Author: Hayley Lind
A crowd of 20-somethings clad in vintage band t-shirts and Converse danced and sang along as Shaant Hacikyan bounced around stage, singing with an enormous grin on his face. This was the scene of the New York City date of Cute Is What We Aim For’s 10-Year Anniversary Tour, which took place at Webster Hall on September 14.
Until this past January, vocalist Shaant Hacikyan, guitarist Jeff Czum and drummer, Tom Falcone hadn’t spoken to each other in three years. The Buffalo-based band said they finally moved past the early-day drama and breakups and couldn’t be happier to return to the stage—this time, as friends.
The tour, which culminates October 27 and 28 at the Waiting Room in Buffalo, commemorates a decade since the release of CIWWAF’s 2006 album, “Same Old Blood Rush With A New Touch.”
Krystal Sullivan, a 22-year-old fan of the band, said this album takes her back to her middle school days.
“It’s one of those staple albums that makes you feel nostalgic,” she said.
This was also the debut album that skyrocketed the pop-punk outfit to fame after they signed to Fueled by Ramen, the record label that launched the careers of Alternative mainstays Paramore and Panic! at the Disco.
Hacikyan and Czum, who were 18 and 19 years old when “Same Old Blood Rush” came out, said they were too immature to handle the whirlwind fame that resulted.
“As we were growing up, everything happened so fast,” Hacikyan, now 29, said. “We really didn’t like each other. We were just kids who didn’t understand what we had.”
The band first broke up in 2008, after releasing their second album, “Rotation.” Hacikyan went solo, while the other members started a side project called Nocturnal Me. Neither of these pursuits worked out for the guys, so they decided to reunite in 2011. They supported Allstar Weekend and You Me At Six on several 2013 tours, and played on the 2014 Vans Warped Tour.
At the time, it seemed like the band had made a comeback. But with no new music released and no foreseeable future together, the band parted ways once again and headed out into the real world. Falcone started a family, Czum wrote for his local newspaper, and Hacikyan worked a corporate job and bartended. While these jobs helped pay the bills, the band members—especially Hacikyan and Czum—were not satisfied with their new paths.
Hacikyan, who spent last year bartending at the Waiting Room, said that running into old friends like The Rocket Summer’s Bryce Avery and Josh Farro, formerly of Paramore made him miss playing music.
“Every time I would meet these people they would be like ‘Dude, what the fuck are you doing?’” he said. “Hearing those things from people I grew up with and respect, I said, ‘maybe I should give this a shot.’”
In January, Hacikyan reached out to Czum and the former band mates immediately rekindled their friendship. Though the two hadn’t spoken in nearly three years, they say they connected easily.
“We just had an unshakeable bond that we were able to tap back into,” Hacikyan explained.
“We’ve been through a lot, and we all recognized that,” said Czum, now 28.
After reestablishing this bond, Hacikyan and Czum reconnected with Falcone and discussed the possibility of a 10-year anniversary tour for “Same Old Blood Rush.” Within weeks of this conversation, a promoter in Australia reached out to the band.
“We hoped that if we were to announce an Australian run, then it would create interest in the U.S. and that’s exactly what happened,” Hacikyan said. “The response was just overwhelming.”
After they mapped out the Australian tour—which consisted of seven shows in August—the band reached out to Chris Ring, a Buffalo-based promoter they worked with in their early days. Ring then employed CIWWAF as the first partner with his company, Fanbassador—a crowdfunding source for bands. Cute Is What We Aim For used this platform to determine what cities they should play in based on audience demand.
In addition to playing predetermined cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, the band added shows in Boston and Richmond, Va. after quizzing fans on their preferred locations.
Fanbassador is also helping CIWWAF bring in additional revenue by offering exclusive perks such as coffee with the band and music-writing lessons on the day of each show.
“Giving these fans a chance to actually have a say is actually really important now,” Ring said. “We’re adding about 500-1000 extra dollars to an artist’s bottom line.”
While Hacikyan appreciates the monetary aspect, he says he is most humbled by the devoted fan base that continues to surround his band.
“I’m so surprised that we have people who 10 years later still care and are still willing to support this idea, it’s just crazy,” Hacikyan said. “I’m still just beside myself that we have this chance. And I get to play music with my friends.”
Photo: Doha Madani