Cinder Block - vocalist, Tilt
941 Gilman Street Club - Berkeley, CA - September 1999
Tilt is a name that is already pretty well known around the punk scene, especially on the West Coast. Although the band is considered a punk band with their simplicity and raw attitude, musically they are much more than that. There are many well thought out hooks and changes. The main focus of the band is on the phenomenal vocals of singer Cinder Block [Cinder Bischoff]. This woman has pipes that don't quit. It is only unfortunate that Tilt isn't that well known to the mainstream audiences. That could change soon enough as their name and reputation continue at a steady pace. Cinder's vocals cut through the hardest rock with the clarity and power. She can go from an almost operatic vibrato to the meanest growl.
Recently, Tilt performed at the legendary 941 Gilman Street Club in Berkeley, California - home to many of the best known punk acts as well as launching ground for such bands as Green Day and Rancid. We took the time to talk with Cinder after her spectacular performance at the club on the first day of their world tour. Although she was suffering slightly from mild laryngitis, cinder proved her vocal prowess even at a club with minimal PA system to boost the voice.
When the interview started, cinder was in the middle of telling the story of a show that they had played in Italy to a room full of angry tough-looking punkers. When her vocals got tired, she had asked them, half jokingly, to sing for her instead.
CB: I had this entire club in Italy singing to me. I said, "OK. I've been singing this whole tour. I want you to sing to me." I said, "Sing me a nice Italian folk song." So all of the sudden all these gnarly deathly-looking punkers started singing this beautiful aria. It was very gentle in harmony and was this beautiful song about a young man picking some flowers and going up a hill to give them to his love. It was just beautiful. It was warm, like cherubs singing or something. My hair was standing on end. The whole entire place. These Italian kids who looked gnarly and tough singing this beautiful cherubic, - how is that for an adjective - cherubic song. I couldn't believe it. I almost cried. So, this starts the interview.
K2K: That was your first anecdote. How long has the band been around?
CB: We've been around since 1992. That makes about seven years. We have four albums. First one was "Play Cell", on lookout. Then we jumped over to Fat [Wreck Chords] and we put out three records. First one was "Tilt Kills", second one was "Collect 'Em All", and the newest one is "Viewers Like You."
K2K: Is "Collect 'Em All" a play on the Metallica album, "Kill 'Em All"?
CB: Oh no. Jeffrey and I collect toys and action figures. It started with [the film] Nightmare Before Christmas stuff in 1993 and grew. That stuff goes for a lot of money now. A couple of dolls that I got for $20. in 1993 are worth about $700. now. That's my retirement there.
K2K: What kind of stuff do you collect?
CB: Well, the Nightmare stuff kind of started it. Mars Attacks. Just a hodgepodge of stuff. Actually, when we first started, it was just dolls that we found in the street. Just weird stuff. I like monster stuff. I like anything that's weird. I like Real Monsters. I'm getting sick of McFarlane. I got a couple of those, but I think we have Jason. McFarlane has kind of lost it's allure. I was really really into it when it first came out. The quality is excellent but I like things that are goofy and they're too good I think. They're too good and it's too trendy now. So, I like stuff like Dawn dolls from the 70s from Barbie. I like talking dolls. I can't get into that wrestling stuff but I do like the Undertaker that's like 18-inches tall and says, "I'm your worst nightmare." But I got him because he looked like Danzig. We've been making jokes about that and they're coming out with the Misfits [action figures]. How come they don't make a Danzig figure with the Misfits? I suppose if some punk wants to really collect the Misfits with Danzig, they could just go out and buy and Undertaker figurine.
K2K: Where do you get your vocal style from?
CB: I've been in bands for 16 years.
K2K: How old are you guys?
CB: Old. I'm in my 30s. Leave it at that. I started out in theater, acting and directing, and I got a lot of vocal production from the stage. The warmups that I do are really kind of for stage, because I never really learned any singing warmups. My style, I just tried really hard not to emulate anyone because early on I figured out that that was kind of dumb. I could tell that I was influenced mostly by male singers, some female singers. I really liked Janice when I was a kid. I loved Janice. She's got guts. I like singers that have something wrong with their voice. Technically good singers bore me because it's too smooth and too perfect. I can't stand listening to myself really because I feel like I'm too high pitched. I just tried not to emulate anyone. You know how a lot of punk rock girl singers ended up sounding like Exene [of X] or Patti Smith or something like that, styling their vocals after that, or singing really girly. I just tried to stay away from that. I don't know, it's been a long road of figuring out who I am. My voice has definitely changed from the first record until now.
K2K: Vocally, you do a lot of gruffness, but the other side of your voice is really clear, you've got the clarity of a lot of the professional metal singers. I think it sounds better with the clear side of your singing, like this evening.
CB: Really? I'm glad to hear that. We've been practicing a whole lot and I lost my voice tonight. If I do that rasp, it blows it out. You're right, I'm not going to do it, anymore.
K2K: The clear powerful side of your vocals stands out more that the gruffness and why don't you use it more.
