Hank and Cupcakes
Article by: Justin Guinn/Erin Manning | Photos courtesy of Hank and Cupcakes | Posted: 07/03/2012
International musicians of energy Hank and Cupcakes have undergone a vast cultural and auditory background, tacked on years of pent-up energy, and created a distinct, enigmatic, yet inviting sound. The two met in a cover band in Tel Aviv, Israel and went through a few different cycles of bands until one glorious day, Hank and Cupcakes blossomed.
“We’re like one person,” says Sagit Shir, aka “Cupcakes,” whose impressive but uncommon combination of drumming and singing operates the front half of the duo. “Hank” is Ariel Scherbacovsky, who serves as the rest of the band with his expert use of bass guitar and an effects pedalboard. The two have been in each other’s lives for a very long time in a very special way. They’re now living together as husband and wife in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and even share a cell phone.
“The first joint project we did was a cover band that did Beatles and Suzanne Vega and Tori Amos stuff. Pretty quiet. And then we did another original project that was very quiet acoustic music,” reveals Cupcakes. Thus, the pent-up energy from these earlier projects found its release in Hank and Cupcakes.
“Now, all our energies are going toward the same thing and goals,” adds Hank.
Before the two began their partnership, Cupcakes grew up in Australia. Hank was raised in Israel by “very Argentinian parents.” Several years ago, the two decided to skip the traditional artistic studies route and moved to Cuba to study music, where they remained for six months. “Going to Cuba for us was pivotal just because it was the first time we actually left Israel. Once we did it once, it made it easier to do it again,” states Cupcakes. But it wasn’t as much about the Cuban music as it was about disconnecting themselves from their own culture and environment. “We spent all of six months either practicing or watching shows or listening to music and seeing a lot of live performances,” continues Cupcakes.
The Cuban scene offers “a lot of opportunities for research,” Hank adds, continuing, “Cuba is such a desolate place, and the music is so untouched by western music, it just seemed like a perfect realm for a music study. Everything we were studying was on the drums.”
That percussive background paid off, which is obvious after seeing the duo play. Their rhythm-centered songs are a driving force behind their material, which is created by Cupcakes on drums and vocals, and Hank on bass and guitar. For such a small setup, the resulting sound is truly impressive, just like their individual abilities. “The rhythms [in Cuba] are really hard. I mean, we both went to drum classes and, like, every other day we had a private lesson. It was really hard for us to follow where the groove starts and where it ends. It’s a whole different way of thinking. In Western music, we usually clap our hands to the beat of four. And, their four-beat handclap is actually a clave. So, it’s just a completely different way of thinking about rhythm. It’s very complex and stimulating to the brain, like nothing we’ve studied before,” Cupcakes states further.
Though their sound isn’t distinctly Cuban in any sense, their time there certainly had an impact on them. “They have a really really nice approach to music. Even though their music is very technical, their philosophical way of teaching is very spiritual and just [about] feeling the rhythm. I’m sure it sank in. I mean our music isn’t Cuban, but I’m sure that whole world sank in and had some kind of impression on what we’re doing now,” says Cupcakes.
After their time in Cuba, they spent a year back in Israel before moving to New York, where they reside now. “Because we had those six months in Cuba and we went through a lot of difficulties -- just emotionally and it’s very backwards in terms of technology, and we didn’t really speak the language -- we were very much outsiders. It was such a breath of fresh air to come to New York,” Cupcakes admits.
Their return to western culture was precisely what they needed to further their creative ventures. The two just released a new album called Naked. Both agree when saying, “We pretty much tried to take what we do on stage and make it sound really really good on record, which is challenging because it’s minus the element of the live energy and watching the show and being involved in that way.” It took 10 days to record the album, plus an additional seven months of mixing.
“It was a very long, painful process,” Cupcakes adds. “What we did was we basically recorded the songs like we do them live, more or less, and we added elements on to the recording that we obviously couldn’t do live.” The album features layered synths, guitars, keyboards and percussion. “It has to be very interesting and stimulating to us. Like, [we’re] always looking to create something new-sounding, not just sounding like things we grew up on and have heard all our lives,” explains Cupcakes. “It’s all about expressing something in a strong, energetic way.”
But Hank and Cupcakes’ shared value of expressive material and their need for energy applies to their live performances as well. “All shows are memorable for different things, but my memorable shows are usually harder situations like loft parties or parties in general -- places where people get very close in a way and the energy flows in a certain way. That’s what gives me the kick,” says Hank.
“Those are hot, sweaty shows,” confirms Cupcakes, who learned long ago that you can’t depend on the audience to bring the energy. “We’re there to turn them on, not there [for them] to turn us on. So, we always bring the energy ourselves, and if they join in, it’s just even more amazing and fun. But, we’re prepared to lash out our energy, even if it’s in front of 70-year-old people sitting in recliner chairs, which has actually happened.”
“And 25-year-old deaf people,” Hank chimes in.
Hank and Cupcakes - "Liquid Mercury"