Interview: Cicada Rhythm

Cicada Rhythm is the dynamic duo of Andrea DeMarcus and Dave Kirslis.

Hailing from Northeast Georgia, they are more often than not, joined by the likes of Colin Agnew, Matt Stoessel, and Dan Kirslis.

They are also quite fine friends of the Gypsy Farm organization and first official installment of what we hope will become our on-going interview series, brought to you by GF field correspondent, Willie Shears.

“What Cicada Rhythm offers is roots music that’s unassuming, expertly played and sung by two clear as glass voices.”  – NPR

L-R: Dave Kirslis, Andrea DeMarcus & Colin Agnew. Photo by Faye Webster.

How did y’all meet?  I’ve heard there was a train involved? 

Andrea: Dave and I met after he jumped off of a freight train with his old pal Matt Pendrick (Slow Parade). He called a mutual friend and we both went to pick them up! They were really dirty. He always says “It wasn’t love at first sight”, and he’s right, but I will never forget that day.

Andrea, what can you say about your experience at Juilliard?

It was a time when I worked very hard on myself and my talent. I wish I could say it was the best thing that ever happened to me, but the truth is, it was the greatest challenge I have ever faced. I had many shining moments playing music with exceptional artists, and I met many people who were on their way to fame and achievement. It opened my eyes and humbled me in so many ways so very many times.

I’m happy to have graduated, and pressed myself to learn exactly what I wanted from life, which is changing all the time, even still. It seems that the adventure of creation, performing, and earning every new fan with a made from scratch sound and vocal vulnerability that excites me infinitely more than reading notes from a page.  

Dave, when did you begin playing guitar and harmonica? 

My first guitar came from a trash pile on the side of the road, it had a shattered slotted headstock which my dad rebuilt. It existed in my childhood home as long as I can remember but neither my dad or I knew how to play or tune it. I was always attracted to it and in 6th grade I got a couple lessons from Rick Rudica at what was Dekalb Music in downtown Decatur, Georgia.

After that I pretty much knew how to tune it and would mess around at home. When I went to boarding school for the rest of middle and high school, I taught myself through that period. After graduating high school I came back to Atlanta and took a few more lessons with Rick and then became interested in finger picking.

At that time I was very interested in early blues and roots music. I saw Joe Mcguinness play at the 5 spot in little five points one night in 2008 and was really impressed with his finger style. I later contacted him to take lessons and I learned a lot from him about technique and music. I became interested in theory and Joe told me to try a few lessons with Oliver Wood.

Oliver Wood (far right) of The Wood Brothers. Photo by Abby Gillardi

I took a few lessons with him until he moved to Nashville. Shortly after that I moved to Athens, and I took a few classical guitar lessons. Then I had a lesson with Dan Nettles and I plan to take some more lessons from him. There’s always something to learn on guitar. 

I began playing harmonica when I found an old dusty harmonica under the stage at Blind Willies, I should have never put that thing in my mouth. I used to perform roots music on Monday nights at Blind Willies with my band Midnight Revival. I know just enough about harmonica to be dangerous but I find it useful when there are too many guitars in the mix. I also enjoy carving out electric tones when playing one through an amp and try to stay out of the way.

When did y’all sign with Normaltown / New West Records? 

We signed with Normaltown in 2015, and our most recent record, “Everywhere I go” came out on New West in 2018.

How was your experience recording with producer Drew Vandenburg? (Faye Webster, Deerhunter, Of Montreal)

Dave: Drew was great. I love the tones he captures and his approach. When you work with him you know you’re in good hands plus he is a classy chap and a straight shooter. He tries to capture you the way you sound, but the best it can sound, if that makes sense. 

Colin Agnew. Photo courtesy of colinagnew.com

When did Colin join? I love his drumming / percussion style. 

Dave: Colin started playing in CR around 2015, Andrea and I were touring as a duo and we did a co-bill tour with Adron. They were also a duo and Colin would hop on stage during “In the Garden” and play percussion for that tune. It felt very natural with him. Andrea, like any good bass player, has a great time. But my squirrelly guitar playing weaves in and out sometimes, but Colin can play seamlessly between Andrea and I and it makes it work on a new level. Colin is a very musical person, he is also a great piano player and can sing! Not to mention a great engineer too, he is a huge part of the band. 

Name other musicians that tour with Cicada Rhythm.

Matt Stoessel, Dan Kirslis, John Neff, Steven Leadbetter, Rex Hussmann, Justin Hotzclaw, Rhett Huffman, Colin James Dean, Chris Mala,  Joseph Faul and Patrick Russert are all folks we’ve had play with Cicada. 

Cicada Rhythm with Matt Stoessel

How was your first tour abroad, outside of the US, (with Jim White?)

We love Jim. He is one of the best storytellers I know and such a great songwriter. Touring Europe for the first time and playing with Jim was a memory we will never forget. We didn’t have a tour manager so we were doing everything so it was a huge handful. We also got to meet some really interesting people hanging out with him. Jim is like a character out of a Wes Anderson movie. 

CR recently toured the U.S. with Kishi Bashi, both as an opener and backing band.. how different was that experience from the usual tour? 

