Steven Delopoulos of Burlap to Cashmere
March 12, 1998
By Dave Landsel
When you pop the disc in the player, you hear a quiet guitar opening, backed by lots of screaming, clapping fans. The announcer encourages the audience to give the traditional "Bitter End Welcome" to the band, and the vocals begin--curious vocals--a duet as the keyboards begin to play a haunting, ethereal accompaniment. Things begin to speed up, and before you know it, you've got the conga's, you've got some more instrumentation, and all of a sudden there's a burst of energy and the song has officially begun. The flamenco-flavored Grecian folk stylings of the seven Brooklynites composing the band Burlap to Cashmere have been packing clubs across the northeast over the past two years, but it's only now that those foreign to spots like New York's East Village have the opportunity to find out what the buzz is all about-through the A&M records EP release, Live at the Bitter End.
When cousins Steven Delopoulos and John Phillipidis were discovered in a New Jersey coffee house by ex-model-turned-manager Jamison Ernest, it took more than a little convincing that what the twosome had thus far considered recreational had potential on a wider scale. The band is currently touring across the nation, preparing for the release of its first full-length record, recently recorded at New York City's Hit Factory. I caught up with them just as they were preparing to leave on the next leg of their latest tour.
Tollbooth - Tell me about the discovery. Who found you, where, and when?
Delopoulos - I was at Marymount Manhattan College and had done a lot of songwriting already. I wanted to put a show together there at school. I asked my cousin to join me, as well as a number of other people. It wound up being a real good show; the house was packed the second night. I wanted to keep it going, so we started playing different clubs in Manhattan. That was a period in my life when I really wanted to go the mainstream Christian route, but my cousin wanted to play blues, so we stopped playing together for a while. Every once in a while though, we'd get back together and jam; you know, when you're cousins. One night we played at this coffeehouse, and a friend of Johnny's, Jamison Ernest, was there. He was actually modeling but quit because he got discouraged by a lot of things in the business. While he was modeling, however, he made a lot of connections in the music business. When he saw us, he made it clear that he really wanted to be our manager, to get us going. I was mostly excited because I wanted to play with my cousin full time. I have the highest respect for my cousin's guitar playing.
Tollbooth - This was when??
Delopoulos - Three and a half years ago, in 1995. So Jay got us started, playing at this Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. We would play there about two nights a week, making $100 a night. It was from there that things started progressing, and the band began to come together. I found our percussion player through a classified ad. It was really interesting, because the way I described the band to him, it wasn't. But that's how I thought it was. He was wanting to be in a band like what ours was. I just didn't know my own band. Talk about God and perfect timing! He came one night and I showed him all the songs, and he said, "Wow, great songs, but you guys are a little immature."
Tollbooth - We're talking about Scott Barksdale, right?
Delopoulos - Yes. He came from the big-time to us two little kids in Brooklyn. We were saying, "Yeah, we got good songs, and we're gonna be huge!" He kind of giggled and thought, "Ok, I'll play with these dummies for a little while," but he was just trying to start his career in the city (what people from the outer boroughs call Manhattan).
On and off, as we were playing at the Italian restaurant, Jay Ernest's brother Mike would come play bass with us. Mike was in a band called Flood No. 9, a project that he and Teddy Pagano, who's our drummer now, did together. Mike would do it just to get free food; at the time I think that was why we all were doing it, really. There wasn't much money involved, but he got a big kick out of it. After that we started playing a lot at The Bitter End (in the Village). It was really Jay's idea to get us playing there. He's the mastermind, getting the record companies out to see us, generating the hype-all that stuff.
Tollbooth - I hear the exec's were fighting for seats at your shows!
Delopoulos - Exactly -- Jay did a good job with that.
Tollbooth - Tell me a little about your background. Where are your roots, musically and spiritually?
Delopoulos - Musically, I'm a big Harry Chapin fan. I love listening to his songs. They always had something catchy to them. When I first heard "Cat's in the Cradle" on the radio, I was in love. I bought all his CDs, everything he had. Even his biography! He was definitely my main influence in songwriting. If you listen to our songs, like "Chop Chop" or "Is Anybody out There," it's totally Chapin. Another guy I really loved was Cat Stevens. He had this fairy tale songwriting he did that was really refreshing. I love Simon and Garfunkel, too. They gave you seasons to listen by. I always hated rock and roll, like Zeppelin or The Doors. I was into these folk artists. I liked the idea of being a solo artist. It's funny how God works. His way is always different than ours.
Spiritually, I believe my life isn't something I'm doing; God is in charge of everything. He's in charge of my future, in control of what I went through in the past. He's in control right now. Yes it's choice--I went through the evangelical questioning stage where they said, "It's your decision for Christ, it's your decision to make disciples, it's your decision to do this or that." Yes, but it's also God working in you to do it, and it's grace. It's because of God's love that I'm in this band. It's because of God's love that I can have a relationship with him. It's because of God's grace that I can do all things. It's a paradox. So I believe that when you do something, it's because God is making you take that action. That's why I believe everything is God.
Tollbooth - Do the other members of the band share your faith?
Delopoulos - Some of them do more than others, like the guitar player, Mike is really into his relationship with God. Scott in his own way is too. Everyone's at their own level, but I believe that everyone in the band is God-picked. I believe that some of them are going to grow, and some of them are going to fall. We're all together for a reason.
Tollbooth - How are your lyrics received in spots like The Bitter End? Do people pay attention to what you're saying?
Delopoulos - Sometimes they
don't. It's funny. It's gotten to the point where, half the time, they
don't even know what we're talking about. The thing about our band is,
which I appreciate more and more as we go on, is that we're very visual,
very atmospheric. But people take the CD home, listen to it,and realize
they're Christian lyrics. But our show is like a circus--you've got my
cousin doing guitar solos, you have the drummer doing drum solos--it's
all kind of a Grateful Dead/ Dave Matthews kind of thing. The fans think,
oh, it's a hippie, tripped out thing; but we're talking about the
Right now we're having trouble with our record label. They want us to go on a Christian label. Jay, our manager, is in France right now promoting Burlap to Cashmere all over Europe. He wants us to become really big in Europe, and Nashville at the same time, and show our record label that we can do it.
Tollbooth - So A&M is saying get on a Christian label?
Delopoulos - Yeah. Go Christian, then do a crossover. A&M heard the album and said, "Great album, but these are Christian lyrics! Go over to Nashville, get big over there, and then do a crossover." But Jay said no, it'll put a name on us. We don't want to be categorized as a complete Christian band. We don't want to do that because we don't want to sing just to the choir. We want to sing to to everyone. It's a shame that nowadays you get judged like blue jeans--you're a Christian band, you're a secular band, you're a blues band. It really restrains you from where you want to go. But I know, in my heart, that I have a relationship with God, and I don't have to prove anything to the world.