Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jon Hancuff evaluates the new Cozy Catastrophes EP, "Way Last June"

The new Cozy Catastrophes EP, Way Last June, was released July 1 on February Records, a great indiepop label that is based in Stockholm, Sweden, and Greater Boston, MA. The EP features six songs and is available as a digital download or as a limited-edition cassette that replicates the look and feel of early Columbia House Record and Tape Club cassettes. The cassette version includes a digital mystery bonus track, a button, and other fun stuff. 

You can get the cassette here or the name-your-price (with no minimum) download at February Records' page here.

Jon Hancuff
The band is me, and I didn't want to talk about myself, so I turned to standup comedian Jon Hancuff to provide objective commentary and analysis. 

Jon recently performed at the Limestone Comedy Festival with Patton Oswalt, Emo Phillips, and Jimmy Pardo, and opened for Marc Maron this past weekend. He used to be in the band Thump Tingle with Mike Beam of the Mary Janes and had something to do with the script of this forthcoming movie.

I consider Jon an expert on music because he included the Don Lennon song "Gay Fun" on the reception playlist at his non-gay wedding. He also buys a lot of "vinyls" and appeared as a guest on the Two Gregs One Podcast Midwest music podcast that I have nothing to do with despite also being named "Greg." 

This interview took place in the week of June 16, 2014.

Greg: Have you listened to the EP yet?

Jon: The difference in production level is definitely noticeable to someone who has listened to your stuff religiously over the last 5-6 years. I love the relative rawness of your earlier stuff, but I think the additional mastering you had done evens out the sound without losing the playfulness—quaintness?—of your earlier recordings.

Greg: Paul Mahern's mastering made it punchier, but a lot of what seems like higher production values is really just from me figuring out what I'm doing. I mean, the "production" of the EP is the same as the album—I recorded both of them at home in an old version of Garageband with a USB microphone. I guess what you're saying is that I've lost my naive charm. 

Jon: No, you sound as ignorant as ever. That's a synonym for "naive," right? I feel like the EP flows better than the first album [An Instructive Amusement]. Do you agree? 

Greg: I hoped that the EP flows better! 

Jon: Is it because it was a concentrated effort to produce a specific collection of songs? The first album was more about combing through the stuff you'd been working on for a few years and tightening it up, wasn't it?

Greg: The first album was more like an anthology than a unified album. The songs on the EP are all kind of related, and I recorded them in a shorter period of time, so that helped. This EP is a clearinghouse for some new songs that I didn't think would fit on the second album, which has a sunny vibe. I'm recording the new album with a full orchestra. 

Jon: "Always Say Never to Always" was a bit of a dark choice to kick off this bad boy. The opening guitar really reminds me of New Order, so I really liked that. And "Pillow Fight" is a song about relationship trouble. Didn't you recently get married?

Greg: I'm pretty sure that all of the songs are about relationship troubles. I got on a kick reading self-help books about relationships and just funneled that stuff into the songs. Speedmarket Avenue's Way Better Now is a record I like that seems to have been inspired by self-help literature, so I went off in that direction, thematically.

Jon: Okay, so that explains the third track on the album, "Unlovable."

Greg: That song is straight-up self-help book content about dysfunctional patterns in relationships. You raise an interesting point, though. People don't distinguish between fiction and nonfiction in music the way they do with books and films. People assume that music is autobiographical. I'm actually very happily married.

Jon: Yeah, me too.

Greg: I'm glad. Did you open the cassette?

Jon: I haven't opened it. I don't have a cassette player, so I wanted to leave it in mint condition for now.

Greg: That's obsessive. I just wondered how you reacted to the look, the feel, the smell of it. Do you remember Columbia House cassettes from back in the day?

Jon: The packaging is amazing. It looks, on the outside, exactly like those tapes. And the advertisements you included are really fun. The level of detail is amazing. Columbia House was a godsend for me growing up—a music lover who lived in middle of nowhere. It was also a huge rip-off, but I assume what you're doing is on the up and up.

Greg: I hated the record club versions. They didn't match the retail versions. A lot of times, the clubs used thinner paper, the ink colors were wrong, and they did weird stuff like putting those red lines on cassette spines so that the cassettes looked generic. And they always replaced the bar code with their "manufactured by" message. Some record stores wouldn't buy or trade record club releases, because they were inferior and undesirable. So I made the cassette look like that!

Jon: Yeah, I do remember feeling bummed out when a tape had the red stripes on it. It was the cassette equivalent of generic cereal packaging—the sub-store-brand stuff. Is the woman you're singing to on "When You're Gone" the same person you sang about on "Cigarette Girl"?

Greg: "When You're Gone" isn't about a particular person. It was supposed to be about the generalized anxiety and worry that people have about the health and well-being of people they love, but then it progresses to a point where the concerns become kind of invasive and unrealistic. Like it's more neurotic than caring.

Jon: My wife probably thinks that we're having relationship problems, because I'm walking around the house singing these songs all the time. 

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