CB: I think I use the gruffness more in recording anyway. It's pretty organic. It comes from, I don't know, I have a persona that dictates. The sneering. It's kind of like Good Cinder / Bad Cinder. Evil Cinder comes out onstage so the gruffness just kind of happens naturally. I get to be this kind of angry chick, this tough chick, onstage. It's kind of another dimension of my personality. It's kind of a heightened sense of personality, but I don't want to be her all the time. I'm starting to like life, but she's so well-defined now that I can sort of tap into her anytime I want. It's pretty cool. It's kind of like having an alter-ego and that's where all that gruffness comes from. I probably do more of that in recording than in live [performance].
K2K: Even though your music is punk, it's not "just" punk. I think that you could get a lot of airplay if you pushed to other mediums too.
CB: Nothing kills your creativity more than chasing the "brass ring".
K2K: No, don't chase it. You've already got it. Make somebody else chase for you is what I mean. You could get played on radio easily.
CB: I don't even listen to radio. Well, I listen to that classic rock station, I have to admit. Classic rock, and country. I'm in a country band. There's three singers. Me, a male singer and Anglique, maybe you missed her, she's a really, really beautiful girl with black hair, a voluptuous woman. She does the Patsy Kline covers and I do the Loretta Lyn covers and the Tammy Wynette covers. The male singer does Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. We're the East Bay Drifters. It's comprised of members of other East Bay punk bands or just plain bands. It's got nothing to do with punk, it's just true to form. We don't try to punk it out. We've played at the Cocodrie and opened for Mojo Nixon. We're just starting out. I'm not into that "young country" stuff. I'm a purist.
K2K: About your lyrical writing, are you more political or more of a whole spectrum?
CB: A whole spectrum of things. I don't know. This last album, I just didn't even sit down at a desk once. I just carried a tape-recorder around with me and the melodies and the words just seemed to come together at the same time. I never intend, it's just a line or a word. This one, I was interested more in just amusing myself and challenging myself as a writer. I wanted to experiment some more with theatrical devices such as building characters, telling stories, setting a scene, rather than just hitting you over the head with dogma. I'm the one who has to sing the songs every night. I want to have words that are going that inspire me and interest me and yet something that I can discover anew every night. That's what I was trying to do with this record. At no time was I thinking, "I want to make this a political song", or this or that. "Die Of Shame" I knew I wanted to write a song about that particular nasty law where in some states a teenage girl has to get parental consent to get an abortion. That was consciously political.
K2K: We were having a discussion about the lyrics to that song. I was saying it "Die Of Shame" is about suicide and she [photographer Tara Hauff] was saying that it's about abortion.
CB: Well, it's unintentional suicide. She's too ashamed to tell her parents and tried to give herself an abortion. You are pretty perceptive though. I wrote that song around the time that my dad died. His father had sliced himself in seven places and bled to death in the bathtub. That's always been this big legendary image to me in my mind, so you're pretty perceptive because that did come up while I was writing a little bit. I thought, "Wait a minute. Am I writing about abortion or about my own suicidal depression?" There's a little bit left in there. I didn't intend it that way but it sort of came out a little bit self-destructive.
K2K: What is the first song about, "Annie Segall"?
CB: When I was researching a song called "Minister Of Culture" on the last record, which is a song about cultural abuses against women that I wanted to know what I was talking about, I ran across a book about how women were oppressed in Victorian era. Well, it was an article about how they used various methods to placate women. If they were sexually active or permiscuous, they would give them bromide to quell their sex drive. They would bind them up in these corsets and they'd faint and they'd have hysterics, they would give them laudanum to sedate them and they would throw them in the loony bin. Laudanum is like morphine. Annie Segall is a real person. She was a librarian in New York in the Victorian era. She knew all these ten different languages and her parents didn't know what to do with her so they married her off to a homesteader out west. They put her on a train and she couldn't deal with the eventuality of that kind of life, so she went nuts in the train station. They found her pacing back and forth speaking in all the different languages that she knew.
K2K: What is "War Room" about? I had the idea that it was leaving a bad relationship.
CB: That's about Hepatitis C. The disease of addiction is like having an abusive lover. If you could personify the disease of addiction, it would be like having an abusive lover.
We then went on to discuss the different songs on the latest CD "Viewers Like You". "War Room", as Cinder went on, is about telling the listener that you don't have to live an addictive life. You can quit addictions and begin living healthy. "Animated Corpse" is a fun song depicting a love affair with a dead guy. It was imagined from a graveyard where Cinder has hung out where there is a Plot 14, as mentioned in the song, where many children from the turn of the century are buried. "Fine Ride" uses a plane crash as a metaphor for regret. "Viewers Like You" shows the abuses of TV and the nation's need for shock appeal. "Mama's Little Man" is a pointed take on Nazis and the KKK and the blatant stupidity of hate.
For the rest of the songs, one should really pick up the latest CD and hear it while reading the enclosed lyrics. While Cinder is a fantastic singer, her lyrics provide some great insights and views too.
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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