IT'S A TUESDAY, and, like much of the world, Sagit Shir, a.k.a. Cupcakes, is on the phone in her office. Her partner and husband, Ariel Scherbacovsky, a.k.a. Hank, shares the space with her, clacking away on a laptop.
They run their family enterprise like a tight ship, but there’s nary a cubicle in sight; they’re far from their Brooklyn home, working out of an Asheville, NC coffee shop. And, technically, it’s their day off.
Together, the couple are the dynamic electro-pop duo Hank & Cupcakes. They’re a leading example of how a band can break out of the corporate turmoil, tour the world, gain a devoted following, maintain total creative and financial control, and—above all—have a blast.
It’s a valuable day off in the South’s hippie capital: Hank is reaching out to the press in upcoming cities. Cupcakes makes sure they have local support.
It’s not the way they’ve always done it; they’ve had managers, even a record deal. The decision to break away was a conscious one.
“We’ve been completely independent over the past year,” Cupcakes says proudly. “We’ve been doing everything ourselves and stopped relying on other people to do a bad job.”
Back in 2011, the duo scored a publishing deal with BMG. When their debut, Naked, was about to drop, the industry giant offered them a record deal.
Over meetings, an exec suggested reworking the album, saying that, while Hank & Cupcakes had undeniable appeal, they just didn’t have a hit.
That taste of the industry inspired them to break away, adding a sonic middle finger to Naked in the form of the tough and addictive cut "Hit."
“You tell me I don’t have a hit?” Cupcakes sneers over ominous, synthy bass swells from Hank. “Well, guess what? This is it.”
Going DIY, Cupcakes says, is the best choice they’ve made. “We’ve been making things happen more organically,” she explains. “It took a long time. But we finally did it.”
Hank and Cupcakes met while playing in a band in the Israeli Army’s entertainment unit. Discovering an undeniable connection both onstage and off, they went on to form their own cover band and went on to write original tunes.
After time between their home of Tel Aviv and Cuba, they eventually found themselves in Brooklyn.
The creative energy of Williamsburg became a wellspring of inspiration for the two—and through their relentless gigging, the New York and Hank & Cupcakes love was fiercely mutual.
Onstage, the husband-wife duo are electrifying. Hank coaxes more possibilities out of four bass strings than most four-piece bands can. With the aid of an expansive pedalboard, he wrangles synth-style leads, punctual trills, and beefed-up dancefloor low ends.
Cupcakes stands alongside, pounding out the beat on a full drum kit, belting out their hooky choruses, and holding the audience captive: think the rawness of Death From Above 1979 meets the stage command and pop elements of Sleigh Bells meets the splintering glitz of Santigold. Add a dash of neon and some sizzling-hot chemistry, and you’ve got something close to Hank & Cupcakes.
“When we started performing in New York, Hank and I wouldn’t even look at each other,” Cupcakes remembers. “We had a manager who said, ‘You’re married! You’re sexy and loud! You’re not showing that onstage.’”
“We let our relationship be natural on stage,” she explains. “It added a lot of tension and excitement. Every show, I try to be more free.”
Cash 4 Gold was a chance to capture that raw live energy and use the studio to their advantage. In keeping with their ferociously DIY mentality, the couple handled all of the LP’s recording and production. Cloistered away in their home, it was as much a learning process as it was a completely immersive experience.
“We were in our own bubble for a full year. We had no idea what we were doing!” Cupcakes laughs. “It was a really difficult and crazy experience. We decided not to ask for any advice or any help...no one heard music until we released it.”
You can even hear the learning process—the album’s first single, “Countdown,” seemed an unusual choice with its lack of drums.
“That’s because Hank didn’t know how to mix drums yet!” Cupcakes divulges.
For a year, they worked relentlessly. There are traces of New York all over Cash 4 Gold; Cupcakes’ vocals were recorded in the subway, in Central Park, and even inside the American Museum of Natural History.
“When you’re recording vocals for an album, it’s very sterile,” explains Cupcakes. “It’s capturing a certain energy of where we live.”
Stepping onto the subway platform and belting was a performance in itself, and a way to capture a sound that was more live and vulnerable.
“Going into the subway and singing...it adds a dangerous element to it, and a tension that helps with the delivery,” she says.
Though the grueling learning experience was positive, Cupcakes admits that they’re very glad to be back out on the road. The DIY life may be a demanding one, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I can’t imagine any other way of doing it,” Cupcakes says. “If I had to be in a car with four stinky dudes...” she trails off laughing.
“Other bands have to leave their girlfriends at home,” she points out. “We’re a couple, and we’re dedicated to each other. We have a good relationship, and we work well together. We consider ourselves very lucky.”