The year’s best showtunes will be off-Broadway—off the Eastern seaboard, in fact, until early spring. It’s just as well; Cryptacize, a whimsical Bay Area trio that takes its cues from indie-folk and musical theater alike, doesn’t really fit in anywhere. “We’re sort of the anti-hipsters—we live in our own universe,” says Nedelle Torrisi, the trio’s sparrow-throated frontwoman. “We’re not concerned with what everyone is scoffing at or embracing. I grew up listening to musicals and being in musicals, and geeking out in every possible way.”
Torrisi flaunts her geekiness on Dig That Treasure
(Asthmatic Kitty), the band’s debut and a genre-bending album by any definition. The warbling vocals, gentle harmonies, and fanciful lyrics (“every note is an unfinished song, / we’re all in a cosmic sing-along”) seem more the products of a latter-day Gershwin than a couple of used-record-store employees, while the sporadic chord changes, calculated drum patterns, and gently distorted guitar could be the work of an experimental basement band. But Torrisi—who met bandmate and current beau Chris Cohen while working at Berkeley’s Amoeba Records—is unwavering when discussing her influences and tastes, both in music and in men. “Some of the best songs out there are definitely from musicals,” she says, citing Sondheim and Fred Astair among her favorites. “I can’t date someone who doesn’t like musicals or at least stand them. I sort of live in this fantasy world where I’m singing all the time and thinking of fantastical things that can happen all around us, or should happen all around us . . . and if someone can’t embrace that, then they’ve gotta go.” Appropriately, it was on a showtunes-heavy road-trip that Torrisi and Cohen, hitherto friends and collaborators in Cohen’s band The Curtains, realized they shared a deeper connection. “Two people that love musicals in a car together,” Torrisi reflects, before trailing off in laughter.
Cryptacize found its third and final member in Michael Carreira, a music teacher who ran in the same California circles as Torrisi and Cohen. Still, the couple didn’t know Carreira personally until, hearing that they were seeking a drummer, he approached the duo with a YouTube video showcasing his skills on that most underappreciated percussionist’s tool: the cowbell. “We said, Oh my god, this guy is amazing, and so we contacted him,” remembers Torrisi. Together, the three created Dig That Treasure
, which takes its name from a now-obscure musical that Cohen’s father, Kip, co-wrote while studying composition at Columbia University in the fifties. It’s a wonky nod from an already geeky group—but geekiness, as it happens, has never been so cute.