Summer in New York City is rife with concerts and festivals. On any given weekend, you can find live music within a five mile radius of wherever you may be in the five boroughs. Pianos, a bar and concert venue in Lower Manhattan, plays host to all kinds of musical acts, from DJs to jazz bands. It’s well known and well loved by many.
This made it the perfect venue for The Cuckoos‘, a Texan quartet of young men, New York City debut. Nestled in a small room off the side of Piano’s main bar, Eric Ross was sat casually picking at his bass while The Cuckoos drummer, Cole Koenning, ate beside him. Not far away was Dave North, powerhouse guitarist, and Kenneth Frost, a lead singer whose voice is decades ahead of his age. Frost and North formed The Cuckoos in 2014 before North introduced Ross and Koenning shortly after. Since then, these for young men have quickly amassed a body of work as mature as the acts they idolize.
The Cuckoos were gracious enough to answer a few of my questions hous before their first show in the big apple.
It’s quite obvious that the foundational inspiration for you guys is in the psychedelic, new wave, and garage genre. Is there anywhere that you pull inspiration from that isn’t obvious from your sound?
Cole: Jazz, for sure, John Coltrain.
Eric: Jazz, yeah, and I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music these days and that’s just me. I’m sure these guys have a lot of different influences. [For me] lots of jazz, classical, and experimental. It’s the stuff that maybe isn’t on top of our music but its hidden deep down when we improvise.
Kenneth: It’s also that lots of the music that’s being released right now was being recorded over a year ago so that’s very much what we were listening to then. I mean we’re still listening to the same music; we’re not changing our sound or anything but we’re definitely listening to more music now as people do throughout their lives. I’m sure there’s lots of different things that are going to pop out. I mean we listen to everybody from Kate Bush to The Shags, death metal, folk, Marvin Gaye and Frank Zappa.
Austin is an extremely musical place. How has your environment influenced your music?
Dave: It has for me.
Eric: I’d say so yeah.
Cole: For me not so much; I try to do what everyone else is not doing.
Kenneth: I feel like it’s not the biggest part of me that’s like “oh I don’t wanna do what everyone else is doing” but there’s a lot of musicians in Austin, a lot of people doing the same thing. I think there’s definitely a kind of Texas sound that just kind of comes naturally that we have a little bit, definitely from Dave’s guitar playing, we’ve got a little of that Texas blues that you can’t get anywhere else. But I will say that what people are doing in Austin right now, there is a lot of psychedelic music and stuff like that but I wouldn’t say there’s really anyone that’s doing it like we’re doing it.
Eric: I was actually talking to the guys earlier about this. I think it’s really cool to be surrounded by so many people who are doing music and are passionate about it and going their own way. It’s cool to be a part of that and that inspires you to make music.
Dave: Yeah, you can talk gear with just about anybody in Austin.
Kenneth: It’s kind of a double edged sword cause, you know, you’re not special for being a musician in Austin.
Cole: You say you’re in a band and people in Austin will be like, “Oh okay whatever.”
Kenneth: It’s really cool to be surrounded by music all the time. You could probably go anywhere, anytime and there’s probably a live band playing somewhere around you.
You recently played in the UK for the first time. What was that like? Were the crowds different?
Cole: Definitely more receptive.
Kenneth: I noticed theres a lot of cover bands in the UK. Every venue we played had lots of posters for bands like a Nirvana cover band and an Oasis cover band and a Smiths cover band and a Joy Division cover band. Even though the Smiths and Joy Division aren’t American, I think they’re drawn to stuff that they don’t have over there like Nirvana. We’ve got this kind of Texas, bluesy, classic rock thing going on and they don’t really have much of that over there.
Dave: It was cool for us because all the bands we got to play with have got that British sound.
If you could tour with any band that’s still producing music, who would it be?
Dave: Brian Jonestown Massacre
Kenneth: If I could pick anybody that I’d just want to be sitting with all the time… I feel like Tame Impala would be the best for us. We would kinda mesh with them; theyre the kind of the kings of the psychedelic realm of rock n’ roll right now.
Eric: I feel like Tame Impala would be good and theres a band called Tera Melos that would be pretty cool to play with.
Kenneth: I’d love to play with Mac Demarco but I feel like his current album is just so chill and we’re a little more like in your face, balls to the wall rock n’ roll so I don’t know if we’d mesh.
Cole: I mean he is playing with the Flaming Lips so I guess he didn’t care.
You recorded your EP in a church and a garage. Why those places?
