NICK COHON OF CORMORANT: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Cormorant describes themselves as a “100 percent self-funded labor of love.” Despite success they’ve eschewed labels, sold their own merchandise and taken as much time as needed to record. The San Francisco four-piece recently released Dwellings, which ended up on numerous year-end lists and earned critical praise. Guitarist and founding member Nick Cohon says the band’s success – both as an independent business and a musical group —is based on a combination of hard work and intuition. Cohon works full time as a project manager for a commercial electrical company specializing in solar installations. But music is his passion, one he tackles with inspiration and business acumen. He talked to MetalSucks about the profits and perils of DIY publishing and falling asleep to death metal.
You’ve remained fiercely independent even though your profile in metal has grown much bigger. Why?
When we started this it wasn’t our intent. It naturally developed into this. When we were playing with demos and songs and figuring out our sound it just seemed logical. We didn’t know any labels and we didn’t want to send out cassettes and hope someone would call us back in two years. It was more out of impatience; we just wanted to release stuff. As it continued it just seemed to work.
Now we have a lot more responsibilities but at the same time we don’t have anyone telling us what to do. And when the money starts coming in it’s like: “oh, cool, we broke even.” When we started writing we just didn’t want to shop around. We didn’t want to win a popularity contest. We didn’t have the patience for callbacks. We just proceeded.
At this point, we’re not extremely opposed to going with a label or staying independent. What it comes down to it all of us would rather be playing music then doing the management , whether it’s shipping stuff or handling booking and money. We even have to make sure we are cool on taxes. If you only have two hours a day after your job and family you’d rather just pick up your instrument and work on a song. Having someone take care of the day to day aspects seems attractive. At the same time, we’re the sort of band that would need to stick a few toes in before we did that. It would need to be on our terms. And I don’t know if the business climate now really caters to artists.
On your Bandcamp page it says: “Dwellings is a completely independent labor of love. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly back to the band. No labels were harmed in the creation of this album.”
(Laughs). That’s a cool little catchphrase. I think Arthur (von Nagel, lead vocals/bass) wrote that to emphasize the DIY atmosphere. Interestingly enough, we’ve now been labeled DIY but it was unintentional on our part. But since we’ve been labeled that way a number of people have wrote us and said they are going to purchase an album rather than download it. They’ll say they really want to support us. I don’t know if we’d get that support otherwise. We’d like to put more time into the band. But money is the main issue and all of us have jobs. Most of the time I can’t see why we’d go down the label path.
Is it difficult or frustrating to hit a peak musically while all of you have professional commitments?
It’s worked for us and against us. One of the nice things about a job is you have funding. You are sustainable. We can buy equipment. I can buy an interesting amp or guitar. At the same time, jobs force you to get up at 7 a.m. so you can do your normal routine and then you are itching to do something else. I’ve been unemployed and it’s so easy to wake up at 12 or 1 and dick around for the whole day. You don’t have the same drive. I’m much more motivated when I’m working.
At the same time, if all four of us had less commitments might lend itself to more music. I do think we’re a ‘feel’ band and things need to be talked about for anyone to come to a consensus.
What makes your musical partnership work?
The four of us are pretty interested in new stuff. We all have different musical influences and respect each other’s influences. We’re also pretty creative. Lots of people have creative urges but it helps that we’re friends and interested in making music. I don’t think we could pull off being in a cover band (laughs). I don’t think it would sound cool.
When you worked on Dwellings how did the DIY approach work in your favor and what obstacles did it present?
Obviously, there were no labels telling us we needed to sound this way or that way. Since we’re DIY we’re free to do what we want. We’re basically a pie; everyone has 25 percent say. Everyone gets to be happy with every single chord change, transition or solo. We don’t need to live up to anyone’s expectations. We can just make music.
I think of Metazoa as a nature-centric album. Was there a decision to move away from that on Dwellings and broaden your palate?
