'Who or what are Cousin Kula (@CousinKula)?' you might be wondering to yourself, and rightfully so, I too had the same question on my lips about a year and a half ago. I'd put on Still Corners for background noise while I re-wrote some notes for class. After a few tracks however YouTube's algorithm had a hiccup and jumped artists putting on a track I didn't recognize, I'd soon come to know it as 'Working For It'. I had no idea who these guys were but I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn more. Studying now placed firmly on the back-burner with curiosity leading the charge, I pop open DICE and sure enough CK is touring. They're playing Servant Jazz Quarters in a couple of weeks, which is practically around the corner from me, kismet! I book a ticket and reluctantly get back to studying.
If you've never been before SJQ is an intimate venue. Nestled in the heart of Dalston is a pocket universe where you can catch some of London's finest jazz and other genres in an eclectic setting. The music is always in the basement, which reminds me of the bowels of an old clipper ship, lots of exposed giant wooden load baring beams. Anyway. A few things from that evening really stuck with me. The opening band for example was Be Good (@BeGoodIsABand) who played a cover of Roy Orbison's 'Crying' I never knew I needed. Another was telling a dude with the hair of a wild man, only later to learn it was Jordan (Lead Guitar of CK) to be quiet so I could hear the song, and then regretting I'd opened my fat mouth when he took the stage. Finally I remember CK coming on, and like the rest of the audience, being well impressed. Everyone was chanting MORE MORE MORE by the end but Elliot (Lead Vocal/Rhythm Guitar) in a remorseful hushed tone said, 'sorry we can't because we don't have any more songs to play', disappointing but fair enough.
It's now March 2019 and CK are touring again with a whole volley of new material. Over the years I kept tabs on the group and was looking forward to seeing them again, but how would my experience compare to the previous? We've all been guilty of romanticizing the past and maybe even embellishing how wonderful it really was. It was a risk I was willing to take, no risk no reward. I'm now lurking about the Lexington, tonight's venue. I catch (wait in the shadows for) Elliot coming down the stairs after Cousin Kula's soundcheck and say 'hey, I'm the weirdo that's been in touch over Instagram for a low-key interview before or after the gig tonight, we still on?' They oblige. Elliot asks me to join the guys outside on an already full picnic table in the smoking area outside the Lexington on a crisp and dark March evening. The table is full and the one seat that's available I give over to Elliot and say I'll just crouch down and I'm cool with that, it'll also help me keep the interview brief. 'Naw mate, we can all move over' everyone moves over and I grab a seat next to Doug (Synths/Sax). The vibe is all inclusivity and I'm not even sure what I've done to build what feels like an instant rapport. I ask if it's okay to record the interview and off we go so without further adieu let's get started because it's a fun one. James (Percussion) is running late and can't participate. Side-note it's really hard to remember who said what exactly so when an answer was unanimous or inseparable/indecipherable by individual member I'll preface with 'Cousin Kula', enjoy (I know I did).
Captain: I'm not in the habit of asking music related questions, I mean I might slip up and toss one out, but I'm more focused on asking random questions to know more about the people that make the music I already like, I hope you're okay with that?
Cpt: So first question is, what questions do you not want/hate to be asked?
Cousin Kula: I guess we'll just see as we roll? If we don't like it we'll be like, naah, next. An irritating one is how would you describe your sound? (Someone) Ah yeah, that's a bad one. (Someone else) What kind of underwear are you wearing?
Cousin Kula: Hey, that's a good one!
Cousin Kula: You wouldn't want to be asked that.
Cpt: That's a great question, I'll take it! What kind of underwear is everyone wearing? I'll go first, blue with white polka dots.
Cousin Kula: Wow, you actually know? That's amazing!
Inner Monologue: Is it though?
Cpt: How do you not know?
There's almost zero hesitation as everyone starts to dig into their waistbands yelling out random things like.
Elliot: Black, I think it's always black.
Cpt: For the record, everyone's wearing underwear.
Elliot: But you've got the best pair on.
Cpt: Thanks, but tomorrow's are my favourite.
Doug: You've already got them picked out, are they on the radiator or something?
