Smile Politely

Et tu, Cassius?

In the first act of Shakespeare’s renowned play, Julius Caesar, principal conspirator Gaius Cassius Longinus tells the to-be assassin Marcus Brutus, “Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” While the ex-Panel Van drummer Matt Zuckermann may not have an entire empire to stage a coup against, the extremely young guitarists he’s undertaken compose a hefty, yet meek concoction of both raw and seasoned talent, aptly titled: Cassius. Zuckermann’s resurrection of energetic, syncopated percussion poses a challenging testimony of “second-wave” emo math rock to the local music scene, complete with a background of ethereal post-rock ambience.

Since teaming up with his younger brother Josh, writing both lyrics guitar, and close friend Wes Kramer, also on guitar, they’ve placed third in Parkland College’s Battle of the Bands last March and have played the usual local rounds at Error Records and Mike ‘N Molly’s. Friday night, they’ll be joining Withershins, Terminal Victor, Bear Claw, and Shores at the Velvet Elvis, and I sat down with them to discuss their recent genesis and pious aspirations.

Smile Politely: How did Cassius come together?

Josh: We went to the same church for five years, at First Baptist Church at Savoy.

Matt: We’ve played together in the youth band there basically for two to three years. Worship these days is getting a lot more ambient, and I think that kind of goes into our music. Josh and Wes have been really good friends since 8th grade and started jamming last summer, and were playing a lot of folk music. They were gonna be a duo, with two acoustic guitars.

Josh: Our stuff was kind of for folk, but it was adaptable for electric guitar. Then we wanted to have more of an electric sound.

Matt: They were both contemplating if they wanted to move to electric guitar, and some of their songs they were kind of iffy on, ‘Do we even like this?’ One day, I joined in and naturally wrote parts, and instantly these guys were like, ‘We have to do this.’ So that’s when we started practicing in January all together, and our goal was Battle of the Bands at Parkland in March.

SP: Why did you choose Cassius as a name?

Josh: I was coming up with a bunch of band names; Wes liked some of them and Matt didn’t like any of them. Then I mentioned “Cassius;” it just kind of popped up in my head. There’s a Foals song called “Cassius,” and I like their sound.

Matt: I thought of the name as more of a reference to Julius Caesar. We would act out some of the scenes in class, so it was just good memories I had with my classmates. There have been a couple shows where I’ve cracked a joke at the end where we say thank you, and I said, “Et tu, Brute?” There are a couple of people who tune out as soon as you’re done, but there were those people you can just see cracking up.

SP: What experiences did you inherit from your drummer’s past bands, Panel Van and Rulsalka?

Matt: It made me a better listener and writer. Panel Van was an interesting experience, and was more hardcore than Rusalka. I’m not bashing on our old electric guitarist, Mark Helbling, but he’s a really interesting writer. It was kind of challenging for me at times to write parts for him, but it was still a heck of a lot of fun. So that kind of prepared me more for the technicality of drumming, and actually understanding what I’m doing.

SP: How do you develop such a naturally upbeat mood within the rhythm of your music?

Wes Kramer: I think syncopation sometimes can kind of be a formula for energy.

Matt: At the end of our song “Castle,” I feel that there’s a lot of syncopation I do on my snare drum. I do that not to make things more technical, but to make things more catchy.

Kramer: It kind of keeps you on your feet.

SP: How does faith and spirituality fit into the ambience of your music?

Matt: I think we’re using our talents to bring glory to God, and simply using those gifts to share with others the enjoyment of music and not being greedy with it. In my worship experience, there was a time when I was kind of hesitant. It’s not about me; it’s about bringing glory to God. It’s different, because you don’t want to show off during worship. You’re obviously sharing in worship, in trying to give people that experience with God and trying to give them that moment. But as well, you kind of want to hold back a little bit because you don’t want to take that attention. You don’t want to push into that moment they might be having. It’s not about you.

SP: Are your lyrics intended to cast a downbeat shadow over your music’s uplifting moments?

Josh: It is kind of more downbeat, but there’s a little bit of joy in the freeness of being given another chance. Even within failure, there’s grace in redemption and being forgiven. When you look down in life, there will always be downpoints. But you can be forgiven for your wrongs, and there will be joy and happiness to continue after those times of sadness.

SP: Would God forgive Cassius for conspiring the assassination of Julius Caesar?

Matt: Yes. It’s our human nature to disobey. We’re always going to mess up in life; we’re always going to do something that’s against what God tells [us] and what the Bible says. But there always is forgiveness. Everyone has a chance to be forgiven, but you have to ask. You have to repent; you have to understand what you did was wrong. If you don’t have feelings of repentance, God is willing to forgive you, but you have to take the first step.


Cassius will step onstage at the Velvet Elvis this Friday, with their next show lined up at the Red Herring next Friday on July 19th.

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