Updated: Apr 14, 2019
There’s a lot to say about Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird. Their name, for one, takes up a fair chunk of the conversation; the band leaving fans arrested to the fact that they’ll forever have to repeat the name to friends, with inevitable repetitions offering little to no clarity on the matter whatsoever. But I promise all the hassle is worth the effort, because Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird is in fact a very, very good band.
Hailing out of Melbourne, Cousin Tony is headed by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Lachlan Rose, who started the band with a few friends around 2013. In 2017, they made their first release, the Queen of Heart EP: an eclectic smorgasboard of genre-bending songs that ranged from soaring acoustics (Head Home) to jazzed-up reggae (Soothsayer).
Another EP and another year later, the band came out with their debut LP, Electric Brown. The album was an exploration of universal themes, delicately translated through poetic lyricisms and supremely rich instrumentals. Written while Rose was finishing a degree in Music Composition, there’s a stunning sense of depth and total sincerity that runs through the album—the entirety of which is washed over with a warm sense of nostalgia, courtesy of Rose’s vision for the record. “Our first record was called Electric Brown and to me that was harping back to the 70s retro feel.” Rose explains, “I kept getting my engineer and my producer to imagine these kind of 70s lounge rooms when we were making the songs, which dictated the feel of the record”.
The thematics of the 70s can seem passé or pseudo-nostalgic, but it houses a profound sense of heart that bats away any questions of authenticity. Delivered through deep vocals and instrumentals that range from the cosmically whirring synth to soothing melodicas, there’s no denying that there’s a unique comfort that emanates from the sepia-tinged offering.
I ask Rose how he manages to maintain such a level of earnestness throughout his writing, considering there’s a new album on the not-too-distant horizon, “It’s hard to know if it’s going to come out in the final product of the songs,” he replies, “but I think I’ve been doing it long enough now that I can tell the songs that I did really apply that authenticity to the whole way through … They’re of course the ones that end up resonating with people and vice versa. If you’re not writing from that place, it doesn't matter how polished your production is or how good your musicians are, the song is just not going to have that heart.”
Love is, in fact, the crux of upcoming release, New Romancer. The abstract idea being teased out a little more literally this time around. First single, Love is Heartbreak, is a shimmering far cry from the brooding depths of Electric brown. The single is quite the opposite—a kaleidoscopic pop-soaked disco tune ironically detailing the hardest parts of being in love. The whole affair is bold new territory for Rose, who had purposefully steered clear of love songs in the past. But love, bitter as it can be, is the driving force behind New Romancer. “I don’t like to boil the whole record down into being a break-up record, it’s a bit more complex than that,” Rose explains, “but we definitely wanted to establish this theme about all sides of love.”
But what sparked such a sonic leap?
"I got my heart broken immediately after it, and I all of a sudden launched straight into a record".
“After the first record I was pretty exhausted, and I had no idea where the second record was going to come from” Rose admits, “and then I got my heart broken immediately after it, and I all of a sudden launched straight into a record.”
Second single, Hot Pink, follows the lines of Love is Heartbreak, but transposes the roles of content and context: “I wanted to present two sides of it at the start, so Love is Heartbreak is like pretty condemning, it’s quite sad to me, but Hot Pink is quite joyous. It sets up this tone that these songs are going to be about love, and they’re going to be about all different shapes and sizes.”
Despite having only two official releases from New Romancer, it’s clear to see that it’s a fascinating blend of many new factors. “A lot of it also has to do with the inspiration.” Says Rose, “The last few years I’ve been listening to composers like Burt Bacharach and George Gershwin—classic songwriters from back in the heyday of the golden age of Hollywood where the songs are almost over the top in how schmaltzy. They hit our ears now as being a bit ridiculous, but they have an over-the-top romance to them that’s almost comic. To me, I’ve learnt a lot about songwriting from that angle, and I think that’s bled into these songs a lot. The overall effect is that it’s come out sounding quite pop-y.”
But the ostentatiousness of old-school Hollywood hasn’t tainted the emotional intensity so intrinsic to Cousin Tony. In fact, Rose has continued to use colour to help steer his rose-tinted vision: “Colour has always played a huge role in the way that i kind of think about songs… the whole time I was writing a lot of these love songs for the new record I was really overwhelmed by this kind of hot pink colour. To me personally that sort of reminded me of the person that all of these songs are about.”
Translating the newer tracks into a live setting, however, has proven to be a much more technical process than before. Songs from New Romancer are harder to execute and are pushing the band into new territory on stage. But the technical hurdles haven’t detracted from the beauty of an analogue process. “Everything is still played by a human being. We don’t do much electronic programming or anything. The sounds are quite out there, but everything is played and everything can be played", says Rose, “at the end of the day I think that when you play a song it should be fun. You don't want to watch a bunch of musicians with their heads buried in buttons and knobs.”
Having the chance to see the band play later that night at Brisbane’s Woolly Mammoth proves just that. Executions of harmonies, riffs, synths, and keytar are flawless, with Rose’s vocal delivery hard to shift focus from. But the best part of the Cousin Tony Experience is that behind the lyrical depths and intricate instrumentals are just a bunch of friends making music. “We’re not so big on irony or trying to be too mysterious or cool about anything, we wear our hearts on our sleeve and we try and have a lot of fun.”
You can catch Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird during their remaining Love is Heartbreak shows below:
48 Watt St, Newcastle Fri April 12 – BUY TICKETS
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney Sat April 13 – BUY TICKETS
The Basement, Canberra Sun April 14 – BUY TICKETS
Lucy's Love Shack, Perth Sat April 20 – BUY TICKETS
Sonar, Fremantle Sun April 21 – BUY TICKETS
Corner Hotel, Melbourne Sat April 27 – BUY TICKETS