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Count On It: Math Rock Band Cuzco Shares Its Exponential Growth In Charlotte

cred2.Hannah Johnson.jpg
Hannah Johnson
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Charlotte-based math rock band Cuzco.

Since Amplifier debuted in 2018, we’ve had the pleasure of featuring a wide variety of rock artists on this podcast: alt rock, indie rock, psych rock, punk rock, pop rock. But today's episode marks a first with Charlotte-based math rock band Cuzco, hailed by Volume Magazine as "a world of odd time signatures, not-so-typical rhythmic structures and mind-bending melodies.”

"It definitely is a growing niche genre, but there’s just such a good amount of the population that is really up for it and really down for listening to it. Being in Charlotte and being able to represent the genre, it really helps inspire other bands to play math rock themselves."
– Arman Serdarevic, guitarist for Cuzco

Interview Highlights:

On the distinction of math rock:

Arman Serdarevic (guitarist): Most regular bands count to four. We count to five. So we add an extra beat in there. In every typical song, you’re counting to four (like “one … two … three … four …”). When you add an extra beat, it makes it sound a little off, and that’s the allure of math rock. So long as it’s something odd and something off, you’re able to play around with your music and try to change it up from the conventional standard rhythm.

William Schoonmaker (guitarist): We’ll take the count to 13, and then we’ll count to five, and then we’ll switch to another one and another one. It makes it fun for the players, especially when we don’t have any vocals.

On first discovering math rock:

Serdarevic: I’m going to have to say YouTube. It’s the No. 1 place where everyone who plays math rock posts their music. Big shouts to One Thousand 995, it’s a YouTube channel that plays tons and tons of math rock. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t really be as popular online as we are. There’s been tons of album sales that just comes from people discovering us from YouTube channels like that.

Schoonmaker: I completely agree. For me, a friend showed me a song, but the friend didn’t know it was math rock. That’s something that’s really cool about math rock: the community is really niche.

On finding a place in the Charlotte music scene:

Schoonmaker: I don’t actually know if there is another math rock band in Charlotte. The reason I say that is because Creative Loafing Charlotte called us “Best Math Rock Band in Charlotte ...”

Serdarevic: It said “Best Math Rock Band (the only math rock band).” [Laughing] It said something like, “We were a shoo-in.” It was funny.

Schoonmaker: There aren’t any bands that really sound alike in Charlotte. No one really copies each other. Even when members of certain bands go to other bands.

Serdarevic: I think that’s one of the biggest allures of the Charlotte music scene. Everything we do is different. When people come to watch us, specifically, as Cuzco, the reception is great. People like different stuff, and Charlotte’s really good for that.

Schoonmaker: That is one of the craziest things too: math rock is such a niche genre that you can pretty much get thrown onto any bill, and it would be interesting.

Serdarevic: We’ve been on metal band bills, and we fit in perfectly. All the metal heads come up to us afterwards like, “I loved that! That was so beautiful.” [Laughing]

On their 2019 debut full-length record ‘Sketchbook:’

Schoonmaker: Writing "Sketchbook"was, honestly, one of the most difficult things I have ever done. We had just signed to Refresh Records [Charlotte record label, home to local acts like Ancient Cities], and it was the first debut album for Cuzco as a full-length. And that was the first full-length that anyone in the band had ever made, and we had also just gone through a line-up change right when that record was set to begin.

Serdarevic: In the name alone, "Sketchbook" was starting off with a new line-up and trying to come up with a new record and new concepts. We wrote "Sketchbook" in the sense of saying, "Hey, we’re still here. And we’d like to blow your mind with this album.”

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Cuzco - “Alligator Monday”
Cuzco - “Pacha”
Cuzco - “We Miss You Clever Girl”
Cuzco - “Larrie Sandwich”
Cuzco - “Those are Z’s”
Cuzco - “New Tricks”
Cuzco - “Updated Dad”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).