Hunched over a computer in his messy room filled with comic books, anime paraphernalia and empty mugs, Kevin Hegedus — tall, skinny and bespectacled — looked at his laptop. He clicked past folders and files like “Pokémon Sounds,” “Billy Budd,” “Desktop Clutter” and “Overflow Clutter,” trying to get to his latest e-mail from Brandon Linn, his musical partner-in-crime. Brandon — shorter, baby-faced and more than 200 miles away — had just spent hours in front of his Dell laptop and his electronic keyboard composing beats and samples to send to Kevin.
The two best friends have created 90 percent of their music this way, Linn said.
Hegedus, a.k.a. Mouf, and Linn, a.k.a. Master Rogers, make up Mouth’s Cradle, one of the Syracuse University music scene’s leading hip-hop and electronic acts. They will release their latest record, a free 15-track mixtape titled Mouth’s Cradle vs. the Hype, next week. In little more than a year of working together, the two have released an EP and an album available on iTunes, headlined Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom and played on the same stage as hip-hop superstar Lupe Fiasco.
“Brandon and I have always found it funny to pretend we were hip-hop superstars when really we’re these white boys from Whitehall Township, [Penn.],” said Hegedus. A junior music major, Hegedus said he lives and breathes music, and recent SU graduate Linn is no different.
“Because we’re perfectionists, because each of us really does have great ideas, once one of us can say, ‘All right, I’ll try it your way,’” Linn said. “It usually works.”
Hegedus and Linn first met in the summer of 2009, at a party at Hegedus’s house in Allentown, Penn. Despite living three blocks from each other for most of their lives and attending the same high school, they had never crossed paths.
With Hegedus already established as the singer and rapper Mouth’s Cradle and Brandon established as a DJ, the two exchanged e-mail addresses and sent songs to one another. After putting a few songs together, they started performing the next semester at Syracuse house parties, at Funk N Waffles and SU’s Jabberwocky Café. At first managed by start-up student record label O, Morning Records, in that semester they met their current manager, Max Gredinger.
“I had heard pop and hip-hop combined before, but their genre-crossover is what appeals to a young market right now,” Gredinger said. “Mouth’s Cradle lived in this genre crossover that I had never heard before and I was intrigued by that.”
Gredinger, now a sophomore Bandier student in SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, runs HoldMyCoat.com, a hip-hop blog that promotes Mouth’s Cradle and serves as the primary source of information on the band’s activity. Gredinger helped the band book more shows and get wider exposure, eventually leading to their performing for a different audience in New York City in August at the Highline Ballroom. Through connections in the Bandier Program, Gredinger spoke with Rich Cohen, manager of indie pop band Passion Pit, which led to an opening slot at Juice Jam, SU’s largest fall concert. Most recently they played a set in the Canal Room during the Bandier Program’s showcase at the CMJ Music Marathon weeklong festival in New York City.
“That really turned the tide for us, as far as being serious, as far as getting more exposure. [Getting Gredinger] was a pivotal moment for both of us,” Hegedus said.
Gredinger handling managerial and booking responsibilities allowed Linn and Hegedus to do what they did best: make music. Linn and Hegedus agree that he keeps their personalities in line. The duo’s last major argument was over Mouth’s Cradle’s last hit, “Summertime,” which the they played at Juice Jam.
Because he disliked the song Linn sampled in the “Summertime” beat, Hegedus originally opposed adding his lyrics to the finished product. Hegedus, a fan of idiosyncratic music in the vein of South African rave rap duo Die Antwoord, did not want to rap over a sample of Train's “Hey, Soul Sister,” he said. After Gredinger and Linn convinced him that the beat was strong enough, he relented.
“Now the video has 26,000 hits on YouTube and it’s people’s favorite Mouth’s Cradle song,” Gredinger said.
Despite his management of the Mouth’s Cradle brand, though, Gredinger’s influence is not the be-all and end-all. Hegedus and Linn still make their own decisions on the music and on their brand. From when he started performing solo as Mouth’s Cradle, Hegedus took his cue from alternative rock band the White Stripes.
“Talk about a band that knows what the f--- they’re doing brand-wise. From the beginning they’ve had three colors, two members,” he said. “For Mouth’s Cradle I was like, ‘I want red and purple.’”
At Mouth’s Cradle’s August show at the Highline Ballroom, Linn and Hegedus stood on opposite sides of a dark stage, costumed in layers of sunglasses, purple workout jackets and red blazers. With Linn bent over his Dell laptop and electronic keyboard and Hegedus standing waving his hands emphatically with each lyric, the duo stripped off their clothing layer by layer as the set progressed. For performance, the costumes and personas are essential.
