Cocos Lovers
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Cocos Lovers

Deal, England, United Kingdom | INDIE

Deal, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
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There’s something quite thrilling about Gold Or Dust the new album from Cocos Lovers, but at the same time something quite intimate. It’s as if the Kent based outfit want to take you on an exhilarating fling around the dance floor, while simultaneously putting an arm round your shoulder, drawing you up close (perhaps a group hug is more appropriate), to unravel little mysteries and secrets. It’s a clever thing they do, because as an eight piece line up would suggest, they can make a big sound. With five singers in the band, further augmented on the recording, there are moments of almost choral power too. Yet they do it without ever sounding overblown or melodramatic.

Drawing on different musical style and instrumental abilities, they meld something organic and unforced, it all sounds so natural. African rhythms and lilting high life guitar licks rub shoulders with back porch banjo and mandolin, Trumpet lines that ripple with the heat haze of Mile’s Spanish sketches or Calexico’s Tex-Mex dustbowl, soaring flute and fiddle lines, funky back-beats and the occasional other-worldly sound of bowed saw. There are odd moments of hazy disorientation, moments of icy clarity and moments of rapture as the melodic lines rise to crescendo. Cocos Lovers sound is uniquely their own yet as familiar as a favourite coat.

Pulling such a complex tapestry together takes some doing, but the free spirited musicians seem drawn to each other, as if under some unknown gyroscopic spin of destiny. The fact that they have toured Europe busking and working on farms to pay their way, staying in communes and squats suggests some carefree and bohemian camaraderie. Yet they also have their own label Smugglers Records and sufficient organisation and energy to stage an annual festival, which has in turn helped the release of a number of CDs by like minded and liked acts such as Will Varley (another of our favourites).

There is also a wider artistic and musical community that Cocos Lovers feed off and into. They are based out on the eastern edge of England in Deal, but count themselves part of a wider Kentish scene. The album is co-produced by Joe Magill of local prog/psyche troupe Syd Arthur, which seems to have worked a treat. The sound is a quietly epic liberation for the soul, as musical ideas tumble forth. You may well find yourself caught between repeat play (where the only sensible response to the end of the CD is to stick it on again) and the desire to preserve this for life, such are the riches it offers.

Cocos Lovers are currently out on tour, road-testing the new van, which as they are all together, gave us an ideal opportunity to catch up. Will Greenham and Phil Self were good enough to huddle round a laptop and bring us up to date.



How did you all come together?

Will: Well I’m married to Natasha the violinist and saw player, and her sister and her husband along with his brother (David) starting playing and writing music together in early 2008. The same year we decided to go travelling around Europe together for a few months…

Phil: I ditched my job and went away to join Cocos Lovers abroad; I’d only really just joined the band. Nicola came along as the Au Pair and soon started singing and playing fife and recorder! We travelled around, stayed in squats and communes and wrote a large part of our first album out there (Johannes). When we all came back Billy joined as full-time bass player and that was that. Stewart and James G joined us around the time of recording Gold or Dust – late 2012.



What are the individual backgrounds in music? What do you share and what are the points of difference?

Will: Natasha is classically trained in singing and violin. I’m untrained; a bit like one of those dodgy builders! Nicola, Stewart and James also attend SOAS university and study ethnomusicology!

Phil: Our musical backgrounds vary quite a lot. Before I joined Cocos Lovers I was mostly listening to and attempting to make electronic music. Joining the band helped me rediscover the simple pleasures of acoustic music and vocal harmony – I’d never even played a banjo or mandolin before joining so that had a big impact on me musically. Delving into our nostalgic playlists would unearth a whole range of possibly quite unexpected music.



Does the band function as a collective and democracy? I know this is very hard to do and don’t want to stir anything here, but I wonder how individuals inject ideas and respond to other peoples input.

Will: It is a democracy, at the end of writing a record you feel 1/8 of that record! People have different strengths in the band, from lyrics to vocal arrangements, we compliment each other really well, and we are comfortable in jamming ideas out together and open with each other with feedback! Its a true band, its happened organically and by chance and grown from family and friendship. We are very lucky.

Phil: The new album was written very collectively. We got toge - folk radio uk


If you wanted to make up Cocos Lovers from scratch you’d probably have to get the Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend into a pot and then add some choir boys. They embrace the idea of young folk where the instruments are graded by eccentricity and no song is complete without a harmony verging on the sublime. The fiddles, guitars, flute and percussions are handed amongst the family band and the result is an immediate intimacy. They recorded the album in the back of a converted caravan. They’re just…wonderful. Their first album, ‘Johanes’, was full of spiraling songs, to be danced to in a field (preferably with a little bit cider) or enjoyed at home for their life and unassumingly poetic lyrics.

