Chris Cacavas – Dinner & A Movie, family and an album
From 9-5 — or, more accurately, 9-9 — it isn’t easy to reach Chris Cacavas. That’s why he carries a pager. Because when you ring him, neither he nor his bosses know exactly where he’ll be scampering around the busy Burbank soundstage of the TBS network’s campy “Dinner & A Movie” production.
As one of its key set designers, Cacavas spends his days hastily assembling, then dissembling, whatever props the show requires. “I have a good time and I get to build some really funny stuff,” he says. “They shoot seven shows every month and a half, so about every month and a half I get two weeks’ worth of work out of it. I’m freelance, and that’s what I like about this kind of work — I get to pursue my music when it’s time to pursue it.”
For several years, the former Green On Red keyboardist found steady employment on fast-paced television commercials. Once, for a Japanese beer advert, he was commissioned to reconstruct an entire Tokyo fish market on a SoCal beach. A real blast, he recalls.
Then again, don’t get the man wrong. “This is just like any other work, in a way. It strengthens your resolve to do your music because you always know that this isn’t really what you want to be doing as a day job. And in the past on my jobs, I built up this animosity, this resentment for the job and maybe my co-workers as well.” Eventually, Cacavas arrived at a healthy conclusion: “Rather than kill them, I decided, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just take it all out in a song.'” And so he has.
His new Innerstate Records disc Dwarf Star is actually a five-year-old German release. The U.S. rights recently were acquired for the San Francisco independent label by Pat Thomas, formerly of Heyday Records (which issued two Cacavas albums in 1988 and ’92). Anchored in Cacavas’s delicate tenor, supple guitar and gentle piano, the disc is sparsely arranged, rough and ragged in patches, and — in tracks such as “The Crying Shame”, “Honking At Demons” and Matthew Sweet’s “Someone To Pull The Trigger” — as grinningly gruesome as any Appalachian murder ballad.
His gallows humor, even when he’s swearing “I Like Lyle Lovett”, carries the day. Carried many days, in fact, to hear 38-year-old Cacavas tell it. Over a decade ago, when Heyday was foundering, Cacavas cut out the middleman and began signing contracts overseas. To date, he’s put out seven albums abroad.
Stateside? Bupkus, he sighs. Until Innerstate offered a helping hand. “And my resentment over lack of American deals comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Sometimes I’m thankful for my European success, so to a degree it doesn’t matter that nobody knows who I am over here. But other times I ask myself ‘Hey — this is my backyard! Why can’t I get a little bit of recognition, especially now that my kind of music is gaining more acceptance?'”
In the Cacavas lexicon, songwriting is “an affliction, my life’s blood, something I just have to do.” And he doesn’t mind working for “Dinner & A Movie” some nights. “A long time ago,” he admits, “I created a larger-than-life overhead for myself by having kids [his son is 14, his daughter 12, and he and wife Rose’s household is newly enlivened by a baby born this past fall]. So the bulk of my life has kind of been about being a provider.”
Which, he chuckles, “unfortunately flies in the face of rock ‘n’ roll tradition by stressing responsibility. But I just told myself, ‘Well, this is my decision — so be it. These are now my responsibilities. I’m gonna meet these needs and try to make the best possible music I can along the way.”
Dwarf Star might open a few creaky U.S. doors. Cacavas is planning to tour behind it, at least on the West Coast. And if these songs don’t spark some sort of greater domestic interest? No big deal, he p’shaws. He still has his day job. Where, incidentally, quite a few ironic Cacavas compositions have germinated.
Usually he pens music at home, he says. “But I’ve definitely come up with some wicked lines on the set, and I suddenly find myself scrambling for a piece of paper trying to jot all these things down. But for the most part? I’m just a zombie on that set. I just blank out and earn my pay.”