Welcome! It's been an honour to receive 'The Morbid Tango' for a review, especially considering I didn't even know if there ever would be a new Cosmosquad record! Now I know a fair bit about Cosmosquad, but I bet not everyone is aware of your existence yet. So: could you introduce the band - in any way you like?
Cosmosquad is a band that has been in existence since the late 1990’s, formed in Los Angeles. There have been four studio albums, one live album and a live DVD to date, but even though there have been many years between records, the band has never stopped performing live. Jeff and Shane are the core of the band for certain, and thru the years with some very talented bass players prior to my official arrival on the scene, have made some great records and some great music. I personally started playing live with the band in about 2014. Because we have known each other for so long and knows how each other works, it seems we finally have a line-up that makes sense. Musically? Some have said it’s metal/fusion, some have just said instrumental rock with a progressive edge. It has its moments of funk. There is always melody. Not one of the labels really is accurate. We are really a bit of many many things, but whatever THAT is, we don’t try to BE that… It's a natural flow of things. But, we do not attempt to be anything other than what we are, based on the music we all listen to and are inspired by ourselves. Live? We do improvise much more, so you would hear the jazz influence more heavily in the live show, perhaps more of the rock influences (why we started playing music in the first place…..rock!!) on the CD’s. Live, it’s never the same way twice.
The record is available everywhere right now - is it getting picked up? And how are the reactions?
The record is available digitally worldwide and the CD is set for an April 14 release in the UK and Europe, with distribution through Code 7/PHD so that should make it as bit easier for people to pick it up in Europe. I would say ‘the reactions’ are all, very good. I think we knew we were ‘on’ to something when Jeff sent Steve Lukather from Toto a few tracks before it was released. His reaction was ‘This is some of the best most inspiring stuff I have heard in a long time!’. A supreme compliment from a musician we all admire deeply. I would say, everyone that I know that has purchased it, is very captured by its charm! The music and the message both seem to be connecting.
Cosmosquad has been coming and going for many years it appears. Could you tell what made you decide it was time for a new phase this time?
I’m not sure if it was something we decided. It was something that we found a way to let happen. The reality is, the three of us are all long-time friends. We enjoy each other’s company. No matter what anyone thinks, music is a team sport. It takes the right combination of people, at the right time, to truly make art. The strange reality is that despite the fact that Cosmosquad has been around for twenty years, with a variety of some of the most bad ass bassists before me (Barry Sparks, Christopher Maloney, Paul Shihadeh, Ric Fierabacci, Pete Griffin), before the band ever existed, I played on the first three songs with Jeff that became Cosmosquad: ‘3 AM’, ‘Stretch Hog’ and ‘Road to Tanzania’, which we recorded right after Edwin Dare ended way back in the 90’s. I was in Detroit, Jeff was in Toledo, OH at the time, both literally moving out west. We both ended up in L.A., but not at exactly the same time. Jeff took the seeds that were created, then when he met Shane, then Barry, the original Cosmosquad was born from those first three songs. So in ways, I guess you could say I’m the ‘Pete Best’ of the ‘Squad, only now, with ‘The Morbid Tango’, have come full circle to finally be IN the band that I had a part in creating music for all those years ago with Jeff. We have ALWAYS had a way to create together.
You all have busy lives as professional musicians. In a perfect world, 'The Morbid Tango' would get picked up and finally enable you to make a living out of Cosmosquad. Would you like that, or do you think it wouldn't work for the dynamics of the group?
Of course, who wouldn't want to make money off playing artistic music!! HA!! That said, part of what makes Cosmosquad interesting, fresh and always evolving is that each of us do go off and have musical adventures around the world. Shane with B’z, Jeff with Eikichi Yazawa, me with Tarja, the countless other gigs we all do, sessions, we all work in show business. Plus, all of our solo work, plus the other more niche bands we play in, like the Bombastic Meatbats. Much of what we learn elsewhere, in many ways helps us to find new things to try, to break new ground with Cosmosquad, in ways that we might not have if this was all we did. It kind of gives us the mission of making complicated music digestible, musical and enjoyed by the masses in ways. It’s a big world. We see how much music means to people. So, that becomes part of our mission. For music that is like this, I think it’s healthy to have an influence of the outside world. It’s how you sound different. I think each of us enjoy the many musical adventures we have, so even in a perfect world where Cosmosquad is making me a millionaire, I would still want to be able to go out and play in other places, with other people, playing different kinds of music, always evolving, to be able to have something fresh, musically, that I bring to the table.
