Cola’s ingenuity fizzes on their superb second record

On the eve of the release of their new album The Gloss. Cola sat down with Zara to discuss the LP and how it all came together
Cola photo credit Amy Fort

On Cola’s excellent second record, The Gloss there’s a compelling mellow, yet menacing, overtone permeating the ten tracks which draw you closer into its world through its dynamic palette of a variety of infectious guitar riffs (some snarling, others sweetly smiling wryly) amplified by dense bass lines and steady percussion, throughout. There’s an endearing primal nature to the Montreal-based trios playing which, coupled with vocalist Tim Darcy’s introspective delivery, has often garnered them comparisons to Television. While there’s an undeniable echo of the beloved ‘70s pioneers, Cola have effectively demonstrated how they’re sonic trajectory is far from static with their accomplished new body of work which hears them adopting a slightly different pace which is no less textured and immensely rewarding than their acclaimed debut, Deep In View. Furthermore, theirs is a sound that feels so innate in how each of them express themselves both individually and collectively as their frequencies weave them together through their performance.

Over Zoom, Cola’s Tim Darcy, Ben Stidworthy and Evan Cartwright spoke to Northern Transmissions about the process of developing the texturally rich arrangements that make The Gloss such an immediately enveloping record, the endless allure of Neil Young, and delve into how venture capital entities informed their songwriting.

NT: I was shocked when I realized that your debut record Deep In View came out two years ago! It only feels like that happened a few months ago. How has that time been for you all? It’s obviously been busy with playing shows and writing and recording The Gloss?

Evan Cartwright: Busy!

Tim Darcy: Yeah, I guess we toured it a good amount. I think the longest period of touring was like two months door to door. We did have a week off in Montreal, but we played one show.

EC: And we were writing the next record.

TD: Yeah, guess it was less of an expansive writing period compared to the first record. The pandemic really slowed down our process when we were writing the first record. Yeah, I don’t know guys, we should have more to show for ourselves!

EC: We did get back in the studio working on LP two in the same year, right? In the Fall of 2020 is when we started recording The Gloss. We did the first version of “Albatross”.

NT: Was “Albatross” the first song that you had written for the second record?

TD: We did “Keys Down If You Stay” as a standalone single and then “Albatross” was already a song that we were playing on the road. So, we thought we’d maximize the studio time, just in case those songs ended up on the next record, which they did.

EC: But, it was an early version of “Albatross”, an early incarnation of it and it doesn’t sound that much like how it is on the record now.

NT: Am I right in thinking that you had a hands-on involvement in producing both of the Cola records? The Gloss being entirely done by the three of you? You’ve worked with different producers and collaborators in the past on other projects but how was it working closely as a unit of the three? Was that accidental or intentional?

Ben Stidworthy: No, I mean, we all did initial demoing by ourselves. But when it came down to actually recording, we worked with our friend, Valentine Ignat, for both records.

EC: He engineered, I wouldn’t say he produced though.

TD: I guess, in the traditional sense, we produced the record. We didn’t have a hot-shot producer in the room with us! We did experiment a little bit with some overdubs, we were not totally closed off to that idea. Our friend Lily, we had her experiment with some harp on the first record, for example. We definitely have tried it, we’re not totally Spartan in our aesthetic. We had another friend of ours try some saxophone. But I think maybe through a bit of trial and error outside of some of the stuff that Evan has successfully thrown down and Ben has played some mellotron parts on a few songs. Without being too tyrannical about it, we want the sound-world of the record to resemble what the three of us sound like playing in a room without straying too far from that.

BS: Yeah, like for example, we tried a harmonica.Which was just so bad.

EC: Did you order the harmonica? Didn’t you have to get one in like a special key, too? Wasn’t that a whole journey?

BS: It was very hard to find, but I found one in a music store. We had heard that Bob Dylan would drip the harmonica in water and then play it so we did that in the studio and I just ripped a couple of takes, not really playing harmonica. But, it had been something that I had thought about before for songs. Then we were like, ‘Well, that was fun!’ With the harp stuff that Tim mentioned, that to try something in lieu of the second guitar part in “Blank Curtain” and then there’s also a harp in the original version of “Water Table”. But then, for both those songs we ended up not feeling those versions as much as the final iteration.

TD: Touring with a harp would have been so hard , as well, because there are so many logistical issues!

NT: I’m interested to hear more about your process with over-dubbing because listening to your music, there’s such an instinctual and improvisational feel to the instrumentation. It’s so texturally rich, too. I think of “Pallor Tricks” and “Bitter Melon”, which has really interesting menacing guitar motifs in there. Your songs very much feel like they’re captured in the moment. But is there much back and forth with ideas on how you can add more color to arrangements?

TD: I don’t think that’s really how we work, you guys stop me if you think that’s wrong, but generally we stay pretty close to the demo and the original idea. For example, for Ben and I working in this band versus in Ought, in Ought everything came from protracted jamming sessions. So, it took us a really long time to write. Whereas, this project has been a lot more firmly about people coming in with a song and then maybe tweaking things a little bit. We definitely have rabbit-holed with some ideas. I remember, especially on the first record, there were songs that we just played so many times and I feel like we abandoned them once we wrote songs we liked more, you know. We were getting together about once a month and that’s maybe still part of our process. But not so much this kind of take it apart and rebuild it in the room.

EC: On both records there have been instances of leaving something to the last minute. A lot of the over-dubs were very much last minute additions.

