Summer Camp MVPs Cosby Sweater Talk North American Scum, “EDM Trap” and Finding Their Sound [Interview]
Cosby Sweater is a live electronic band that traverses an impressively wide array of musical styles and genres. Although they only recently turned two years old, the trio has been on a rampage. If any year could be considered their “breakout” year, 2014 is it (we reviewed their new EP Party Dad here). They were all over Summer Camp Music Festival this year, with 4 separate sets including one with Joel Cummins and a drumming cameo by Mike Greenfield. The beastly sax master, Nicholas Gerlach, made some serious moves as well, sitting in for segments of Digital Tape Machine‘s and Lotus‘ main sets. Although they recently lost their charismatic drummer Richard “Sleepy” Floyd, their new drummer Jeff Peterson has stepped up to the plate and tailored his style to the Cosby Sweater aesthetic. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this trio were this year’s #Scamp14 MVPs, and they were certainly on the tips of many scamper’s tongues. For pretty much everyone I talked to, the mantra to this year’s Summer Camp was, “Where will we see Cosby Sweater next!?”
The excitement in producer/vocalist/keyboardist David Embry’s voice as he ended Cosby Sweater’s first set on Thursday was tangible. Not only is Cosby Sweater’s following quickly proliferating, their status amongst already established legendary musicians is becoming even more evident. With so many opportunities to promote the Cosby Sweater brand in front of tens of thousands of like-minded fans of bands like Umphrey’s, Lotus, and Digital Tape Machine, there certainly is a lot to be excited about. This year’s Summer Camp also included the premiere of North American Scum, a tribute to LCD Soundsystem and collaborative endeavor between members of Cosby Sweater and Digital Tape Machine. At least for me, the electro/punk/alt. rock antics of LCD Soundsystem have been begging for a revamp, and North American Scum absolutely killed it by reviving classic LCD songs with modern digital flair.
Most importantly, Cosby Sweater brings something new to a genre that keeps moving in the direction of unsubstantiated commerciality. They breathe new life into the funky, sax-based electronic style that the (now hackneyed, in my opinion) Big Gigantic pioneered. Their grooves are melodic, heavy, soaring, jarring, and Gerlach’s beard-tastic stage presence with the sax and EWI gives the group an accessibility that is driving the growth of their fanbase. What really makes me excited about music is hearing something I’ve never heard before or seeing a show so unique that it takes on a character and memory of its own. I believe Cosby Sweater has that capacity already, and they are only just getting started.
I got a chance to speak with Cosby Sweater at Summer Camp about North American Scum, their new Party Dad EP, and finding their direction. Check out the best parts of our conversation below.
Sensible Reason: How did this LCD Soundsystem tribute, North American Scum, get started?
David Embry: Joe Hettinga of Digital Tape Machine is a good friend of mine, and Cosby Sweater opened for Digital Tape Machine about a year ago. We both love LCD Soundsystem, and we were talking about a tribute band one day. Cosby Sweater covers “Dance Yrself Clean,” although we haven’t played it in a long time, and Digital Tape Machine also covers “Tribulations.” When we opened for them, me and Joe were like, “Hey we both do LCD songs; we should form a tribute band one day and just do it for fun.” We agreed it would be cool, but nothing more was said about it. A few months went by, and we were like, “Hey we really need to do that LCD thing,” but nothing really happened. Then one day Ian Goldberg was talking to our manager [Ian is one of the guys who puts Summer Camp together] and he said he wanted Cosby Sweater to do a set of cover songs in the Soulshine Tent.
Nick Gerlach: It was actually going to be a tribute to The New Deal.
David: Yeah, it was going to be The New Deal.
Nick: But they got back together.
David: So we said, “Let’s do the LCD Soundsystem thing,” and I called Joe and told him we are finally doing this thing for real.
SR: David, your vocals were really impressive and stayed true to the LCD Soundsystem aesthetic. Have you done vocals in bands before?
David: Not for a long, long time. I’ve sung a little bit in Cosby Sweater but not anything like this.
SR: Will there be more “North American Scum” performances?
David: Yeah, we are going to keep doing this as long as we can when Cosby Sweater is not on the road.
Nick: The thing is, everyone in [Digital Tape Machine] is a professional musician, so it’s really fun to get together, and I’m sure we’ll be doing it a lot.
SR: Cosby Sweater’s main set was awesome last night, with a really cool appearance by Mike Greenfield of Lotus.
David: Yeah we knew Mike from before; we toured with Lotus back in November. We became really good friends.
Nick: He’s, like, the nicest guy in the music business.
David: He is really cool. We have kind of become buddies since. We were in Philadelphia back in February, and we had the night off, so we went and grabbed dinner and talked about Summer Camp, and he said he wanted to play with us eventually.
SR: What felt different about producing the Party Dad EP as compared to your last few releases?
David: I think we always try to do something different every time, we don’t want be putting out the same thing. So we were experimenting with a little bit of trap, little bit of everything. I think one of the main reasons this EP came together so well was because I ended up having it professionally mixed and mastered, which we’ve never done. I’ve always done it all myself, and I just wasn’t that great at it. So I think with each album and release, the sound quality and composing gets a little better.
Nick: One thing that was different for us is that we hit the ground running really quickly when we started; some bands don’t put their first album out until 2 years after they get together, but we put our first one out in four months. So we kind of developed in front of everybody, and I think with this album we finally found our sound, our direction. Of course there will be a changes as we progress.
SR: You guys mentioned you had written songs that didn’t make it onto Party Dad, is there an anything in the works?
David: Yeah, I think by September we will have a new album or EP come out. We have a ton of songs and we are writing some stuff with somebody else too. So… we have some tricks up our sleeves for the fall, some exciting stuff coming out.
SR: How do you guys stay relevant? What are you guys listening to right now?
