It's hard to fly this close to the sun and not get burned.
If there has been one band from the early shoegaze and/or 4AD era that has been worshipped / revered / adored but never resurrected (we wont count that one time) it is the Cocteau Twins. The combination of their pop sensibility, ethereal soundcapes, and the arguably perfect vocals of Elisabeth Fraser have been studied but never duplicated, with band after band all shooting to emulate some of the greatness that is Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas and all falling flat on their face. In fact, it takes some serious cojones to even try. Them Are Us Too could be on their way.
Nailing the ethereal qualities many of the bands on the early 4AD roster, TAUT ratchet up the shadow-y quality of those records, digging deep into the darkness, pain, and emotion. The vocals are dreamy and pensive. The synth-based instrumentation is space-y but focused. It works, and well. Check out the video for "Eudaemonia" and a stream of "Us Now" from their debut LP Remain, the former of which is available here for the first time. Order yours.
Since the band is releasing their debut LP and there is very little known about the duo of Cash Askew and Kennedy Wenning, we cornered them to talk about their beginnings, influence, and the new record.
Noisey: I’m sure that like most people, you guys were completely off my radar. When I got a hold of the record, it was definitely a pleasant surprise. If you could give me a little backstory…
Cash: Let’s see. We met in Santa Cruz, we were both going to the University there.
UC Santa Cruz? How old are you?
C: Yeah. We are both currently twenty-one, and when we met on my nineteenth birthday through some mutual friends, I was working at a food co-op on campus and a bunch of the people who I knew from there lived together in this house that I ended up having my birthday party at. Ken lived at that house, so we sort of met then. I think the next day she was playing a show and I hopped along and hung out and by the next day I had somehow ended up in the band. [Laughs]
What exactly attracted you to Kennedy when you first met?
Kennedy: I mean, besides my charming good looks and hilarious personality… Cash made a playlist for the birthday party and I kept being like, “damn, this song…” Every three minutes we were going back and talking about whatever song it was.
Cash: It was a goth birthday! I like spent all day bleaching my hair and making a playlist of Sisters of Mercy and Cocteau Twins. So we started talking just about music stuff right away. But also I had seen Kennedy perform before on her own, one of the only solo shows she had done until that point I think. I remember being really excited by it because getting to Santa Cruz I had not really found a lot of people making music that was interesting to me or that I identified with in terms of the kinds of stuff that I was doing. I was really excited when I saw her play. Someone doing cool synth-y stuff. It was emotional in a way that I was resonating with.
Cool. Kennedy, what about you? Outside of personal stuff with Cash, was there something that resonated with you specifically other than influence?
K: In Santa Cruz, I didn’t meet a lot of people that I felt like I had similar taste with. Or people that I was particularly excited about collaborating with. Just the fact that Cash has such overlapping aesthetic interests, we just kind of went for it. There was definitely some homebrewed moonshine involved in the whole “let’s start a band together” decision. But it ended up being one of the better decisions.
It’s as simple as it can be. It’s a kindred spirits vibe.
C: Yeah. We just kind of lucked out. I think pretty much after my birthday I was crashing at the house and I pretty much just stayed hanging out at her house almost indefinitely. We started practicing together and that was obviously pretty awkward at first but then I think along with that we were just hanging out in real life and we had a lot of similar interests intellectually and were able to talk about a lot more than just music. I think that’s really important to forming the kind of friendship that we did that made the band able to work and last.
So you talked about the Santa Cruz scene being empty for what you were looking for/looking to do. Can you give me a sense of what that was like? Did it force you deeper into this cocoon of creativity to follow this path?
K: It was mostly just really frustrating I think. Because in a way, it was cool because it wasn’t like going out and seeing someone being like, “oh I wanna do exactly that thing,” I could pretty much do whatever sounded right without being like “I wanna start a band like my neighbor’s.” I don’t even know if we would have fallen into that anyways, but I guess that is a positive thing. It was also frustrating because of the stuff we were excited about, people weren’t as excited about. I was confused by that. We would try to put on a lot of shows and hit a million dead ends in terms of finding a location, finding other bands to pair with the touring bands and getting people to come out. It felt self-fulfilling for everyone involved, and that made us want to get out of that town as frequently as possible.
