Catch up with Austin-based neo-psych rock band The Cuckoos and listen to their single "Mind Breakthrough" off their upcoming debut self-titled EP.
What got you interested in starting The Cuckoos?
Kenneth: Well, in high school I started playing piano and taught myself by ear and I was just jamming around with people that I was friends with at school and stuff - nothing serious. After a while, I decided I wanted to start doing music seriously so I started writing some songs and I started the group with just a drummer that I was playing with that I went to high school with and I think it was our second gig that Dave attended.
Dave: We were just both on the same bill with different artists. I stuck around and I ended up seeing The Cuckoos play and I was like, "man, I really dig these guys". I bought their demo album.
Kenneth: We had been a band for 2 or 3 months, something like that, and we just had a bill with this band that Dave was playing in, so then he saw us play and we stole him.
Dave: I know that you wanted to form this band after you saw Tame Impala at ACL and that was really therocket ship.
Kenneth: Yeah, 'cause I saw Tame Impala and they were doing that new rock and roll/old school/psychedelic thing - they're kind of changing it up now - but I figured if they could do that kind of stuff then I could do it, so that was the inspiration, I guess. Me and Dave started playing together.
Dave: Like the very next day after we played that little show.
Kenneth: And then we've hung out every day since then. We're like best friends.
Which musicians would you say you've been influenced by?
Kenneth: Oh man, we listen to everybody.
Dave: As far as guitar players go, I like Beck and Randy Rhoads and David Gilmour; a lot of old school artists. And my favorite band's Pink Floyd and I'm really into '90s music, so the Pixies are in there and I think Black Francis is one of the best songwriters out there and, honestly, he's always been my hero. Pretty much anything we can snag at the record store.
Kenneth: I started getting into really early Beatles stuff and then, as I got into the Beatles' career, they got a little more psychedelic towards the end, so then I started listening to music that was like that and I guess I kind of slowly went through the decades. I'm kind of in an '80s phase right now. After a little while, I got into Joy Division, The Talking Heads and, like Dave, I like Pink Floyd, a lot.
Dave: We've been gelling on the same kind of bands. We've been real into Talking Heads lately and those have really fueled a lot of the songs that we've been writing and jamming on with our own stuff.
Kenneth: The Doors were a huge influence for us. I listened to them a lot when I was learning how to play keyboards and they had such a strong lead keyboard player that I picked up a lot on that. And then Prince, I've been obsessed with Prince lately; he's my man. And Rick James. Yeah, we listen to everything. And then modern bands too, like Tame Impala; really like Mac DeMarco.
Dave: Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats. Windhand is another great band.
Kenneth: Just recently, Dave showed me Connan Mockasin and then I heard this group called TOPS that I've been listening to, they're really good.
Dave: TOPS is really good.
If you had to choose a favorite artist right now, who would that be?
Dave: Pink Floyd or The Pixies. Or it could be The Smashing Pumpkins, too. I love Smashing Pumpkins.
Kenneth: I'd say Joy Division and Prince. It changes a lot for us.
Dave: We discover a new band and it literally becomes our new flame. Literally, I've been only listening to The Flaming Lips recently; they've been such an inspiration to me lately and their stage shows are insane and they have such a true and honest, just righteous, pretty wacky show. They literally give it their all on every single song and that's something that not a lot of people do. They have a lot of killer songs and you listen to The Flaming Lips and they're just giving 100%, 100% of the time
How would you describe your own sound to someone who had never heard your music?
Kenneth: I think a lot of our influences come out in our music, so I think combining some of the artists we just listed for you. I think we sound like The Doors and Prince and Joy Division [laughs].
Dave: Pink Floyd is a really big influence.
Kenneth: I definitely say we're a rock and roll group with psychedelic influences and funk influences, but we're just us making our music. And that's definitely been influenced by the music we listen to, the experiences we've had in our lives, the people we've met, the relationships we've had; just all sorts of that kind of stuff plays a factor into it. But it's easiest to just say we're a rock and roll group.
Could you tell us more about your upcoming EP and how it'll compare to your previous singles?
Kenneth: We've gone through a lot of changes in the past. We've had lineup changes of different members and me and Dave have stuck along since the beginning. We've got a lot of music that we've worked on, we've got a whole bunch of songs - a lot of stuff we recorded that we haven't released and a lot of stuff that we haven't recorded that we play at live shows. We just spent the last two years starting the band, getting on our feet, getting a solid sound, getting a bunch of material to choose from, and now we feel it's time to finally release something and we've decided to do an EP. It's going to consist of 6 songs. A couple of the songs, I put on SoundCloud and you're able to listen to them right now, but it's just that same kind of groovy sound.
Dave: The stuff that we've released on SoundCloud is way more of the funkier side and it's way more easy to grasp. The stuff that we're putting on the EP is a little bit more epic, so to speak, and we're trying to really push ourselves.
Kenneth: Yeah. It's a little more moody.
Dave: Maybe a little heavier.