“If I change my name to someone I could invent, like it’s Halloween, I could feel like a different person on stage, and it would give me more confidence,” Linn said.
Hegedus and Linn never wear their costumes to a show. They arrive at the venue, change and perform. Hegedus even admits to pretending not to recognize his own friends in the crowd while performing.
“There has to be a divide between Kevin and Mouf for me to be successful at doing what I’m doing,” he said.
Ulf Oesterle, a professor in the Bandier Program and one of Gredinger’s professors, has seen the band twice now, both at the Highline Ballroom and in the Canal Room. Oesterle commended their performance decisions as well as their music, saying that they hit their college demographic and hit the genres that they need to. He has even played them on his indie-rock oriented radio show on K-Rock.
“We encourage all of our students to do it now,” he said. “There’s no reason to wait until you graduate.”
In the past year, the only time the duo did not actively create new music was while Hegedus underwent surgery and hospital care for Crohn’s disease, which has afflicted him for the past three years. During his recovery, with tubes hanging out of his sides, he still e-mailed Linn and Gredinger back and forth with new vocal parts for Mouth’s Cradle’s album The Next Big Thing, despite taking a semester off from his studies.
After releasing Mouth’s Cradle vs. the Hype, Linn and Hegedus will take a break from music-making. Now a part-time ad salesman, Linn will continue postgraduate job hunting while Hegedus, back at SU, will focus on schoolwork and performing solo shows when he can.
Even if they end up not making it, they agree that they both want to be rock stars.
“Some guy on the Internet just said we were his favorite band of all time. That was really nuts,” Hegedus said. “To be one person’s favorite band. That’s literally my dream come true, like I could stop, but I don’t want to yet.”
Kevin Hegedus of Mouth's Cradle preforms solo Thursday night at Spark in Syracuse (Photo: Eric Vilas-Boas)
Between activism, rousing performances and even cupcakes, a Thursday night at Spark proved not only fun, but free too. Student bands Mouth’s Cradle, the Vanderbuilts and Sarongs played between 10 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.
The free show, sponsored by the twentieth annual Matrilineage Symposium, is the first event in what Matrilineage President Holly Zahn plans to be this year’s series promoting women in art. A part of the Committee of Women in Art, Matrilineage, she said, provides an outlet for artists to communicate musical and visual art, in a variety of media.
For Kevin Hegedus, who headlined the show into the early morning as Mouf, one half of student band wunderkind Mouth’s Cradle, it provided an opportunity to experiment. He played a solo set of known and never-before-heard Mouth’s Cradle jams from both their album The Next Big Thing as well as their upcoming mixtape, Mouth’s Cradle vs. the Hype.
With Mouth’s Cradle beat-master and bandmate Brandon Linn, aka Master Rogers, absent, Hegedus did his best to bring his usual charisma to the fore, giving the crowd a dense show against a dark backdrop of alternately space-y, visceral and technological B-roll.
The openers, the Vanderbuilts and Sarongs, have not played as many shows as Hegedus has, but still brought an evocative sound from wildly different genres. The Vanderbuilts (a play on the famous family name) describe their music as a mix between Americana and post-punk, with a banjo and a violin. Sarongs took it upon themselves to bring the noise for the night, with a blend of what they called surf rock and the punk group the Dead Kennedys. Whatever they might be, Sarongs’ tumultuous rhythm section yielded impassioned stomping and moshing while the Vanderbuilts’ earnest guitar-and-violin melodies triumphed over a crowd that swayed no matter what they did.
That crowd, composed of largely Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, brought its own madness to the table throughout the night. Dancing very quickly made itself the norm in the Mouth’s Cradle crowd. A tambourine changed hands no less than three times during opener Sarongs’ set. During an emotionally quieter moment in one of the Vanderbuilts’ penultimate song, two chipper attendees took it upon themselves to scream about how glad they were to see each other.
While the crowd might have been distracting, Matrilineage worked to counter it, by offering beer as well as cupcakes, sold at $2 each. For Zahn, a junior film major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at SU, the main thing Matrilineage needs to do is raise funds to put on shows like the one on Thursday night.
Her group was denied funding by SU’s student government, Student Association, meaning they now receive $6,000 of a proposed $10,000. The Department of Transmedia foots that bill, but it is still not sufficient to fund the annual Matrilineage Symposium in February, currently scheduled from Feb. 7 to Feb. 17, she said. Zahn hopes to bring lectures, workshops, performances and even plays, all put on by students, she said.
“We want to bring artists and have them interact with students,” she said. Judging by the fact that none of the acts that played put up a barrier between themselves and their audience — and Sarongs went so far as to play within their crowd — this free show was a step in the right direction.