Cutting Vinyl and Being in Four Bands: This Is 21st Century Hardcore
Catching up with Jodie Cox, frontman for EXES, and member of Narrows and a million other projects.
18 September 2014, 9:00am
The guy whose band has put out one of the best post-hardcore albums of 2014 starts each day with a pet project.
"I usually get in to work at about 10 AM and Roy goes crazy, so I spend about 10 minutes playing with him," says EXES frontman Jodie Cox. Work is Carvery, a mastering and vinyl cutting company in east London. Roy is a boxer dog, who belongs to Frank, his boss.
“I kept telling Frank, 'You should give me a job.’” he says, "Then about six months ago, Carvery expanded and he did. I'd been a booking agent for 15 years and had a sit down with a big agency right before then but thought, 'Nah, you know what? I'm done with booking.' I'm a real vinyl geek. I'm learning all the time. We've done about 100 jobs since I started. At the moment, we're working on a box set of reggae seven-inches. Getting the labels to look authentic, talking them through what we can do. I love all that stuff."
The upswing in vinyl sales means that Carvery is busier than ever, but the overall downturn in music sales has made it harder to play music for a living. So, on one hand, Cox has a day job he wouldn't have had a decade ago, but on the other, he’s in a band that would've made more money in 2004. Actually, make that bands: he's the sole Brit in artful, rampaging hardcore act Narrows and recently played guitar on the new Earth record. All of these projects, he insists, are the same thing: “Making music with friends.”
As the barriers to keeping in touch with people around the world fell, Cox made and sustained friendships through touring and booking shows despite being divided by time zones and oceans. After bringing bands he loved to the UK in his booking days—“Sometimes I’d get nervous phone calls from a venue saying ‘Who the fuck are Hot Snakes?!’”—he still keeps in touch with the numerous musicians he’s bonded with at gigs and on the road.
The foundation for the Seattle-based Narrows was laid on a night out in Berlin, after a show featuring Cox’s old band, Bullet Union, New York thrashers Das Oath, and Californian mathcore set Some Girls.
“We were looking for somewhere to go and found this huge bridge arch with a little light flickering and a guy standing outside it,” he remembers. “We walk up and he says, ‘Five Euros’ and we said ‘OK!’ Inside, there’s loads of rubble on the floor with another light at the end. There, they’ve got a makeshift bar and music blaring. We ended up dancing to everything from techno to Bollywood and had the most amazing time.”
Among the dancing party was Rob Moran, formerly guitarist in Some Girls and now bassist in Narrows. When a few weeks later Cox ended up in Seattle after touring with These Arms Are Snakes—with who an earlier iteration of EXES, Tropics, released a split seven-inch— “just to hang out and play guitar on a couple of songs” he bumped into Moran at another hardcore show.
“We caught up, reminiscing about the night in Berlin,” he says. “I was going back to Seattle six weeks later because I worked for myself and could work anywhere so I emailed him about getting dinner, he said ‘Sure’ then emailed an hour later and said ‘Do you want to do a band while you’re here?’”
A collection of hardcore cult heroes, including former Botch vocalist Dave Verellen, convened for a grand total of two practices and one day in a studio, during which time Narrows wrote the three songs that would form its debut self-titled EP, released in 2008.
“At the first practice me, Ryan (Frederiksen, ex-These Arms Are Snakes) and Rob were playing electric guitars not plugged into anything, which sounded fuckin’ terrible,” he laughs. “Dave’s brother Ben recorded us. I went home and a few weeks later got sent some mixes with vocals on them. It’s just kinda rolled from there.”
An email conversation with another friend, Dylan Carlson, whose band Earth as been regarded as the standard bearers for drone rock for the last quarter-century, led to an invite to play with him at a recording session in the UK. Their collaboration continued on Earth’s new album, Primitive and Deadly.
“When Dylan said, ‘I was wondering if you’d like to join me,’ I was, like, ‘Do you mean get you coffee or tune up guitars for you?’” says Cox, seemingly oblivious to the fact that maybe people keep asking him to join their bands because they appreciate him as a musician. When this point is put to him, he demurs.
“I don’t know what Dylan’s heard of my stuff,” he says. “Maybe [he asked] on the assumption I’ve been playing music for years, the kind of gear I’ve got and the kind of stuff we talk about. Maybe he thought ‘I guess he must be OK…’” This is as close as Cox will come to a boast in an hour of conversation.
“It’s more the understanding of where he’s coming from with certain ideas,” he adds, “I guess it’s that bond, being on that same wavelength. I remember the first time we sat in a rehearsal room together working out some stuff. I’d get an idea and think, ‘Do I tell him?’ Then I treated it like I was playing with any other friend and he was super receptive. Because I’ve known him for so long I don’t feel overly-intimidated, but then I’ll step back once in a while and think ‘What’s going on?!’ as if Narrows wasn’t absurd enough.”
Cox says Tropics “never really found a focus” because of its members’ desire to play different types of music. For a while EXES performed under that name, coming together when three members of 2000s mathcore quartet Meet Me in St. Louis—guitarist Oli Knowles, bassist Lewis Reynolds and drummer Paul Phillips—joined in stages.
“I was aware of their history and how they can play, but I was done trying to do stuff like that,” he says. “We found the essence of the four of us to together with You’re Welcome, which started as a riff Oli had. It was a bit mathy-ish but we made a straight groove out of it. Instantly, we felt, ‘This is where it needs to go,’ writing more and more stuff like that.”
The result is Phantasmaboring, the first 10 songs the band has written together, which has taken four years to emerge.
“We’ve all got jobs so getting together is hard,” he says, followed by an admission that originally there were no plans to produce physical copies of the album. “I asked Frank to master it to put it online and he said, ‘What, you’re not going to press it?’ So we looked at how we could make it affordable to do a short pressing of 200. We worked out nice sleeve stocks with hand stamping and hand numbering, all the little geeky things I like to see on a record. It slowly came together that way.”
EXES didn’t shop Phantasmaboring around to labels because its members’ day job commitments mean the band can’t commit to touring to support it. Which is a shame, but not a waste.
“The more people pick up on it, we’ve had loads of orders online,” says Cox. “I pack the records up myself and send them out. We’ve nearly clawed everything back just through that.” Given Phantasmaboring’s rave reviews and word-of-mouth buzz, doesn’t he ever think “What if…?”
“I take it as it comes,” he says, smiling and shrugging. “I don’t have an agenda. You can’t force things to happen.” Some bands try, though, I say. “Yeah, but I don’t care about that. Fuck it. Honestly, EXES and every band I’ve ever been in is loads of fun. If this is as big or as good as it gets, I’m having a great time.”
And now he has to go.
“I’ve got another band with a friend of mine,” he says, almost sheepishly. “I don’t want to be late for practice.”
Follow Allistair on Twitter - @aclawrence