Cheap Time epitomize a record collector’s band. The Nashville band’s filthy brand of rock ‘n’ roll staggers drunkenly between the no-frills fuzz of Nuggets-era garage rock and the sneering rage of the Voidoids or the Sex Pistols. And as vocalist/guitarist Jeffrey Novak discusses the group’s latest offering, Exit Smiles (out Nov. 19 on In the Red Records), he name-drops old-school influences ranging from the bombastic prog-rock of Van der Graaf Generator and Can to the ersatz post-punk of the Fall and Magazine.
“We don’t really have a lot of young fans. Most of the people who like our music are older guys who were alive in the ‘70s. Our sound makes perfect sense to them, where other people just don’t get it,” Novak says. “The first time we played in Richmond six or seven years ago, they were like, ‘You guys sound like old punk,’ because they only knew hardcore. So we were like, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s what we sound like. We sound like old punk.’”
But influences from some of Novak’s beloved songwriters like John Cale and Peter Hammill have morphed Cheap Time’s sound on Exit Smiles into a more complex beast. Novak says he looks to prog and similar genres less for their complexity and virtuosity and more for their intricate structure.
“To me, in my head, we were making sort of a progressive garage record where we’re not that great of musicians but we’re trying to write the longest songs we could write,” Novak says. “Like, on ‘Modern Taste,’ I was definitely trying to write a Van der Graaf Generator kind of song, but it’s still like half the length of a Van der Graaf Generator song.”
Like all of Cheap Time’s records, Exit Smiles was recorded on half-inch tape on Novak’s very own 16-track recorder. The album retains the band’s signature production style, courtesy of Novak himself, who says he avoids using outside producers because of impatience rather than aversion.
“It’d be cool to work with some other producer, but I just always want to do things really fast, and I can just never wait on anyone to come around to do things. I always just want things to get done,” Novak says.
Efficiency hasn’t always been obtainable for the band, though. The group’s lineup has changed between every release they’ve put out, with Novak being the sole consistent member. However, with the recent addition of bassist Jessica McFarland, who makes her debut on Exit Smiles, Novak expresses more confidence in the band’s future.
“I feel like we hit the jackpot with Jessica,” Novak says. “She’s really professional and takes being in the band really seriously, and is just a lot of fun. She had never played bass before joining the band either.”
Novak actually spurred her interest in picking up guitar some years back, so when the bassist slot became vacant, McFarland was his first choice.
“Hopefully, on the next record that we do, she’ll sing more,” Novak says. “She sings a little bit on this album. She kind of joined the band when we were halfway through recording the record, so she kind of came in at the end and added some stuff.”
Luckily for McFarland, the new Cheap Time album may be getting finished up sooner than anyone could anticipate. Novak, a feverish songwriter, hints that recording has begun on the new album and it should be completed before the year is out. He also reveals it will have more of a funk or reggae sound.
“I don’t want to make the same album again,” Novak says. “There end up being parallels, so sometimes I’ll get upset when an album’s done, like, ‘Oh, it sounds like everything else I’ve already done.’ But that’s by mistake. I’m trying not to repeat myself.”
In addition to Exit Smiles and the upcoming album in the works, Cheap Time will also release a single called “Goodbye Age” on Total Punk Records and a single for Nashville’s Dead. Novak also has a solo record, Lemon Kid, coming out on Trouble In Mind Records on Nov. 5, just before the new Cheap Time hits shelves.
“I’m really proud of the solo record that’s coming out. I think these are the two best records I’ve ever done like production-wise and songwriting-wise,” Novak says. “They’re records I could still listen to.”
Cheap Time plays the Double Crown on Sep. 21 at 10 p.m. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/TheDoubleCrown.