It takes many bands years of gigging in basements and dive bars before being tapped to play at a Philadelphia indie rock institution like the First Unitarian Church, so one might expect local three-piece pop-punk outfit Cayetana to have been nervous about their show there, opening for Waxahatchee, last month. Until recently, their only recording had been a three-song, basement-recorded demo that caught the ear of indie label Tiny Engines in 2012. And while Cayetana’s members admit to getting performance jitters, their trepidation only diminishes with every note played.
“At first, we would get nervous, but now, it depends on the show, where it is, who’s gonna be there,” admits bassist Allegra Anka. “As we play more shows, we definitely become more confident. That’s something that we’re learning how to deal with better. We just try to make the shows fun for ourselves and everybody else.”
Onstage, singer/guitarist Augusta Koch yelps: “I fall asleep to the sound of violence and I wake up to the sound of sirens/And you and your missing parts, and you with your dreams in jars.” Her melismatic vocals combine with incessant guitar, Anka’s spidery bass lines and drummer Kelly Olsen’s machine-gun-fire snares to create moments of pure aural bliss. That they’ve come this far in just two-and-some years since their formation in late 2011 is a testament not just to Cateyana’s ambition and skill, but to their chemistry.
“We build on everything. Honestly, there are songs that were recorded on the demo that I still add things to,” Olsen says, explaining the band’s songwriting process. “I was even adding things to [the song] ‘Mountain Kids’ before this tour. Songwriting is more of a building process.”
While Koch and Anka have been friends since their college days at SUNY Oswego, it wasn’t until they met Koch at a party in 2011 that the idea of a band came to fruition. “A friend suggested that we all play music and introduced us,” says Koch. “We practiced that week, just kind of went for it.” Add to that mix the band members’ relative musical inexperience, as individuals and playing in a band, and the early results were predictably imperfect. “We played a bunch of shows the summer before we recorded the demo,” Olsen recalls. “It was definitely exciting for us. It taught us a lot. Our [first shows] were really weird,” she adds with a laugh. “Really embarrassing,” Koch chimes in. “We were pretty awkward.”
The trio’s original moniker, Cayetano, the name of one of Olsen and Anka’s college friends, had to be changed to its feminine version after they discovered a DJ in Greece who apparently shared a fondness for the Spanish word; still, Cayetana kept plugging in and plugging away. They recently gave local listeners another tease of what’s to come—their full-length debut is due later this year—with a two-song 7-inch that has been exalted on reputable sites like The A.V. Club and Noisey, Vice’s music channel.
“The stuff happened with Tiny Engines, and then it was all these good opportunities that we couldn’t say no to,” says Koch, who, like her bandmates, appreciates the guidance that Tiny Engines has given to a group that’s unusually wet behind the ears when it comes to navigating the many facets of the music business. “They do a lot of PR, which is nice. We obviously got to put out a vinyl record with them. Financially, that’s just hard as a band.”
Add into that mix a national tour supporting Waxahatchee, and it’s safe to say that Cayetana is taking the indie world by storm, even if, by day, they remain mere 20-somethings scraping by with work in the service industry, with the exception being Anka, who does social work. As Koch puts it: “It’s pretty cool because at work, you’re like, ‘I’m a waitress. But at night ...’” She smiles wickedly, knowingly.
The ladies of Cayetana aren’t overly optimistic about shedding those day jobs anytime soon. There are enough stories of local musicians-slash-outfits of similar or even greater acclaim that never do to suggest as much. But it’s tough to think of a band that’s done more in less time than Cayetana. So while Koch, Olsen and Anka might be realists, their current grind doesn’t get them down. They just imagine what another year may—and most likely, will—bring.
Time for a big Bang breakthrough?