Cousins are a rock duo from Halifax. They’ve been together for several years, working hard to produce garage and indie rock that stands apart from other Canadian groups (ie: not the Toronto indie sound). Their biggest success yet came last year with the release of their album “The Halls of Wickwire.” The album, which serves as a type of audio wake for Aaron Mangles grandmother, is both raucously jubilant and reflectively sombre; sometimes simultaneously, and always authentic. In this interview, lead vocalist and guitarist talks about the albums production, touring, the bands relationship with the ocean, and possible upcoming lineup changes.
Lola Who: Its been about a year since the release of your third album “The Halls of Wickwire.” What have you been up to since then?
Aaron: We toured a fair bit last year in support of the record, but things slowed down a bit. We started working on a new record last fall that’s going through the grinders at the moment. Leigh has since moved to Toronto and for at least the foreseeable future, won’t be playing with Cousins anymore. So the band only has one person in right now. The plan is to keep writing and recording and see what happens.
Lola Who: The Halls of Wickwire was on the long list for the Polaris Prize as well as being named one of the top 30 Canadian albums of 2014 by CBC. How do these kinds of accolades rank in importance to you?
Aaron: Although it is a great honour to be included on a list with plenty of artists that we respectsome of them friendsthese sorts of nods are not so much on our minds. Being nominated for the Polaris Prize Long List was a surprise and while it was gratifying to be recognized for our work, it is by no means a gauge for us to measure success. But to the journalists, critics, artists, programmers, DJs, etc, we really appreciate the support in the form of votes and nominations.
Lola Who: Wickwire was produced by Holy Fucks Graham Walsh, who also played keyboard on some tracks. How did this partnership come about?
Aaron: The partnership was organized by our label, Hand Drawn Dracula, who also set up the session. Working with Graham Walsh (and Josh Karody) was amazing! It was so relaxed and so professional! We hadn’t worked in a studio of that caliber before and it was truly and amazing experience. We thought that we’d get a start on the record sidewe only had 5 or 6 days. In the end, we did the whole damn thing!
Lola Who: Your Wikipedia page alludes to the band having had previous members. Is this accurate or has Cousins always been a duo?
Aaron: We have a Wikipedia page?! It is true Cousins has had a few forms. Previous members include Pat Ryan (Room Doom, DUZHEKNEW, Zaat), Dallin Ursenbach (Crowd Power, Hex Ray), Andy March (Museum Pieces Crosss). The band started after I had recorded a solo record that turned into an album that required a band to perform. After a couple of tours, the band shrank to a duo (Pat and Aaron), and then grew into a trio with Leigh Dotey, then back to a duo again just Leigh and Aaron with the occasional Pat thrown in for spice.
Lola Who: What is your musical background? When did you start playing music? What bands or artists have influenced you?
Aaron: A couple of weeks ago, I saw a band made up of teenagers called “The Lonely Parade.” We’ve also played with a much younger group of women called “Unfinished Business.” I really hope that these bands are going to influence the way that I write and play in the future. As for the past, I can never be confident in my understanding of what has been influential. Here are a few groups that stand out: Scout Niblet, Deerhoof, Robbie Basho.
Lola Who: There are multiple references to the ocean on Wickwire. Would you say Halifax, or the Maritimes in general, are integral influences on your art or more of a footnote?
Aaron: The ocean is our Mother. To say that the ocean is merely an influence on the band would be an understatement. This band owes everything to her.
Lola Who: What is your song-writing process?
Aaron: I can’t tell you exactly, but the preceding question should give you an indication. I don’t know where the songs come except that they come from playing. To me, songs are always present but never constant. I used to think of songs like sandwiches, but now I think of them more like different oils swimming together in a floating sphere.
Lola Who: Several of your songs deal with weighty and melancholic issues lyrically, yet the music is up-tempo and lively. Is this incongruity an intentional juxtaposition or more of a side effect?
Aaron: The album is about the death of my grammie, Betty Langille, and yet we are a rock band. I don’t think that songs must be defined by their lyrical content alone. The songs that are a tribute to Betty are both mourning her death and celebrating her life. The songs that are not about her follow a similar fashion, such is life.
Lola Who: You embarked on a European tour last September, how was that? Do you find a difference in the audiences on either side of the Atlantic?
Aaron: Touring in Europe is really great! We were touring with Chad VanGaalen, so our game was upped a bit automatically. We’ve toured a lot in North America where the drives can be very long between cities. This is especially true throughout Canada. It’s truly exciting when planning a tour in Europe because we can go in any direction we can think of! We’ve been lucky to get great audiences in Europe. I personally find that European audiences are a bit more willing to engage in dialogue with us, and even offer recommendations while we’re playing. Touring with Chad and the guys has been a highlight of our touring history. We all get along really well and we have a ton of fun. Lots of frisbee, exploring, farting, etc. We got to do some jamming on stagea real honour I must say. I got to play some crappy solos with the Chads. Eric, Monty and Chad each took some solos on Cousins songs too. We also got to open up and talk about our feelings. Touring is a great way to get to know people.
Lola Who: Are there any plans for the near (or distant) future about which youd like to tell our readers?
Aaron: At the moment, as I mentioned before, we’re polishing up a new thing that will be ready soon. Another couple records are in the writing and dreaming stage. There are also lineup changes about which I can’t elaborate because no one yet knows what the shape of the band will be. Suffice it to say that we’re working on it.