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Fastest Land Animal sprints out of the gate

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Monday, March 8, 2021

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Quarantining during the past year hasn't been easy for John Cusimano.

His dog died last May, and then the house where he and wife Rachael Ray hunkered down in Lake George, N.Y., burned down, with the couple now living in their guest house while the home is being rebuilt.

Cusimano, who leads the band The Cringe, has used the time to start another group, however -- Fastest Land Animal, whose self-titled debut album comes out Friday, March 5.

To this point the trio, which has released two previous singles, has existed in anonymity. Cusimano and his bandmates adopted aliases -- his is Screamin' Jack Novak, joined by the Cringe's Jonny Blaze (Alfonse Castillo) on guitar and bass and part-time Cringe drummer Andrew Meskin (Shark Samuels) -- have appeared in two previous videos as sock puppets and with televisions in place of their heads. Texas singer-songwriter Bob Schneider (aka Bip Frisco) co-wrote and guests on "Bubble Candy" as well.

"It was just a crazy idea I had," Cusimano, says by phone. "I wanted to keep it different and separate from the Cringe, which can be a little more heavy-handed and a little sanctimonious." He took a lead from his friends in Green Day, who operate two quasi-anonymous side projects, Foxboro Hot Tubs and the Network.

I said, 'Let's come up with whole new characters, whole new names, and keep it a secret as long as we can. Let's keep this real fun and party and punky and that sort of vibe,'" Cusimano explains. "And I was curious to see what people would think if they heard the album and judged it on its own merits, with no pre-conceived notions."

Despite any of those "notions," the Cringe has carved out a niche, releasing six albums and toured as the opening act on Motley Crue's 2014-15 farewell tour. It's also been featured at Ray's annual Feedback parties for South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. But with Fastest Land Animal -- "I like that name way better than the Cringe," Cusimano notes -- he's dipping into other musical influences such as the Ramones and Buzzcocks.

"I love classic rock, and the Cringe can go on tour with Motley Crue for a year and half and Alice Cooper or Tesla or Ratt -- that's the kind of music the Cringe is all about," Cusimano says. "But I also have this really strong love for punk rock, and I always wanted to do a more punk rock kind of project. I wanted to keep everything fast and short -- like the first Ramones record.

"So the idea for (Fastest Land Animal) was to have well-crafted pop songs, but fast and punk and loud and fun and raucous."

Produced by Don Gilmore and recorded mostly over Zoom, "Fastest Land Animal's" nine songs sprint by in about 30 minutes. "Like Fight Club, John told me the first rule of Fastest Land Animal is no song (slower) than 150 beats per minute," recalls Schneider. "The second rule of Fastest Land Animal is no song less than 150 beats per minute. I said, 'That's easy,' and we wrote 'Bubble Candy' in about an hour."

Live performing plans are on hold due to the pandemic, but Cusimano is planning to maintain Fastest Land Animal as a going concern, alongside the Cringe. "This is the fun, shiny new thing I'm working on," he acknowledges, and Cusimano and company are already working on more songs for the trio.

"I think the Cringe will still exist, opportunistically," he says, "If a band that makes sense wants to take the Cringe on tour, we won't turn it down. But right now I'm going to really focus on Fastest Land Animal. It's hard to plan ahead right now, but maybe not too long from now we'll have a second -- albeit not very long -- album."

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