About seven months ago, guitarist/lead vocalist Derek Krzywicki and his Cheers Elephant brethren left Philadelphia and headed west, landing in Carpinteria, CA, a tiny city of about 13,000 about an hour drive from L.A. in decent traffic. Almost every morning, like clockwork, he surfs with CE bassist Matt Rothstein, then they go home and write music. Krzywicki bartends sometimes at a local brewpub; it doesn’t have TVs, but does boast views of mountains behind the ocean. He’s waning off of Facebook and may even ditch it altogether (yet he’d still heard word of the now-infamous Kurt Vile mural-buffer). And he has a cohesive and thriving band in Cheers Elephant—and a girlfriend he doesn’t want to leave to tour 2012’s Like Wind Blows Fire, their outstanding third LP, for the third time.
But the road is calling. In fact, our chat took place just days before their Las Vegas launch last Friday, a 21-date outing in total.
[“Touring’s] a lot of fun, obviously, because it’s an adventure,” the affable Krzywicki tells PW between taco bites on a four-time-zone-spanning call from Cali, “but it doesn’t mean ‘vacation’ because it’s so much work and so much driving. It’s dirty, and you don’t really have too much personal space. And for an introvert like me, it can be very challenging. I like touring, but I like making records more.”
When they lived here, part of what he looked forward to most about touring was leaving Philadelphia during the brutal months and trekking the south and west coast at least felt like vacations. “Now I’m leaving Vacationtown, and I don’t have humidity,” he says, seemingly rubbing that fact in my face on one of Philly’s first really hot July days, one that blazes into the ‘90s but feels far steamier when the air’s straight-up heavy.
Does he miss Philly? “I don’t,” Krzywicki admits. “I don’t miss living in Philadelphia as much as I miss the people and the friends that I have there and the connections. But every day, I go surfing, and the water and the air is beautiful. It’s clean. The people are extremely friendly, and I’ve made some great friends already.” He and Rothstein, as well as drummer Robert Kingsly and lead guitarist Jordan del Rosario, decided that, as a band, they’d challenge themselves—and their sound—with a change of scenery. King got a part-time Whole Foods gig, and del Rosario teaches guitar sometimes.
“Why are we going to live in one place our whole lives?” Krzywicki mused from his taco takeout picnic. “So, we all kind of jumped out here with very little money in our pockets and very little connections, and we kind of got lucky—and we’re loving the idea of what we’re doing.” He even punctuated that thought with a completely California-paradise declaration: “I know I can’t be more lucky than where I am now. And I’m on cloud nine.” Word has it daily surfing will put you there.
It’s not shocking that a band-leading nature lover and surfboy would swim and not sink when it comes to a cross-country relocation—or that perhaps his band’s records would feel some of that California love. But Krzywicki assures that there will be bits of Philadelphia in Cheers Elephant’s stil-unnamed fourth record, which will be out before 2014 is over.
Expect their new material to be even more surfy than the shimmering psychedelia that colors their impressive catalogue. Touchpoint records for Krzywicki lately are telling: Tame Impala’s Lonerism and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s Mature Themes. And since arriving to Santa Barbara County, he’s been turned on to a peculiarly like-named band called Dante Elephante, whose German Aquatics EP is indeed awesome.
Krzywicki’s been loving Ethiopian rock classics, too, and jonesing on alto sax, an instrument we can probably expect on the new record—and maybe even when their national tour swings through Philadelphia Friday night. With the new stuff, he says, “the BPM has slowed down a bit, but there’s still high energy stuff like the last record.”
“There are some really good harmonies and pretty unique arrangements,” he reports, saying that they’ll be “adding some synths and also some special effects that I’ve recorded while living in Philadelphia and while living here.” What kind of Philly sounds? “Recordings in Fishtown like the accent and sounds of SEPTA buses, things like that,” he says.
The Philly band-friends Krzywicki misses are You Do You, the outfit powerfully vocal-fronted by Katie Feeney, plus Laser Background, the weird pop product of his bud Andy Balazs Molholt. And of course he’s looking forward to having Cheers Elephant’s homecoming date at UT supported by the final hurrah of longstanding Philly freak folk heroes, Toy Soldiers, who are bidding adieu as a collective.
“When they first started, they were a really big band,” Krzywicki remembers of TS. “They’ve gone through all these different changes, and they’ve evolved in all these different ways. I’ve always appreciated their contribution to the Philadelphia music scene.”
Fri., July 18, 8:30pm. $14. With Toy Soldiers + Cheerleader. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com
Floetry’s Philadelphia story