticated band. Instead, it makes Don't Need Much a natural, real record, an honest and sincere attempt at making music that feels neither forced nor phony, and that's what Bidder was going for. “I wanted to record an album that sounded human,” he says. “Even doing the vocals, I did the songs one off the other. As soon as I got an alright take for the first song, I'd go to the second song. If I did that in one, Pete wouldn't even stop playing the track; he'd just go to the next one. You can hear me breathing, and you can probably hear me say like, 'fuck!' or 'shit!', and that makes it human.”

In a strange way, it's for the better that Bidder changed the band's name to Great Cynics. After all, they are a band now and no longer some ambitious London boy's solo project; the term “great” does imply some sort of growth. And nothing has really changed about what Bidder is doing; his songs are still simple, still performed with irrepressible passion, and still the sort that can light a room of listeners on fire.

Like it's name, Bidder's band has just become a little, well, bigger.

Bidder recorded these songs from the two bedroom flat that he and his brother share in East London in the early spring. He performed the songs with his Epiphone Broadway instead of an acoustic guitar. At the point that these songs were recorded, the issue with the Cynics name had not yet emerged, nor had Bidder performed live with Barrett and Cairns as a full band.

"Twenty Five" appears on both Great Cynics' 2011 full-length Don't Need Much and the 2011 teaser Dave & Angela EP. "My Quiet Lunch Break" is the closing track from Don't Need Much. "My Drug Buddy" is a Lemonheads cover; the song originally appeared on the 1992 record It's a Shame About Ray.

Visit the band's Tumblr blog for more music.

To download these tracks, click on the song titles and download them from the player at

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume Two for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2011. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.

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