In ELEPHANT LANDS the group has developed a significant wanderlust. The titular track begins with a guitar solo, laid onto which are maracas and drumming in the style of a convincing stampede; we are told to ‘run to the hills’. Okay, it’s a little bit like Lion King, a little bit more so when their harmonies take on tribal-like chants. But in an utterly charming way; they have morphed the countryside and wilderness themes of folk into a safari. The same spirit of adventure presides over Feral and Wild, Door to the Andes and Fortuna. And then in Blackened Shore they have some Spanish guitar and the traveling theme is played with in different ways. Like the traditional serenading of a lover who’s left port for the high seas (Days are Long), a lovely fifty second snippet of the girl’s vocals. But my hands-down favourite take on the idea is in Barcelona. We have a live feel, the band setting up, a fiddler and a Spanish guitar to set the scene for a gnarled story of someone who sounds suspiciously like a pirate. Who else is ‘born with no arms and a twisted mind’.

It’s an eccentric take on the concept album, I grant you, but I can’t stress this enough, they pull it off. After all, they are wonderful. Katy Browse - Maverick


Kent Coast folk with an african twist - The Independent


Discography

Lunatic Van Rogue ep 2009
Time to Stand ep 2009
Johannes album 2010
Elephant Lands album 2011
Gold Or Dust album 2013

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Bio

‘Kent Coast Folk with an African Twist’ – The Independent

Operating well beyond the remit of alt-folk, Cocos Lovers (pronounced Co-Coss) are a distinctive musical force, seamlessly channelling influences from Africa, the US Deep South and several other real and imagined corners of the globe, while staying ever faithful to their Kentish roots. Hailing from the small but musically rich town of Deal, they are a close-knit 8-piece band of family, friends and former au pairs. Their music swells with powerful choir-like harmonies and glorious widescreen melodies, and they’ve earned a reputation for fantastic live performances with an ever-changing instrumental line-up of mandolin, banjo, acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, violin, musical saw, flute and a unique blend of drums and percussion.

Their debut album, Johannes, was conceived in 2008 when the newly-formed group quit their regular jobs and ventured out on an odyssey around Europe. They busked the streets of countless towns, worked on farms, stayed in squats and communes and wrote music inspired by their experiences. Johannes was released through the band's own co-operative; Smugglers Records, in spring 2010, winning For Folk’s Sake’s album of the year poll and much critical acclaim:

‘A thing of beauty.... Far from being a traditional folk record, Johannes is a multicultural affair, taking in musical styles from all around the world. And it is all the richer for this fact.’ – BBC Kent

‘Sweet music indeed.’ – Rock’n’Reel

The band’s second album, Elephant Lands, was recorded in early 2011. A dramatic journey through darkness and light, its bittersweet themes touch on loss, tragedy, joy and celebration, and it earned the group further rave reviews:

‘In Elephant Lands Cocos Lovers have shown diversity and composure, eloquence and emotion in abundance. They have managed to build on the successes of the first album and deliver a more mature, considered and assured album of remarkable complexity.’
– contactmusic

‘They are wonderful. *****’ – Maverick

Smugglers Records has gone on to release 15 records, put on hundreds of music nights across the Southeast and established its own sell-out Smugglers Festival in Kent. It was here, camping out in the festival's absinthe bar amidst a 'christmas tree forest', where Cocos Lovers hid themselves away during the summer of 2012 to write their third album Gold or Dust; taking time off to build stages and compost loos ready for the festival. Once the summer was over the band began working with producer Joel Magill (Syd Arthur, Dawn Chorus Recording Company) and set about recording the new album at Wicker Studios, home of Kate Bushes early records. Gold or Dust explores the apocalyptic destiny of our existence and drifts through folk, world, classical and psychedelic influences.

Cocos Lovers have become big festival favourites with performances at Glastonbury, Cambridge Folk Festival, Green Man Festival and Sidmouth Folk Week, amongst others. They’ve toured the UK and Europe to great acclaim, supported Mumford and Sons and Stealing Sheep, count Laura Marling and BBC6’s Guy Garvey, Cerys Matthews and Tom Robinson amongst their fans, and have received further airplay on various American, European and Antipodean radio networks.

They are also due to appear at SXSW in Texas this year.

Band Members