I met Rachel Razza of Ultra Dome, Jeffrey Roman of Sky Stadium, and Dan Svizeny of Cough Cool (and others), in the Terrace parking lot on a sunny afternoon. These three College of New Jersey students are core members of the fledgling Trenton area music scene. I had found their projects on the Internet and contacted them. They had been mentioned on a few blogs at some point and their Myspace profiles are all linked to each other. Sometimes they will play in a basement in Ewing, New Jersey. Much of their music is scattered about the Internet and throughout the world in the form of cassettes distributed by upstart, do-it-yourself labels run out of apartments and, apparently, boats too. We sat down, drank iced coffee, and talked.
_Nassau Weekly_: To start off, can you guys talk about your projects?
Dan: Cough Cool is like my bedroom kind of thing I do on my own. Then I have Nude Beach, it’s like stoner metal, and then another one called Blackhawks which is in the works.
NW: Like the Chicago hockey team?
Dan: Yea. We just love the logo. Our ultimate goal for Blackhawks is to sell out the United Center. We’ll have obviously peaked once we do that.
Rachel: I’m in a musical project with Jeff called Ultra Dome. We do weird kind of dreamy synth music and I also book shows at my friend’s basement in Ewing, NJ.
Jeff: I’m in Sky Stadium which is my solo project. It’s just more of a continuation of what Ultra Dome is; synth stuff all made out of the bedroom.
NW: What would you describe your genres as?
Rachel and Jeff: Ambient drone.
NW: How long have your groups been around?
Rachel: We formed in 2008. We started as two of us on one big piano and we’d just kind of bang on keys.
Jeff: Eventually it formed into Ultra Dome. I’ve been doing stuff like that forever, since around 2005, just with my keyboards in my house.
Rachel: He has so many recordings, it’s disgusting.
Jeff: It is disgusting. I just played my first Sky Stadium show in February. That’s always what I wanted to do. I was happy finally having Sky Stadium, and finally gave it a name around Christmastime.
Rachel: He went under the name Genesis Shark for awhile just making harsh noise about three years ago, never thinking about performing.
Jeff: Sky Stadium is that same idea, but happier and prettier sounding.
NW: What’s the distinction then between Ultra Dome and Sky Stadium?
Jeff: Ultra Dome is a little bit darker.
Rachel: And I write most of the stuff.
NW: There seems to be a surprisingly large Trenton area / TCNJ music scene. Is it a very cohesive group or is it just a scattered group around the area?
Rachel: I would say originally it was more scattered and then a few of my friends and myself, I decided I wanted to get into contact with these people. I just started contacting all these people that I realized who were living in the same area I was living in. So I invited them to the basement. We met each other over Myspace.
NW: Even though you all go to the same school?
Jeff: I didn’t know Dan or anything. I hope it gets more and more cohesive as it goes on.
Rachel: We’re friends now, and we’ve met even more people. I just contact random people that I like on Myspace and ask if they want to come to the basement.
NW: So what was the origin of the basement venue?
Rachel: The origin of the basement was me and my friend Keith wanting to do something similar to what they have in New Brunswick in Ewing, NJ. We’ve been going to New Brunswick basement shows for forever so we thought, why can’t we do in Ewing, NJ, too? We have some really great bands in the area that don’t really have many places to play, though there are some really crappy, corny places in Trenton.
Dan: I think that a lot the music here just gets lost. There’s the huge scene in Brooklyn, then there’s Philly which is okay. If you don’t live there you’re not going to meet people and you’re not going to get shows. No one makes money doing this. You just get fifty bucks and you play a show. It’s about knowing people.
NW: Can you talk more about Keith?
Rachel: I forget where he lives. He went to Emerson College but hated it there after two years so he came back to NJ and went to TCNJ and had very few friends because he was a transfer student. He was an art education major like me, and that’s how I met him. He lives off-campus in a house, and I said that we should use his basement as a venue since people do that now.
NW: Do you see yourselves as attached to this area? Or do you plan to move somewhere
else after you graduate?
Dan: I want to stay here. I live in New Hope, which is by Philly, and I’m going to be moving to Philly this summer. In New York, I get frustrated and I get anxiety attacks; it’s just too much. In Philadelphia I feel so much more at home and people are nicer there, especially at shows. And in Brooklyn, [iron fist motion] it’s like Todd P, and I hate that.
NW: Is TCNJ more part of the Philadelphia scene then?
Jeff: It’s only 40 minutes away.
Rachel: I feel like we have more of a connection to Philadelphia definitely.
