Cyndi Dawson and Henry Seiz power the rock outfit The Cynz. Formed in 2010, The Cynz released a cover of “Tell That Girl To Shut Up” in February, with another single planned for this fall preceding their fifth album release. In June, Cyndi and Henry phoned our music reporter Bennett Kelly from a Sunday practice session, at 2:30 sharp.
Ben Kelly: I was just listening to some of your music, so, good timing.
Cyndi Dawson: What were you listening to?
BK: I was listening to “Room Without a View.”
Cyndi: Oh, that’s a Smithereens cover.
Cyndi: Good, New Brunswick. When I was working in the club down in New Brunswick, that’s actually when they were just really starting to get off the ground. So I knew them from that time.
BK: That would have been right about ’86 ish when they blew up?
Cyndi: Yeah, about that, right?
Henry Seiz: Mmhmm.
BK: With “Blood and Roses.”
Cyndi: Yeah it would have been about then. Because I think Patrix was open from like, about ‘83 to ‘87, or ‘82 to ‘87. I can’t even remember. So much was going on, it’s hard to remember that far back.
BK: I think we can just hop right into the interview. So speaking of Patrix, I’m glad you just brought that up, because it reminded me there was one night there where Springsteen showed up and played a set.
Cyndi: I was there. John Eddie played the last Friday of every month, and every single time John Eddie came to play, they would say, Oh, Bruce Springsteen’s coming tonight. And Bruce Springsteen never showed up. So it became kind of like a running joke.
So I’m working there one night, John Eddie’s playing, and this guy walks in. Small guy with a bandana, and the guitar slung over his shoulder. And he walks by and he winks at me. And I said, Oh right, you’re Bruce Springsteen. Very sarcastically. And the next thing I know, he was on stage playing with John Eddie. And I think I called him an a–hole, to be honest with you. And at the end of the night, I knew that I had to say I was sorry [laughs]. And he was so cool about it. Bruce was just like, Oh, I’ve been called worse. And everybody kind of sat down and had drinks together. He was a really cool guy. And I still have the newspaper clipping that was in the Home News when he played that night.
BK: Nice. And before we get deep into The Cynz music, I wanted to just ask you about another bar, because I read that you were a bartender at the Golden Rail.
Cyndi: I was. That was the last New Brunswick bar that I worked at.
BK: I talked to two bands that played there, and both of them said they got into fights while they were playing there.
Cyndi: I don’t know. They didn’t have bands that I can recall when I worked there. That must have been after I left, because I have a bar in Hoboken. I own a bar in Hoboken. So I had worked there for about five years, and then I had left to work in my own place. So I think the bands came after that. What year were those guys playing there?
BK: That would have been like 1990. And then probably five or ten years later for the other band.
Cyndi: I did work there in 1990, and I don’t remember bands when I worked there. I just don’t remember the Golden Rail having bands. I’m not saying that they never did. I just don’t remember it while I was there.
BK: Karaoke, maybe. Did they have big karaoke there?
Cyndi: Yeah, it would have been karaoke. We did have karaoke during my time there.
BK: Gotcha. All right, so anyway, The Cynz. I think you two have been playing together for about a little over a decade now?
Cyndi: We’re getting up on 14 years at the end of this year.
Henry: We started out in 2011.
Cyndi: We put the band together in 2010 towards the end of the year. So that’s how I count. But about 13 years, I’d say 13, 14 years.
BK: And actually that just reminded me. I spoke to a friend of yours this morning, Gary Kaplan.
Cyndi: Oh yeah, Gary!
Henry: Great guy.
BK: So this whole project, I think I told Cyndi, but interviewing a lot of bands from the New Brunswick scene, past and present, for kind of a mid-year music recap. So Gary’s band, they just had a single come out a month ago or so. And I got him in there and a bunch of other bands from different time periods. And I don’t know if this is your first band, but Cyndi you’re kind of more making this music push now with The Cynz? And then Henry, you played in a bunch of bands back in the 90s Court Tavern scene?