You mention that you have all been through some heavy times and found support in each other. I did read some really heavy things, varying from heavy medical surgery to tragedy too close to home. I can imagine you don't want to talk about it all, but has this put you a bit more on edge as musicians? Because that is what I sense when I read the info sheet: you're really on a mission to make meaningful music and make a statement - and that's also how it sounds!
‘On a mission to make meaningful music’. Well, I’m honoured to hear you say that's how it sounds!! I look at it like this: I truly speak for myself here, I can’t speak for Jeff and Shane. I think many musicians, myself included, make the mistake of trying to impress people with what we do. With some time, and age, and surviving some complicated stuff personally, that has changed. I think the only thing that matters is to truly inspire others, and the only way to do that is by giving all that you are, all the time, into everything you do. Why? To maybe inspire others to put their own best foot forward in their own lives, however that may be. Have it be larger than music. After all, most people are not musicians. That changes the world. Me impressing someone with some complicated bass riffs? That is silly. FUN, but silly!! There are many ways to impress people. But it’s my experience that is a short lasting impact, and it’s never enough. You are always compared. And music should not be a competition. For me, personally, after going thru some pretty crazy medical adventures, you come out the other side searching for meaning in so many things, in ways, just happy to be alive. Your entire life becomes about meaning. For me, I started to think about what I represented, as a musician, to others. I was quite open about getting my brain cut open. I let others in, with the modern help of social media. Then made it thru it. And, I feel in ways, despite it all, came out the other side better than ever. My playing got better. I finally stopped thinking!! But, how did that journey affect others who watched it, and continue to affect others, as my journey continues on the spine of music, anywhere in the world I can find it? Let’s admit it: I’m pushing myself quite hard, post brain surgery. To many that watched, I learned, my refusal to be defeated represented courage. So I chose courage as my mission, personally. Be courageous. And inspire others to be courageous, too, while dancing their own version of ‘The Morbid Tango’. With courage, anything IS possible. Be ‘the carpet of confidence’ for all around you. There are far too many fearful souls on this planet. I choose to not be one of them.
To answer your question, does it put us more on edge? I don't feel on edge at all. I finally feel freedom, and have no fear in pursuing my dreams, harder than ever, and having the courage to be a part of making some quite bold artistic statements. ‘The Morbid Tango’ being one of them.
I feel like the record really speaks for itself, but would you perhaps tell something about certain songs? For instance: how did 'Beyond Death's Door' come into existence?
‘Beyond Death’s Door’ was kind of a true magical experience that speaks to so many things. Musically, I would say the musical inspiration would be based on us having lunch one day while recording, and hearing Black Sabbath ‘Mob Rules’, specifically the song ‘Signs of the Southern Cross’. Like the musical nerds we are, we were talking about the drum part, how it’s mystical in ways. It’s a slow dirge. When we came back from lunch, if I remember it correct, Shane was playing something similar, and we ended up letting the entire song fall out of us. But it then became quite a mission, including the orchestral side of things. Shane first added strings, then I added more strings and choir, I even had my brother-in-law, David Collier, an amazing orchestral percussionist in Illinois, cut all of the tympani, gongs, bass drum and snare drum parts. Then, those parts, which we liked so much, along with the strings, not only were the track itself. They then became the roots of the reprise track, each of us just continued to add layers, the last one being what Jeff did with the guitars, which really sealed the deal. As our story came together, it gave us a chance to close the story with grace, beauty and love. And meaning!! The song, philosophically, is about immortality. But it’s about a specific place, too.
I have a beautiful place in my home town outside Escanaba, Michigan, directly on Lake Michigan, the second largest body of freshwater in the world. It’s really an ocean. I live there about half the year but have spent my entire life on this beach. It’s where my soul lives, literally. Off in the distance, on a clear night, you can see Door County, Wisconsin, where there is a mystical place called Porte des Morts, which from French translates to ‘Death’s Door’. It's a narrow passage out into the deepest part of the lake, very narrow and rocky. It's the site of more freshwater shipwrecks and shipwreck deaths than anywhere in the world, as well as a site of some quite epic native American battles. Some nights, I stand on this gorgeous shoreline and say to myself, when I see that light, far in the distance ‘I’m standing on the shores of heaven, STARING AT THE DOORS OF DEATH’. It’s right there. Kind of like life. We never do really know when that last day will come. Death’s Door could be anywhere. It’s up to us to make every day that does remain…… matter…..before that door finds us.