Kenneth: So yeah, we just took these 6 songs and we're planning on releasing them digitally, on CD, and on vinyl, so we should have all that soon. We tried to go very cosmic with it, I think [laughs]. Our goal with it was just to make people feel something. We want people to feel either good or bad, either way.
Dave: Feel the same way we felt when we wrote the songs.
You've got some showcases coming up at SXSW, do you have a favorite song to play live?
Kenneth: We do a cover of "When Doves Cry" by Prince sometimes and that's fun to play. We do "Shadowplay" by Joy Division too and that's fun. Of our own songs, I don't know. They're all fun. "A Little Bit Funky" is really fun to play and "Mind Breakthrough", that's going to be one of the songs on the EP coming out. That was one of the earliest songs we wrote and we've been playing that since, probably, our first show I played that song. It's just a very rock and roll, upbeat, fast tempo, but it's just a long section.
Dave: We get in this orbit around the song.
Kenneth: [Laughs] Yeah, there's this section in the middle where we can all just jam and do whatever we want for awhile and, in that, we can do a lot of improvisational stuff and that's really the funnest time live, is just jamming. I really like listening to Dave play guitar live, too [laughs].
Dave: And I just got a new keytar and it's sounding killer. That song, we can do a lot of experiments with; we can really just take our boundaries and cut them loose.
Kenneth: It's also good with songs like that 'cause if we are at the end of a set and we've got 5 minutes left, we can play the song; but if we're at the end of the set and we've got 15 minutes left, we can still play "Mind Breathrough" and just really drag it out and jam on it for a while. It's fun doing stuff like that when we have the time.
Do you have one track from this upcoming EP that you're most excited to release?
Dave: I'm really excited to release the track "You're Going To Work For Us".
Kenneth: Yeah, I'd say that one too. The song called "You're Going To Work For Us Until The Day You Die". I wrote it right before I dropped out of college.
Dave: It's got really great charisma, as far as being a kid in school and being like, "man, I really have to force myself to be here".
Kenneth: Yeah, I feel like that's something me and Dave have a shared feeling of. I started working on music and really focusing on that as my goal in life and I feel like I've accomplished a lot in a short period of time and it's like, man, you get a little jaded sometimes, but I spent so much time sitting in classrooms learning about stuff that I didn't really need to know-
Dave: Man, those SATs!
Kenneth: I could've been out viewing the world and experiencing stuff - especially at a young age!
Dave: I was in that high school period where they stopped doing TAKS testing and they started doing STAR testing and that was the worst. I feel like a lot of kids can relate to that.
Kenneth: So that song started out just as a jam that we were doing instrumentally at practice and then I was pretty much at the end of the road of my college experience [laughs]. I was sitting in class one day and I had the music stuck in my head so I came up with the words to it and it was just kind of a big "F you" to school. Then I immediately got up and just left the class and I unenrolled myself from college [laughs]. I think that song's got a cool sound and a cool vibe. I'm not saying people shouldn't go to school, it just wasn't right for me.
Dave: There's a lot of confidence in that song, but kids should stay in school.
Kenneth: It's a very epic, slow, Pink Floyd-y, cosmic kind of jam. We've played it at live shows for quite a while and I think it's gotten a very good reaction and we haven't released any recordings of it, so I'm really excited to share that one with people.
In one sentence, how would you sum up this EP?
Dave: A box full of grooves.
Kenneth: It's a cosmic, psychedelic journey through love and heartbreak-
Dave: And regret.
Kenneth: And regret, yeah.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
Kenneth: I just feel like, and I've said this before to other people, there's definitely something that I think every avid music listener looks for when they're listening to music. It's the thing that makes your goosebumps pop and you get the hairs on the back of your neck and whenever you're down and you're sad - I feel like everyone's had those low times in life where it's just like you're bummed out and nothing seems to be going right - and I feel like music has always been there for me. Even if it's the most dark, depressing music that just makes me feel so sad and down, sometimes the fact that someone else felt that and it's there and they portrayed it and I can relate to it, that makes me feel something, and I want to be able to recreate - not necessarily a negative feeling like that - but I want to create some sort of feeling, whether it's happy or moody or down or gloomy. I just want people to be able to feel something.
Dave: There's always a part of the song where there's this unexplained, open-endedness that we can all relate to. There's this underlying question and it's like, we're doing the best we can to put it in our songs and give you that kind of persona.
Kenneth: We're trying to make something that people can relate to, for sure.
Dave: Step on in and walk a mile in our shoes.
Kenneth: Yeah, walk in our shoes a little.
Is there anything you want to add?
Kenneth: Stay tuned and keep your eyes peeled, 'cause we've got a lot coming.
Dave: Physically peel your eyes.
Dave: You're not a real fan if you're not peeling your eyes back. We hope to do a lot of face melting and eye-popping.
Kenneth: Grooving. Yeah. We want some mind breakthroughs and explosions.
Dave: But not diarrhea.
Kenneth: None of that.