Henry: Yeah, we played at the Court, Patrix, the Roxy, which was across the street from the Melody. I think that was it. I was in a band called the Lost Hombres. Louie Louie & the Lost Hombres. Louie Pinola was the main songwriter. He’s great. He’s still playing today, goes out, does solo jobs. But yeah, we played the Court Tavern lots of times. That was like our home base. And also Patrix and the Roxy.
Cyndi: And actually, this is not my first band. I was in an all-girl band at seventeen called Kamikaze Kitty and the Attack Cats. And then I was a poet with a band. We toured over in Europe, and I had a series in East Brunswick at a coffee shop. Then I ran and did a lot of stuff as a spoken word artist before The Cynz.
BK: Right. I even see a poetry book as well. So a lot of spoken word in New York and New Jersey and abroad.
Cyndi: Yeah. I always worked with a rock band, but I didn’t sing. I did it as a spoken word artist.
BK: Oh, neat. So you’d have a guitar band behind you while you’re reading your poems?
Cyndi: I had a full band. Drums, guitar, keyboard. And I worked with a bassist who was a very prominent bassist in the New Brunswick scene. DP and The Greys was a pretty big band at one time in the 80s, with Dani Petroni, and Jair-Rôhm Parker Wells, who went on to do a lot of things with a lot of famous people. He was the bassist in that band. That’s how I met him. And then he was living in Sweden and we did this long distance. I would send him over recordings of my spoken word and then he would add music to it over the internet. And that’s how we created some of the word pieces. And then when he would come back to New Jersey, we would perform all around. And then I’d go over to Europe and we go and do stuff over in Europe.
BK: Did you ever cross paths with some of the other spoken word artists? Like Henry Rollins, for instance?
Cyndi: Oh, gosh, no. I wish I did. But I did know members of Patti Smith’s band. Of course, Tony Shanahan, who’s a North Brunswick guy. I was very good friends with Ivan Crowe. I knew Lenny [Kaye], still know Lenny, still know Tony. And I met Patti once. That was it [laughs]. But our paths only crossed once. But she really was, when I was a young girl, was the first time I ever heard “Horses,” and that just changed my whole life. That’s what I wanted to do from that point on.
BK: Nice. So, let’s see. This is a question I’m asking everyone in the series, and that is when and where was your first New Brunswick performance?
Cyndi: Well, you mean as a band, as The Cynz?
BK: Any performance, really, your first band, your first iteration.
Cyndi: My first poetry performance was at the Roxy.
Henry: Mine was at the Court Tavern. Our first gig with The Cynz was in Highland Park, if that counts.
BK: Yeah. Pino’s?
Henry: Actually, no.
Cyndi: It was at a performance space and it was Sherry Rubel, the photographer, who’s very well known for her work. She put together a show at this performance space that was upstairs in this building on Raritan Avenue. She called Salon d’Arte. I don’t know that the building itself has any, but it’s a performance space that you could rent out, like a beautiful lot.
Henry: It was about a block or two away from where Pino’s is now. I don’t know if Pino’s was around then?
Cyndi: I think Pino’s was probably only starting out in terms of having a venue. We have played Pino’s several times.
BK: And a lot of New York shows as well, right? Places like Piano’s?
Cyndi: Oh, we’ve done hundreds of New York shows. And Europe. And Iowa, the Midwest. We’ve been doing a lot of shows lately in Boston and Maine.
BK: What’s your main venue these days? The Bowery Electric?
Cyndi: I’d say the Bowery Electric is probably where we play the most. And the Parkside.
Henry: Yeah the Parkside Lounge on Houston Street. To a lesser extent these days because it’s so small, Otto’s Shrunken Head. We kind of cut our baby teeth at Otto’s as a band, as The Cynz. Did a lot of gigs there. But we tend to play in larger places now.
BK: This year you’ve got that great single out “Tell That Girl to Shut Up,” which was originally by Holly and the Italians in 79, and then by Transvision Vamp in 88. So which version landed with you first?
Cyndi: I knew the original song from back in the club days. And it wasn’t really on my radar as something that I ever was going to cover. And I’m a big Transvision Vamp fan and so I actually gravitated more towards their version. But I found both versions a little sweet. I wanted to rock it out a little bit more, punk it up a little bit more. And my actual president of our label, Marty Scott from Jem, he was the one who suggested that we cover it, which I was vehemently against originally.
