Pulling Quotes: CLASH Meets Cola

The alt-roc trio dial up on an ambitious new album...

The Canadian alt-rock trio Cola formed in 2019 by ex-Ought vocalist Tim Darcy, bassist Ben Stidworthy, and U.S. Girls drummer Evan Cartwright. Their 2022 debut ‘Deep In View’ was a no skips LP, an instant classic which lent up nicely against similarly tempered DIY masterpieces such as Minutemen’s ‘Double Nickles on the Dime’ or Meat Puppets’ ‘II’. Fulfilling the ‘band in the room’ ethos which prioritises live recordings and minimal overdubs, Cola trail a long tradition of lo-fi guitar music such as that spearheaded in the mid 80s by the Dischord and SST records catalogues, respectively.

With an equally impressive sophomore out now (via Fire Talk), ‘The Gloss’ transfuses the same lifeblood which oozed from Cola’s debut. Today, I meet with the band at Xi’an Impression in North London amidst their two sold out dates at The George Tavern. We chat about the bands’ sonic and lyrical influences for the album, the importance of recording live, and what it’s like to manage a high-school music zine and fanclub.

How did you approach writing ‘The Gloss’ compared to your 2022 debut, ‘Deep In View’? 

Tim: We had an early conversation about how much, if at all, we wanted to shake things up on this record, and decided we didn’t want to change our process too much. We recorded ‘The Gloss’ in the same studio as ‘Deep In View’, and we also used the same engineer. Like before, this album is still really about the three instruments, drums, bass, and guitar, and being able to play everything live, and in one take. There are very few overdubs on the record. We wanted to capture a power-trio sound.

Speaking of power-trios, tell me about the influence of Acetone on this record?

Tim: Acetone are definitely a band that I’ve been thinking about a bunch lately. My partner is actually seeing them in L.A. this week. They’re playing a union hall or something. Sadly, their singer Richie Lee passed away, but yeah, great band. I guess I just personally feel a kinship with the way they wrote and played music, which is very much centred around the chemistry of the three bandmates in the room. I admire their understated approach to Rock, and there’s a humanness to Richie’s singing and the way his voice faulters.

Sonically, your music is much punchier and tightly screwed together than Acetone, especially their last few records.

Evan: When we were making the first Cola record, we spoke about emulating the energy of a lot of dance music. That’s been a bit of a throughline with regards to having that crisp, in-the-room energy.

My favourite song on the album is ‘Pulling Quotes’…

Ben: Uh oh, we anticipated this…

Tim: Historically the song I like the least ends up being by far the most popular!

Ben: The melodic structure of that song is interesting. With it, I tried to create more of a drone with the bass. Often, I write more melodic parts and so this time, I wanted to switch it up. I started leaning Uilleann pipes, which have three drones. I wanted to write a song which only used regulators on Uilleann pipes, which are basically three large Chanters which are keyed. While you play the regular Chanter on your knee, you use your hand for chordal accompaniment. So ‘Pulling Quotes’ was written only using a short range of notes which you get with a Chanter. To me, that song sounds like The Breeders or The Motels. But we knew Tim didn’t love it.

Evan: Ben and I got really attached to the demo and were a bit heartbroken when Tim didn’t immediately love it!

Tim: I put off writing a vocal part as I was de-valuing it in my mind, but then when I sat down to do it, that whole lyrical content came in one go. It was easy.

Ben: Tim didn’t sing the lyrics to us until we got into the studio, and then just captured it on the first take!

That’s such a unique way of working. Most bands know exactly what the song is going to sound like before they enter the studio, right?

Tim: That is historically how we’ve worked in the past. We were talking about it in the studio, this was the first time we didn’t demo stuff before. It was energising to reveal everything in the studio, to have these little discoveries while we were making the record.

Tim, you said before that the intersection of existentialism and humour was your crosshair. That really reminded me of David Berman’s writing style. Are you a fan?

Tim: Yeah, I guess David Berman and I maybe approach lyric writing in a similar way, although I wouldn’t want to compare myself to one of the greatest lyricists ever. I guess we both came to lyric writing through poetry, which I was interested in before I started making music. As I got older, poetry and lyric writing obtained equal weight in my landscape. More recently, since I’ve been touring a lot and putting out records, music has really been in the forefront of my mind. A lot of my writing energy goes into writing lyrics as opposed to poems, but yeah, as far as humour, I get a lot of that from Zen texts. There’s a cheekiness, or a playfulness that I admire. But also, I’m wary of having like a ‘shtick’ or something like that. I think there are certainly songs in our discography which aren’t funny! But ‘Tracing Hallmarks’ and ‘Pulling Quotes’ off the new record are infused with a lot of humour. Overall, I was trying to be more playful on this album.

Is it fair to say that there’s less narrative focus on this record? 

Tim: Yeah definitely, I approached the lyrical voice on this album with more levity than ‘Deep In View’which was very narrative focussed. I have a stronger poetic license on this album, and I wanted to be more imagistic and link things thematically instead of narratively.

You mention diction on album opener ‘Tracing Hallmarks’. From the Mark E Smith style delivery on the second Ought record, to the Roy Orbison-esque tone on the track ‘Still Waking Up’ from your solo album. How important is annunciation to your vocal delivery?

Tim: That’s an interesting question. Whether consciously or unconsciously, it varies within different songs. I’m often thinking about what will best serve the song, and therefore it’s important that I don’t have a super cloistered persona that only delivers vocals in one way; for better or for worse! Also, on those records I was just younger and messing around, exploring different approaches to singing. In this band I have tried to maintain a more consistent voice because it’s very much in keeping with how I view the project, which focusses primarily on the people in the room. I’ve intentionally limited my palette for Cola, which is nice.

You’ve cited SST records, Dischord records and the Dunedin sound as inspirations. What is it about 80s/90s alternative guitar music which so appeals to you?

Tim: It makes sense to me that Cola exists in a lineage like those which you’ve mentioned. I can’t say this about the entirety of the Dischord catalogue, for example, but for the most part there is a lot of that band in the room ethos, the idea that the record exists as a document of a band at a certain time, which stands opposed to the ‘studio artist’ approach where the live show sounds just like the record. That definitely hasn’t been our approach thus far. We’re trying to create a document. We’ve also adopted the DIY, self-driven ethos of those bands, so like, we self-manage the band, and strive to be conscientiously involved with deciding who we play with, and where we play. Having said that, of course, you have to play ball a little bit in order to exist in the music industry.

Just before I go, Tim, I read that you began your own zine whilst in high school?

Tim: Yeah, I started a mag which just covered local shows and reviewed records. We definitely reviewed some stuff which didn’t age super well. If a band got back to us who were playing a show nearby, we’d jump at the chance to interview them even if they weren’t that great. I grew up in New Hampshire, so there wasn’t a ton of interesting stuff going on. The other day we played with a band in Vermont, and one of the members told me that the zine club I started during high school is still running, and that he was a member of it back in high-school…

Ben: That was so cute.

Cola’s new album ‘The Gloss’ is out now.

Words: Leo Lawton
Photo Credit: Amy Fort

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine