Hank & Cupcakes, the Israeli-born, Brooklyn-based duo of Ariel “Hank” Scherbacovsky and Sagit “Cupcakes” Shir, performs a raw, dance-floor-friendly brand of electro-pop that’s equal parts minimal, over the top, funky and aggressive. Cupcakes stands behind her drum set, kicking out primal rhythms and alternating between a rock ’n’ roll howl and a Madonna-influenced coo. Meanwhile, Hank combines meticulous bass lines, flourishes of sampled keyboards and a tangle of effects pedals to lend the band’s music a digitized, even disco-like feel. But on stage, Hank & Cupcakes really shine, the romantically and professionally linked couple often performing covered in body paint and possessed with a manic surge of overwhelming energy. Folio Weekly chatted with Cupcakes about the band’s roots in Tel Aviv, Havana and New York, its emphasis on visual artistry and its love of Howard Stern, Johnny Cash and Jacksonville.
Folio Weekly: Growing up in Israel, what were your and Hank’s original musical influences?
Sagit “Cupcakes” Shir: Well, there weren’t really any inspirations. It was this weird temporary arrangement where we started a band because we knew we were leaving Tel Aviv for New York, I knew how to play drums, and because we’re both crazy people who started rehearsing every single day, the sound that emerged was just naturally good.
F.W.: For a duo, you two create quite an auditory ruckus. How do you do it?
S.S.: Hank has like 18 million pedals, and one of those is a sampler, so he records samples on a Moog [keyboard]. But those are the only external things that we have going. Other than that, it’s all just his bass and my drums and vocals. There’s no computer on stage or anything.
F.W.: At any point in Hank & Cupcakes’ existence, did you anticipate adding more people to the band?
S.S.: We had a desire to because we started out old school: “Let’s start a band,” which in our minds meant a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist and maybe a keyboard player. Even when we came to New York, we still thought we might add some more musicians. But the way we work, rehearsing every single day, is so intense, and we realized that we wouldn’t find other members willing to put in so much time.
F.W.: So many aspiring bands move to New York and fail. What helped you succeed?
S.S.: Well, it was very inspiring to be here as a 100 percent creative artist. It was very scary, too, but we knew that we were coming to a new beginning, so we knew the scariness was going to happen. We also lived in Cuba before New York, which was pretty difficult. Coming to America felt really easy in comparison.
F.W.: How much thought do you put into the visual aspects of Hank & Cupcakes — the provocative music videos, intoxicating stage presence and bizarre press photos?
S.S.: Honestly, we put as much thought into that as we do into the music. It’s all part of the overall art.
F.W.: You have one EP, “Ain’t No Love,” along with a full-length, “Naked,” out now. Are any new songs in the pipeline?
S.S.: Yes, we actually just got done with a really long rehearsal because we have three songs that we want to be completely ready so we can take them on tour with us.
F.W.: While you’re on tour, do you have interests that you pursue outside of music?
S.S.: Not really. We’re sightseeing every day, as we have to drive four to seven hours from city to city. Eating, I guess? [Laughs.]
F.W.: What kind of music do you listen to on the road?
S.S.: Actually, we listen to Howard Stern 90 percent of the time. Other than that, we like oldies: Johnny Cash, Neil Young. And we’re really into Die Antwoord from South Africa.
F.W.: Do you ever tour back home in Israel?
S.S.: We’ve actually been very well-received in Israel — better than when we lived there. But we just got back from there, and for the first time we didn’t perform on our visit. We just needed some chill-out time before the tour.
F.W.: How about touring in Florida? Have you made it down our way at all yet?
S.S.: Yes, we’ve actually been to Florida on every one of our tours. Coming from New York, this time we’re looking forward to the heat. And we’re also really looking forward to our show in Jacksonville. The first time we played there, only two people were in the audience, and it’s been growing ever since to the point where we love playing at Jack Rabbits.