Kenneth:Oh God, it’s kind of a long story. We started recording at this studio in Austin and right when we did it this guy with a garage studio hit us up on Facebook and was like “Hey come to my studio; y’all are gonna love it. I’ve got all of this vintage gear and it would be perfect for yall.” We said no because we’d just recorded a bunch of material and we were about to release our record, maybe in the future. Then we spent a lot of time playing shows around town and we had some line-up changes cause [Eric and Cole] joined the group. We delayed and delayed the release of our record, I think a year passed and we didn’t release any music. We put out a few singles that got us a little bit of buzz but the guy hit us up again offering to record a free song. At the same time we had kind of shelved our album because we were waiting for the right time to release it and so much time passed that we were just like let’s go rerecord this stuff or record some new stuff because we had changed so much as a band. Then we went in and recorded “Get It On” and that was in the first song that we’d recorded in the garage studio. We recorded seven songs there with this guy named Justin Green, like “New Sunrise” and “Stuck Dreaming of the Girl Nextdoor.” It was really cool and it had this kind of chill vibe; we got to spend a lot of time experimenting with stuff. So we left there with seven songs and at the time we were going to release an EP and then since we thought it sounded pretty good we said, “let’s just go ahead and release an album.” We went back into the studio but Justin moved his studio so we found another and it was the church studio. We decided to record a few more tracks to add to [the EP] to make it a full album. “Mind Breakthrough” was one of them, one of our older songs that we’d brought back and rerecorded, and “You’re Gonna Work For Us Till the Day You Die,” which was a new one at the time. So we had half an album in the garage and half an album in the church house studio. Time passed and we changed our mind again so we picked the best of the two and made an EP out of it. Now we’ve got a bunch of recorded stuff that we haven’t released that’s cool and ready to go. We’re all writing new stuff; towards the beginning of the band, I’d done all the writing but now we’ve all had more time to work with each other and we’re starting to collaborate more.
If you could relocate for your next record, do you have a city in mind?
Dave: I’m leaning towards Seattle. I would love to.
Kenneth: We haven’t recorded anywhere besides Austin but when we were over in England I was thinking it’d be really cool to get a place up there for a month and just sit here and record. There’s so much beautiful architecture there, beautiful flowers and it’s just really nice.
Dave: Same with New York, it’s pretty cool here too.
Since we’re called TalkNerdyWithUs, we’re all about nerding out about stuff and being passionate. What do you guys nerd out about?
Dave: [Jokingly plays a riff from Talk Dirty to Me]
Kenneth: Prince, I’m a total Prince dork. I’ve been hooked on Prince for the last year and a half.
Dave: We’re all vinyl collectors and we all collect gear too. I mean I’m a total gearhead.
Kenneth: I used to be a big comic book nerd before I did this. I still have an action figure collection in a box somewhere.
Eric: I guess, like Kenneth, I also have a favorite artist that I like, John Coltrain. I have like thirty-five records and I’ve heard over sixty. I’m a big fan; he was a big influence on me.
Kenneth: I’m the kind of person where, especially with someone like Prince, I’ll go in and listen to all these old live recordings and bootlegs of people that were just at the concert and recorded it on some small little recorder. I think with Prince it was a challenge, especially before he passed away, to find his stuff online because he wouldn’t put it out there. If I’d found a cool concert that I hadn’t heard before it was like gold.
Dave: These guys just got me into John McLaughlin from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and he is like a genius of the guitar world, the tone is there and his playing is out of this world. There’s just so much to learn from everything he does.
Cole: I like to geek out over Rush. I know all twenty albums, I can name every track in chronological order, and I can play all three instruments.
Later in the evening, Pianos patrons were quickly filling into the room, loud and curious about the band. It was interesting watching people mill around the band members, unsuspecting as they are, without knowing they were the group the small crowd was patiently waiting for.
A little after eight o’clock, The Cuckoos hopped up onto the small stage and quickly took their positions. After having talked to them only an hour or so beforehand, I was immediately struck by how different they all were once on stage. Where in casual spaces, they were cautious and maybe a little goofy; once the spotlights hit them, they were confident and seemingly seasoned pros.
Frost introduced them, his voice deeper and more affected than his normal speaking voice, and the first song of their set, “Get It On”, the first song they recorded on their new EP. “Dream Woman” and “Stuck Dreaming of the Girl Nextdoor”, which put The Cuckoos solidity as a group on display. They may be a group of young guys but they play like they’ve been together for a decade instead three years. Pancakes and Whiskey had written that “immediately after pressing play we are transported to another time” and the same sentiment stands for The Cuckoos live performance. Their foundational inspiration of psychedelic, garage rock is extremely prevalent.
The following two songs, “Unhappy Stars”, written and sung by guitarist, Dave North, and Pretty Good Lookin definitely showed the crowd a different side to The Cuckoos. “Unhappy Stars” has a much more modern sound to it than the rest of their work while also keeping the integrity of a Foo Fighters style rock n’ roll. “Pretty Good Lookin’” was less moody and more flirtatious. It certainly isn’t a side of The Cuckoos that is available on their EP and we’re certainly hoping to see more of it. Frost brought a Mick Jagger kind of fire and sensuality without softening or cheapening the hard rock base of the band’s music.
The set concluded with a cover of “Shadowplay” by Joy Division, a group The Cuckoos are continuously compared to, as well as numerous original songs like “Mind Break Through”, a track they’ve been playing since their conception and one you can clearly see they love to play.
As far as debuts go, The Cuckoos can certainly mark this one down as a success; we’re positive this is a group to keep an eye on as the band and their music evolve.
You can stream their self titled EP on Spotify now!