After wandering around Hop Jam, drinking beer and putting on what I hear was an incredible performance, Eliot Cooper, Joey Duffy, Matt Ehler, and Daniel Gill of Cliffdiver were kind enough to sit down with me and talk about their music.
Seeing as their name invokes the image of someone jumping off of a cliff, the complete opposite of what their music seems to promote, I figured a good start would be to ask about the band name.
According to Joey Duffy, the lead singer, the name is loosely based from a quote in The Catcher in the Rye: “What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff.” By using “Cliffdiver,” the band is saying that they “dove off a cliff for you.” They’ve taken this quote and altered it so that it means preventing people from following in their footsteps, from falling off the deep end like they did.
This is the same message that shines in their music – it’s a large part of why they’re adored in the Tulsa scene. As they mentioned several times in the interview, their music is there to help people. It’s to have fun, sure, and live performances really highlight that fun, but the lyrics have a much heavier influence.
As Matt Ehler (guitar/vocals) said, “It’s kind of a portrayal of what mental illness is – on the surface, everything seems okay, everything seems fine, but when you look deeper, there’s darker stuff there. I think it embodies that.”
The band has only recently returned from a trek out to Chicago to record their next EP – a five song collection called At Your Own Risk. It was recorded with Seth Henderson of Always Be Genius Recording Studio, the same studio that produced music with Knuckle Puck, Sleep On It, Real Friends, and Oklahoma’s own, Goodfella.
When discussing their new music, they made it very clear to expect much heavier and more dynamic songs.
The EP is conceptual, apparently. It follows a story line that begins with a relationship souring, moves to a dark place, and then ends with hope. One of the songs is even about a suicide attempt – and, unlike with Small Hours, the lyrics are supposedly more direct in At Your Own Risk. So, instead of the “tongue-in-cheek” of the former EP, we’re actually getting the direct message.
Another difference is that Small Hours was more about “[being in] your early twenties.” The lyrics follow a concept where, as they said, “things are about breakfast and friends and not fitting in and trying to find that girl who’s going to make that difference.” With the upcoming EP, it’s about what happens when that all falls apart.
Still, the band made sure to add that At Your Own Risk ends on a high note. Right after the song about suicide is a song about therapy and the transition into accepting help. It’s a part of the Cliffdiver appeal to have that “don’t give up” message as a whole, after all.
Despite the new EP following a concept, Eliot Cooper (drums) claims, “You don’t have to listen to it front to back to enjoy what it is.”
All of them were quick to agree with this – the whole band is extremely proud and excited about this new EP. A common response was that it made them all cry when they heard it.
I can imagine that a large part of why the EP made them cry was the specific themes. According to the band, the whole point of Cliffdiver’s music is to show the transition between their twenties and thirties and how that affects their mental health. As with many in their genre, they stick to what they know – and that’s drinking, sadness, depression, anxiety, and a whole mix of other related things. However, a grievance they had for others in their genre is the lack of what happens after they finish lamenting their youth.
The majority of the band is either pushing thirty or right on it. They made it very clear that they don’t want to still be blaming their youth for indiscretions at their age; instead, they want to show what comes after languishing in sadness, when it’s time to grow up and start finding solutions. They want to give hope to the emo kids they used to be.
“We want to address these things because that’s definitely a big part of our story… We don’t want to glorify the sadness – we want to address and try to find solutions,” says Daniel Gill.
Another really cool tidbit about their new EP that has absolutely nothing to do with the concept is that Derek DiScanio of State Champs helped write one of the lines.
After all of the heavy talk, the band used the end of the interview to fill me in on their particular brand and vernacular. I won’t include the full list, but avoid using “interesting” in their vicinity if you don’t want to “ice” them; and when they say “gas,” know that they’re not talking about the state of matter that exists with no fixed shape or gasoline or even flatulence – they’re most likely using it as an adjective.
Their final words, before we went our separate ways, included “We can beat any band in any board or card game – and we wish Ben Quad wasn’t so scared to play us.” (Speaking of, in answer to Ben Quad‘s comments in their interview, the band said, “They’re super good, but a lot of the hatred from them comes because they’re jealous of us.” They also wanted to make it known that Jacob Rhinehart’s mom was hanging with them at Hop Jam.)
At Your Own Risk will hopefully be out some time this fall. However, you can listen to Small Hours on all music streaming sites. Make sure to follow them on all social media for updates, and check out their concerts for some awesome performances.