"The Cringe's James Rotondi talks guitar. On tour with Blues Traveler." – Interview

Recently I got a chance to talk with lead guitarist James “Roto” Rotondi from the rock band The Cringe. The Cringe released its third album “Play Thing” and is currently getting ready to head out on the road with Blues Traveler. Check out my very entertaining conversation with Roto below where we discuss the new album, playing live and guitar solos.

Q - How would you describe your band’s sound?

A - Aggressive, tuneful, retro-leaning rock music in the tradition of Stone Temple Pilots and the Foo Fighters.

Q - You guys released your third album earlier this year. How was the process different this time around than on previous albums?

A - As analog purists, we finally agreed to introduce more digital elements to the recording chain; plus, we hashed the songs out by committee until we felt they were sparkling like cold glasses of Prosecco.

Q - How does the band write music? Is there one primary song writer or do you just get in a room and jam out your songs?

A - John Cusimano is the primary songwriter, who sits in his cobweb-ridden laboratory and concocts these evil potions; Dr. Blaze, Professor Tundle, and Yeoman Pelton then perform musico-alchemical “processes” on the material until we transmute Cusimano’s base metals into pure gold. Alternately, John brings in a song and we argue about tiny details until everyone is happy!

Q - What's your favorite song on the album and why?

A - My personal favorite is “Start Again,” which I like because it’s both heavy (in the Zeppelin sense) and also musically compact, in the pop sense; it sounds like a bunch of guys wearing big belt buckles and bad flares, but it has the poppy overtones of a band wearing peg-leg trousers.

Q - What's your favorite song to play live?

A - It has to be “In God We Trust,” which is loud, fast, has cool lyrics, and allows me to take, not one, not two, but three entire guitar solos. I mean, in this day and age? Three solos?

Q - You guys are about to head out on the road in a couple of weeks. What can your fans expect from you live shows?

A - We’ve really enjoyed opening for The Alarm, Bob Schneider, Antigone Rising, and many others, and we’re really looking forward to our upcoming dates with Blues Traveler and The Gracious Few. I guess folks can expect a proper rock and roll band, one that likes to be both substantive and arty, but also a bit old-school flashy—maybe Foo Fighters and Goo Goo Dolls with a bit of vintage Van Halen mixed in.

Q - What's your most embarrassing on stage moment?

A - I once got so sick just before a show in Barcelona, during my days with the French band Air, that I literally had to be given a bucket to vomit in on the side of the stage, just off curtain; I had to use it after nearly every song. But damnit, I finished the gig!

Q - Who are some of your earliest musical influences?

A - Early? Well, Miles Davis and Zappa are right up there, as is Hendrix and Dylan; John Cusimano grew up very obsessed with the Who, the Clash and, later, Pearl Jam; Pelton is fan of the great R&B, jazz and soul drummers like Bernard Purdie and Art Blakey; and our bass player, Jonny Blaze, grew up on Guns N’ Roses and Jellyfish; still, we’re all hardcore Beatles heads at the core.

Q - With the music industry constantly changing, what keeps you interested?

A - Making music is its own reward, and despite the changing landscape of the business, it will always remain that way. Everyone in this band is what you might call a “lifer;” we have all had, and continue to have, a range of projects and outlets to keep us feeling vital about music, and to keep us solvent in the hurly-burly of New York life. But there is really nothing in the external circumstances of the biz that is likely to dampen our enthusiasm for pursuing our own musical horizons, or celebrating the vistas great musical artists of the past or present open up for us.

Q - Thanks for taking the time, that's all I had, is there anything else you'd like to add?

A - Just a thanks to you for putting this piece together, and thanks to everyone who’s taking a minute to read it; we hope you enjoy what we’re trying to do, and that we get to hang out with you when we come to town. Visit our website if you’d like to say hi, or check out our music and our schedule: http://www.thecringe.com/.


Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.
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