Melbourne band Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird have come out swinging in 2018 with their impressive debut album ‘Electric Brown’, released on Friday.
Though the talent feels fresh, it’s been a five year long process. Lead singer Lachy Rose felt compelled to quit his “other” studies to give his life over to music, which as many of you know isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you’re going to be able to make a career out of it. But, with full band in tow, and a new album just released through Sony, it looks like this is really happening.
Rose’s lyrics and melodies are profoundly moving, sometimes running at a slight bossa nova tempo, bringing measured joy right before you fall into a pit of despair, thus saving the day. Electric Brown will enliven you, no matter what is happening in your life.
Our interview didn’t exactly start off the way I planned. I recalled seeing ‘the Bird during their residency last year at The Evelyn in Fitzroy, and told Lachy that I felt that their live performance didn’t yet match up to the scale of their big sound. I don’t think he really liked that much, considering they’ve also performed at iconic Melbourne venues like The Corner Hotel and Northcote Social Club.
When I asked Lachy about his performance ethos, what makes an engaging performer on stage, he answered, ‘Authenticity. Nothing more, nothing less. You can dance your ass off in the craziest costume but if it isn’t true to you, people will see that in a heartbeat.’ He said that when he saw Aldous Harding at a recent show, she didn’t say a word between songs, or dance, yet it was one of the most captivating performances he’d seen in years. Adding, ‘Personally I just try and deliver the most earnest musical performance I can and what happens between songs is completely unplanned.’
Personally I just try and deliver the most earnest musical performance I can and what happens between songs is completely unplanned.
The Electric Brown album sounds like a whimsical concoction of the Dr Who soundtrack meets The National, with a hint of Black Mirror (Netflix), and key tones from cult computer games from the 80s. But as well as that, there are times through the album when I can hear some early Kings of Leon cues. I told him that and asked if he took it as a compliment or an insult? He said, ‘We get that quite a bit. It’s definitely a compliment. I’ve always put Kings and Coldplay in the same boat. Their first four albums are genius and the rest can burn in Hades forever. Caleb Followill is an amazing vocalist, though. He brings a lot of character to the music and uses his voice super creatively.’
I’ve always put Kings [of Leon] and Coldplay in the same boat. Their first four albums are genius and the rest can burn in Hades forever.
I asked how as a band, they know the perfect balance of synths and rock in a song, and that it seems very considered throughout the album. ‘I think everything in moderation is the key to composition. A record drenched in guitars just dilutes synths. I adore synths, they’re fun and open up a literally infinite amount of possibility. But, if every song was covered in synths you’d never appreciate them. Finding that balance is just an intuitive thing, like everything else in music.’
On some of his vocal heroes, Lachy told me that the first time he heard Mother of Pearl by Roxy Music, he remembers thinking I want to sing like that, feeling that Bryan Ferry’s lyrics were so rich and his delivery so theatrical and realised. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) was named as another massive influence, ‘especially when he started getting real deep on songs like Hinnom, TX, I realised how much texture there is in that lower range.’ Voices he simply enjoys include Aldous Harding and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who Lachy confidently proclaimed was the Elvis of Pakistan, adding, ‘you’ll never hear someone do more with their voice. He was out of this world.’
Rose told me that without a doubt, his favourite, sappy love song is Changes by Black Sabbath, and that he never realised until a few years ago just how beautiful some of their music is. ‘The early 70s Black Sabbath stuff has the sound and feel of classic 80s ballads, with its cocaine and angst, a diabolical combination. There’s also a Tears for Fears tune called Listen that totally nails me.’
The band’s latest single Transient is a sombre song that explores the fragility and impermanent nature of life. After a prolonged period of grieving and loss, Rose became hyper aware of how short really life is. I asked if he feels like these experiences have impacted the way he approaches every new day. ‘Absolutely. Those experiences of death, loss and mourning can really slow you down. But, as an artist they have generally driven me down my creative path with more intensity. I only have one life and it might end this afternoon, so I may as well create as much “content” as I can.’
The ‘bird played BIGSOUND last year, a major Australian music conference in Brisbane that has launched the careers of Courtney Barnett, Flume, Kingswood, The Temper Trap, DZ Deathrays, Ball Park Music and heaps of others. Lachy said that the shows were really fun and that it was cool to see the industry functioning like a living organism all around them. Interestingly he observed that ‘Australian music is in a really healthy place, except for the whole money thing,’ asking ‘who needs it?’
Australian music is in a really healthy place, except for the whole money thing. Who needs it?
2018 has already been a corker for the band. Guitarist Kieran became engaged to Katie just hours before midnight on New Years – they all celebrated so hard that playing a show the next day was a challenge, and their bass player Leigh finally got to see Regurgitator, which was the realisation of a boyhood dream. Much bigger dreams are are in store too as Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird tour Electric Brown around Australia in March and April, with record launch parties in Fitzroy at Polyester Records and the Gasometer this month.
Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird’s debut album ELECTRIC BROWN is out now.