After the release of his newest album worm food, Cambridge-based singer-songwriter Cavetown chats with Variance’s Ethan Ijumba to discuss the composition process for his latest album, his charitable organization known as the This Is Home Project, and the newfound happiness he’s expressed in his music. Be sure to stream worm food on all platforms. Be sure also to scroll below to read the full conversation between the two to learn more about his recent release, among other topics.
Since 2013 you’ve been the epitome of DIY, doing everything from your music to writing, production, and mixing/mastering. You've got your new album titled worm food under Sire Records. Can you describe what it was like working on this new project?
Yea, so Sleepyhead was my first project on Sire. It was a learning experience working on that versus worm food this time. I have always been very used to working from home and like having my own pace and the freedom for ideas to happen whenever they feel like it. It was a change when I first worked on sleepy head because I was touring. I had more of a firm deadline, and that was the whole process of submitting the tracks rather than just uploading into Bandcamp and being finished the day that it's released kind of thing. That was a strange experience for me. Since then, I've learned what I'm able to keep the same as how I used to do things when I didn't have a label or management for everything I could compromise on. And I found a happy medium with Man's Best Friend and now worm food, where I've learned that it is important for me to maintain that space and free time with a flow of writing and producing. I've accepted the boundary that I can't work well when I'm away from that. So it's been a lot more comfortable experience with worm food this time. I've been able to stay at home and be given a lot of room to just work at my own pace, and I've been fortunate to have my label and manager. I tried to stick to how I taught myself to write and produce with this album. That's what's comfortable for me and what ends up with a better product that I'm proud of and feel like it's finished because I was able to do it in a way I'm used to.
You spoke about how you had a learning experience but stuck to the traditional routes of a songwriter, producer, and overall artist. For this album, you incorporate coming-of-age themes that make people have that first-time experience, and it's something new for everybody that hears it. It's something new from your perspective; were there any specific songs you wrote on this album where you were like, “wow, I never wrote something like this before?”
I mean, I have written love songs before. Still, I feel like every time you write a love song, especially when it's about a new person, it's going to be a new kind of love and “frog” is the main love song on this album and one that feels like a different thing that I haven't discussed in previous albums and projects. I haven't had a relationship like the one that “frog” is. So it's been interesting looking back on my earlier love songs and realizing how sad those are. Many of the earlier ones were about a crush that I had for a long time, and it just wasn't working out; it was hard to get over. Then later, the love songs were about the relationship I recently had. Looking back, I wasn't super happy when writing those songs, and I didn't realize it; it's strange because I can look back at those songs, and it's clear to me now that I'm happier. I'm not used to writing happy songs, so it's nice for that to come naturally. It makes me feel kind of proud of myself for being able to find something. I pride myself on being in a place now where I can write a happy song and don't have to force it out.
When it comes down to your DIY process, how do you go about your songwriting process? Are you more of let's start with the chorus first, the melodies, or do you like to write a lyric, and we just stick with that lyric and see how far it goes from there? Or do you have any specific method that helps, or is it just a random beautiful mess?
Sometimes it's a lyric, sometimes a core sequence, and sometimes I want to use a specific sound or something, and then the song appears around that. I usually produce as I write, so I don't tend to write an entire song on how it sounds with just a guitar before I go to my studio; I'm like, alright, I don't know the first verse or a chorus, and as soon as like I feel inspired by that I'll go to my studio and record. Usually, I hear what comes next in my head, whether that's a melody, words, or instrumentation. Which is why it feels so natural to be at home in my own space, and it doesn't make sense for me to be writing and trying to make songs on tour because I need to be able to have access to all the pieces of the music as I write it. So it's very random; sometimes I'll make notes of thoughts I had just had, like this string of words I just thought of, and then I'll write a song around that string of words.
Is there a specific song that you wrote that you feel connects the most with you or that you're most proud of when it comes down to everything you've done?
Yeah, I'm proud of many of these songs and very excited for people to hear them. I'm very proud of the production, and I tried to do new things and dip my toe into pop-punk sounds and hyper-pop. So I'm excited to see how people feel about worm food; the title track is my favorite cause it's one of those where I feel I've come up with a simple melody, but I think it's one of the best melodies because when a song of mine gets stuck in my head, I feel like I've created a melody that's so simple, as well as “better” is one that I'm really proud of, but I don't see that necessarily being one that maybe hits as hard as others. Those are both songs about the same thing that I have where I've written in the past, acknowledging that I'm not in a great place and maybe I'm trying to accept that I won't get out of that bad place for a long time or forever and that's something that I find hard to talk to people about in my real life. So it feels good to put that into a song I'm proud of, and it makes me feel like I have a deeper understanding of things I'm trying to process and control over them.
Your music is a big outlet for you as well as the people who listen to like your fans. It's a wide range across everything from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and orientations, and I know you yourself, you're a member of the LGBTQ+ community. You said that your song “frog” is donating its proceeds to the This Is Home Project. Could you just further dive into explaining the organization for me?
