“Every song’s gotta be fast,” said John Cusimano. “The idea was nothing slower than 150 beats per minute, which is a pretty peppy song.”
Cusimano had a need. A need for— The gears had already been turning in his head. The name of a new band came to the member of New York band The Cringe early on: Fastest Land Animal.
He said he even liked it more than the name of his principal band. For inspiration, he tapped into some of the bands he listened to growing up, like the Buzzcocks, Hüsker Dü and the Ramones. Beyond that he said he was a fan of Green Day’s side project bands like Foxboro Hot Tubs and The Network.
“Maybe we could even have secret identities,” he thought. Yet he didn’t act on his impulses until recently.
In early March of 2020, Cusimano and his wife, Rachael Ray, left New York City for their home in upstate New York. They had an annual trip planned to Austin for SXSW, with Cusimano and The Cringe playing a handful of gigs. One day later the world changed.
“We’ve been here ever since,” Cusimano said. “I haven’t not been in New York [City] for this long in my entire life; it’s been where I live for the last 30 years, so it’s really bizarre.”
Beyond just the pandemic, the couple faced the devastation of losing their beloved dog Isaboo in May
“That was heart-wrenching,” Cusimano said. “Then in August, our house burnt down.”
The guest house survived the blaze, and it’s where Cusimano and Ray have lived since as their house gets rebuilt. However, John Cusimano’s home studio—and Future Land Animal’s recordings—survived the blaze. The band has provided a much-needed detour for Cusimano to dig into a more positive project. Songs were already kicking around in his head since last spring.
“I had some songs that were already fast and punky-sounding that could fit that bill,” he said.
Cusimano got together with his friend Bob Schneider, and he pitched the musical concept of what Fastest Land Animal could be. Schneider was in, as “Bip Frisco.” They had a song done in an hour.
The next call was to producer and longtime Cringe collaborator Don Gilmore, who’s worked with the likes of Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne and Korn. Cusimano rounded out the power trio with Cringe bandmate Jonny Blaze on guitar and bass, and friend Andrew Meskin on drums.
Stuck upstate New York, Cusimano wrote an album’s worth of material.
“We couldn’t obviously get together and do what we normally do at the Power Station, because of COVID,” Cusimano said. “We were all stuck in our homes all over the place, so we figured out how to do the album remotely.”
Between Zoom meetings and apps that allowed the musicians to hear each other in real time and in high fidelity, the band was able to record in a traditional way.
The band developed pseudonyms and involved origin stories to go along with Fastest Land Animal. Cusimano became “Screaming Jack Novak.” AS inspiration for a video, he turned to ’90s MTV puppet program “The Sifl and Olly Show.”
Drummer Andrew Meskin took Cusimano’s concept and shot the entire sock puppet video for “Too Close to the Fire” in his home. For the band’s second video, for “Answer in My Head,” the band recruited stand-ins to wear TVs on their heads.
Cusimano found it an exciting prospect to release music anonymously, without any preconceived context of those making it.
“I was kinda thinking we should never do the big reveal,” he said. “I’m almost inclined to just keep the mystery going.”
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.