Saturday, March 1, 2008

Citay: Bridging the Gap Between Joan Baez and Judas Priest [The Owl Mag]

The Owl Mag, March 2008 [Link]

Former Piano Magic drummer Ezra Feinberg and Tim Green of the Fucking Champs never really formed the San Francisco–based, psychedelic folk/rock band Citay, at least not in an earnest "We're starting a band!" kind of way. The two met in New York when Green flew out to record Feinberg's band at the time, Feast, and hit it off instantly thanks in part to their "alarmingly similar" musical tastes and approaches. "It's uncannily specific: we like the same specific parts of the same specific songs," muses Feinberg. "We literally found ourselves spontaneously air guitaring to the same sections of the same Heart songs. It was love."

Curious about life on the west coast and eager to get out of—and away from—Brooklyn, the Cambridge, Massachusetts native packed up and headed for San Francisco in 2004. He crashed at Green's studio, Louder Studios, for a month until finding an apartment in the city. Once settled, he began making demos with an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, his Casio keyboard, and a computer. "When I felt like I had some good materials, I went to Tim's and would re-record it from scratch at his studio, then he'd kind of add his own stuff on top of it," says Feinberg. "The skeletons of the songs I worked out on my own, and a lot of the embellishments and decorations—which is sort of what makes a lot of it—are stuff that I did with Tim in his studio."

Their collaborative efforts secured Citay a deal with Important Records, who released the self-titled first album in 2006. Feinberg never envisioned it as a live act when he started making demos in his apartment, but with the deal signed and a tour inevitable, he faced the daunting task of finding all of the instrumentalists needed to recreate Citay's multi-instrumental sound on stage. After a determined effort and a "revolving door" period, Feinberg pulled together a lineup that has remained consistent for the last two years. Now, Citay is ready to embark on their second national tour. They're also headed for their second appearance at SXSW and have even caught the attention of NPR: "Eye on the Dollar" from Little Kingdom was NPR Music's "Song of the Day" on February 26.

Citay's vocals are a little Spiritualized, and the influence of everything from Yes to The Zombies to Sonic Youth poke through the band's melting instrumental melodies. As Feinberg puts it, Citay's sound is "pop music that tries to bridge the gap between 'Diamonds and Rust' by Joan Baez, and 'Diamonds and Rust by Judas Priest." Last year's Little Kingdom (Dead Oceans), pays homage to 70s psychedelia with a fresh interpretation of old trippy sounds. And while Citay was exclusively created and recorded by Feinberg and Green (with a little help from Green's Champs bandmate, Tim Soete), Little Kingdom features all members of the band at least somewhere on the album. "I think Little Kingdom is officially a better record than the first record, but I can still hear the breeziness of the first record," he reflects. "It has an ease that maybe I only hear because I made it, but it is an ease that I appreciate and long for."

Because Citay's music is fundamentally Feinberg's vision, the creative process doesn't operate like other similar-sounding, multi-instrumental bands that work as collectives. "I think of a collective more as a democratic thing, where Citay is more of a fascist state," says Feinberg. "I'm a friendly dictator." No doubt Feinberg took a few cues from another friendly dictator, Piano Magic's Glen Johnson. Piano Magic is known for its ever-changing lineup, with Johnson remaining the only constant member of the band. At the age of 20, Feinberg spent six months playing with Piano Magic and found in Johnson a musical mentor. "It was an inspiring thing to be a part of," he says. "Musically, Glen is coming from a totally different place than me but I think that he is always working, is always a part of a community and he's obsessed with music—that's what gets him up in the morning."

Even the band's name, inspired by a mix tape Feinberg made, reflects his creative control. The mix consisted entirely of songs where the vocalists sing "SIH-tay" instead of pronouncing city the normal way—think Stevie Wonder, Journey, Foghat, etc. "When I named it 'Citay,' I never thought it would go anywhere," admits Feinberg. "Had I known that it was going to reach anyone beyond my friends, I may not have named it that, but I don't regret naming my band Citay. That's the name, love it or leave it."

As for his adopted home, Feinberg finds it easy to fit into the San Francisco music community, especially compared to fragmented music communities in vast cities like New York and London. In addition to bands like Vetiver and Six Organs of Admittance (they've toured with both), Feinberg is a fan of all of his bandmates' other projects, which include 3 Leafs, The Dry Spells, Meridians, and, of course, The Fucking Champs. He tells me, "The music scene here is really special because it's so diverse and people really know what's going on in the world of music of all kinds, and yet it manages to be small and kind of intimate and cozy."

For now, the band looks forward to their upcoming national tour, which will bring them to bigger venues and more cities than their last. Citay's future will almost certainly include a third album, but Feinberg doesn't know when or exactly how it will be made. "I always have ideas floating around, but I'm not like one of these songwriters that has 5,000 songs written and recorded and can sort of select forever," confesses Feinberg. "I write and record as I go and when a record comes out, that's everything I have from that time."

Citay will open for Oakland favorites Heavenly States at the latter's album release show at the Independent on 3/7.

For more information on Citay visit

—Jess Hemerly, 2008

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