Sitting in an ill-lit corner of Gus' Pub sipping local beer, the duo that currently makes up Cousins, Aaron Mangle and Leigh Dotey, speaks openly about its new record, touring life and the importance of friendship; they also giggle and tease each other, explaining that this is what they would be doing, interview or otherwise.
Over the last four years, Cousins have become a staple of Halifax's bustling north- end music scene, but have rarely been the same band. With a revolving line-up of close friends (the only constant being Mangle) the roster runs anywhere from one to four members at a time.
Mangle explains the most recent incarnation: "Last year we got accepted to South by Southwest and they asked me 'Who's going to play?' and I said 'That doesn't matter. I don't see how that's relevant.'" Envisioning it more as a pleasure trip, Dotey was already on board as a vacationer. When word came from guitarist Pat Ryan that he wouldn't be joining them, the simple choice was to bring Dotey deeper into the fold.
"I had asked Aaron to give me drum lessons around that time so---knowing that Pat couldn't make it---he started teaching me Cousins songs," says Dotey.
Luckily for Dotey, who'd never played an instrument before and now handles drums, bass and backing vocals, the Cousins catalogue is simple by design. "Sometimes I'll write a few too many things," explains Mangle.
"I try to write a couple of verses and end up with just one. Then I sing it to myself over and over to see how it feels and realize there is more than enough meaning that I can pull from it; more than if I kept adding to it."
This meditative approach to song building permeates The Palm At The End Of The Mind, the forthcoming LP on west coast label Saved By Vinyl. Recorded partially at home and partially at Echo Chamber Audio with recording engineer Dave Ewenson (because "he's the boss" according to Mangle), the album is charged with pop primitivism and pure imagery. "A lot of the lyrics to 'Speech', for example, come from a children's writing exercise that I found: I like to be a chief. I like to write a speech." Mangle recalls. "Looking at it, first I thought 'Kids are so strange. This is really funny.' But then I wrote the melody and looked at it again and thought 'This is good stuff, I can use this.'
"I know it seems cliche, but the meaning in things like that can be much more valuable to me. Really, 'Speech' is a love song. It's a song about finally understanding something about someone."
Dotey chimes in matter-of-factly: "Things can make a lot more sense when you clear out the bullshit, like excessive language. Why use more when less will do?"
The two have penned new songs together and plan on releasing a tour-only tape along with the new album.
"It's gonna feature three new songs on one side, and three drum solos on the other side. Well, not drum solos, but drum songs," Mangle says.
The tape cover was designed by local artist Kate Walchuk, who will join the band as co-pilot for the first part of the tour. When asked if Walchuk would eventually be inculcated into the band, Mangle rolls his eyes with sarcastic exasperation and exclaims "Who knows?"
"She does play bass," adds Dotey.
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