The Cynics are internationally known garage-rock revivalists recognized for their primal distorted, three-chord, high-energy Stone Age rock ‘n’ roll infused with fuzz-guitar and howling vocals. They are energetic live performers who appear on four continents and prolific recording artists that have influenced garage rock bands for four decades. The Cynics along with the Chesterfield Kings, the Milshakes, and the Fuzztones were early founders of the 1980s garage rock revival movement. Since their start at Pittsburgh’s Electric Banana in 1983 they have survived the whirl of changing musical trends staying true to their garage punk sound to influence the bands of the 2000s garage rock revival like the White Stripes, The Vines, The Hives, Kings of Leon and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
“We’re still standing and we’re still doing it the way we did when we started. I guess you could say we were here when it all started and we’re still here now” -
Guitarist Gregg Kostelich and singer Michael Kastelic are the core members of the band. Over the years they have employed a rotating cast of bassists and drummers. Kostelich's wife Barbara is the band’s manager, booking agent and publicist. The Cynics have released 11 acclaimed albums on their own indie label Get Hip Records. With the 1989 release of their biggest seller “Rock and Roll” they came to international attention. The “Living is the Best Revenge” 2002 release received critical praise from Playboy, Trouser Press, Bust and other publications. Their music is featured on several Garage rock compilation albums including “Mr. Garager’s Neighborhood”, “Battle of the Garages”, and “Tribute to Brian Wilson”. The Cynics’ music is a staple of the most popular syndicated music show on radio “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.
"I love them. I think they're fantastic. You know, they're a very important part of the first generation of the contemporary garage movement. I remember them starting just a few years after the first generation started with the Fuzztones and Chesterfield Kings. But they're terrific, man." –Stephen Van Zandt of Steven's Underground Garage in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post GazetteTom Sinclair, Entertainment Weekly Music critic, recommends the Cynics debut album ''Blue Train Station,'' as one of the top ten primer albums for fans of garage rock.
“As with other kindred spirits from that time (the Lyres and the Chesterfield Kings spring to mind), the Cynics, God bless them, place a premium on staying true to the sound and vibe of their fave '60s rockers….The Cynics' first album was 1986's rip snorting Blue Train Station, which was followed by Twelve Flights Up, Rock 'N' Roll, Learn to Lose, and Get Our Way (a new CD, Living Is the Best Revenge); all are regarded by connoisseurs as the real deal: gnarly, sweaty, raucous, and brimming with snotty attitude” Tom Sinclair Entertainment Weekly Oct 25, 2002.
“Neo-garage-psychedelia from a Pittsburgh quintet weaned on "the punk explosions of '66 and '77," the Cynics are long-running standouts in an overworked genre. They achieve a quintessential evocation of their ancestors' glorious sound on Blue Train Station and Twelve Flights Üp. Gregg Kostelich's guitars buzz with primal distortion as Michael Kastelic blurts out the lyrics in a sneery whine from somewhere deep within the sonic blur. Grungier than a seedy bar and more energetic than a class of sugared-up toddlers, the Cynics pack both albums (an evenhanded mix of strong originals and vintage obscurities) with surefooted atmosphere and excitement”. –Trouser Press
The Cynics are stars in Europe where garage rock is an institution, not a occasional fad as in the U.S. They perform for thousands at sold out concert halls and clubs in Spain, the U.K., France, Norway, Finland, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Russia and Japan. They have appeared in the major cities of the world including London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Athens, Amsterdam, and Helsinki. They also tour the U.S. extensively and have appeared at the South by South West Festival eight times.
It all started in a Canonsburg Garage
In the 1960s Western Pennsylvania teenagers clad in 69 football t-shirts and madras shorts got together in garages, basement rec rooms, and bedrooms to play basic three chord rock tunes on their Gretch and Sears Silver Tone guitars routed though fuzz boxes into small hot tube amplifiers. They jammed to the anthems of sixties: Gloria, Wipe-out, Louie Louie, Satisfaction, Pretty Woman, and Hanky Panky. Finding willing audiences they performed their bare bones music at family room parties, picnics, file hall weddings, and school gymnasium dances. They gave their groups names like “the Gents”, “The Shad Three”, the "UFOs", and the “Igniters”. Some recorded 45 singles and became local one hit wonders with airplay on Pittsburgh radio stations and appearances on TV dance shows.
Gregg Koetelich, founder of the Cynics who was born in 1960 came under the spell of Garage rock in the musical city of Canonsburg, Pa. Canonsburg was the home of Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, the Donny Brooks, and the Four Coins. At age 4 or 5 Greg Koetelich’s policeman grandfather recovered a collection 45 records that had been stolen from a radio station. As the station had already replaced the records Grandfather gave the collection to Gregg. After spinning the music of Eric Burdon and the Animals on his Silvertone record player, Gregg knew he wanted to be a rocker. His parents indulged his rock cravings when they took him to see the Sonics, the Blue Magoos, and the Who when he was around 7 years old.
