The High Key Portrait Series: Cayetana
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Cayetana | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly’s been known over the years for jazz, having been home to heavyweights like Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Billie and of course, Philly Joe Jones. We’ve been known for hip hop, most widely recognized for the Roots and Fresh Prince, Freeway or Beanie, but with roots deep into the heady days of the conception of the genre reaching all the way back to Lady B’s “To The Beat Y’all” and Schoolly D’s seminal gangsta rap cut, “PSK, What Does It Mean?” We’re known in the national musical consciousness for that golden era of the 70’s, Hall & Oates, The O’Jays, Billy Paul, and Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia Soul.

When it comes to indie rock and punk, though, Philly has been somewhat outshined in decades past by the likes of Sub Pop’s Seattle or, say, “college rock” benchmarks out of Athens and Austin.

But an indie rock scene has been simmering here for years, from Shai Halperin’s unheralded aughts bands The Capitol Years through better-recognized successors, Kurt Vile and his War On Drugs. These days, original, talented, fresh-sounding, local rock bands are dutifully packing our favorite bars and show spaces in billed shifts on any given weeknight, making noise in every neighborhood.

Enter Cayetana, perhaps the most polite and respectful rock band you’ll ever meet. Maybe they look familiar, where a recent Stereogum article cast them as the poster children of Philly’s DIY scene.

But if singer and guitarist Augusta Koch, bassist Allegra Anka and drummer Kelly Olsen could ever appear to you to be some sort of archetypal group, you’ll find it challenging to compare their sound to any other. Their brand is unique, self-conscious punk with substantive, introspective lyrics packaged behind killer hooks.

And good news for us: they’re honing their stagecraft locally these days, on a break from touring to work on their second LP, with a new EP just out to whet your appetites. Catch them at PhilaMOCA this Saturday for a 7″ release show and, again at Union Transfer in February when they open for The Loves Ones’ sold-out reunion show. And, well, RIP Golden Tea House.

The Key: Are you Philly natives or transplants?

Kelly Olsen: Transplant. I moved here from Oswego, New York, up on Lake Ontario, kind of by Syracuse.

Allegra Anka: I grew up kind of like Downstate, and went to school in Oswego, where I met Kelly. And then lived in Rochester for a little bit, and then moved to Philly, about four years ago.

Augusta Koch: The Poconos. I had a lotta friends that lived here already, and it’s not that far from the Poconos, and I used to come here a lot when I was growing up, and I always really liked it.

TK: How did you first get connected to the Philly music scene?

KO: After I moved to Philadelphia in like 2009, I lived very close to The Titan House, which was this DIY punk space. I think the first show I went to, it was like a couple weeks after moving, and we found out that friends of ours in this band called Timeshares were playing a show at Titan House, and we lived down the block, and had no idea. So we rolled up on our bikes and realized it was like a punk scene very similar to the one that we used to be involved in, in Oswego. So I met that night some of the friends I still have today, and they’re all involved in the punk scene.

AA: I moved here, and I knew Kelly and some of our other friends who moved here with Kelly. And I really wanted to play music and I was talking to Kelly before I moved, and then when I got here, Kelly and Augusta had already been here and kinda been established and everything like that, so I kinda just got into it like that.

AK: A lot of the friends that I had from like the Poconos/Scranton/Wilkes Barre area all lived down here as well, and they were all in bands. A lot of them had houses that had shows, so it was pretty easy to get into.

TK: Who’s your favorite Philly artist, or which artist influenced you the most?

AK: I have a lot of them, because most of my friends are musicians. My best friend Candice Martello — she plays under Hemming — we’re super close, she used to be my roommate, we hang out all the time. She was in a band called Omar, and then she started playing under Hemming with her solo stuff, and that was like when we were writing our record, and we lived together, so we would go back and forth and really help each other. And we always play each other our songs when we write them, so we have a really strong musical friendship.

AA: That’s a really hard question. I think the general vibe of how active [in the arts] people are in Philly is inspiring. I don’t know that I can name any one band ‘cause it’s kind of just everybody in the community that we have. I’m kind of cheating with this question but I’m being really honest: my favorite artist from Philly is actually Santigold.