That song matters a great deal to me for what it stands for, but very much for its connection to my life long home. It’s a little known place but honestly, truly heaven. It will always be home to me. The sound that you hear of waves at the end of the reprise is an iPhone recording of the waves I hear on that shore nearly every day. It's the sound of peace to me. As the closing track, I always saw it as the end of a life, sailing out into the seas of the unknown, like I see the ships sailing away, soon over the horizon, gone forever. Or is it? After all, we don't really know what’s on the other side, do we? Are our spirits immortal?
You've also written something for or about Rick James. What inspired that, and what do you want to tell with it?
This was the first song we recorded. And it convinced us that we did have something in us! The title ‘The Ballad of Rick James’ is about the story that was his life. Excessiveness, funkiness, the party always going beyond, in life, in music, as a person, with bad habits, with no fear of ever facing the consequences. I’ve personally known a few too many ‘Rick James’ types in my life. Of course, we always must face the consequences. That's where the chaos of the song kicks in. Where life starts to get out of control. It's the folly of youth. There’s been a few I know who have lived this life, and not made it thru. So for me, it's a bit of an homage to the many that I lost in my life far too young. Plus, quite honestly, who doesn’t like to be funky!!
You are the new bass player. But you’re not new to the fold at all: you already played bass in Edwin Dare if I'm correct. This means you must go back a long time! What is it like to perform together again?
It’s amazing that I have been playing with Kollman since 1992! That's 25 years! We’ve never really stopped performing together. I’ve played gigs with him, he’s done the Sebastian Bach gig with me, we’ve had the Meatbats since 2007 and now, Cosmosquad, plus many other things. I feel like we have closed the loop that was opened all those years ago with ‘The Morbid Tango’, and really found a creative focus that we haven’t had in many years. It feels great to be working with Jeff again, but also with Shane. These guys are two of my best friends, not just musicians that I play with. Shane, being Canadian, is so much like me, as I grew up near Canada, heard the same music, we all love hockey. It’s a band based on friendship. How cool is that?
Your 'Live At The Baked Potato' was the first record I heard from you. It is by far the most-played live record in my collection. This naturally leads to the question: can we ever see you perform live in Europe? (We've got a great little jazz/fusion/everything stage in Tilburg where the likes of The Aristocrats and Mike Keneally (another Baked Potato household name) also in recent years had great shows.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in Europe since 2010, playing bass with Tarja Turunen. It’s allowed me to form some great relationships, given me a much wider view of the cultural reality of Europe, and that will hopefully lead to getting over to Europe to do some performances as soon as possible. As I have come to know it, Europe would be TOTALLY open to have their minds blown by some Cosmosquad!! On a personal level, it’s funny you mention Mike Keneally. Mike crashed at my house a few times a few years back when he was in town working, and one of my favourite artistic memories ever is waking up and while making coffee, watching Mike sit down at my grand piano and shredding, on a moment’s notice ‘The Black Page’, beginning to end. He is bad ass of epic proportions, and yes, another member of The Baked Potato scene.
These were my questions for this interview. Thank you for taking the time to answer them. If there is anything you would like to add, feel free to mention! Also, the last words are entirely yours!
Thanks for YOUR time! And thank you for your kind words about ‘The Morbid Tango’!
...and here's a bonus item from Kevin Chown, who has been very kind in giving great answers and clearly put a lot of effort into making this an interesting interview. This is an in-depth personal report of what the record means to him, song-by-song:
I always get questions on the ‘meaning’ of the record, kind of like it’s a Harry Potter novel or something. I love that personally, so I will give you a quick rundown of what it means to me. I think seeing the big picture will help the listener see the images of the music, as we had in mind when creating them. I’m sure Jeff and Shane both have their own versions, but we are all pretty similar.
My feeling is: Life is an adventure that we are all living. Time is the one thing that moves in such cruel ways. The dance around the gravestones IS ‘The Morbid Tango’. We cheat death. It’s my opinion however, that time is not linear, it’s circular. Things move in circles, they recycle, just like I have moved ‘full circle’ back to when the seeds for the band were actually created, before the band existed, now finally the bass player IN the band. It was time for that loop to close, and look at what emerged: ART!! As my dad says, ‘luck is the crossroads of timing and persistence’.