Henry: Yeah Cyndi didn’t want to do it.
Cyndi: I didn’t want to do it. Because I don’t really want to do covers all that often. And we had just done that cover of the Smithereens song, so I was sort of ambivalent about doing another cover. But then I listened to it and I had a vision in my head of how I thought we could do it. And Henry also had a vision, and we tend to think alike. And so we brought it to the studio with the rest of the band and in three hours we had it knocked out.
Henry: We just decided to have fun with it.
Cyndi: And it turned out pretty cool.
Henry: Turned out pretty good.
BK: Yeah I think of all the three, yours definitely packs the biggest punch of the two prior versions of it.
Cyndi: Yeah. I respect both artists and I think they’re both really good. But in my mind, when you’re telling somebody to Shut up, that you’re going to beat her up because she’s flirting with your boyfriend, it should be a bit more punchy. That’s the way that I heard it in my head. So that was how we approached it.
BK: Yeah, exactly. How did your band get together? Who’s in it now and what’s the formation story?
Henry: We’ve had a lot of previous members who, well some have been with us for longer than others and some left to follow other opportunities. Which is perfectly fine, we don’t own anybody. It would be nice to have all our original members, but as it stands, Cyndi and I are the only ones.
When we started out, I saw her perform during a poetry gig and I said, Hey, if you ever want a guitar player to back you up, let me know. So we did a couple poetry shows together and I was thinking one time, she didn’t know I was listening, but she was singing something and I said, You know, that sounds pretty good. She should sing. So I suggested that. I said, Why don’t you sing your words? And she was dead set against it, right up, right from the get go. She said, No, no no no, I’m not a singer, I’m not a singer. But we rented some rehearsal space and we worked on some stuff. We tried it out, and it started clicking really well.
Cyndi: One of the first songs that we ever did was a Transvision Vamp song, oddly enough. And we started off with more covers because we hadn’t really written a lot of originals yet. But then once we started, it was kind of very quick. We were very prolific about it. And then we wrote more material than we even could record. Even to this day we could just keep on going. We have so much material that we still could work on even now, that it would be no problem spitting out, album after album.
Henry: Getting back to your question, our current members are Dave U. Hall, who played with Mickey Leigh and The Rattlers. They were a Jem Record’s band for a while. And our drummer is Mike Wretched, who played with The Brats.
BK: When you first started out, obviously a good way to get together is playing some covers, learning how to play together. What were some of the other, maybe new wave or punk songs that you were working out when you started?
Cyndi: We did “Stupid Girl” by Garbage. What was the other one? We did the chick band.
Henry: The Detroit Cobras. We did a Detroit Cobras cover. It was a song they covered. “Just Can’t Please You.” An old R&B tune. And we like their version, so we did a cover of their cover [laughs].
Cyndi: I think we did a Dandy Warhols song.
Henry: Yeah, we did a couple of Dandy Warhols songs.
Cyndi: Kind of an eclectic mix of stuff.
Henry: It was a weird mix of stuff that we were just putting together until we had enough of our own material. Cause Cyndi would show me a poem, and I would read it through and I would kind of internalize it and try to get a vibe from it, and then try to translate that vibe into something on guitar. And then it would work the other way, too. I would come up with a riff and I would say, Hey, see what you think about this.
Cyndi: And I could write lyrics.
Henry: She would write lyrics to the riff. So it’s kind of two different processes come into play. But once we had our own material, then we kind of dropped the covers. We kind of were cover-averse because we were so proud of our own songs [laughs]. But it’s good to do covers. It’s fun. And “Tell That Girl Shut Up” is a nice indication of how much fun. We had a lot of fun doing that in the studio. And it turned out pretty well, got received pretty well on the radio.
BK: Cyndi, with your poetry background, did you find that certain spoken word poems translated easily to song lyrics, or did you start fresh?
