How Sacramento's Cave Women sized down, grew up and got even better
The jazz group pushed through growing pains to emerge with a fresh perspective and a new album
College graduations usually signal huge life changes. Friends find jobs in new cities. They fly across the country for graduate school, never to be heard from again.
For young bands, it’s a common story as well. But Cave Women, the local all-lady jazzy pop group, is determined to stick together—despite now being geographically far apart.
“We’re all really happy to continue to make original music and share it,” says bassist Casey Lipka. “Life will shift, but we’re still going to try to make things work.”
The five original members of Cave Women formed the band in 2011. Some were studying music at Sacramento State University; others were recent graduates. But they frequented the same jazz-based open mics around town and each had lengthy resumes boasting experience with other bands, ensembles and orchestras.
Just one year later, they released a full-length album and garnered excellent press from nearly every local media outlet possible. Momentum was strong, but gigs slowly became infrequent.
Life presented changes. Those who were still studying at Sacramento State eventually finished classwork. Drummer Vanessa Cruz quietly left the band last year, relocating to New York. Flutist Kim Davis moved to Long Beach to start graduate school.
These days, Emily Messick, who plays piano and accordion, is gearing up for a six-month internship in Los Angeles for music therapy. Meanwhile, Lipka and guitarist Alicyn Yaffee are continuing their music careers in Sacramento.
Where does that leave the now four-woman band? Apparently readying to release a new EP and launch a tour. The album, aptly named Second Chances, dropped September 24.
Second Chances shows off Cave Women’s more realized, developed sound. It’s cohesive—songs on the band’s debut often went in radically different directions—and leans more toward pop. Lush vocal harmonies are still prominent but carry a stronger, mature depth. The five songs showcase more texture and assurance. Ultimately, Cave Women no longer sounds like a new band trying to nail down its identity.
Despite its new focus, the band still draws from disparate influences—even more influences were thrown into the pot this time around.
Cave Women’s self-titled debut took on elements of jazz, classical, folk, a cappella, gypsy, Brazilian and African music. Those styles are still evident in Second Chances, but so are the contemporary artists that Cave Women’s members love listening to daily: electronic-music producer James Blake, synth-pop band Little Dragon, experimental art project Tune-Yards.
But those influences seep their way into songwriting in unintended ways. Band members hadn’t formally decided on pop song structures, for example.
“Without thinking, we started writing more similarly,” Messick says. “It’s weird.”
For Lipka, that subconscious connection isn’t weird at all—it’s natural.
“I think it makes sense that after three years of being together, you get an idea of the different writing styles,” Lipka says. “We all became closer and influenced each other.”
And with Cave Women’s jazz roots, there’s just more regular, spontaneous writing to observe and learn from. With improvisational jazz, compositions are created on the spot. Existing songs can still sound fresh with each live rendition.
“Even if there’s not a solo section, it’s always a little different,” Yaffee says. “We listen to each other and build off each other every time.”