Gregg started playing guitar in garage bands while in grade school in the late 1960s. In interviews Gregg said he was a weird kid who liked the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. He stood out on stage when he wore a dog collar and sang his own words to the music of “Free Bird”. He became a fan of punk rock in the late 1970s. Around 1981 he started hanging out at the Electric Banana club where he saw Pittsburgh’s early punk bands like Carsickness, the Cardboards, the Puke, the Five, Half-Life and the Wake. Gregg became part of the punk movement playing guitar in a punk cover band called the Jetsons.
Gregg became disillusioned when punk morphed into the more commercial MTV era synth-pop new wave sound of the Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, the Cars, and Culture Club. He decided to stay true to his 1960s roots by forming a garage rock revival band that would be wild, rowdy, and raucous. In September of 1983 Gregg held rehearsals in his Canonsburg bedroom with singer Mark Keresman, former Cardboards/Puke drummer Bill von Hagen, and ex-Rumhounds bassist Pam Reyner. They originally named themselves the Psycho Daisies. To highlight their cynical attitude towards lame new wave ditties they changed their name to the Cynics. They believed that new wave would fade and Garage Rock Punk was here to say.
The Cynics played their first gig at Pittsburgh’s Electric Banana on May 22 of 1984 opening for Clay Allison. The Electric Banana became their home base. In 1985 The Cynics with Mark Keresman on lead vocals released their debut recording, the 45 single "Painted My Hear"t / Sweet Young Thing", on the California based Dionysus punk rock label. It was the second single ever released by Dionysus. Mark Keresman citing creative differences left the group later in 1985. His replacement was Michael Kastelic who had been the soundman of one of Pittsburgh’s first punk bands the Wake. With Kastelic on lead vocals the Cynics released their second 45 single on Dionysus, "No Place to Hide" in 1986.
Gregg Kostelich, Michael Kastelic, and Bill von Hagen decided to start they own record label in 1986. They wanted to record in their own style free from label interference. They also found that small indie labels suffered from cash flow problems making them unreliable distributors. Get Hip Records was formed in 1986 to release and distribute the Cynics recordings and recordings of other groups.
Riding the Blue Train to Garage Band FameThe Cynics issued their first full length album "Blue Train Station" on Get Hip Records in 1986. The players on Blue Train were Gregg Kostelich, Mike Kastelic and Bill von Hagen with new members Beki Smith on organ and Steve Magee on bass. On the day that the album appeared in stores in New York City a promoter called Gregg telling him the record was great and he wanted to book the Cynics for a show in the Big Apple. The Cynics rode off on their Blue Train to appear at clubs around the country.
Stepping up to international Garage StardomThe Cynics started their climb to international success with two albums in the waning years of the 1980s. They released their second album “Twelve Flights Up” on Get Hip in 1988. Ed Masely, writing in the Arizona Republic, deemed it one of the ten essential garage rock albums.
“Few albums cut to the heart of the '80s garage revival as effectively as this, the Cynics retro-minded second album, packed with classic fuzz-guitar riffs, folk-rock jangle, some of the snottier garage-punk vocals of the decade and a boatload of Farfisa. They tackle the Nightcrawlers' classic A Basket of Flowers as well as the Starfires' I Never Loved Her but they really hit their stride here on their own songs (Creepin', Yeah! and Abba, in particular). If you're looking to buy, it's been reissued with four bonus tracks as 16 Flights Up.” –Ed MaselyThe Cynics changed their rhythm section again bringing in Tom Hahn, ex member of the Wake, as drummer and Mike Michalski, former Half-Life member, as the new bass player. For their third album they recorded “The Room” a song that Tom Hahn and Mike and Mike Kastelic wrote for the Wake. “Rock and Roll” released in December of 1989 was their break out of the country recording. It found acclaim and sales throughout Europe and the USA. MTV gave It brief coverage and it reached number 4 on the college radio airplay charts. It was the Cynics biggest selling album. The Cynics took their live Rock ‘n’ Roll show on their first tour of Europe in 1990. Eleven labels offered record deals to the Cynics.
The Cynics did not record for two years. They negotiated with two major labels on potential deals but came up empty. During this period the Cynics continued to make appearances in Europe. The Spanish label Impossible Records released a live recording of a 1991 Cynics concert in Madrid titled “Stranded in Madrid”. Get Hip re-released it as “No Siesta Tonight (Live in Madrid)" in 1994. Their music was released in Japan on 1 + 2 Records 1992 compilation titled “Cynicism”.
Learning to Lose and the Break UpThe Cynics returned to the studio in 1993 with a slightly harder grunge rock sound applied to Garage Punk, Folk-Rock, and Psych songs accented with arfisa organ and theremin hooks. They released "Learn to Lose" in 1993 shipping thousands of copies that came back as returns. Their purist garage rock fans did not buy grunge version of the Cynics. Though the album did not reach the sales levels of “Rock ‘n’ Roll” their live career was booming. They went on a 38 city tour of the East and then a fall tour of Europe and Japan. Having learned their grunge rock lesson, they returned to a pure Garage Rock on their 1994 release “Get Our Way”.