That said, life is not easy. It is morbid at times. Life IS NOT fair. It is not easy. But confronting your demons creates the space inside us all for new blessings to emerge. By doing this CD, I watched a real life miracle occur for someone (whom I will not mention, for their privacy is to be respected). What was an artistic ‘vision’ it seemed after we did it was actually perhaps a premonition. It seemed when we all got these demons we all have felt for years, we each had space with ourselves, and it formed powerful senses of purpose, as if each of our souls finally had a freedom for new ideas. When something that has been carried around for years as a demon is converted into ART, the space within you that is created is a hard thing to describe. We have all had such challenges; it really took kind of an epic work to allow us to just purge our systems, and take each of our weaknesses and convert them into strength for ourselves, but perhaps even for others!!
Each song of the CD is a chapter of the natural journey of life itself, as we have known it to be lived, and as we have watched others live it.
The Morbid Tango
That's the overture to our story. The setting of the stage. The making of a loud statement to demand attention. Then the adventure begins. But the music speaks truly for itself.
...as the bubbles of life itself rise to the surface of the sea, the harshness and cruelties of life, often delivered far too young, start to come down upon us, often before we even have the skills within us to keep them away. Yet, we find a way to fight. To survive.
The Ballad Of Rick James
A story about a young soul, fearless, but foolishly so, person, who think that they are invincible, indestructible, many of whom we have known. Youth often leads to a nativity of the fragility of life. Its dedicated to the one and only, Rick James, but to me, the story is dedicated to the tragedies of youthful ignorance. And how it always leads to paying the price for it, somehow. Then, it's a choice if you want to keep going. Not everyone makes it thru.
Anatomy Of A Beatdown and Recollection Epilogue are the precursor, then the telling of the story of those mistakes, like we are having a conversation with someone after we finally realized it….. and a conveying of the emotions we have in a form of anger…. Often at ourselves for being so foolish. It's a moment of ‘owning your shit’.
Just when we start to see the light, the part of our lives when we start to lose the ones we love the most begins….. ‘Always Remember The Love’. It’s why the song is devoted to our mothers. It’s bittersweet. We have the memory. It’s when we learn about loss.
The Crosses is about the trudge forward….. we all have crosses to bear upon our backs after all. It's the part of life when we find a way to ignore the pain, find a way to focus and live life. We get on its treadmill, and fight the fight daily. Yet, there is pain that won’t go away.
Still Life, is the most productive years of one’s life, full of intelligence, yet often times the lack of intelligence in the world around us frustrates us. We try to make sense of things, but often, it’s impossible to make sense of it all.
Sang Froid, is late in life, when peace and wisdom enters one’s heart. It's the song about accepting things we can’t change, yet never giving up on what we dream of one day, for ourselves, for the world. Yet, just when this wisdom settles, mortality kicks in and we start to face the fact that the time is short. It's the autumn of our years.
Beyond Death’s Door is the story of the glory of our final years, even final moments. It’s about pride in one’s life work. Pride in the love that we shared. It's the power of leaving a mark on this world, in some way. Of feeling that after you are gone, something about you WILL survive. But you can’t help but think: what does happen when I die? With determination, often the most glorious days of one’s life CAN BE the last days. There is never a reason to have fear. Right to the very end.
Death’s Door Reprise is what happens after we all are gone, to the other side of the horizon. When we are all, truly alone again. The peace we will feel. By embracing our aloneness, the heavens then reward us by opening up, and pulling us towards them, without effort. And that is the moment when all we have worked and dreamed of in our lives guides us to the heavens that our souls ascend to.
The best we can do in this life is to leave this soul we possess, a little more enlightened for its next round, wherever it ends up the next time. The last thing you hear is then the first thing you hear. And ‘The Morbid Tango’, begins ALL OVER again. Life is circular. Life is endless. Because a circle has no end.
If you look at the artwork, much of this story is implied. Look beneath the CD tray. Look at the skeletons. The eye within the moon. We worked as hard as possible to find a way for this grand story to be told. It’s very difficult to tell it when you are doing it without lyrics. Just with song titles!! And then the power of the music, along with the art. But I think we got it as close as possible.
In the big picture, there is a long history in instrumental music, especially classical, of conveyed meaning without words. This all together, was our inspiration for creating the CD that I can honestly say, is one that each of us worked harder on that any of us could have ever imagined when we started doing it. And it became that way for the same reason it is connecting with listeners now: it took on a meaning to US. It stood for everything we are. As people and musicians. It’s us having the courage to take the greatest, most unfair challenges that each of us has faced, and turn those challenges into inspiration, first for ourselves. And now hopefully others. It's the story of our lives!! Of the demons we face. Of the blessings we have. Of the adventure. And the gratitude that we all have for our deep friendships and how, despite all of the complications of our lives, MUSIC is the thing that has always, and will always, keep us focused on why we are here.