No band deserves the title "electropop ambassadors" quite like Hank & Cupcakes. The married musical couple -- Ariel "Hank" Scherbacovsky (bass) and Sagit "Cupcakes" Shir (vocals and drums) -- used to shake it on the Israeli music scene prior to moving to Cuba and eventually Brooklyn. The duo's exuberant music scored it a publishing deal with BMG in Germany, and rigorous touring has earned it fans from coast to coast and across the globe.
The pair's full-length debut album, 2012's "Naked," was recorded at Hansa Studios in Berlin with Swedish guitarist and producer Ludwig Böss. The album captured Hank & Cupcakes in full-frontal glory, depicting the duo's high-energy live performances and colorful style -- plus the album's first single, "Liquid Mercury," made a splash on Billboard's Top 40 Indicator chart.
Hank & Cupcakes broke away from BMG in 2013, and the duo self-produced its new album, "Cash 4 Gold" (2014), which has yielded tunes including "Cocaina," a number that unites electropop, southern blues and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Hank & Cupcakes is currently touring in support of "Cash 4 Gold," and creating a much-praised live show that will rock your world.
Hank & Cupcakes is performing at the Bug Jar on Friday, May 1, so City Newspaper gave a call to Sagit Shir on Record Store Day. An edited version of that interview follows.
City: What gave you the idea to call yourselves Hank & Cupcakes?
Sagit Shir: It's a Charles Bukowski reference. His name in all his books is Hank. And one of his lovers in real life was called Cupcakes.
Are there any band names you came up with but didn't choose that you would like to share with us?
Yeah. Cheap Thrill was one of the names and Bliss was another name. We ended up watching a documentary one night called "Born into This" about Bukowski, and that's how we ended up with the final name.
What was it like living in Cuba?
It was one of the most interesting experiences in our lives and it was a very defining experience. It was not easy.
Living under a totalitarian regime was something unique and different. Because we were there not as tourists, we got a different glimpse of Cuba than most tourists would. We saw some dark things but we also saw some amazing things. Musically, of course, it was like a gold mine. It was unbelievable and incomparable to anything else.
How long were you there?
What were your first impressions of New York City?
New York City blew us away when we came here. The electricity and the energy of this city connected with us and turned us on and ignited us.
How much touring do you typically do?
Up until now we've been doing about two to four months a year. This year we decided to take a full year to tour our new record, "Cash 4 Gold." We're still finding the format of how much to tour. I love what we're doing right now; I know that this is what I'm doing for a whole year and I can get into it and dedicate myself to it.
Can you tell us about your new album?
The new album, "Cash 4 Gold" was a process that took a full year to make and we did it on our own. It was the end of one journey and the beginning of another. It was us leaving "the music industry." Up until then we had a publicist, an agent, a manager, and a record label, and that was the path that we were seeking and we went with. It didn't turn out to be what we expected it to be. We left the record label and we understood that we could do things the way we want -- on our own, without depending on other people. So we did that.
Are you happy with how the album turned out?
We as people are never happy with what we do. We always want to make it better. It's a bit of a hard question.
You guys are perfectionists. I can tell in your music. What's the secret to writing a great song?
Everyone has a different process. For me, the secret is to not think about it and not want to write a great song. Let go of all those feelings and that's usually when the good songs come.
Do you work quickly or are you methodical when you write music?
The song writing is quick, usually. When we bring the songs into Hank & Cupcakes world that can take a long time to put together, sometimes months. I write the songs on the piano first. It sounds very different when I write the song in the beginning. When we rehearse, the process of turning it into a Hank & Cupcakes song and letting it stand on its own with just bass and drums is always a challenge. Making it sound nice and full is something we put a lot of effort into.
Will Hank ever play drums and sing lead?
According to a few reviews he already has -- because he has a girl's name, Ariel, a few people have confused him for me. I don't know about the drums but he has started singing back-up vocals, so who knows where that will lead.
You two are married. What marital advice would you give to our readers?
I don't really have any marital advice [laughs].
What's the best thing about Hank & Cupcakes?
The best thing about Hank & Cupcakes for us is -- even though it's a lot of hard work and it's a lifestyle of living on the edge - we get to do what we love and to express ourselves and to be completely free human beings. I understand that's a big privilege in this world and not a lot of people get to do that. I think we're very lucky in that sense.
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.
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