So my team and I have been trying to work with various charities since we've worked together. It's always come naturally to do what we can to raise funds for certain things going on in the world. But since I'm part of the LGBTQ+ community, a large majority of my fans are too. It felt intuitive to grow that part a little more and just see what more we could do. So this project is an extension of that and its entity and a way for us to work closely with charities focusing on young LGBTQ+ people. Whether that's directly helping them access health care, mental health resources, or a bad home situation, it's more of a focus project to see if we can make more of a difference than we've already been trying to do. I'm hoping it can grow bigger and bigger, and we can keep doing more because I feel responsible for my fans and their safety and want them to feel cared for. I want their lives to be a safe space from outside my fans to those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
So to speak on where your career has taken you on all these different routes, places, and facets of life. You started releasing back in 2013 via Bandcamp when Bandcamp were rules that were for the artists by the artist. Seeing how much you've grown, changed, and evolved as an artist. What's the biggest thing you've learned since the early beginning to where you look now?
I don't know exactly, but there's an infinite amount of things now that I didn't know about. I still need to become an expert in this, and I still struggle with stuff quite a lot. What I would tell an artist trying to get to where I am now is that no one has it figured out, no matter how much it looks like they're confident in what they do. It's a constant learning process every time I write a new song, I do something different, and I constantly have to remind myself that it's okay. I need to consider and advocate for myself to not lose the reasons that I do this. It's very easy, especially for young artists, to be swept up by management or labels and taken advantage of. They get the things they care about most stripped away from them. It breaks my heart because I've been so lucky and privileged to have been picked up by my manager so early, who's always had my best interests at heart and truly cares about me as a person and my happiness and maintaining that. I feel like I've definitely hung onto my life, even if I'm not making music in my bedroom with my voice memos as my mic anymore, but it still has the same feeling that I like to sit down in my studio and work on a song. I still feel like I feel that part of it hasn't changed, and that was the most important part to me that I've managed to keep the same people around me that don't force me to change because they can see that it's working. So there's no reason to change something that works.
So when it comes to inspirations, who did you grow up listening to that influenced your sound because you've got a lot of different genres mixed in your sound
Through secondary school, I would listen to a lot of pop-punk, a little bit of metal, and I had an emo phase. I felt very inspired by those bands. One of my favorite bands was Pierce The Veil and their lead singer, Vic Fuentes is now featured on one of the songs from the album which is really insane to me still, and he's so nice. So that's cool, but yeah, I was a big fan of those kinds of bands like All Time Low and Green Day. I just looked up to them and their stage presence. I used to imagine that was me performing those songs, and ever since I started touring, I was always hoping to get into a band someday so I could be like that. It doesn't come naturally to me cause I’m still very shy and introverted. Still, for some reason, it feels like putting on a confident character and being in control of a room, and it feels good to be that, even for like an hour on stage. There are also a bunch of Bandcamp artists that I looked up to and a lot of artists that I take inspiration from their music. One of those artists I listened to a lot on Bandcamp was Spooky Ghost Boy, and now he’s in my band. We've been playing together for like four years, and he's one of my best buddies, and he's amazing; it's cool that many people I was inspired by and now are in my life I get to work with.
With that being said, you’re touring around the world doing your thing, with the release of your newest album, and working with This Is Home Project, expanding your fan base and improving musically in your career. When it's all said and done, what exactly do you want to have an impact on or accomplish?
Yeah, I find it hard to know what I want. I don't see myself or would even be too fazed by having an award like a Grammy or whatever. Sometimes my manager will message me that a song has hit like a million streams, and I’m just like, “cool.” Either way, it is objectively cool, but ultimately, I started making music for myself. I want to keep it for me as long as it serves the purpose of helping me process or just making me proud of myself; then that's all that I want. As soon as that stops, there's no point in doing it anymore; I don't feel like I have big goals in getting more famous or winning anything. I just want to keep doing it for me, and the fact that other people can get that same feeling that I get when I make a song that helps me out is a cool byproduct.
So when giving that “this song changed my life” kind of music is what you want to keep doing continuously.
That's the secondary goal; if all of my fans dropped me tomorrow, I would keep making music for myself. It is special to have that effect on other people too, and just as long as I'm making myself and whatever size group of people feel better or understood. I would be very happy to stay who I am now and keep doing this exact thing, but if something were to grow, that's also cool. I'm constantly adapting because I can learn to adapt. It's very hard to look forward or back because I'm here now, and that's what I have to deal with the way things are now.
No, it's amazing, and honestly, a lot of your music has been very selfless for others to just have their peace to where it gives the artist and the listener a connection that is hard to find in most music. In that case, it's just about this. Still, your music allows both sides to take a different perspective and direction, which signifies its importance.
Yeah, I owe credit to the listeners for that because when I'm writing a song, I think about people's reactions that helped me in turn because just hearing someone say that they relate to something, it's surprising to me. I'm like, oh, I was thinking about this because I thought I was the only person who feels this. So them saying that helps them helps me in return, and that's a cool exchange that takes two people.