During 1994 Mike Kastelic became bored with playing the same songs night after night year after year. He was not having fun playing. His heart was not into it. He felt that he was cheating the audience just going through the motions. Compounding the problem was his fights with Gregg Kostelich. On New Year’s Eve in December of 1994 Kastelic played his last gig with the Cynics and disappeared. The band broke up for seven years.
Kastelic, who had been arrested for driving under the influence, went into jail followed by a stint in rehabilitation. After his release Kastelic formed the band Honeyburst with two former Cynics members guitarist Mike Michalski and bassist Smith Hutchings. It was a rejuvenating experience for Kastelic. Honeyburst went on two tours with the Fleshtones and Leaving Trains.
Staying in Pittsburgh Gregg Kostelich devoted himself to growing the Get Hip label. Gregg signed bands from all over the world to the Get Hip Roster including The Fleshtones, The Beat, Mystic Eyes, Fantastic Dee-Jays, Frantic Flattops, The Last Vegas and more. Get Hip distributes records on four continents through its international network of small record stores. It also buys, imports, sells and exports great music to and from Europe, Japan and America from its warehouse on the North side of Pittsburgh.
The Revenge of the CynicsThe Cynics rose from the dead in 2000 when a promoter offered the Cynics $1,500 to play in July at the Las Vegas Grind. Kastelic and Kostelich got back together practicing as a duo. After rehearsing 50 songs they rehired drummer Tom Hohn and brought in Woody Bond to play bass. They played the Vegas gig and went on a comeback tour starting in Spain with bassist Smith Hutchings. Continuing their tour in 2001 they visited Montreal, Mexico City, and Madrid to reconnect with their international fans.
In August of 2001 the Cynics camped out at Tim’s Kerr’s Seatbox Studio’s in hot Austin for three days to record their first new album since “Learn to Lose”. Kerr captured the raw energy of the band by placing microphones on each amplifier and ran the mics unaffected straight to the board. The band was happy that they finally found an engineer who could capture their raw sound. The album titled “Living is the Best Revenge” released in late 2002 received critical praise.
“People like to talk about the new garage revival, but the Cynics have been churning out primo '60s garage punk like nobody's business for over 15 years, and they are truly the kings. From the opening chords of "Turn Me Loose" to the psychedelic harmonies of the last track, "Shine," I was pretty much floored by the raw, fuzzed-out energy. Singer Michael Kastelic and guitarist Gregg Kostelich have topped themselves and every other band in this genre.” BUST Winter 2002“Garage rock is the style of the moment, but the Cynics have been preaching it for years. They pound through Yardbirds-style raveups. They throw a better party than the Hives”. –Playboy Magazine March 2003.
“Living Is the Best Revenge is the Cynics' tightest, most spirited effort since Rock'n'Roll.” –Trouser PressGoing back to their European home base they launched the new CD with a 14 date tour of Spain in January of 2003. They played for crowds of 3,000 to 4,000 selling out almost every show.
One of their biggest fans, Stephen Van Sandt, invited the Cynics to appear at his 2004 yuletide blowout show titled “Little Steven's Christmas A Go-Go” in Rochester, N.Y. It was held to promote the garage-rocking soundtrack of newly released movie "Christmas with the Kranks."
Here We Are
It was another five years before the Cynics recorded again. The Cynics traveled to Spain in 2007 to record with producer Jorge Explosion at his Circo Perrotti Studios in Gijon, Spain. He captured their retro sound using all analog equipment. Released in 2007 “Here We Are” received accolades in the press.
"Here We Are is one of the best neo-garage-rock albums in years." The USA Today
"Here We Are proved to be worth the wait. The Garage Kings returned with what is arguably the best record in a career that goes back to the '80s”. – Ed Masely Arizona Republic
Spinning Wheels MotelThe Cynics 2011 studio project was recorded at the legendary Diamond’s Ghetto Recorders in Detroit. Studio owner and recording engineer Jim Diamond had produced the first two White Stripes records and the recordings of the Detroit Cobras, his own band the Dirtbombs, and several other Detroit combos. Working with a mix of analog and digital equipment Diamond was a fast record cutter. It was another quickie recording session taking only two days. The Cynics raw live sound was captured. The 10 song "Spinning Wheel Motel" CD features a combination of psych-rock with monster riffs and jangly folk-rock. It was released on the Fourth of July. They launched it with a tour of Spain playing 17 shows in 14 days.
In their hometown of Pittsburgh the Cynics are barely known in comparison to local stars the Clarks, Donny Iris and B.E. Taylor. But unlike those regional stars the Cynics play to audiences around the world. They are critically acclaimed international super stars in the niche market of Garage Rock who stay true to their roots and loyal fan base.