KO: As far as drummers go, I would probably say Marky [Quinlan], from Hop Along. He was directly inspirational to me, because I took a few drum lessons with him and he’s just phenomenal. The band Swearin’ and any project that Jeff Bolt has been a drummer for, I absolutely love all of their music. It’s really hard to just pick one or two favorite acts from Philly, ‘cause there’s just so many amazing bands that all of our friends are involved in.

TK: Kelly, when you say Marky influenced you most, is that your drum technique or writing style too?

KO: Well probably just, not necessarily style of music, but technique and confidence-wise. I think that people like Jeff Bolt, his drumming style, I’m more like his in that sense. But Marky helped me with technique, and kind of helping me focus on certain things. Andy Clarke too, he was the drummer of the band Luther.

TK: Where did you play your first show in Philly?

KO: Golden Tea House. That was our first show together as a band.

AA: Golden Tea House!

AK: The first show I played on my own before we had the Golden Tea House shows, to practice playing guitar in front of people, was at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, for open mic night. I was pretty drunk, pretty terrified. It was really scary. It was really smoky. But like it was really nice because I was so scared. And like I knew I had to do that before we played as a band, because I needed to learn how to play guitar and sing in front of people.

TK: How do you remember it feeling to be on stage that night at your first show as Cayetana, at Golden Tea House?

KO: I was very nervous. I think we were all really nervous. I think I even played on my old drum set, I was just kind of embarrassed a lot of the time because of the quality of the set! But I remember feeling great because we had a lot of our girl friends and close friends show up, and they were super supportive. So it felt awesome.

AA: Oh gosh, really nervous. But it turned out it was really awesome. A bunch of our friends were there, and just kind of really excited that we were playing, and it ended up being really really nice. And the other bands too were really supportive. It was cool.

TK: So what was making you feel nervous, specifically?

KO: I think it was just like, we were all still learning our instruments, and at that time it was just kinda like, we just had to do this, and play our first show and get it over with so we could develop more as a band.

TK: Did it feel like it went well in retrospect?

KO: Yeah! I mean we were offered a bunch of shows.

Cayetana | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

Cayetana | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

TK: Which Philly music venue is your favorite to play at, and why?

KO: It used to be the Golden Tea House, before they shut down. I really like playing at Boot and Saddle, I think the sound is really good there, and the sound people working there are really nice, and the venue’s always kind of chill.

AA: Golden Tea House, maybe because it was where we played our first show, but also it was really like homey and comfortable and our friends who were involved in booking there were just really great. I also like Boot and Saddle, the sound is really great and it’s like a comfy little room. But Union Transfer I think is like my favorite venue in Philly in general.

AK: Golden Tea House was my favorite, just for sentimental reasons, because all of our friends booked all of our shows there, and that was our first show, and I’ve seen so many amazing shows there, our record release was there, it just was a really fun, positive place.

TK: What do you love most about the Philly arts scene?

KO: Our friends are super heavily involved, and super supportive of everyone. I feel like with the amount of articles you read online, or just talking to people, you can find out how supportive this city is of its own art and culture. I think that with the DIY indie-rock and punk scene, I think it’s just such a strong support system — we’re all friends and everybody starts different bands with each other, and all go out to see each other play and stuff, and bring each other on tour. It’s very supportive, I love that about it.

AA: Similar to Kelly, just how spirited it is. People wanna do stuff and they just do it. Everybody’s really active and supportive of each other. There’s something going on all the time, it’s really inspiring, there’s never like a lull or anything, it’s really cool.

AK: I feel like it’s a lot more welcoming than other music communities. There’s not as much competition, there’s not a lot of like snobby attitudes, everyone’s pretty open and supportive. Like even tonight — The Guild, who book all the local punk shows, is having a party at Kung Fu Necktie, that they do every year, and all of the bands collaborate covering songs. Candice [Martello] and I used to always cover a song together. It’s fun, it’s like a big family.

TK: What do you find most frustrating about trying to create or perform, or grow as an artist in Philly?