I’d definitely agree. The new album was written after a two to three year gap. By the time Metazoa came out we were over the sound. As far as my own musical tastes I got into a lot of darker sounds. All four of us embraced black metal more and the whole sound — the tremolo of the guitar and the blast beats – are different. There was some distance between Metazoa and Dwellings – a good chunk of time – so there were a lot of changes. I got an iPod and dove into it. Brennan (Kunkel, drums) got a new job and had to commute an hour each way and was listening to tons of new music. Matt (Solis, guitarist and vocalist) falls asleep to music on his headphones every night and soaks in stuff.
What is he listening to?
It’s crazy, he’ll listen to Unexpect and just fall asleep. Matt listens to a lot of death metal and doom. Arthur is more of an old school traditionalist, the first weave of black metal . I have no idea how Matt does it. And he’s blasting it, too.
I know someone who falls asleep listening to Marduk albums.
Oh, wow (laughs). That’s cool. I have a few of their albums that come up on my shuffle.
Was an effort made to streamline your sound on Dwellings? Metazoa is dense, sounds are coming at you from all over the place.
Absolutely. Metazoa made sense when we created it. We still tried to create the same feeling with good rocking songs this time, the same balance. Metazoa is very long. There was so much stuff fighting for air. Sometimes I listen to it and wish we had taken some stuff out. But I can still appreciate it. Metazoa was part of our musical evolution. Everything about it was honest at the time. We weren’t trying to be anything we weren’t . We were just trying to create something cool.
We’re writing songs already for the next album and thoughts that went into Dwellings are going on the back burner. New ideas are coming forward. It’s always about honest expression. When you are in the moment you don’t know if something will ring true; you can only make an honest effort.
The songs on the new album are much shorter with a few exceptions…
That was definitely intentional. One thing we did musically on Metazoa was use a lot of outros and play the key riff over again; the drums might change up or slow down. I think the only time we did that here was on “A Howling Dust,” where the outro is about three or four minutes long. That’s the closest thing here to a Metazoa song. There’s the beginning gallop and the outro. But we’re definitely going down a path where a lot of things are getting trimmed. I think Dwellings is 55 minutes and Metazoa is 16 minutes longer. Not that the music is bad – it’s just stuff we didn’t need to put on the new album.
Was part of that a desire to have songs that had more punch live?
I think it was just a feeling of wanting to get to the point. We tried to do things in terms of 3s rather than 5s or 6s. The stuff just feels more interesting to play, the patterns. A lot of the songs we needed to practice and practice and practice. We played the riffs over and over again. We wanted to write more things that get to the point.
Has your work travelling around the country with the solar company affected your music?
One of the places I’ve spent a lot of time is St. Louis. Everyone says it’s the gateway to the West but it doesn’t feel like the West at all. There’s a mentality there that I tried to soak up, a landlocked mentality. Things happen via word of mouth and things are family oriented; everyone has a close circle of friends. There are a quite a few touring acts that came through there but there wasn’t much underground metal. I went to one show. I brought a tee-shirt with an undecipherable logo (laughs). There were four or five people on stage and six in the audience.
As far as the atmosphere, it’s a very industrial town with a lot of urban decay. All of downtown is brick with old factories that are closed down. Lots of people have moved into the suburbs where you can’t figure out your location without a GPS. Once you are downtown, though, there’s a lot of poverty. You can go up to the rooftops and get this romantic image with the smokestacks and the brick buildings. It feels like a Charles Dickens novel. I’d bring my guitar out on the roof and work on songs. A lot of times I only travel with a backpack so when I got there I had to buy a guitar. But you don’t know anybody out there so what are you going to do? Smoke pot and watch T.V. or play your guitar?
If another band came to you that was mulling a contract offer versus going the DIY route what would you suggest?
I would say that if you are willing to put time into it — treat it like a business — then (DIY) might be worth it. It basically is the same stuff you’d do with your job. If you want to put that effort into the band and are willing to be self-employed the payoff can be huge. It’s very exciting when you actually can access all the numbers, see what’s going in and what’s going out. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. But if you are someone who just wants to focus on the music you might want to think about signing that contract.