October 15, 2004

Eating Canned Air

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This Sheep Those Sheep is what we in the media call a tough interview. It’s not that the members of this promising Ithaca-born indie-rock band are belligerent or boring; on the contrary, they’re usually entertaining and affable. The problem is that they have a wicked sense of humor that knocks all the sense out of a fledgling journalist.

On a phone interview with the band from their current headquarters on the Lower East Side, the Sun tried to start off with some simple questions. We asked each member to introduce themselves and condense their life story into a short sentence. A deep, male voice responded, “My name is Thea. She doesn’t play the violin.” Then another voice broke in, “Hi, I’m Thea. I play viola. And that’s all I do.” When the Sun challenged the veracity of that claim, “Thea” responded, “Like, that’s all I do. That’s what I’m telling you. All I do is play the viola.” For the record, there is only one Thea in This Sheep, and she does indeed play the viola. Guitarist and main songwriter Ben Kupstas started the band with Nate Brown and Thea Brown at Cornell in their living room on Aurora Street in March. After recruiting Nick James on drums, they began playing shows around Cornell.

After their graduation last spring, all the band members moved to New York City. “We moved as a unit, as a collective,” says Ben. “Well, no, I actually just made that up. But it might as well have been true.”

After the departure of bassist Nate Brown in early September, This Sheep added Malav Kanuga on bass. But two weeks ago Nate returned.

Nate admits he was reluctant to confront the challenges of a young band in the malicious wilderness of New York City: “I took a little hiatus from the band because I thought life kind of sucked. And then I started working at a bakery, and I realized my life sucked even more.” This was mostly because he contracted a rare disease. “I got something horrible called a sugar rash from my constant exposure to sugar,” admonishes Nate. “If any kids or novice bakers are reading this, please learn from my example.”

There was some initial tension between Nate and Malav once the band started rehearsing as a quintuplet: “When I came back, Malav punched me in the eye. He’s actually a much better musician than me. But he punched me in the eye, so I slept with his girlfriend.”

At this point in the interview, there are shouts overheard in the background that, roughly transcribed, might be “Oh my God, Malav just ate canned air.” Indeed, Malav has just sprayed himself with a can of lethal aerosol while cleaning off some of the band’s keyboards. When asked if this overdose was intentional, Malav says, “Not really, but the rest of the band told me to do it. I don’t know if I can do this interview now. My left cheek is completely numb.” When the Sun tries to ask him if he had been interested in playing with the band during their Cornell incarnation, we admittedly fumble the question. Malav, still trying to recuperate from the accident replies, “Wait, your question was a double negative. I wasn’t not interested? I guess I was not very not very not interested. You can quote me on that.”

At their last Ithaca concert (in May), the band entranced its audience with shimmering, wild solos and Ben’s intimate, humorous lyrics. Their music seems to reference everything from the elegant epics of Sigur R