The Cowards, a local mix of punk, rock, blues, and grunge, will be playing at Avant Garde on March 24th as part of the CHUO funding drive this month. I sat down with most of the band (Kyle Sheehan, Sean Mackinley, Pat Kuhn, and Vanessa Cote… Bassist Andrew Barr was sick), to talk about their first tour, plans for upcoming releases, and their recent fame.
How did the band start?
Kyle: We started in early 2009. We’d been writing songs together for a few years but could never find decent accompaniment or solid accompaniment, so we decided we’d have one last crack at it. It started out with me on guitar and Sean on bass, and some dude on drums—
Kyle: Yeah. That fell apart pretty mutually, so we decided to put a band together with people that we knew. So Sean grabbed Pat, who he had done some recording with.
Pat: I offered, thank you.
Kyle: And I grabbed Andrew, our bassist, who I had played with in high school and we did that for about a year, writing new songs and working on stuff, and with three of us sharing vocals. Then we realized we couldn’t do all of the lead vocals ourselves, so we set out for one, and we found Vanessa.
Pat: The funny story about Vanessa is that we actually put out a couple of ads for singers, and Vanessa is the only one who actually showed up like she said she was going to.
Vanessa: Thankfully, because I botched the first audition. I pretty much screwed up, hardcore the first time I tried out. I was like, oh fuck, I screwed it over, and then a month later they were like, “you can come back” and I was like, oh sweet! And then I realized they didn’t audition anybody else. The second time I made sure I didn’t screw it over.
Is writing together a group activity, or do you split up for a bit?
Kyle: Occasionally we’ll have something where like, myself or Vanessa will have an entire song written out lyrically, and it will just happen to sync up. Sometimes it takes very little work for it to fit in with an entire cord progression. We’ve picked up a really wide rang of influences. There are some songs we’ve written that we have, that if it wasn’t specifically for Pat—well, he’s a big guy for a drummer and he listens to a lot of heavy shit, so—
Sean: As a drummer? He’s just a big guy.
Kyle: He’ll take a song that would ordinarily be a soft sounding song, and all of a sudden it gets this rock-edge based on the fact that he’s doing these huge tom rolls going into the chorus. It really changes the dynamic.
Sean: We all bring in our little aspects.
So 2011, you got some notoriety with CBC, they did radio stuff about you, and you’re also part of the Ottawa Citizen’s Top Ten Best Local Songs List. How did that feel?
Kyle: Fucking awesome. Each of those things on their own would have been awesome, but the fact that they happened within two weeks of each other made it seem a little less coincidental, and a little more we’re actually doing something that’s cool.
Vanessa: It was right after Christmas, so most of us were doing the whole family thing. It was a complete surprise. It was a good Christmas present. It was really cool because we were put in with really diverse bands.
I saw on your website that Sean plays the mandolin. How do you work that in?
Sean: We haven’t had a chance to work it in to any of our songs yet. The mandolin now has a hole in it. Someone stepped on my mandolin. Between us we play loads of instruments. We’re trying to work out ways to incorporate more of that. Kyle is a great banjo player, we both play the slide guitar, I play the piano, mandolin, harmonica.
Kyle: It’s getting more fleshed out when we record stuff now. There’s more layering, acoustic guitars, piano. Whatever it needs.
Sean: I’m still waiting on my moment with the mandolin though.
You said you’re working on new stuff in studio?
Kyle: One song.
Sean: Right now we’re waiting. We think our next album is going to be a full-length one, so we’re going to put a little time in between so we can record it properly, build up our band funds again after the damn tour.
Kyle: There’s constantly new material being written and played. Over the past three months, our sets have pretty much consisted of about half—about half the songs have been written after our last EP came out.
How was the tour you were just on?
Pat: There were some fun times in there, I’ll tell you.
Vanessa: To me, it was amazing because we were able to pull it off, and that’s thanks to Andrew Lacelle from Celery Troff. He was super-awesome about going out there and cold-calling bars to see if we could play. It was hard, because who wants to bring two out of town bands into a new location?
Kyle: Speaking of Andrew Lacelle though, he deserves a shitload of credit as far as Ottawa music is concerned because in addition to his own band, he works like a motherfucker for promoting other people’s bands, having stuff designed—poster-wise and stuff. It’s him that’s putting on the CHUO show.
What should people expect on the 24th?
Pat: That’s going to be a crazy night. Avant Garde is usually full, any time we play there. If it’s anything like the last benefit, it’s going to be packed and hot.
Kyle: Any time we play with Celery Troff and Pretty Little Death Machine, regardless of the order, we’re all really good friends and there’s a healthy bit of competition there. It doesn’t matter what the order is, it’s just going to keep getting better and better and the sets are going to get more intense. As soon as Celery Troff is off the stage, Pretty Little Death Machines is going to try to friendly one-up them and we’re going to do the same thing when we go on at the end of the night, so it’s going to get pretty heavy.
Vanessa: It’s so great to have the opportunity to enhance the Ottawa music scene, aside from playing music, and getting involved. And CHUO has been amazing to us, in terms of letting us play Organic Jams early on and things like that.
Anything else you want to add?
Sean: We want to give thanks to Avant Garde, Andrew Lacelle, Celery Troff, Pretty Little Death Machine.
Kyle: And those other two bands, Hunter Walks, and The Ship.
The Cowards will be playing Avant Garde on March 24th at 8pm. Tickets are $8 and all proceeds go to CHUO.FM. According to the events page, Hunter Walks will no longer be playing.