INTERVIEW: Lizard Kisses

All Photos: Gerard Marcus

All Photos: Gerard Marcus

Gerard Marcus

A while back, we found ourselves sitting in the living room of Brooklyn lo-fi indie poppers Lizard Kisses, and we had a little chat (as you do). They're making their way through the NYC concert circuit, so if you happen to be in the city this month—somewhere other than the band's apartment, at least—make sure to catch them on any of the following dates:

September 18th at Printed Matter, Inc.'s NYABF (PS1 MoMA)
September 24th at Aviv with buds Flower Girl
September 25th at practice space in DUMBO with lovers Bodies Be Rivers

ThrdCoast: What’s the rent for this place?

Cory Siegler: It’s sixteen eighty. Yeah, sixteen eighty.

Marc Merza: I love this place.

TC: It’s great.

Cory: Our landlord has raised our rent every year since we’ve lived here by like fifty bucks. When we first moved in it was fifteen hundred.

Marc: Nah, I think it was like fourteen or something.

Cory: But yeah, we’ve lived here for like five years.

TC: That’s commitment.

Cory: We’re so rooted. We have so much stuff.

TC: It looks very comfortable.

Cory: We have so much crap that we’ve moved in over the years, but it’s nice because we both kind of use it as a studio space too. For music and for art.

TC: Are the neighbors cool?

Cory: Yeah, everyone who lives here is pretty chill. There have been a couple of different neighbors over the years, but everyone who lives here is, you know...

TC: Pretty cool.

Cory: Yeah, generally laid-back with noise and stuff.

Marc: At one point I had a drum set in here and we recorded a record where I was playing drums really late at night.

Cory: Yeah, and our neighbor came up. He pounded on the door.

Marc: Yeah, he got pretty mad but I think he had just had a kid.

TC: Okay, that makes sense.

Marc: I felt really bad afterward.

Cory: Yeah, it was really late.

TC: Parent anger is true anger. Unfiltered.

Cory: Yeah.

[John Hunter walks in.]

Marc: John’s here. Make way.

Cory: We’re having an interview.

John Hunter: Excellent. You guys interviewing the pedals?

Marc: [Talking to guitar pedals] What do you do? Line six what do you do?

[All laugh.]

TC: All right, should I just start asking questions?

Marc: Yeah!

Cory: Sure!

TC: I guess, for the record here, what are your names?

Cory: Cory Siegler

Marc: Marc Merza

TC: That’s a baller name.  

Marc: My Real name is Marckel San Felix Merza. My middle name is my Mom’s maiden name, Asian thing.

TC: I would be intimidated by that name if I heard it in passing.

John: Well you could always be like some sort of legendary figure in history with that name.

TC: Yeah, right? It’s very...

John: Like you started the Spanish revolution!

Cory: Your name sounds like a Spanish conqueror.

John: Yeah, totally.

TC: Where are you guys from?

Marc: I’m from California. I grew up in a small town called American Canyon which is in between Napa and Vallejo. But I grew up in the Bay Area. I’ve been here for about six or seven years. Maybe somewhere around eight years now.

Cory: I’m from Yonkers, New York. So not too far from here.

Marc: Beautiful, wonderful Yonkers.

Cory: The rolling hills of Yonkers.

Marc: The rolling granite rocks of Yonkers.

TC: You guys come from musical families?

Cory: Yeah, I definitely come from a musical and artistic family. My grandma is very musical. She plays the flute and she’s also a sculptor and painter and photographer and...

TC: Kind of an artist all around.

Cory: Yeah, all-around artist. My parents both are very artistic people but they both are doctors. So they’re not, um, they’re not practicing artists but...

TC: They’re reformed artists.

Cory: They’re reformed artists! My mom went to art school in college and wanted to be a sculptor, like a marble sculptor. That’s what she did. It wasn’t until she did one year of grad school and was studying to be a sculptor when she decided to be a psychiatrist instead. But yeah, there’s a lot of art in the family.

Marc: You’ve got an uncle who...

Cory: Oh yeah I’ve got an uncle who—

Marc: Who played with Hall & Oates and Todd Rundgren and he made the Pokémon theme song.

Cory: That’s true. Yes, my uncle has been a composer for a long time. When he was young he played in a bunch of bands and like in Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and, I don’t know, he played in a handful other bands—

Marc: He played in a psych-folk band called Air.

Cory: Air, yeah.

Marc: Not the French Air.

Cory: Yeah not the French Air. The original Air.

TC: Fresh air.

Cory: He played in some funk bands, too.

Marc: Like Mandrill.

