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Cut & Paste: Moody Trio CaveofswordS Sends Out An SOS Call

(clockwise from left) Kevin McDermott, Eric Armbruster and Sunyatta McDermott form the indie trio CaveofswordS. [7/2/20]
Adam Newsham
(clockwise from left) Kevin McDermott, Eric Armbruster and Sunyatta McDermott form the indie trio CaveofswordS.

Before forming the band CaveofswordS, Sunyatta Marshall broke into the local music scene as a 13-year-old strumming acoustic guitar at bars on Laclede’s Landing. Later she joined Fred’s Variety Group and eventually became lead singer for indie rockers the Helium Tapes. 

Kevin McDermott, aka KVN, was a DJ who made short, instrumental tracks at home for his own amusement. 

He approached Marshall in 2011 and asked if she might like to step outside her musical milieu and sing over some of his tracks. 

The musical connection clicked, and so did the personal one — they are now the McDermotts. 

Along with collaborator Eric Armbruster, they released their fifth album as CaveofswordS in June. It punctuated a difficult time for the band, as the frontwoman coped with the death of her father and successfully worked to kick her alcohol addiction. 

The group is kept from the stage by coronavirus-related restrictions, but Sunyatta McDermott said they have put the time not performing to good use, pouring their energy into the long-gestating album. 

“A lot of my ideas about the performative aspect of music started to shift for me,” she said, “I started to feel embarrassed about the neediness of performing — about the need to have acceptance and desire from strangers.” 

Like the band’s prior work, new album “Good Music To Feel Bad To” is a swirl of dense keyboards, electronic beats and airy vocals. Its moods move from ruminative to anxious, with abstract lyrics that grapple with broad issues including climate change and the U.S. immigration crisis, as well as Sunyatta McDermott’s deeply personal navigation through the complex emotions of reconciling with her father after his death. 

“There are definitely [musical] themes in the same way there are themes with Sunyatta’s lyrics,” Kevin McDermott said. “I think because we live together and we talk all the time about this stuff, the songs sound certain ways. ... The initial kernels are me and my anxiety with talking about this stuff.” 

On the latest Cut & Paste podcast, we talk with Sunyatta and Kevin McDermott on the personal journey behind the new record, and the social and emotional discord that informs their music.  

Cut & Paste logo current summer 2018

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.