Cyndi: No [laughs]. No, actually, I know there’s a lot of people out there that will argue that Bob Dylan is also both a poet and a songwriter, but he’s a very different style than what we do. And I think that one of the hardest things for me was there’s kind of a formula and a rhyming to songwriting that I never, ever ever had to do with poetry. Because I was a street poet, so basically there was no real form to what I wrote, even though later on I did workshop and learn how to edit and learn how to take out lines that were not necessary, or things like that. I learned to respect the craft of poetry.
Songwriting for me, initially I didn’t respect it because I felt it came too easy. I could have written a thousand songs in my sleep. And they would have been good songs, I just didn’t find it hard to do. But I think what we started to do was explore using some poetry and singing at the same time. And we did that early on with certain pieces, and then we kind of got away from it a little bit and started to kind of rock a little bit harder.vBut I’m still interested going forward in putting some poetry back into some pieces.
BK: This year you’ve got the single so far and you’ve got three full length albums previously, last in 2021.
Cyndi: No, we have four.
Henry: We have “The Original Cynz,” which was first came out in 2011.
Cyndi: Then there was the EP.
Henry: There was an EP, there was five tracks on it.
Cyndi: “Five Mortal Cynz.”
Henry: And then “Li’l Devil” was an album we put out. I don’t know what we were thinking, but we put it out vinyl only, although now you can get it on Bandcamp in digital form. And “Karmic Destiny,” which came out two years ago, 2021. And now we’re currently working on our first album for Jem Records, who we signed with last August.
BK: Were you unsigned before then? What kind of impact have they had on the experience?
Henry: It’s been a big boost. We formed our own record label, we formed our own publishing company, so that we were able to hold on to our own publishing. And we had moderate results on our own. But signing with Jem kind of amped up the game a little bit.
Cyndi: Yeah, I didn’t want to sign with anybody. We had a bad experience with a so-called label that turned out to be pretty much a scam. And I did not have it in me to go through that again. And so I held strict control and protectiveness over our band and over our work, and the ownership of it and the licensing of it for all these years. And at one point I just said, You know, Henry, I’m tired. I’m spending more time on getting our music out there than actually making the music.
And so there was only really a couple of labels I was interested in, and it just so happened that right around that same time that we were talking about this, maybe a year later, Jem wanted to hear a demo. They offered to listen to something if we would send them something. They were aware of us. And so we sent them a demo that we had made of a new song, and they came to see us play at Bowery Electric one night, and the next day I got a call saying, When can we sign you? And that was last August.
BK: Nice. And right now you guys are at a practice or a rehearsal?
Cyndi: We get together at Henry’s. He has an extra room in his apartment that we call our studio. We do a lot of live streams from it, and we get together every Sunday. And some days, some Sundays better than others, but we try to make it a habit of calling it our Writing Sundays. Sometimes we come up with a song, sometimes we kind of get lazy [laughs] and just drink coffee and go out to eat. We don’t always succeed, but we try to work on stuff every Sunday just to be in a good habit of doing that.
Henry: Like today after we get off the phone with you, we’ll be going over what we’ve done so far in the studio, and what we’re going to do next and what tracks we’re going to lay down.
Cyndi: We just like to be professional about it. The thing that’s beautiful now is not being kids, you know? Not looking at this like, Oh, we’re going to be in a band and get famous and get girlfriends and boyfriends and drink and have fun with drugs. Now, for us, it’s a serious art. We really take it very seriously, but with fun. We know it’s for fun. We’re not gonna get rich off this. We’re just really loving the creation and the craft of it.
Henry: That’s how it’s always been, pretty much.
BK: What does the rest of ’23 look like for you?
Cyndi: We have a lot of shows ahead of us, a lot of travel.
Henry: Yeah, we have a lot of shows in New England.
Cyndi: We have a new single in September, and the new album is coming out in October, so we’ll be touring that and getting that out there. It’s going to be a very busy rest of the year for us, which I’m very happy about.
Henry: Yeah, our gig calendar is looking really good. And so we’ll be gigging, finish up the album, and traveling, and take life as it comes. It’s great. Quite frankly, when we went at this, as Cyndi said, we didn’t have aspirations of greatness or fame or fortune or anything else. We just enjoyed writing songs together, and it seemed like people liked the songs that we were doing. So we were getting a good response, and we were happy with that. And getting signed by Jem was a nice little icing on the cupcake, if you will.