NW: When you have shows is it mostly people from the area then?
Rachel: I would say that the majority of the people who are there are from the area, but we do get some people from Philadelphia.
NW: Dan, I saw in an interview with you that you are a big fan of Ween, another band that interestingly is also from New Hope. Can you talk a little about them?
Dan: Ween went to high school there. They’re the pride of New Hope. They invented this whole lo-fi movement in the late eighties. They still don’t give a shit about anything. Mickey, one of the band members, is at the bars I go to every night.
NW: They’re still in New Hope?
Dan: Yea, they’re not going anywhere.
NW: Are they a cult band?
Dan: It’s weird because their early stuff is really punk-influenced and just really gritty. Then they put out Chocolate and Cheese which has jam-bandy influences. If you go to a Ween show now, you have a ton of hippies, a ton of dirty, grungy, metal dudes, a bunch of indie dudes. The shows are super weird. They’re my favorite.
NW: Are there other local bands that are staples?
Rachel: Staples… I don’t think so.
Jeff: Not that I know of. It’s a shitty area.
Rachel: But we’re trying to make something of it.
NW: Do you feel there is a certain kind of snobbiness against Jersey?
Rachel: I assume that people would feel that way, it’s understandable. The fact that people from Ridgewood (Woods, Real Estate, etc.) go to Brooklyn to play their shows is saying something.
Jeff: They are kind of like, “Jersey is great…” but then they have given up on playing here. They’re not really trying to play shows in Jersey.
Dan: There is nowhere to play. You run out of places that people will come to see music in.
Jeff: The only way that Jersey can be a good place to play shows is to get enough friends who have their own houses and have a basement circuit. That’s the only way we can survive since there are no venues.
NW: What are your thoughts on the Internet blog music culture and the numerous upstart tape labels?
Rachel: I think it’s really interesting for us.
Jeff: If you have a genre of music you really like and you want to find, a tape label will specialize in that genre. If I am into say, beach drone, I know there is somewhere to find it. All these people doing it, they really care about it. You have to search for things to find it, it’s like a game.
Dan: They’ll spend a lot of time on these cassettes even though they’re not making any money. We never actually meet these people. That’s why it’s weird that we’re actually talking right now in the real world.
Rachel: Yeah, this is bizarre for us. There’s this whole culture on the internet that we think we have an understanding of. But you don’t know who these people are at all, you don’t know why they like your music, but they do.
NW: What do you think generally of the resurgent cassette medium? Compared to vinyl is it a different sound?
Dan: It’s just shittier.
Jeff: There’s a more homey feel. You can just chill in your room and listen to something. I guess it’s more personal to people.
Dan: You have to listen to the whole thing.
Jeff: Most things are a concept nowadays; they go from start to finish. One track on side A, one track on side B. It’s a whole experience, it’ s fun.
Rachel: It’s the idea of listening to something all the way through, and the physical process of having to get up and flip it over.
Jeff: I feel like no one listens to an album all the way through, and with a tape you are forced to listen it all the way through.
NW: Who are some of the people behind these labels?
Dan: Jeff and I are doing a split on this label Scotch tapes. All these tape labels contact me about doing a release, I just never have time. This guy from Scotch tapes…
Jeff: He’s a weirdo. He works on a boat. He has a dial-up connection computer. You can’t send him MP3 files, he can’t download them. These are the people running these things.
NW: Do you ever find out where these tapes are sent?
Dan: I don’t know. They sell out and I think: who is buying these things?
Rachel: I have no idea how popular this music is to be honest.
Jeff: I think it’s all cool. It’s a bunch of weirdos, that’s the whole point.
Dan: Our own level of fame…
Rachel: In our minds.
NW: So what do you guys study?
Dan: I’m graduating tomorrow. Communication is what I did.
NW: Does that connect to your music?
Dan: Not at all.
Rachel: I’m arts education and fine arts. In that way I am trying to educate people about the music culture we have here by making flyers for the basement venue and handing them out all over the place.
Jeff: I’m a journalism major. I just like writing.
Rachel: He works for the paper at TCNJ and for the _Trentonian_ sometimes.
NW: To finish up, what are your impressions of Princeton?
Dan: I go to the record exchange once a week. I’m here all the time. Obviously there’s bow-tie bros, but I’m not going to hate on them. I’m a bro. I’m a nu-bro.
Rachel: We love coming to Princeton just to walk around.
Jeff: I always look for John Nash when I’m here. He wanders around here I heard.