.Out of the Doldrums

Oakland’s Super Cassette finds joy in life again

Max Gerlock, the lead vocalist, guitar player and main songwriter of Oakland’s Super Cassette, said the songs on Continue? took them in a personal lyrical direction.

“I’ve always written about fictional characters before,” Gerlock said. “I avoided writing about myself, because I didn’t have confidence that my point of view was interesting. I’m confident in my music, but not necessarily in myself.”

Gerlock identifies as queer and non-binary, and uses they/them pronouns. “I’m still getting comfortable with my coming out and exploring what that means,” they said. “I sometimes cringe at being labeled a ‘queer band.’ It’s accurate, and I don’t mind it, I just don’t want it to be discussed as though it’s the only thing that defines our music.”

Continue? is an “unintentional concept album,” according to Gerlock. “It tracks my journey through a depressive episode in real time,” they said. “I quit my day job to focus on music, just before the pandemic. I was feeling isolated, depressed and purposeless. I think putting the album together helped me find joy in life. [The songs] ended up being about coming out of the doldrums, to find meaning and happiness again.”

Gerlock put Super Cassette together with the help of their brother, Nick. “I started out by dabbling on guitar, living at home in Fallbrook,” Gerlock said. “One day I brought my guitar to school. To our surprise, a teacher said, ‘Max and [my friend] Kort are gonna play us a song.’ We did ‘High and Dry’ by Radiohead, and it went over well. Playing the video game Rock Band helped me realize how a song was put together. I started recording my ideas.”

Nick and Max moved up north to attend UC Berkeley. “Our music kept evolving,” Max said. “I started a solo project called Maximilian while I was working at Pandora. It evolved into Super Cassette. We put out an EP called Cathode Ray Tube about six years ago. I started working on the songs for Continue? about three years ago.”

The album’s music is upbeat, with ambient touches creating an expansive sonic space. Lyrically, Gerlock addresses alienation, capitalism, aging, and the meaning and meaninglessness of life. “As I was writing, I was thinking about suicide a lot,” Gerlock said. “It never got to the point that I was worried I might actually do it, but it made its way into the songs.”

They added, “I have a home studio and layered up the sounds, editing and rewriting with Nick’s help.”

The siblings worked on the songs for a year, both at Max’s home and the 8th Street Recording studio, with drummer and mixer Cole Williams. “Cole’s sound design brought the songs to life,” Gerlock said. “We added a lot of effects and ear candy you might not hear on the first listen, but I love that stuff.”

Continue? covers a lot of musical ground. The title track is a buoyant rocker, describing the tension between a day job and the joys of playing gigs at night. Gerlock’s multi-tracked harmonies drive home the song’s message: “Why can’t I just play these songs, please?/ And still eat.”

On “Bastille Day,” Gerlock compares the events leading up to the French Revolution to today’s political climate. The cynical lyric is balanced by a bright melody and Nick’s lead-guitar hook. There’s a slight Brazilian lilt to the backbeat of “Island.” It’s a jazzy number, with shimmering synth effects and a syncopated chorus praising the power of music to lift us out of our earthly limitations.

Before Continue?, in 2020, Gerlock found the phrase “be gay, do drugs, hail Satan” bouncing around in their head. They wrote a song with that title, crediting the LGBTQ slogan “be gay, do crime” as a subconscious inspiration.

“I found chords and a melody, then I tried to write a full story around the lyric,” Gerlock said. “I recorded it, doing everything myself, with the exception of lead guitar. I shot the video on my iPhone, put it up on our YouTube page. Eventually, it took off on Reddit.”

The video amassed more than 100,000 views and drove fans to their Spotify page, where the song has more than 3 million streams.

“It’s hard making a living in a band,” Gerlock said. “You have to be a musician and songwriter, book shows, design your merch and manage yourself. It can be overwhelming, but in Oakland and the Bay Area you’re surrounded by artists who want to make things better, who are politically left and activist-minded. That makes a difference.”

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