AK: I feel like it fosters a creative environment, so I can’t really think of anything negative about it.

KO: Practice spaces. We recently had a couple of problems with practice spaces. We were talking last night, and realized we had six different practice spaces in the four years that we’ve been a band. The only free space would be your own house, and it’s hard to come by a house that is easy to practice in, because of neighbors, space, flooding — we’ve had to deal with that kind of stuff and so we recently started renting practice spaces, which have been really great but those are also really hard to come by.

AA: Similar to what Kelly said, it’s more like a logistical thing like rowhomes, and limitations on like practice spaces, things like that.

TK: Where do you guys practice now?

KO: It’s this warehouse in Port Richmond. Friends of ours in the band Restorations and Hound also practice there, and it kind of just fell into our laps because of Restorations. And that’s just another example of how supportive people are of each other, because our other practice space went under.

Cayetana | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

Cayetana | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

TK: Which Philly neighborhoods have you lived in? Which made you want to stick around, and which made you wanna bail?

AK: I’ve just lived in South Philly for eight years. I love it. I live on like 8th and Tasker.

KO: I have only ever lived in South Philly, since I’ve lived here. I’ve lived in Queen Village and Society Hill before, I was lucky enough to find housing there that was affordable, but now I live , down towards like Snyder area, which is awesome. I love South Philly.

AA: When I first moved to Philly I lived in West Philly. Really liked it but, Kelly and Augusta both lived in South Philly and, just for like practicing and just logistical stuff, I ended up moving to South Philly, which I really loved. I loved both of them, honestly. Not being from Philly, I feel like while I’m here I’d like to live a bunch of different places, just kind of see what it’s like, because it’d be fun. But I just like Philly in general, I think all the neighborhoods are really cool — Fairmount, Art Museum area, this neighborhood [Port Richmond], it’s all good!

TK: What’s your preferred means for getting around the city?

KO: I prefer riding a bike, but I don’t have one right now, so I’ve been driving everywhere. [laughs]

AA: If I don’t really have to be anywhere, I like walking.

AK: To be completely honest I usually take Ubers to work. When I’m feelin’ less lazy I ride a bike.

TK: How have you seen the city change while you’ve been living here, and has it been for the better or worse?

KO: Oh absolutely better. I love it here. You get to live in a major city, but with the feeling of being in a small town at the same time. You have access to so much awesome stuff. But where I feel like I’ve heard that people in New York City feel pressured to like you know, always look their best and always be super social and always be out, I don’t feel that pressure here. I feel more, kind of like I can do whatever I want whenever I want and be successful and have a good time. It’s just chill. It’s affordable and it’s fun.

AK: I think it’s changed for the better. There’s a lot more people moving here for a creative outlet. Like I know a lot of friends that play in bands from all over that wanna live in Philly just because the music scene is so nice, and that’s pretty cool.

AA: Just particularly with music, since I’ve been here I feel like a lot of people just continue to progress with the band that they’re in, or start new bands, or are just constantly always doing things. So I guess in that sense it’s always changing, which is cool. I think that change in always for the better. My impression of Philly is really great. I feel too like since I’ve been here I’ve changed for the better, so that’s also really nice.

TK: In what ways do you feel like you’ve changed, Allegra?

AA: Philly’s the kind of city where I feel like if you wanna do it, you can do it, you know? And so I kind of just feel like I always have that attitude now. Whatever project or hobby or anything I feel like I wanna do, I feel like there’s a way to meet somebody who can teach you how, or connect you to stuff or, I dunno, it’s just a really inspiring and cool place.

TK: PBC or Yards?

KO: Yards.

AA: Yards.

KO: PBC is Kenzinger and Walt Wit? Can I change my answer? PBC.

AA: I’m sticking with Yards.

AK: I don’t know man, I’m thinkin’ about that that really good Yards beer, that pink one. I’m gonna go with that, ‘cause that beer’s delicious and they should make it all year round.

Cayetana celebrate the release of their new Tired Eyes EP at PhilaMOCA on Saturday, January 30th. Tickets and more information on the show can be found here.

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