Cpt: Nope, straight outta the package, brand new. Wait, do we wash new underwear or just throw it right on?
Cousin Kula: Right on, straight out, that crisp outta the package feeling. What are they?
Cpt: Dinosaurs with cowboys riding them.
Cousin Kula: OoOoOOOo VERY nice.
Cpt: Okay, first real question. Cats, Dogs or Other?
Doug looks up from writing setlists: Boring!
Cpt: Okay, next question. Are lucky numbers a thing?
Cousin Kula: No? I dunno, is luck a thing?
Things get almost too philosophical but before they can ...
Elliot: Wait, 4:20 is. All our songs at the moment are around 4:20 (open to interpretation).
My eye catches to my left that the setlist are still being drawn up but that's not a dig because Doug is still fully engaged in the interview.
Cpt: Side-note guys, could I grab a setlist off you?
Doug: What, you want me to just write you one out now?
I ponder the request for a moment as a serious question, have I passed the audition, do I get to play the triangle in the group now? Then the laughter comes roaring in and I'm snapped back into reality.
Cpt: Nah, nah, of course not (convincing tone) I mean after the set.
Cpt: Okay, music related one. If you could put your music in a film, past present or future, what would it be?
Will takes the lead/Cousin Kula: OooOoo, that's a good one!
Cpt: You would not believe what a lead balloon this question is but I find myself not being able to give up on it.
Will: Wes Anderson is pretty cliché, but I'd love our music to be in a Wes Anderson flick.
Elliot: I think it'd be cool to be an animated film.
Cousin Kula: SHREK SHREK.
Elliot: With our sort of sound something animated is a bit more fun.
Elliot: The next avatar (everyone laughs at this).
Cpt: I said I was going to ask only a few questions but seeing as we're on a roll here can I keep going?
Cousin Kula: Yes, go for it.
Cpt: You want it, you got it. Board Games or Video Games?
Oliver: Used to be video games when I was a teenager, but now it's board games.
Elliot: Yeah it's definitely board games.
Jordan: Video games for me, yea.
Cpt: I think it's gone the opposite way for me used to be board games now it's video game. I'm with you Jordan, video games.
Oliver: Settlers of Catan.
Oliver: Settlers of Catan, that was my summer basically.
Cpt: Sorry dude, is that a board game or a video game?
Cpt: Sounds very Risk like.
Doug: It's basically like Risk, on a board.
Elliot: except you don't lose any friends.
Cpt: Wait, Risk is on a board (I lose my composure with laughter unfit of a gentleman).
Doug: No wait, it's like Age of Empires on a board I mean (classic).
Elliot: We have a little set up in our house for like, uhm, old school board games.
Cpt: wait, wait, you guys all live together?
Oliver: Yeah, we all live together, 4 of us in 1 house where we rehearse and 2 of us in another house down the road.
I reminisce with the boys that in my younger days I thought it was standard that all bands lived together and that this caused me a great deal of embarrassment at one time. I ended up writing to Aerosmith, the whole band, at an address I found in one of their jewel cases. I even drew a Corvette from a 'Learn To Draw' book I'd purchased from the book fair at school. I got a letter back which I collected during my lunch and ran back to school winded to open it in front a crush I had on a girl in my 5th grade class, one who was also an Aersosmith fan. Turned out it was just a merch catalog. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die, pretty sure I need therapy to resolve these feelings.
Cpt: Okay, next question, do you remember your first rated R movie?
Jordan: Reservoir Dogs.
Elliot: Actually I think mine was Jeepers Creepers.
Douglas: I think mine was Kill Bill?
Cpt: Kill Bill, circa 2001, no 2003 Kill Bill?
Cpt: Wow dude, how old are you? I've gotta do some self reflection.
Everyone laughs because I've blown it officially, I'm the old dude at the table telling the kids to get off my lawn!
Oliver: OoOoo I think mine was Lock Stock And 2 Smoking Barrels.
Cpt: You can't just make things up Oliver, this is a factually based interview!
The tide turns on Oliver, everyone except for Oliver is heard saying: YEAH YEAH YEAH!
Cpt: I didn't get one from you Will, you're awfully quiet over there.
