A Human Reunion: An interview with Ed Lacy and Nick Kizirnis of cAge

Dayton music fans were over the moon when organizers of Jeremy Frederick Presents: North Of Nowhere South, an annual celebration of the life and music of Jeremy Frederick, Tim Taylor, Gregg Spence, Chris Green, an annual event that benefits the Izzy Frederick’s Education Fund, announced a reunion from ’90s era rockers cAge. The event takes place at Blind Bob’s in Dayton on Friday, December 4. The entire surviving original lineup of cAge will be onstage together for the first time in this century. cAge was a Dayton band from the early-mid 1990s, featuring Nick Kizirnis, (Mulchmen/ Nicky Kay Orchestra/many others), Edward Lacy, Matthew Espy (Dead Rider), and the late Gregg Spence. Tod Weidner, of Shrug and Motel Beds, will also be joining them on bass and vocals.
For the uninitiated, the band was an art-damaged rock quartet that toured around the midwest, east coast and southern states, appeared with bands like The Breeders, Fugazi, Shudder to Think and Guided By Voices, and appeared in SPIN, The Splatter Effect, and many other music magazines. The band’s lush cover of the great Pere Ubu track “Goodnight Irene” is a highlight of Ubu Dance Party, the tribute record featuring fellow Ohioans such as Brainiac, The Oxymorons, The New Bomb Turks, The Royal Crescent Mob and many more.
Their full-length CD, Magnificent Propaganda Opportunity, documents the variety of the group only hinted at on their single releases.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with original members Ed Lacy and Nick Kizirnis to discuss the group, their legacy and the reunion.
How would you describe Cage for the uninitiated?
Ed Lacy: Cage was started as Nick Kizirnis and I were trying to figure out what to do after the band we’d been in before ended. We weren’t at all sure we’d be lucky enough to convince Gregg Spence and Matt Espy to join us, but they did. We were all committed to three things I think:  a sense of adventure and experimentation, listening to each other playing, and working hard. We did all of those things, and it ended up with us creating music none of us had foreseen.  I would say that Cage were honest, weird, and catchy, and I hope we are recreating that sensibility now.
Nick Kizirnis: It’s easier now that we’ve had some time away from it. I tell people that we were a mid ’90s alternative rock band that blended crunchy guitars and experimental sounds with strong, melodic songwriting. That seems to work. And since we are doing this one-off show, we can pick the songs that work the best for how we wanted to sound.
What about the band still makes the most sense to you all these years later? What doesn’t at all?
EL: Most of it still makes sense, although I’m sure we’d have done a lot of things differently if we’d known more. Recording ourselves a lot, which wasn’t as easy back then as it is now, was very valuable.
NK: We wrote a lot of songs that I think still stand up today, and because we weren’t trying to fit a specific style, we don’t sound dated. I think we had to get far away from the material to see that. It’s also so easy to remember and worry about the things that didn’t work out — mainly specific songs where we might have been trying something out that didn’t quite fly. No regrets, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to try so many things. For this show we’ll be playing the things that really worked well.
Why did the band call it quits?
EL: It was after flying monkeys or bat-winged creatures (we’ve never been able to pinpoint which they were exactly) attacked our van just outside Nashville that we knew we had to stop. At least for a while. We had been awake for an unpleasantly long time, and just weren’t strong enough at that point to fight the devilish filthy things off. These extra-dimensional thropteroids had already been following us, but we didn’t think that they’d descend on us so precipitously. Sigh.
NK: Hmmmm … well, by 1996 we were really wiped out, and we need a break to do other things. We were all still good friends, but it was time to stop traveling so much and reset ourselves.
What have you been doing since?
EL: This is two decades in question, but here’s a spotty overview: Musically I have been working on writing songs and refining my instrumental craft, and playing mostly with Nick in The Nicky Kay Orchestra, and occasionally in other contexts.  More generally, I’ve been proceeding through time at a perceptually steady rate, which has costs associated with it. I really miss a lot of people who have died, moved away, or been drawn into other social milieu that don’t intersect on my part of the venn diagram.
