Cocophone are one of the most talked about bands in Ireland at the moment and for good reason. Last Summer they beat over twenty bands in the first ‘Becks on the Night’ band competition in Boyles, Slane as well as having their debut EP ‘Special offers’ produced by Villagers’ band member Tommy McLaughlin at his Donegal-based studio Attica Audio. The band describe themselves as “… a two piece acoustic, folk-like ensemble comprising of Fin on guitars and vocals, and Freya on violin and vocals.” Here’s an interview I conducted with Fin!
I’ve seen Cocophone perform live on a number of occasions and I struggle to describe your sound. How do you explain the sound of Cocophone to others?
Having people struggle to easily describe your sound is artistically a pleasure for Freya and myself. The core aim of any self-respecting songwriter is to create something whole within one song but then deliver a world of subtle difference upon performance of several songs. As a two-piece, Cocophone has certain pillars upon which each song is constructed; A strong lyrical subject, male/female vocal harmonies and dashes of violin or synth as the guitar parts usually mature towards an ideological finish of the song’s theme. Currently, we are planning to bring together a parallel Cocophone ‘The Band’ aswell which we hope will give us a further musical dynamic with regards to the maturity and versatility of our sound. I suppose a tag such as ‘Experimental Folk’ could fit but then again Tony Clayton-Lea in The Irish Times said that that sounds more like a description of myself and Freya as people, ha.
How did you guys meet and what inspired you to form a band and to make music?
When Freya and myself were 17, we met through mutual friends. I actually stole a record from her house (Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream) and when she demanded from a friend of mine that i return it, I called down to her house and seeing a violin in the kitchen, asked her if she would like to jam. She said yes and so, Cocophone (though not called it yet) was fundamentally born.
For me, my primary inspiration to play music is an interest in how words work in popular music. A song like ‘Special Offers’ is where you attempt to make the social disarray of door to door swamp marketing whole again , although these words are ironically enveloped by a selfishly catchy chorus. Freya has a similar interest but she is really focused on the texture of every movement in a song; moreso on an emotive feeling for how Cocophone should present a lyrical subject to the audience/listener. A song like ‘Glory Shoes’ is where Freya really makes that happen I think.
You touched on it there but what are the main themes in the lyrics of your songs?
A college paper journalist asked me that last week and through quickly combing through our songs in my head, I realised that fundamentally, we now write about loss and fond memories at one end and gain and hopeful/damned prospects at the other. I suppose myself and Freya live personally in the present and Cocophone Art is built on what’s happened to us and how we then might deal with it in the future. When I first began writing songs, I had a distaste for much singer-songwriting at the time based on the super-self (‘I don’t know what to do now that I don’t know how to deal with my feelings’ sort of principle). I therefore became obsessed with lyrical observation and third-person social commentary (i.e. Existentially seeing myself experience these observations). Having committed to accurately describing an experience, with my emotions very much removed, I have now come to be comfortable with now placing my ego in there while not hijacking the song with my ‘feelings’. As far as the new ‘Special Offers’ EP goes, the title track is about swamp marketing and heavily branded humanity, Glory Shoes is about isolation, Hollow Tree is about fearful redemption and Yellow Flower is about grief.
In terms of influences on your musical direction are there any unsung personal heroes of yours that have had an effect on the musical direction of Cocophone?
Well to begin with, I learned guitar from two friends and very talented guitarists named David Doyle and Stuart Cameron. Freya’s been playing violin since the age of 4 so there are probably too many direct influences to count for that instrument. The fragmented music scene in Dublin is disheartening at times and neither myself nor Freya have a lot of interest in being ‘scenesters’ so i suppose it’s the people close to us that keep us grounded and away from the all too common self-fulfilling prophecy of being king of the conformed youth. Freya’s parents have a keen interest in everything about Cocophone as music is very much everyday life in the household. My parents have played a great financial role in my musical development. The tools of the trade don’t come cheap when you want quality so practical support is also very important. The two closest friends of mine, Ian O’Beirne and Ollie Darmody have a great influence on how I see the world and what I get inspired to write about. I’m sure they’re not always aware that a chat about something topical in the pub later translates to burning the midnight oil interested by an imagined plot from it worthy of a song. There are others close to us that help greatly with our music.
You won the ‘Becks on the Night’ band competition in Boyles of Slane last year! Apart from the money what did you and Cocophone as a band gain from being part of the competition?
Firstly, we gained many friendships with Boyles and its regulars. The owners Andrew Cassidy and Ditte Kiilerich have been very good to us and it’s their warmth and love for music that has awarded them with a reputable music venue. Boyles is a very special place for Cocophone as it was the first competition we took part in (we previously refused to do any competitions) and yet winning it was momentous for us as it finally brought Cocophone out comfortably to a wider audience. Previously, we had spent a few years fairly isolated and working on our sound. To be exposed so immediately helped us see clearly whether Cocophone had become the kind of music we wanted to be a part of. The music and performances that won that competition have become the staple for our sound and we are continuing to grow a confidence in its viability to attract more and more interest from people in the future. However, winning can look good on paper but it won’t write the rest of the pages in Cocophone’s history.
What’s do you see at being the ultimate direction for the band in 2011?
When you ask direction, I immediately think of live performance. Festivals and supporting commercially greater bands would be a key aim for Cocophone this year. At the moment, we are pushing to materialize much of the hype that kick started this year with both The Irish Times (Ticket) and Heineken Music featuring us as a Band to Watch in 2011. Honestly, the overall direction in 2011 is impossible to foresee now as with each door opening, there in turn arises more uncertainty about not only the paths then taken by Cocophone, but the very choices at our disposal. However, this is a good complaint and thus the primary objective is for Freya and I to remain truthful to the performance, delivery and exposure of our music. We would also like to develop the band in conjunction with the continuing foundational two-piece of Cocophone.
The next big gig for Cocophone is your own headline gig in Academy 2 on Friday 11th February. How much are you looking forward to that? Have you got a support band?
We are really excited about the show. MCD are promoting it and we are experiencing a lot of media exposure for the show. It will be a definitive marker for Cocophone’s massive social progress in the last few months. Also, ticket sales have been very positive so I would advise anyone who would like to come to get theirs from Ticketmaster right away as it’s a small (but cosy) venue. What we are looking forward to most is the seamless putting together of old, not so old and very new material as it will be an elaborate set for Cocophone. Also, there are plans to have aa newly joined bass player performing some songs with us on the night so he will be formally introduced then. Cocophone have not decided on a support act yet but this will be announced shortly.
How can fans-to-be gain access to your music?
The music of Cocophone can be downloaded on ITunes. Simply search ‘Cocophone’ in the online store. The New EP ‘Special Offers’ is available NOW. You can also visit our music at www.cocophone.bandcamp.com
For updates, our facebook page is always full of activity. Simply ‘like’ the page and you will then be kept up to date with the manifesto of a Cocophonic Revolution. www.facebook.com/cocophone
Thanks Fin for the interview. I’m going to leave the last words for yourself!
Like many pleasures, Cocophone is good for you!
Thank you Peter. You’re a trooper for the cause of Irish Music.