Cory: Yeah, he played in Mandrill. Then he decided to settle down, have a family and stuff, and so then he made a living composing kids music. So he made the Pokémon theme song and all the music for the Pokémon movies and Yu-Gi-Oh!

TC: So basically the soundtrack to my childhood?

Cory: Yeah, he was super successful at that and now, at least last time I talked to him, he’s working on some app that’s, like, songs for babies, children’s songs. Like, rerecording the classics? I don’t know. So yeah, that’s my dad’s brother.

TC: What’s his name?

Cory: His name is John Siegler. You can look him up. And then my dad has a cousin who also is pretty accomplished as an avant-garde jazz musician. He plays mainly the clarinet, jazz clarinet, but really weird. Weird jazz.

TC: His name?

Cory:  His name is Ned Rothenberg.

TC: I’m planning on Googling all of these people.

Cory: You’ll know my whole family history. You’ll probably know it better than I do [laughs].

Marc: They also have a shit ton of CDs.

Cory: Yeah Ned is like super—

Marc: Super accomplished.

Cory: Yeah, he’s definitely super accomplished.

TC: How did you start playing music?

Cory: Um, well, when I was a kid I had piano lessons and I was in the chorus at school and stuff. But I never really played any music beyond that until I met Marc, and he was like, “Hey, we should start a band.”

Marc: “If you’re going to hang out with me you’re gonna have to.”

Cory: “If you’re going to be my girlfriend you’re gonna have to start a band.” He said you can be the singer, and I said okay.

TC: What else do you do? What are your other artistic pursuits?

Cory: I do a lot of visual art, so that was always kind of my main focus.

TC: You went to Pratt, right?

Cory: Yeah, I went to Pratt for printmaking, so I do a lot of printmaking and drawing and sewing and all sorts of stuff. But yeah, I was never really focused on music as my main thing until we started doing Lizard Kisses.

TC: Marc, do you come from a musical family?

Marc: Not at all. When I was really young my mother pressed piano lessons on to me which...

TC: Leads to some vivid imagery?

John: She forced you to do it?

Marc: Yeah, actually my teacher quit on me. When I was like eight I never practiced, and then at one point she was just like, you don’t want to do this. So that kind of tainted my experience on learning to read music and play music conventionally. Then I remember when I was eleven or twelve or something I asked my mom to buy me a Squire pack, but I never played it. I didn’t play until I was like nineteen or twenty.

John: You didn’t start playing guitar until you were twenty?

Marc: Yeah, seriously.

John: That’s fucking funny. I seriously thought that you’d been playing since you were like...

Marc: Nope.

John: A little adolescent.

Marc: And it really took me meeting someone who showed me open tuning. Open tunings kind of changed the way I saw my guitar. When I didn’t know how to play guitar, I would play in front of the mirror and try to mimic chords and it just never connected. It didn't mean anything to me. I don’t know. I played bass a little bit before that, so the one-note kind of thing made sense to me. I started playing a little bit more when I learned open tunings and started seeing shapes and then playing with John in the last five years.

TC: What about open tunings made it click?

Marc: It was the fact that I could just hold one string down and it would change the whole chord, and I can move that around. I mean I play in standard now. So I’ve translated that into bar chords or power chords and minors and stuff. But it was just the fact that it made it seem less hard than I thought it was.

TC: Broke it down to a simpler form.

Marc: Maybe seeing an instrument in a different context than what you’re used to changes the way you might play it. After that realization a lot of, like, two chord progressions turned into four chord progressions.

TC: Cory, how did you and Marc meet?

Cory: Um, we...

Marc: This is a good story.

Cory: We met at the Guggenheim Museum. We both worked there. I worked in the gift shop and Marc worked handing out audio guides. And then one day he came into the gift shop and he bought some stuff from me. He bought—I remember what he bought...

Marc: This silver backpack.

Cory: He bought a silver backpack.

Marc: It was like, a children’s backpack.

Cory: It was a little mini backpack for kids and he bought it and he was like, “Oh, I work here.” And then I was like, “Oh, well then you get an employee discount.”

Marc: And then our romance blossomed.

[All laugh.]

John: Fountain of love.

Marc: I had a bunch of coworkers telling me about Cory and they’re like, “Dude, she’s really hot.” You know, so I went into the gift store and I was like, woah. But actually I have uh... It’s almost our five-year anniversary.

Cory: What do you have?

Marc: I have that poster.

Cory: Oh yeah.

Marc: So, John and I used to play in a band called Innocuous, and this was kind of Cory's and my first date. I invited her to this show.

Cory: Yeah, he came back into the gift shop and invited me to see Lower Dens.

TC: Oh man, I love Lower Dens. You guys played with them?

John: Yeah, I’m from Maryland. Jana Hunter’s my sister.

