Band leader Bryan Akcasu on latest album and his lucky coffee shop
When Two Cheers released their lauded album Splendor in 2015, singer/band leader Bryan Akcasu decided to skip touring and spent the summer relocating from Los Angeles to Ann Arbor, Michigan. He left his band mates behind in sunny California, opting to form a new iteration of the band in Ann Arbor. Fast forward two years, and the newly formed quintet have released an equally sparkling album in Rollick.
The late ’80s, early ’90s sound of the new album brings to mind bands like The Cure and Real Estate – moody yet polished indie pop. That crisp sound is a feat all in its own, considering Akcasu recorded the album in his basement.
ARTISTdirect caught up with Akcasu to talk about the new album, his move to Michigan and his “lucky” coffee shop.
Hello – Please introduce yourself.
Hello! I’m Bryan from Two Cheers.
Where are you right now?
My lucky coffee shop, Espresso Royale, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on University and State St.
Please name your fellow band members and their roles… oh, and who has the best dance moves?
Owen – keyboard, drums engineer; Austin – bass; Megan – guitar; Carlton – drums; and me – vocals, guitar, mixing. None of us are really dancers, but Owen has been known to destroy tambourines during our live shows.
Tell us about your new album Rollick: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
We wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered it completely on our own in my basement. I would say in general it’s about the emotional and eventful year I had in 2016. Yes, there is candy on every track – mostly Haribo cola gummies.
How do you describe your music to new friends?
late ’80s early ’90s indie rock with a stream-of-consciousness edge.
How did you first meet, and where exactly did you become a band?
When I got to Michigan after leaving California, I hopped on some website for finding band members. It was like Okay Cupid but for musicians looking for bands. I got really lucky because I found everyone on that site within a couple months.
Please look around you right now and please describe the first item or person you see that’s significant to you (and that your relationship with it/them). Can we see a photo?
Can it be a place? I’ve written a large amount of Two Cheers’ lyrics in this very coffee shop. I grew up in Ann Arbor and used to come here with my parents when I was a kid. It’s hardly changed at all, which is a comfort to me since I’ve moved around so much and so much has changed in 20 years. It’s nice to write in a place that has all the same decor, all the same chairs and tables, etc.
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music, please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational…
I was always interested in making music, but I didn’t have any skills or any confidence. In college, I became obsessed with this great but mostly unknown indie band from Japan called Number Girl, and they were doing everything I wanted to hear in music at the time. On their early records, they recorded all their own music, they had a melodic but energetic sound that was also deceptively complex, and the singer was a short, nerdy guy with glasses and a really grating voice. Anyway, I figured if that music could somehow find me and blow my mind from across the world, then maybe someone out there would have their minds blown by mine if I could figure out how to make it happen.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
When it comes to music, everyone else is wrong, you’re the one who’s right. You have to believe that you’re the one who’s right and make music that way. And – write a ton of songs.
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
Probably Alan Watts. I often listen to his old recorded lectures when I need to get into a calmer, down to Earth state of mind, which is how I try to be before I perform.
What song best sums up your life right now?
The older Two Cheers “Fireball” is kind of my anthem. It goes like this: “And so I just go for it, I know my life is very short anyway. I want to live forcefully every numbered day. I want to be a fireball. I do a hyper spin dash, I don’t know about the decorum. In the blink of an eye, feel all the emotions of the spectrum. Truth can be revealed in expected ways, so I can’t make promises to myself.”
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
I played our new song “Hinterland” to someone, and I didn’t think she was gonna like it, so I looked out the window so as not to see her not being into it. But I heard some sniffles, so I looked over and she was crying! I said, “Why are you crying?” and she said, “I don’t know, just this song!” Then I asked, “How do you know what it’s about?” and she said, “I don’t!” To me, that’s the best because it means something about the song reached in touched her, and that’s all I ever want my music to do.
Take a moment to dream – Where do you hope to be a year from now?
I’m a pretty simple guy, I don’t dream often. I have a batch of about 30 songs that I have been waiting to record since even before the first record in 2014 that require a certain approach and production style that I haven’t had the skills or confidence to take on. All this time I have been working up to them, trying out different methods of writing and approaches to singing, learning my own limitations and the nuances of my recording software, and finding the right samples and instruments to pull them off. I think I am finally ready to tackle them this year, so I hope by next year I have finished writing and recording them all. Then I might retire from music, have some kids, and go back to a simple, normal life.
What’s your next step towards that dream?
I’m trying to get into a daily routine of lyrics writing; I’m a little rusty because I haven’t written a song since “Rest Of My Life,” the last song on the new record. After that song, I have felt like I have nothing left to say, but when that happens it’s always the beginning of a new journey for me, it’s always the first step on my next creative streak. I suspect that I actually have a lot to say. I’ll be good once I get into a groove, and since I am in my lucky coffee shop, I’m in a great place to get to work.