BS: Yeah and to what you were saying, I really appreciate that it sounds like the sort of first idea, best idea thing, because I feel like that definitely happened a lot with “Bitter Melon”. When I wrote that demo, I was pretty sure it was a throwaway thing, but I just sent it for fun and it happened really quickly for me. Especially because on the demo it was a little less uniform in terms of structure. Or with “Pallor Tricks”, I was like, ‘Okay guys, here’s a demo, but there’s some things we could change’. But a lot of the stuff, like a lot of the bass lines, were just us figuring out where we could add something in a certain part and then listen to it and start to like it, especially maybe with drums or with guitar because they’re what Tim and Evan play. I’d be like, ‘If you want to do something else, do something else’. Similar to the mellotron, it was the case where we felt there should be something in there and then I just played a little pentatonic scale and it worked!. So, I guess it does have that energy but, I don’t know, when you listen to it enough times maybe it just becomes good. Or I guess hopefully when someone listens to it for the first time, they like it immediately!

NT: You’ve played some shows leading up to the record coming out. Have you taken that as an opportunity to have a bit of fun venturing into new areas with some of the newer songs? Is there a song from the new record that you’re always excited to play because it allows you to veer off into other places?

EC: I’ve really been enjoying playing “Bitter Melon” because with the ending of that track there’s room for us to get into a zone that we haven’t gotten into before.

TD: Yeah, I was thinking the same! I mean, I’m excited to play all the new songs because it’s just really satisfying to finally be able to play some of those. But as far as something that’s different every night, “Bitter Melon” is the only one that really fits that criteria.

NT: Tim, I read that you were drawn to artists who follow their instincts and embrace having varied careers. On the song “Reprise”, there’s a mention of the David Bowie record Station To Station. He may or may not be someone in particular that you look to for inspiration from, but in your formative years who was someone that you thought was doing music and their career in a very interesting and attractive way to you?

TD: I feel like the quintessential answer is Neil Young. There’s a kind of generosity with an artist like that. There’s something about the sort of rough and tumble nature of a career like that. You know, looking at a career like that where someone seems to have just followed their muse in many different directions. There’s something very inspiring about that. I guess in my own much shorter and less varied career, I can feel these kinds of pulls in different directions. I think that’s just the type of writer and artist that I am. Seeing that same sort of push and pull and maybe need for discovery, maybe that’s part of it, just feeling like you need to be turning over something new. It’s definitely inspiring to me to see that even when it doesn’t hit! I really appreciate when an artist has reached for something and you can just feel the impulse was there even if it’s putting them in a vulnerable place. I don’t necessarily think that was special to just Neil Young, but he’s a really stark example of someone who has dabbled with a lot of
different colors of paint.

NT: Do you have a favorite Neil Young record that you always go back to in that way?

TD: Well, no! I mean, I feel like with an artist like that you almost couldn’t have just one, right? I work at a record store and we just got a bunch of Neil Young in and I was remembering some of those later day records like Hitchhiker and Homegrown that he’d never released. They’re kind of peak ‘70s Neil Young, like On The Beach-era Neil Young and it’s crazy that he just made these records and then they sat on a shelf for like 30 years. And, they’re great! Homegrown has that crazy track, I think it’s “Florida” where he does like a spoken word recitation in the middle of the album and it’s about an alien craft landing in Florida. It’s just so random! I love it.

NT: There are nods to film and TV throughout The Gloss but I was really interested in the song “Down to Size”. There’s such a local feel and setting within that song with the mentions of the bar and the corner store. But then, over time, that landscape and area changes. I was wondering if you could maybe talk to me a little bit about that song; the inspiration behind that and the importance of having it on the record?

TD: Yeah, I guess that’s one of the most lyrically straightforward songs on the record. Part of the reason for that is… Well, I don’t know. I guess, maybe with something like that that’s more overtly political conversation, it just felt right to have it be sort of like an anthem or something, you know? There’s not too much to delve into, I tried to leave it on the surface, I guess. It’s a song about gentrification and I was reading a bit about venture capital entities getting involved with real estate, earlier this year.

There’s this great Irish podcaster called Blind Boy. He’s done a couple of good episodes about venture capital and private rental properties. I was just thinking about that and I feel like the topic is more interesting to talk about than the song. I think it’s interesting, you know, reading about what happened in Berlin with the referendum against trying to block venture capital firms from owning apartment buildings. There’s also a great Times piece about the city of Paris and the initiative that the city has to purchase private property and become low income landlords. I found that really interesting and inspiring because it’s so alien to us in a North American landscape. Maybe it does happen a bit more in Canada, but the idea of a city purchasing apartment buildings and part of their mandate is that they’ll let small businesses stay, like a florist or something like that that would just get priced out of an area. Or, a small coffee shop in order to preserve the essential landscape of Paris. And I don’t know, I really think we’re in a moment of reckoning. There’s a really good article by Rebecca Solnit in the most recent LRV about the changing landscape of San Francisco. It’s obviously something that’s been written about and talked about a lot, but I feel like we’re only beginning to see the ways in which this really gross inequity in wealth but also in real estate holdings is going to change the way that people move and operate and live in cities. It’s an important topic.

NT: Finally, outside of The Gloss, I’d love to hear what records you’ve enjoyed in recent years to recommend people to check out?

EC: Devon Welsh has a new record. I’ve been listening to that, which is really good. We’re going to be out on the road with him shortly.

BS: Yeah, he’s a friend and we all think the world of him as an artist. He is so talented.

TD: I’m really struggling. I don’t listen to a lot of modern music.! I’m going to take a cop out and I’m going to say the Acetone stuff that’s getting re-released.

NT: Ben, what are some your picks?

BS: Well, I really like the new Katie Von Schleicher record which was criminally slept-on and it was released by Sipsman Records, which is a label run by friend of ours, Mike Caulo. Ought toured with Katie Von Schleicher and she just writes amazing pop songs, in the traditional sense.

Pre-order The Gloss by Cola HERE


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