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Hank & Cupcakes' creative focus

Alt-rock duo downsizes to take its music to new heights



Though the names are actually taken from Charles Bukowski's alter ego and one of his lovers, Ariel Scherbacovsky and Sagit Shir have gotten used to fans calling them "Hank" and "Cupcakes." The electro-pop/rock duo who released its debut album in 2013 has been touring hard ever since. So, whatever you call them, they're probably just happy you're at the concert.

"A lot of people call him 'Hank,'" Shir says of her bandmate and husband. "It's ok. We have weird foreign names, so we're used to it."

The couple is originally from Israel where they met while playing in a band, but moved to Cuba to study music before rethinking things and heading to New York City to start a band. Just a few months ago, the couple relocated again to Atlanta which makes it a lot easier to tour some of their favorite places, including Snug Harbor. Though they just played there in January, the duo will return on March 17 to perform as a part of Shiprocked.

"We love Shiprocked. For us, it feels like a perfect night to play in Charlotte," Shir says. "Once we found Snug Harbor, we understood that we found a home for us in Charlotte. There are amazing people who work there and a crowd that loves music to play for."

This time around, that music includes plenty of new material from the duo's upcoming, untitled album. Moving from New York to lower-cost-of-living Atlanta has afforded them the luxury of building an in-home studio.

"We wanted to move away from New York and try a new place. Atlanta was on the place of cool music cities," Shir says. "It's a good location for touring. It's not too far from New York and it's warm. We already knew a ton of bands from there. It's amazing. We have a big house and a whole area downstairs for rehearsal."

The duo has been focused on writing and rehearsing during the week and touring on the weekends. The DIY approach hasn't always been the way things were done, but it fits Hank & Cupcakes' style.

In January, the two were seen on the Snug Harbor stage setting up their equipment and getting a massive, colorful backdrop in place before their set. Not what you'd expect from the duo who was once signed to BMG and working with the typical booking agents, managers, publishing deals and record labels.

When they had a window to leave the contract, however, they did and it's been more focused since then. They get artistic friends to help out with photoshoots and the previously mentioned backdrop.

"That was a vision we had before the tour we did last year," Shir says of the peacockian stage decoration. "We knew that we were going to play a bunch of festivals, so we wanted to create a look that looks nice and big and beautiful, even though it's just two people on a big stage. Our friend made the metal structure and we did all the sewing and fabric ourselves."

And there's no pressure for that next album.

"We've got about eight songs so far. We need a couple more, but we're going to start recording next week," Shir says. "The fact that we're playing the new material is a healthy way to grow. Usually you record an album before you've warmed up on any of the songs. Then you tour on the songs and wish you had recorded them after the tour. So, we're doing that now. We're playing the album as much as we can so that when we record it, we're really warm and well-rehearsed on the songs."

Shir doesn't see the band performing as a duo as limiting, but more of a creative challenge. She says if the group consisted of a standard quartet, they'd more likely fall into typical song arrangements. As a duo, it forces them to make their sound bigger and explore a bit of their sound.

Their dynamic approach to music consists of Shir singing and standing behind her drumkit while Scherbacovsky uses an array of pedals and samples to modify the sound coming out of his bass guitar and create a bigger wall of sound. The duo can be danceable in one minute, more aggressive in the next and undoubtedly can get a dancefloor moving in short order. It's difficult to stand still once their beats hit your eardrums.

While Shir says their Cuban experience made its way into the drumbeat of the Hank & Cupcakes song "Cocaina," what they learned was more about life experience. For now, the band is focused on the new material, which Shir says is more rock and less dancy. They've even cut back on the number of samples used.

"We've been rehearsing the new stuff and we record it and listen to it and keep making changes," Shir says. "We're putting final touches on everything. We are always trying to improve it and learn a lot from performing it as well. Everyone who sees us play before the album comes out is getting an early testing of the new songs."

And when do they hope to have the new album finished?

Shir says, "The timeline is as soon as possible."

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