BK: Very nice. All right, I just have one last one or two quick ones. One is Cyndi, back to your poetry. There’s a book online called Outside Girl, and I like the bio for it. It says, “Lived through the NYC downtown ‘80s? Cyndi Dawson takes you home.” So is that still available, if people wanted to buy a copy?
Cyndi: Yeah, you can get that on Amazon. That was through the Poets Wear Prada Press, out of Hoboken.
BK: And here in the 80s, you worked a lot in New Brunswick at the time too?
Cyndi: Yeah, I worked a lot of bars. I worked at the Scarlet Pub for 14 years. I worked at Patrix for five years. Then last I went to Golden Rail before getting my own pub. So my life has always been in clubs, with music, and for the most part bands. I brought in some bands to the Scarlet Pub early on. We were one of the first college bars in quite a many years that actually brought some bands in.
BK: They still do a good job over there at Scarlet Pub. They have a full band open mic frequently, and show nights.
Cyndi: Oh, that’s cool. I didn’t know that. It’s not the same family that owns it that I worked for, but I’m still friends with everybody of the family that I worked for.
BK: It’s kind of one of the last few places that is still above ground that will play live music in New Brunswick. A lot of it is underground these days, in basements and show houses.
Cyndi: Yeah, you know I’ll tell you something. In the 80s, New Brunswick was so hot for live music, that all the A&R people from the major labels, when you had major labels for rock and roll, they could have been in any bar any given night of the week to go see bands down there. And a lot of bands were signed, back in those days.
Henry: Mmhmm, yep.
Cyndi: It was just such a fabulous time to be in New Brunswick if you were in a band. And I don’t think it’s got quite that scene there anymore. And I know Pino’s has been doing a fabulous job trying to bring a live music venue back.
Henry: Yeah, thank God.
Cyndi: But it’s one of so few, that trying to get booked in there is very difficult now.
BK: Do you have any Pino’s shows lined up?
Cyndi: No, and we actually were trying to get a show in New Jersey, because I have friends coming in from L.A. in September, and I don’t know if you know Palmyra Delran, she’s a DJ on Underground Garage, Little Steven’s radio station. And so the three of us wanted to do some shows together, and I booked us a New York show, and I tried to get us a show at Pino’s, and they’re booked through until after September. So we ended up booking the show at Drew’s Place or Drew’s House? It’s a house concert venue in Ringwood. Very well known, like major national acts play there. And it’s on a lake.
Henry: No we’d love to come back to Pino’s. It’s got great sound, great sound system. The guy that runs sound there really knows stuff. I’ve never had a bad sound experience playing Pino’s.
Cyndi: And also good friends of ours that are on our label, The Anderson Council, do you know them?
BK: Yeah, they just dropped an album themselves.
Cyndi: Yeah and they’re on our label. So we’ve been trying to do more shows together. And I actually went to school, I grew up in Highland Park and I actually went to school with Peter [Horvath]’s brother, Paul.
BK: Would you ever, or have you ever performed down at John & Peters in New Hope?
Cyndi: Oh, it’s so funny that he’s asking. Because we were just down there to see The Anderson Council.
Henry: The last time we were there was to see The Anderson Council play. And we put out some feelers for a gig, still waiting to hear back.
Cyndi: Yeah, I’ve had several bands try to email them, try to get a gig together, and they’re not responding. I mean, the problem is, since Covid came to a, I don’t know, should we say it’s over? I don’t know.
Henry: I don’t know. But there’s fewer places to play, and everybody’s trying to get the same.
Cyndi: More bands and less venues.
BK: Damn. Yeah. That would be a great place.
Henry: John & Peters, that’s a cozy little place. I really enjoyed myself there.
Cyndi: I’ll tell you, if somebody was smart, that is in the bar business, because that’s the business that I know and I’ve been in my whole life. In a college town where kids are just really starting to get out and see bands again, a bar would be really smart to start bringing bands back again like in the 80s, because people are really, really hungry for that. I’m living that life, so I know. Sometimes there’s just nowhere for the college kids to go to see bands. They need to bring more venues back above ground.