TC: Really? Word.

John : So we toured with them a while.

Cory: Yeah so that’s...

TC: How you guys met.

Cory: Our story.

TC: That’s a good story.

Marc: Yeah, totally.

TC: Very cute. It all started with a silver backpack.

Marc: Yeah.

Cory: Yeah. I wonder if you still have it.

Marc: I still have it somewhere in the storage room over there.

TC: Well, let’s hear how you guys started to make music together.

Marc: So, we were together for a while and then I went on tour. I quit that job at the Guggenheim and I went on tour with John for a month and Cory went to...You went to Haiti, right? Or you went to Cuba?

Cory: I went to Cuba and then Haiti.

Marc: So we spent a month apart, or a month and a half. Then when we got back we decided to go to Cory’s parents house in Vermont. I always romanticized making a record in a cabin or something. Or just isolated somewhere. This seemed like a good opportunity. It was cool, we spent about two weeks there making music. We had skeletons of songs beforehand and chord progressions. When we got back we realized we had completed a few tracks and that was kind of the catalyst.

Cory: Well, that summer, before he went on that tour, was when you said “Oh, we should start a band,” and I was like, “Yeah, totally!” You know I didn’t think it was going to be, you know, necessarily a serious project or anything, but then when he came back and we planned our trip to Vermont we got more into it.

Marc: I’d written a lot of instrumental music, and I could hear vocals but I couldn’t sing. So I had all these little things that I’d been working on aside from Innocuous stuff with John. I remember writing a Lizard Kisses song, because on that tour we went on and recorded a demo after we were done playing in Virginia. I brought it to Cory, and once we recorded the basic tracks and started to do overdubs it sounded really full. I remember when we played it and then your mom was like, “Oh, wow, this isn’t..."

Cory: Yeah, she was like, “This sounds like a real song.”

Marc: Yeah! “Sounds like a real song.” Because we had all these weird songs at the time that were, just, really weird.

Cory: We were just having fun and experimenting. It was really exciting because it was such a new and different thing for me, too. I’d never done that before and no one had ever pushed me to do it before, you know?

TC: What’s the process like now? Do you write most of the songs together?

Marc: A lot of the newer stuff that we’re doing, usually I’ll come up with a melody and then Cory and I will come up with a harmony or a hook or something. And then I think words just come—it’s different for every song.

Cory: Well, usually though you’ll have a guitar melody to start with and then we’ll work out a vocal melody that either you’ll have an idea for, or I’ll have an idea. And then I usually write the lyrics, but sometimes Marc writes the lyrics, too.

Cory: It’s kind of like... I guess it’s just kind of different for every song.

[All laugh.]

Marc: It’s kind of weird thinking about it now because I’ll listen back to some songs and I’ll be like, “I don’t know how I wrote that.” Like, I honestly don’t know what the process was.

Cory: With Lizard Kisses we play with a lot with our friends, too, and so sometimes there’ll be someone else who would help us shape a song.

Marc: Which was a big part of the last thing we did. Dan had played keys on one of the songs and John played guitar and he helped us mix it. So it was a collaborative effort in that sense. But yeah, usually there’s a skeleton and we bring other people in or other people give input.

TC: Where do you guys record most of the stuff?

Marc: Right here.

John: This room sounds really good.

TC: Yeah. I could imagine, it seems surprisingly quiet.

John: We played in the studio for one thing.

Marc: Yeah, we did one thing in a studio which was probably the cleanest thing we’ve ever recorded. It was at Butler Studios. It was this videographer for Brooklyn Vegan who, a couple years ago, had  filmed Cory and me doing a song—actually in this room—and they had studio time and asked us if we had any songs or anything to work on, which was really nice. So we did some basic recording there which was a really great experience.

Cory: Yeah, it was really nice. But for the most part our songs have just been recorded in here.

TC: I’ve always loved bedroom recording and stuff like that. There’s something very genuine about it.

Marc: Totally, yeah it’s very intimate. It’s hard to recreate that feeling in a studio setting.

TC: I want to know a little about  your video for “In the Morning.” How did that collaboration with Alice Cohen come to be?

Marc: I had seen her work previously. She had done a Ducktails video.

TC: For the song “Landrunner,” right?

Marc: Yeah. It’s really awesome. So I did a little research on her, and was really intrigued by her music just as much as her art. We reached out to her and sent her the song and asked her if she wanted to collaborate, and she really liked the tune so it was a pretty easy process. We communicated over the next couple weeks.

Cory: We pretty much just left it up to her. You know, do whatever you want.

Marc: Yeah, she was like, “Can I put lizards in it?”

Cory: Yeah, she wanted lizards in it.