I’m assuming because you guys were making your own gigs, you may have had trouble latching onto other peoples’ gigs? If you did play one that wasn’t yours, what was one that you felt like, “why the fuck are we here?”
K: There was this really rad place. It’s a intro shop in Santa Cruz called Subversa, that often times if they had string bands playing there they would ask us to be there, just because we were friends with some people who staffed there. I don’t know, it never felt super weird because we always liked the music and the people. We like them individually. I guess musically it didn’t make that much sense.
C: Playing with a lot of punk bands. Which was pretty fun sometimes. Sometimes it would end up being weird when everyone was clearly – sometimes we would get blank stares, but for the most part it was actually really cool. It’s fun to play a punk show and have people be into it. Which I think happens more often than not.
You know what they say about you writing your first record your entire life, but when did you write these particular songs and how long did it take to record them?
K: Literally, I started getting the melodies of the songs and the sound I guess, like, three years ago when I was eighteen. I guess almost four years ago, actually. The project was my solo project and it was Them Are Us Too. It was mostly a lot of the same material that’s on this record.
C: It’s like three of the same songs that we still play.
K: Like three or four. But obviously they’re super different now that we work together. Then we got into the studio I think about a year ago and finished in October.
C: It took us a long time because we were living in Santa Cruz, recording in LA, and making little weekend trips very frequently and any time we had a break, going down for a few days at a time. It was a long process. We’re super picky and so is Josh. We’re all perfectionists. We could have kept working on it for ages but at some point you need to cut it off.
So as far as DAIS and how the record landed in their hands, clearly it’s not a small label for the type of aesthetic that you are going for. How did that come about? What exactly attracted you to the label?
C: We met Sarah Taylor (of Youth Code) and ended up being around shows in LA and at one point we were going down to LA and we were like, “could you maybe help us get a show while we’re down here?” And she just instantly put this awesome show together in LA where they played and we played in this other band Sleeze who sadly don’t exist anymore. That was an amazing show. Josh who produced the record was also there. We pretty much started talking to them right after the show.
K: I think the next day he called us.
C: In the morning, yeah. They were like, would you guys be interested in putting something out with us. We had been talking for a while after. Previously we had an eight song demo that we had recorded the year before, like, right before going on the first tour we threw together. Basically we had just recorded in my bedroom and so we had been talking about trying to get into a studio. We recorded a bunch of stuff and did it properly. We just jumped at the opportunity but we’re really lucky that the first people that talked to us was a label like this. It was actually I think, of any label I can think of, they really get us and respect what we want.
You say that your material is evolving. When someone goes to see a show now, will it reflect some of the older material? Are you guys doing mostly new material?
C: They’ll definitely be hearing a lot of older stuff in there.
K: I would say it’s mostly older stuff. We’re not finished with the newer songs, so those are the ones that are really exciting for us to play. We’re into it.
C: Even with the older material, I feel like it’s really exciting to me right now that I feel like the older material is sounding better than it ever has I think. We’re constantly trying to improve that stuff. When we’ve been playing a song for two years together we can get bored of stuff. We’re always working on it to make it better and stay interested. I think it’ll still be very recognizable from the record, but I know these songs have changed a lot since we first started playing them.
Tell me about your latest video "Eudaemonia" making it’s debut on Noisey today. Anything you want to say?
C: The video we made entirely ourselves, I think. I shot most of it and Ken did some shots as well.
K: You can tell the ones I did ‘cause they’re really shaky! [Laughs]
C: I allowed a few shots of me in there because I kind of made Ken take most of the attention because I hate it. Not that she likes it a whole lot more but she’s the singer, so that’s her job. [Laughs] But yeah, we shot it all ourselves over the course of two nights on a shitty little digital camera that also takes videos. Basically we just spent a few hours, from two to six, two nights in a row. We had been talking about a video and we decided to wing it and go really more for a feeling than trying to come up with some kind of exciting story. It’s really much more real than that.
It’s a dreamscape. I get it.
C: Translating a sound-feeling into a space-feeling is a really interesting thing.