As Madison cult favorites Screamin' Cyn Cyn and The Pons prepare to take their notorious live show on the road, there will likely be those who are unsure just who, or what, they are seeing. The band, led by Shane O'Neill, tends to throw out terms like “punk cabaret” or “theatrical punk.” But as O'Neill points out, “Just pop would do the trick, too--It is fast, danceable punk.”
O'Neill claims no band of national recognition as a personal influence, rather citing local bands he has seen and whose live shows were so phenomenal that he wishes to emulate their performances. Initially, he claims the band's biggest influence was the Minneapolis based Tulip Sweet & Her Trail of Tears, and that Screamin' Cyn Cyn originated as a vehicle by which they could play Tulip Sweet songs for their friends. “Tulip Sweet played songs which were funny and sad at the same time, which is a combination that we still find pretty entertaining,” he says.
One thing that makes O'Neill proud is that the band has progressed organically, and that nothing has been forced. They only added members when it seemed to be a good fit and felt right, moving the band along at their own pace. “Basically, it's been really fun and we all get along well. As long as it's fun to play shows, and we're still getting along, we'll just take that as far as it goes!”
While most bands tend to have lofty aspirations of world domination, O'Neill takes a more practical approach. He likes his job, and vocalist Cynthia is content with her teaching career. “It's a cute idea to think of our band playing professionally,” he says, “but we haven't taken any steps to take it beyond the time-consuming hobby phase yet.”
While writing songs, O'Neill says that he tries to avoid writing about anything that is bothering him or affecting him personally, as he ends up embarrassed with the end result. There are exceptions to this, as he claims the songs “20% Gay” and “Garbage Day” are direct results of something that happened to him. More often, he tends to write from another person's perspective, because he likes finding the humor and pathos in other people's problems.
“I'm not fixated on adolescent girls, but I find the whole social situation of being an adolescent girl full of tragedy and absurdity,” he says. “So there are a lot of songs I've written about being an adolescent female, like the fun stuff in 'Slumber Party' and the hard stuff in 'Sticker Book.'”
Those who have yet to see Screamin' Cyn Cyn and The Pons live might wonder what they can expect from the band. There are step stools for the bassist and guitarist to dance on, and props, costumes, make-up and general tomfoolery. O'Neill makes a solemn promise that the band won't pretend they are just practicing without an audience, and that their sole aim is to entertain.
“We might make mistakes,” he says. “We want to expect to have fun, but that is up to the person. Awe from the audience would be good. 'That was fun' would be better. But we consistently settle for dismay, shock and confusion. The whole point is to have a good time.”
As the band heads out on their current tour of the Midwest, they are not strangers to being on the road. One show that stands out in O'Neill's mind was playing with a Christian math-rock band in Ohio. Another was a show in Providence, where a girl read a book in the front row and paused intermittently to smile encouragingly at them.
“We've been really lucky with traveling,” O'Neill states. “Almost every band that has helped us out has been really awesome and sweet, which generally determines how much fun you have. We love to have fun.”
Screamin' Cyn Cyn and The Pons will be playing their unusual brand of danceable punk rock across an unsuspecting Midwest this summer. The tour dates are listed on the band's MySpace page. O'Neill, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, sums it up by saying, “Being popular is more important than being right.”