Will: I don't think mine was even a rated 18, it was something like Blair Witch Project, it wasn't even Rated R, probably a 15 or something.
Cpt: Even if it wasn't rated R it should've been because it fucks you up (it fucked me up).
Elliot: It is, it is, It's fucking scary.
We went back and forth here talking about Korean and Japanese horror.
Elliot: Jordan's into his films.
Cpt: Jordan, is this true? Any particular reason why?
Jordan: My Mum's into her films, growing up me and her watched a lot of them and I was watching '80s horrors from a younger age. We always used to go to the cinema together too and I just sorta grew up in the cinema. My Grandad's an actor so ...
Cpt: Wow there, anybody we know?
Elliot: It's British TV, do you know Zippy and George? He was their voices.
Cpt: Oh yeah, I know them, they're the ...
Cousin Kula: yeah yeah yeah.
Jordan: He's a Dalek as well.
Cpt: WHAAAAAAT? Oh yeah, just a Dalek, I thought I recognized the telescopic arm family resemblance there Jordan.
Elliot: I met him once, we'd go around his house and he'd be smoking cigars, Jordan would be smoking cigars with him.
I look over at Jordan and his eyes have become half moon crescents of nostalgia as he brims with a huge smile and I can totally envision a miniature version of him just puffing away smoking rings on his Dalek Grandad's lap. I stop the interview at this point because I feel like my line of questioning has trekked into personal territory. It's not that I wouldn't have loved to have kept the recording going but the guys were really candid, unguarded and open with me and their answers. To me on some level I'd feel like I was betraying the moment. It was easy to share with everyone at the table like a bunch of picnicking conspirators, it was the type of conversation collusion that made me forget this was supposed to be an interview.
Cousin Kula's chat, like their music, has a shorthand to it that can only have been forged from growing up, living and playing together. No one overtook anyone else in the conversation but instead continued thoughts linking the voices together as one. I had to play the interview over and over to break up the quotes because one voice (aside from my obnoxious tones) blended into the rest carrying on and knitting thoughts together. Watching them perform this translates over in much the same vein, no voice or instrument steps on any other's toes. The results? It all comes out clear, luxuriously produced with a clean velvety depth, very pleasing to the ear. Like the tide, it rolls up all unassuming and before you know it you're waist deep in an energetic sound that ebbs and flows like no other. Guitar screams with a shreddingness of flare once only imagined by Prince. The keys keep a staccato tension at times and an immersive anticipation the next that builds and juxtaposes itself so well alongside the rest of the lineup of instruments, particularly on 'Working For It' and 'Jelly Love'. Your reality will distort with each tune and be reconstructed as something wholly different, of this I can assure you, but go with the ride, don't resist. Unlike being stranded in the cold and unforgiving vast emptiness of an ocean tide however their tunes will not leave you stranded on a deserted isl but instead envelope and mesmerize you. This was one of the first gigs in recent memory where when I heard, 'This is our last song' I realized I hadn't even taken a single photo, I'd been absolutely engrossed by the performance. I think if you enjoy their sound you must see it constructed live. It's one thing to admire a creation in its completion but seeing each tiny piece, the subtlety the ambiance complexity, coming together to make the whole will hold your unwavering attention.
I was genuinely excited during this performance and new tracks like 'Jelly Love' and 'Sparkly Fairy Queen' which came with surprise 8-bit outro that's a reprisal of the chorus. The ending is still in debate because rumor has it Oliver (Bass) isn't a fan but if I can imagine myself as the deciding vote I'd say keep it, two thumbs way up, sorry Ollie! A six song set might seem short but time the way we perceive it in our daily reality ceases to exist when you're in the audience, it's more than a taster but definitely not enough to satisfy, but you won't leave dissatisfied either. The gang all work jobs to support making this array bad-assery tunes and were in fact driving back home that very night to Bristol to make it into work for the morning, that's commitment. You've got a couple of months before the gang swings back around for a yet-to-be-announced show and location I got the heads up on alongside The Physics House Band on May 3rd. Give 'em a follow on your preferred social media of choice so you don't miss out.