Cab Ellis are a hip-hop/rock band from Los Angeles who’ve received coverage from comeherefloyd, LA on Lock, Popdust, and Study Breaks, and were included in NPR Tiny Desk Contest On The Road. We asked frontman Connor Abeles (formerly a solo rapper as Cab Ellis) about the band’s latest single “Suburbia”, the shift in Cab Ellis’ sound over time, the upcoming album ‘Nighttime OCD’, playing with Watsky, and more.
COUNTERZINE: How are you today?
Connor Abeles: Good.
CZ: Tell us a little about Cab Ellis.
CA: We’re Connor, Nick, Jonny, Luke, and Matt and we started playing music together about a year and a half ago.
CZ: Who would you consider some of your foremost influences, musical or otherwise?
CA: Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Police. Phat listens to jazz.
CZ: Your recent single “Suburbia” is fascinating. We all know rap and rock, and we know rap rock, but when rap rock comes to mind, nearly every group doing it is steeped heavily in metal or punk for their rock base. “Suburbia” meanwhile is blending rap with what is generally understood as bar rock and off the top of my head right now, I can’t name another group that’s done that. What inspired you to craft this type of sound?
CA: Most times we don’t have an exact end goal in mind for any of our songs. With “Suburbia”, it was a lot of trying to capture the feeling and chaos of being young and trying to break out of a small town in the best way we could. So everybody in the band brings their interpretation of that feeling to the table and we try to piece all the parts together. We weren’t trying to hit upon a genre necessarily. We wanted this one to feel like it could fall apart at any second.
CZ: Going back through your work from early singles such as “Bounce” and “Drive With Us” which were closer in approach to standard hip-hop, to Gorgeous Nonsense where the more rock-oriented approach was explored further, and now “Suburbia” which sounds like full blown Chance the Rapper-meets-The Hold Steady, there appears to be a clear, slow progression of your sound that has been fully realized recently. Was this always what you were deliberately working towards, or did you just kinda slip into it naturally? If the former, how just how much work did you put in to make this style, well, work?
CA: I had no idea whether music was ever going to be a serious thing in my life until I started playing piano and singing more around my sophomore year of college. I’d go to the piano rooms and just try to play until something happened to me. It was every free second I had. Four minutes before class or when the janitor was closing up and turning out the lights in all the rooms. I’d be in there going nuts, sweating or crying, just playing the same two chords for hours. That’s where I started to really fall in love and began to try and mix all the things I knew together. It’s a gradual process and a never ending one, but now being with a band there are people around me who are smashing just as hard every time. We want to make music with heart and guts, we’re trying to inspire other people in the same way that our favorite artists inspired us. Our style is always changing, but the through line of it all is the spirit.
CZ: You’re working on a new album called Nighttime OCD right now. What can you tell us about it?
CA: It’s a concept album that sprung out of having OCD at night as a little kid. It’ll be 12 songs with 2 skits, and is a labor of love between the five of us over hundreds of hours. The earliest song on the record was written in 2017.
CZ: I watched your Tiny Desk Contest videos and was impressed by those as well, especially “Flashback” for 2019. I’ve got to imagine you have a background in slam poetry. If I’m not wrong on that, how has that informed your approach to music?
CA: I actually don’t have any background in slam poetry. When I started it was just straight hip-hop and then I started to experiment with writing songs without a beat or meter to them and that’s sort of how songs like “Flashback” and “Connect The Dots” came to be. I love working on songs like those, especially with 4 other guys who understand where I’m trying to go. I can say “swell here” or “just play free for this part” and for everyone to trust that and put all their heart into it is very special. We try to find new life in our songs every time we play them, and I don’t think we ever play a song the exact same way twice.
CZ: Any shows coming up?
CA: Jan 18th we’re at The Peppermint Club in West Hollywood. Cop tickets here and PULL UP. And Jan 30th at The Redwood Bar in Downtown LA.
CZ: You mentioned that you’ve supported Watsky before. What was that like? What are some of your favorite artists that you’ve had a chance to play with?
CA: Supporting Watsky was dope because it was basically the second gig we played together and we got to road trip to San Luis Obispo and play for a totally new crowd that had no idea who we were and make some new fans. Watsky has been a big supporter and mentor for a few years so it’s always great getting to see him and be in a live environment with him. Other than that, getting to be a part of the NPR Tiny Desk Contest On The Road in LA was an unreal experience for all of us.
CZ: Any plans to tour in the near future?
CA: Of course.
CZ: If there was just one thing you wanted everyone to know about Cab Ellis that hasn’t been covered, what would it be?
CA: If u don’t dig it, ur grandparents will.