Marc: We said yeah, no doubt.

Cory: She asked us if there was any specific imagery or whatever that we wanted, and she asked us for the lyrics of the song, and then she just did whatever she wanted and it turned out so cool.

TC: It goes really well with the song. That’s actually how I discovered you guys, I saw that video and I wanted to know who all was involved in the project.

Marc: She’s really awesome. If you have a chance, I think there’s like a little Fader thing on her where it shows her process and camera setup, and she’s essentially doing stop-motion. I think we’re going to meet her sometime soon. She lives out here.  

TC: You guys haven’t met her before?

Cory: We’ve never met her.

Marc: This is all before I moved to San Francisco. So I’d just send her emails because I was gone. I just recently got back, and I think we should hang out with her at least.

TC: What do you do outside of Lizard Kisses, like day jobs? Do you have day jobs?

Cory: Yes.

Marc: Licensed that one song and livin' off it.

[All laugh.]

John: Checks coming in every day.

Marc: No, I work in coffee. I work in a warehouse. I’m a head brewer. We do distribution for Blue Bottle and such. Essentially I just make a bunch of cold brew. I was working in San Francisco for the past four months, so I think I’m going to be bi-coastal. But I went to culinary school so I'm kind of trying to segue back into food professionally. Otherwise I worked at the Guggenheim and shit. I worked a lot of terrible jobs. I worked with John as a production assistant where we would just get fucked up. Or maybe I would just get fucked up?

John: Marc started a production assistants' gang. Called them the Midnight Dragons. Yeah, that definitely...

Marc: I think I was one of the only people who got fired from that job.

John: No, you are the only person who ever got fired from that job.

Marc: Yeah, they just wouldn’t call.

John: Never again. You will never work here again.

TC: That sounds like fun.

John: And then your whole restaurant thing. That was pretty crazy.

Marc: Yeah. I worked like three line-cook jobs at one point and I just, I couldn’t live that life. It was insane.

John: I can’t believe how poorly you were payed for that.

Marc: Yeah, I was getting paid like nine or ten.

John: That’s how you funded the Mutual Benefit record right?

Marc: Yeah, that and a tax return. And that’s how I got the Mutual Benefit record out on a label I used to run called Soft Eyes. Honestly, I spent four or five months working three line-cook jobs. I essentially did not sleep. I didn’t come home that much. But yeah, that’s kind of the things I do. Otherwise I make a little bit of art. I do these  engravings on plexi with a... What is it called? A Dremel engraver? I’ve been trying to do more visual art, but Cory’s been doing a shit-ton of that these days.

Cory: Visual art?

Marc: Yeah, making a lot of things.

Cory: Yeah, I work at an artist non-profit called Printing Matter. It’s in Chelsea. We run an artist book store and we have different exhibitions. It’s all about promoting and distributing artist books and zines. We have exhibitions and events and lunches and we do our own publishing. All kinds of stuff like that.

Marc: Cory’s job’s really fucking cool. She’s constantly surrounded by awesome art and artist books and zines, and it seems like the clientele and the people that come in are really interesting. They’re all like-minded people.

Cory: Yeah, well, it’s a cool place to work because there’s just a lot of inspiring stuff. It’s very inspiring and motivating to be looking at art all day and seeing what people are doing, and just meeting people. We have an open submission policy there, so anyone who makes artist books can submit them to be sold in the store. So we get just a huge variety of books from all over the place. People send them in from all over the world. So yeah, that’s where I work. I have to do a lot. I’ve been doing a lot of my own kind of stuff, solo art projects. Painting scenes and drawings and fabric pieces and prints and...

Marc: Yeah, Cory and I are doing solo shit right now.

Cory: Well, Marc just put out his own solo record.

TC: Yeah, I listened to it.

Marc: I’m going to toss you a couple records for you to take.

TC: I love being tossed records.

Cory: Just toss it at him.

Marc: So I put this out maybe three months ago and I haven’t really shared it with anybody. My buddy Billy did the artwork. He leather-tooled it and then scanned it.

TC: It’s so cool.

Marc: It’s really awesome. He did that by hand, and then Cory’s friend Paul John who has a publishing company called Endless Additions, he printed them. And then the record is clear vinyl and has no loop. It has no words on it so no one knows who it is.

John: That’s the way a record should be.

Marc: But yeah, I recorded that in the summer and then I just pressed it myself. I did about a hundred copies. I think Dan invited me to play this imaginary mountain show, and I think I might start playing solo shows if I get in the groove. I'm really scared and nervous about doing my own thing.

John: He just did some of his set and it sounds amazing.

TC: Can I hear some?

Marc: Nah, no way dude.

TC: I’m not going to record it. Promise.