Again, another Athens great who provided an unforgettable experience for CR. Touring with him was the real deal, we were on a bus, had a crew, early load ins and very late nights.

But it was magical, Kaoru is one of the kindest folks we have ever got to work with. He’s a brilliant musician and a talented songwriter and fearless when it comes to music.

But to answer your question, his tour was different than ours mostly by scale and reach. He could play to 2k people a night, where we’d play to 200 hopefully. He’d play one day in San Francisco, the next day in Seattle, that wouldn’t be possible in our band-driven Sprinter van.

Hopefully someday, if the music industry ever returns to normal we can get there. 

Dave, you’ve recently started to work with bees, how’s that experience? 

It has consumed me. I started with two hives last year, now I have twelve. Hoping to continue to grow. I really love it, they are fascinating creatures. 

Dave,  when did your father begin to play the flute?

He picked it up in college. He took piano lessons up until then and knew a lot of theory. But he prefers to play flute now when improvising. It’s still one of my goals to record with him someday. 

Andrea, what is your ideal way to prepare, pre-gig? 

I guess I don’t really have one!

WREK 91.1 FM Atlanta, GA. Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Alumni website.

Dave, were you once a DJ at WREK? How was that? Favorite records?

I was the host of Friday Night Fish Fry and the Jazz morning show. The fish fry was blues so I would play a lot of Sean Costello, Joe Mcguinness,Mudcat, Coopdaville, Nate Nelson & his entertainment crackers, the Breeze Kings, which were all local Northside Tavern Bands. I would play the classics like Chuck Berry, Jerry Reed, JB Lenoir, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson.

I used to love playing Robert Johnson records and I would slow down the rpms to 30 rpm. I think the recording equipment used when tracking him was sped up somehow. I would get tons of calls into the station of people very curious about it. When I was on the jazz show, I played a lot of Art Tatum, Billie Holliday, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chet Baker, and really any other records I found interesting in the WREK Archives. I loved working as a DJ there. 

Andrea, what strings do you prefer on the upright bass / double bass / bull fiddle?

Pirastro strings. 

Cicada Rhythm. Photo by Evan Leavitt

I know you both have recently been recording more demos at home, how has that been?  What’s your set up? Feel free to get as technical as desired. 

We built a standing desk on wheels, with rack mount gear underneath, and a Sound Workshop 1280B console on top of  the desk. I recently recapped the whole console myself. I have a 12 channel snake that goes into my console, and then the console has direct outs that go through the patch bay normalled to my Lynx [Aurora 16] interface.

I have some UA and ampex analog gear I can patch in before or after I hit Pro Tools 12.  I also have a tascam 414 that has some of the SW console bus channels routed to it. I love that thing. I really enjoy recording at home, I’ve found it can be helpful to have an engineer on hand when tracking a lot of songs, so instead of me playing both roles I can just focus on the music. 

Shortly before his passing, you sat down to dinner with the late Col. Bruce Hampton, how was that experience? 

Dave: He was amazing and larger than life. Our Manager Matt Wilson was his good friend and lawyer. He came to two CR shows at Eddie’s Attic. We listened to him tell stories after our set and he guessed my birthday on the 3rd try. He said I was an earthy guy for a Cancer sign haha. I felt very lucky and honored to have met with him.

We had tickets to go to see his final show, but we were booked and gave them to my friend, Sam Holt, who was thankful to be there, Sam was in that jam circle, he’s also a great guitar player. Col Bruce was an Atlanta treasure. May he rest in peace. 

How was working with Oliver of the Wood Brothers + Milk Carton Kids on your most recent release? 

Dave: Working with Oliver and Kenneth was pretty great. Oliver has been a hero for me since day one, and I learned alot from working with Kenneth. Kenneth also got me obsessed with Hammond organs.

We felt very lucky to be in the company of both of those great players. We learned a lot through that album, and it was stressful making a record in a town you are 6 hours away from but I am proud of that record and we come away stronger. 

Dave, you’ve been refurbishing a 1950’s Gibson acoustic guitar, how did that come about? 

Robert Motes is an excellent luthier down the road from me. He brought that guitar back to life and did an incredible job. It was an LG1 1950s Gibson that I bought off a girl in Hiawassee, GA . It was priced very low because the sunburst finished had been sanded off and it was warped beyond belief.

Robert took off the back and redid some bracing, flattened out the warps in the belly and installed a bridge doctor and a new bridge and saddle. The guitar is now one of my favorites, I still am in awe of the work he did. 

Andrea/Dave, tell us about the strangest gig you can recollect. 

(Andrea) Probably playing a set on one of our first tours. We were in Knoxville, playing a Christian coffee house. We were literally only getting paid in coffee and the coffee was awful. They set us up in front of a large glass wall, which had an narcotics anonymous meeting going on on the other side.

(Dave) The only person that came was my dad who lived in Oakridge, he sat on a couch in front of us, and occasionally would hop up and dance around in his flip flops. A couple times they would walk around the glass wall and tell us to quiet down. It was a strange gig. 

Cicada Rhythm appears courtesy of Normaltown Records.

Cover photo by Mallory Edwards.

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