NK: Lots of things. Matt Espy has been in Chicago playing drums for Dead Rider. After Cage I spent a few years playing surf, rockabilly and swing, and then Ed Lacy and I started working on our tiki surf noir band, the Nicky Kay Orchestra.
Why is 2015 the right time to reunite?
EL: It is when we could finally pull it off, at least we hope so! I hope that Sun Ra, Joe Strummer, Art Tatum, and other propitious avatars are guiding us.
NK: Tyler Trent (formerly of Brainiac, currently of Swim Diver) asked us and our schedules came together. We hadn’t really considered it before, but when it worked out we got very excited to do it one more time.
When Cage was active were you hoping to pick up national or international label support?
EL: There was no autonomous artist based networking then. We wanted to get good indie distribution, and were naive enough to think that some of those guys could hold out against the Omnicorp Disinfotrainment Group, or whatever they’re renaming themselves this month.
NK: We wanted to get support to help us reach more people. Simple Solution gave us the chance to do that, so we weren’t thinking “today Simple Solution, tomorrow somebody else.” The label was great about getting the record out and helping us promote and sell the record.
What did Simple Solution Records do to raise the visibility of the band?
EL: Simple Solution was an essential part of making us perceivable to audiences that might like our music. Vic’s decision to release Magnificent Propaganda Opportunity on vinyl as well as CD was way ahead of its time, We had never imagined that anyone would do that for us. Dayton was filled with people who wanted to make things work for bands in Dayton, and Vic was one of the most significant people doing that. He had a label and he believed in us. That was a real confidence booster.
NK: One big thing was that he had faith in us and he trusted in what we wanted to make. Then he got completely behind it and promoted it to everyone who would listen. That really meant a lot to us. It still does.
When you were featured in SPIN was it a “see this is why I do this moment” for you and your parents?
EL:  I wish I could have shown it to my Dad for some reason like that, but It wouldn’t have reflected my motives very well, so I guess that worked out. My mom already knew what we were doing. Her nickname at Canal Street Tavern was “Punk Rock Grandma,” a beatification bestowed on her by Gail Daffler, who is an expert in such matters.
NK: My parents said “Good job!” and then just smiled nervously until I changed the subject. For me it was really nice to see ourselves there and feel a part of something … almost like it made it real.
What was it like playing with Fugazi?
EL: Opening for Fugazi was amazing! It was a nice summer day and we played in front of a large sympathetic crowd, AND THEN WE GOT TO SEE FUGAZI!
NK: The Fugazi show was an amazing experience. So many people were there, and those guys were incredibly nice to us. We felt pretty nervous, and they just put everyone at ease.
Will there be a re-release of Magnificent Propaganda Opportunity?
EL: MPO is still available in both formats (LP/CD), but if it sells out we would look into re-issuing it.
NK: Simple Solution Records has it, but we won’t be re-issuing a 20th anniversary edition or anything like that. The record has always been available, and I hope that people will get in touch with the label if they’d like to hear it again.
Do you hope your children follow in musical footsteps?
NK: Not my footsteps, but they are both welcome to use my music gear. My son is a good drummer, he has a natural rhythm that definitely did not come from me. My daughter plays piano, but she’s also played several other instruments and is interested in music production.
What was your proudest moment with the band?
EL: I wish I could be snarky and say that it was when Maximum Rock-N-Roll called us “spineless R.E.M. clones” in their review of our In Stereo 7 inch EP, thereby outing themselves as journalistic frauds …
NK: Now, Ed …
EL: … but to stay out of trouble I will say that it was when our t-shirt manufacturer asked us if we were sure it was legal to appropriate a Norman Rockwell image and combine it with a picture of a giant cash register NCR made for the 1939 World’s Fair in a collage on the t-shirt art. Seriously, I loved playing with cAge, and would have a hard time singling anything out, but maybe it was when we were all sick as refried hell with TVRS (Tour Van Respiratory Syndrome), opening for the New Duncan Imperials at Uncle Pleasant’s in Louisville, Kentucky, and kicked ass anyway.
NK: Times like that, sticking together and playing some remote club in who knows where, having a great time and realizing people are enjoying what we are playing.
(Catch Cage this weekend at North of Nowhere South: https://www.facebook.com/events/686612184806738/.)