BK: Yeah. And even just an all-ages venue would do really well in New Brunswick.
Cyndi: Yeah. Anything, I mean, it doesn’t have to necessarily, it doesn’t have to be a bar. But there’s a lot of bands. And one of the other things that I’ve noticed is there’s a real return to rock and roll with real instruments. Electronic music, it’s still out there, but you’re starting to see younger and younger kids picking up real instruments and forming rock bands again. And I don’t know if it’s because the parents that raised them on their music. Now these kids have come of age and they’re very influenced by what they heard from their parents. So you’ve got a lot of bands that are loving Johnny Thunders, The Heartbreakers, The Rolling Stones, and they’re just starting to form more and more rock and roll bands these days. I see it in New York. There’s not enough venues for all these kids that want to play in New York.
BK: I think that makes a lot of sense because if you go from the 80s, there was a lot of synth music and then 20 years later you kind of get an electronic boom, and now you’ve got all these 90s rockers having kids and 20 years later they’re back on guitar bands. So maybe that’s what’s going on.
Cyndi: Yeah. You also have a lot of parents that were into grunge and the whole Seattle thing, and those kids are like, really into Nirvana. I see more, I have a daughter and I see her and her friends sporting Nirvana T shirts and all kinds of punk stuff like Sex Pistols. They’re just really loving them. I guess when we were young, we started listening to the music from the 50s, and we kind of got into the whole swing thing and all that. And now to them, the older music that they think is really cool that they’re starting to get into would be like the grunge scene or the New York punk scene.
BK: Yeah, like how the Misfits, they had a lot of Elvis flavors to them.
Cyndi: Yeah, exactly.
BK: And then that comes back, which is good because we like guitar bands.
Cyndi: Oh, yeah. Especially mine [laughs].
BK: Yeah. Well, guys, thanks so much. Is there anything we didn’t talk about that you would want to share to listeners or your fans or anything?
Cyndi: Well, if they want to hear our music, we do have a YouTube channel. They can get us on any place online that sells music. And we’re also on Facebook, Reverb Nation, I mean, you name it. If they’re interested, they just have to Google us and a million things will come up. They could see videos, they could hear music.
Henry: Yeah, we have a pretty nice internet presence, so you can find us anywhere.
BK: And hey, last question, actually. Obviously, Cyndi, your name, nice influence in the band name. Was The Cynz a band name that you had kicked around for a long time?
Henry: That’s funny. No, we were sitting in a bar one time, downing dirty margaritas. And we were writing names on the back of a napkin, and just coming out with more and more outrageous names, which are kind of unprintable, so I won’t say them here. But we decided on The Cynz, which is, the last letter of my name is Seiz. So that’s the Z, and then the first three letters of Cyndi’s name. And Cynz is also like a synonym for sins. Sinning, doing bad things. Which we, you know [laughs]. Which is kind of rock and roll.
Cyndi: [Laughs] We’re very boring. I mean, we go out and play a gig and it’s like, Oh, man, we should go home and get some sleep. It’s not like the old days.
Henry: Yeah. We like to think of ourselves as bad rock and rollers.
Cyndi: With some responsibility [laughs].
Henry: So we came up with The Cynz, and it stuck and we said, There we go. We got our name. So there you have it, the secret’s out.
BK: Yeah. Band names are a fickle thing, but yours really fits. Just a really nice name, classic rock band. Well, yeah. Once again, thanks so much.
Cyndi: Thank you.
BK: And this should be out, maybe the end of the month. I’ll keep you in the loop on that. I might ask for a photo or something, but probably by the end of the month, we’ll publish it.
Cyndi: Where is this available? Where do you get it?
BK: This will be online. It’s called NewBrunswickToday.com. Hyper-local news. Basically, corruption and music is what we cover in New Brunswick.
Cyndi: The two things that matter!
BK: Yeah, exactly.
For more of The Cynz, just Google them as they say, and find their music on all the streaming platforms.
Ben Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. In 2022, he won the first place award for Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage for his coverage of the New Brunswick music scene, from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists.