Cousins’ The Palm at the End of the Mind is my top “grower” album of the year, one of those that seems mildly interesting at first, then becomes fascinating, and finally essential after hours of listening. Atypical for their style of no-frills lo-fi rock, your attention will be rewarded.
Fittingly, Cousins' frontman Aaron Mangle is an articulate guy. In this conversation we learned about the music scene in their hometown of Halifax, his thoughts on music criticism and why performing music is just like making a sandwich.
Is there a conscious attempt among young East Coast / Halifax bands to move away from the area’s cultural stereotypes? Great Big Sea-esque traditional music, for one?
I think so, but that’s only a first step. The only time we come up against [that style of music] is in competition for funding.
That scene is not so welcoming or interesting. Nova Scotia tries to keep a face about it, pleasant and folky. The strongest music here is progressive, and there’s good genre music - metal, punk and rap. Every so often we’ll meet a [traditionally influenced] folk or bluegrass band. And they’re great musicians. But other than that we don’t have to try and distance ourselves from it. Plenty of scenes going on.
Have you taken on responsibilities in the band beyond just being the frontman?
I do pretty much everything. We do some of the booking as a group but for the most part I’ve developed the image, how we’re seen, where we play, how much we tour. There’s very little other people do for us.
Is that typical of your music scene? In Toronto it seems as soon as bands get a bit of money, they use it to pass those responsibilities onto a publicist.
It’s typical here. Not many opportunities to have someone help us like that. Bands will approach industry people directly. On the one hand that’s because there isn’t a lot of money, and if we could I don’t know who we’d approach. The industry scene is pretty weak. It’s more centered around marketable genres, the stuff we were talking about: high-calibre Nova Scotia folk. Of course we got some money to do publicity for The Palm at the End of the Mind, which was amazing. Amazing to have that weight off your shoulders. Like that’s how we got in touch with you, publicist says, “This guy wants to talk to you.” “Fuckin’ great!”
How do you define your music to people who ask things like, “Oh, you’re a musician? What do you play?”
Garage rock is the easy description, but one people use for so many different things. It’s apt but it doesn’t say too much. I’m worried about using descriptions that will just fail or confuse myself. I like to talk about food, as a comparison.
What food goes well with Cousins?
We make sandwiches and burritos a lot on the road. A sandwich is a sandwich but it can have so many different things on it. You “perform” a sandwich every time you have lunch. Live music is a recreation of that sandwich every night. Everyone’s hands treat it a little differently.
Criticizing music is a catch-22; the only practical job of the critic is to define something new and different to a readership, but the more original an artist is the more impossible it becomes to define them.
I don’t want to tell you what you’re doing, but I’m very interested in that [critical] world. You’re like problem solvers, if the more interesting the music is, the harder your job becomes. And the better you become. When someone writes something decent about [a band] it can challenge them, too. There’s a challenge for the artist to actually do something [with that support]. People say you shouldn’t read your press because you’ll either feel depressed or get an ego boost, but I think it’s important. I like reading [our reviews].
Is talking about music sometimes as important, within the band, as actually playing it?
Not too much. I write pretty much all the music myself. When we do get together we try to keep it simple. We’ll ask, “Do you think this will work?” not “What do you think this [change] is doing to the music?” More practical than esoteric.
What future Cousins projects can you tell me about?
We’re doing a tape release for Out of Sound, a live recording of a show we played in London, Ontario in April. We’re doing a split 12-inch in the fall with Construction and Destruction, one of our favourite bands. Working on a new full-length record this summer, too.
Related: Our review of Palm at the End of the Mind