David: I like a lot of different stuff. I really like Disclosure… and the label Soulection.
Nick: ’70s funk-inspired electronic music, disco, and all that stuff. We blast that in the van pretty constantly. I also love “EDM Trap” [laughs].
David: He loves the shit out of it. He loves Miles Davis and EDM trap.
Nick: I love avant-garde jazz and yeah, EDM trap. Everyone thinks I’m kidding when I say that.
David: He goes crazy for trap music.
Nick: Everyone does not believe me, but I like trap.
SR: Nick, how does improvisation change when you guys play with Joel Cummins?
Nick: I would say it’s a different kind of improv. Sometimes improv sections will be a little longer but its like a different role, especially for me, because usually my role is playing solo or monophonic stuff, but with Joel I have someone else to work with so I have to be more aware of that. Sometimes it can be kind of difficult, because I’m so used to playing certain parts that have to change when we play with Joel so we can give him more space to perform. But that’s kind of fun to work out. He’s a really great improviser. And having a keyboard player is cool; it really fills out the sound.
SR: Cosby Sweater could be considered a “jamtronica” band. What is it about jam and electronic music that fit so well as a modern genre?
David: It’s crazy because 15 years back, there were 2 different worlds: there was electronic music and there was jam music. And they just slowly started melding together. And I think it’s because the same kind of person can like both of those kinds of music. I feel like they go together, because they are both fun and not always serious.
Nick: I feel like they were always on a crash course to meet up eventually, a lot of rock music is dance music anyway. To me, electronic music and rock music is pretty much the same thing – it’s just slightly different sounds and different ways of getting that sound. The timbre is different, but it’s still just like 12 notes. It’s only 12 notes; that’s what we always say. They were going to collide eventually, and most genres do. Sometimes one combination is more effective than others. And plus with electronic music and rock music, I think the emotional thing behind it is similar, powerful.
SR: I love when you cover “VL Tone” and “Glide.” I think the Cosby Sweater sound fits perfectly with The New Deal. Is there any kind of collaboration or tour in the works?
Nick: We’re not gonna turn it down!
David: We want to. We love The New Deal. I got the pleasure of meeting Jamie Shields last year at Electric Forest, and I know that they are going to be at NorthCoast and so are we, so I’m very excited about seeing them there.
SR: You guys are playing Rootwire again and FarmFest this year. What do you like about the “transformational festivals”?
David: Yeah it’s fun. We like those. I went to the first three Rootwires, and they were always so much fun. You feel like you come away with a sense of…
Nick: You feel relaxed. They’re both great in different ways, and one isn’t better than the other, but when you come back from Summer Camp, you’re tired and are like, “Ughhh… that was incredible.” When you come back from a festival like Rootwire, you’re like, “Ahhh, that was awesome,” and you feel better, or more relaxed.
David: Yeah, more relaxed. Like you were on vacation.
Nick: Exactly. Here [at Summer Camp], this is war-cation. [laughs]
SR: What’s your ideal super jam? Who would you want to share the stage with, living or dead?
Jeff Peterson: I’d have Paul McCartney on bass, Hiromi Uehara on keyboards, and Nick Gerlach on saxophone. [laughs]
Nick: That’d be an interesting mix with McCartney and Hiromi. I’d probably have Stevie Wonder on keys. I’d have a different drummer every 10 minutes; there are so many good ones. I think I would go with Peter Erskine, that guy could really drive a band. And yeah, Stevie Wonder would also play key-bas. I’d be on EWI and Wayne Shorter on sax. And I’ll also play cowbell.
SR: If you were stranded on a desert island, which album would you bring?
David: If I had to listen to only one album for the rest of my life, it would probably be Dark Side of the Moon [by Pink Floyd] or Lateralus by Tool.
Nick: I think I’d take Songs In the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. That’s a good one you can listen to hundreds of times.
Jeff: I’d probably bring Rubber Soul by the Beatles. Or if I could bring a whole band, I’d bring Rush.
SR [To Gerlach]: My friend said to me the other day, “He lets the beard play the sax for him.”
Nick: Yeah, I let the beard play for me. It’s something that I do (laughs). I also let it talk for me.
David: I feel like the beard plays the sax better than the EWI though.
Nick: Yeah the beard plays the sax. My feminine core plays the EWI.
SR: Have you guys been able to watch any of the music yourselves this weekend?
David: We’ve been way too busy and haven’t seen anything yet, but we’re excited to see Lettuce and Bassnectar tomorrow.
Nick: Yeah, I’m super stoked to see Lettuce. They are, like, what is good about music. If you don’t like Lettuce, then there must be something inherently wrong with you.
Patrick Hughes Photography – Faces of Festivals
Sensible Reason’s GoPro shots from Cosby Sweater’s Friday night set.
Charles Izenstark’s video of most of Cosby Sweater’s set on Thursday.
Cosby Sweater will be all over the country this summer at festivals and opening for Umphrey’s McGee. Catch them at Electric Forest, Rootwire, Farmfest, Catskill Chill and many more.
Check out the rest of the tour dates below:
06/26/14 – 06/29/14 – Rothbury, MI – Electric Forest
06/30/14 – Milwaukee, WI – The Miramar Theatre
07/17/14 – 07/20/14 – Terra Alta, West Virginia – Rootwire
07/18/14 – 07/20/14 – Georgetown, Colorado – Groove Music and Arts Festival
07/24/14 – 07/26/14 – Vernon, NJ – Farm Fest Music and Arts Festival
07/25/14 – 07/26/14 – Woodstown, NJ – Mint Green Music Festival
08/29/14 – 08/31/14 – Chicago, Il – North Coast Music Festival
09/05/14 – 09/07/14 – Hancock, NJ – Catskill Chill Music Festival