International art-rock/post-punk collective Cosmopolis, whose name was inspired by, among other things, the European literary magazine published simultaneously in London, Paris, Berlin, and St Petersburg during the 1890s, recently released their single, “Parasite.”
Talking about “Parasite,” vocalist, keyboardist, and guitarist Gavin Kendall says, “On the surface, this is a tale of obsession and a dysfunctional relationship, but it’s never clear if the parasite is the external malevolent presence or the internal self-destructive urge. Maybe it’s both at the same time. And maybe living in Australia, I see the dark side of nature, so it seemed like a good way to approach obsession and self-destruction.”
Vaguely reminiscent of Pink Floyd, only darker and moodier, “Parasite” drifts on floating layers of sound, at once full of immersive shadows and gleaming accents.
Mesmerized by the band’s compositions, Tattoo.com spoke with Cosmopolis to discover more about how they connected, the evolution of their sound, and their recording process.
What inspired your latest single, “Parasite.”
There are many different ways in which it can be read. But one interesting way is as political commentary: who gets accused of being a parasite, and how is that weaponized in contemporary political discourse? And who are the real parasites? Those who are demonized, or those who find convenient scapegoats.
Who is in Cosmopolis, and which instrument do they play?
There are three core members, but we don’t mind adding guest musicians from time to time. The three core members are: David, who takes care of drums and percussion. Nico, who plays guitar, bass, and keyboards; and Gavin, who sings, and plays keyboards and guitar.
We all do quite a bit of programming. The computer is probably our most important instrument!
How and when did Cosmopolis first get together as a collective?
We are old friends who have known each other for ages, but we had our first session in March 2018 to see if we could write anything interesting together. So it’s now our five-year anniversary! Our first release, ‘God Hotel,’ came out in June 2020.
How did you get started in music?
All of us were in various bands when we were youngsters. I think it’s a different story for all of us. David and Nico are both proper musicians, so had to learn to play something first before they could be in a band. Gavin just decided to sing (and started doing that without any real idea!) and has gradually picked up some skills on the guitar and the keyboard.
Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?
At the time, it feels like quite a natural process, but looking back over the last five years you can see that we made definite decisions about our sound. In particular, we have been trying to strip back the sound a lot more, as one of our faults is over-complicating what we write. In our first rehearsals, the guitar was more dominant but we have become less reliant on guitar to form the backbone of our songs, and have become more interested in sound design and using synths.
Let’s talk gear for a moment. Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
We record using Logic software, so that takes care of a lot of the processing. We prefer to use plugins rather than hardware. David likes EZDrummer for his drum sound. He’s also got a proper kit, but it’s too hard to record it well! For guitar and bass, we like to use Guitar Rig and Amplitube. We quite like the Fender Telecaster sound – Nico has got a very old Tele with lots of bits swapped out and other modifications, and Gavin has got a more traditional Tele. For keyboard sounds, we use all kinds of stuff, but we often use Kontakt libraries as well as Arturia synth plugins. We spend quite a lot of time processing our sound to make it our own. There is a danger with these plugins that if you use presets (which is very tempting!) you will sound like everyone else.
Are there any special recording techniques you use in the studio?
Nico is very good at building vocal booths. He designs these weird Heath-Robinson contraptions so we can get an interesting vocal sound. The other thing we often do is, I am sure, very common: we reckon if we can record a rhythm section first and get it sounding good, then it’s easier to build a track up from that. Sometimes that original recording gets scrapped, but we hope that we can keep the feel.
What is your definition of tone? And has your tone changed over time?
Attitude, intensity, mood. It does seem to have shifted over time. We have become more maudlin and more introspective. If you think ‘Parasite’ is depressing, wait till you hear the songs we are working on now! I am not sure why this is happening – I suspect we are feeling the impact of the weird times we live in: a global pandemic, disinformation, ‘alternate facts.’ war in Europe, and creeping fascism. I am sure this uncertainty and terror get reflected in our writing, even if we don’t specifically write a song about it.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?
Of course, music is the key art form for us, because it’s easiest to see how it might impact what we do. Visual art is important: David has a background in art history and has always kept that interest alive. All of us like art that is difficult or confronting: Goya, Beuys, the Chapman Brothers, the list is endless. It’s hard to quantify exactly how this makes its way into our songs, but it’s there, trust me! In terms of our songwriting, although we read poetry and novels, I would say that politics and philosophy are more important for us. It’s one of the reasons we are called ‘Cosmopolis’ – a band that exists at the intersection of art, politics, philosophy, literature, and ethics.
What can you share about your writing process?
We live in three different places (England, Belgium, and Australia) and only occasionally manage to get together to work simultaneously. We constantly share files and work on them separately. We are a twenty-four-hour-a-day enterprise. But typically, we might start with a rough idea for a song (chords, melody, lyrics), then we try to get a rhythmic bedrock for it.
Next, we revisit the whole thing and get an interaction going between the rhythm, the melody, and the sound design elements that sit on top. But it’s worth emphasizing that we like to keep the whole thing fluid; a new guitar idea might mean the old bass gets dumped, or a new idea for drum sounds and patterns changes everything, or stripping out elements to let the song breathe allows us to see new possible arrangements. It’s a process that is occasionally frustrating but is also extremely enjoyable because all these iterations lead to a final song that is miles away from how it was first conceptualized.
We finish up with something we could never have anticipated. And that, it seems to me, is fundamental to what we want to do: we don’t want to faithfully record what we have in our heads, but we want to expose what’s in our heads so it can be totally transformed through constant revision and interaction.
Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?
I (Gavin) saw Nick Cave and Warren Ellis recently in Australia, just round the corner from where I live. It was very affecting, like a religious experience. And even though I am suspicious of religious experience, and usually have little time for it, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the intimate world they created. Who else? There are so many. Caroline Rose, Perfume Genius, Beak, Warhaus, The House of All, Gorillaz, Jon Hopkins, Rival Consoles, First Aid Kit. Of the really popular acts, Lizzo and Taylor Swift.
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?
Some more songs are nearly ready – expect the first album from Cosmopolis sooner rather than later! And there’ll be a video for ‘Parasite’ along shortly.