Live at CMJ, Day 3: Cotton Jones Basket Ride

photos by Doron Gild
interview by Jim Beckmann

Cotton Jones Basket Ride is the new project led by Maryland-based songwriter Michael Nau. Nau disbanded his previous and popular indie rock outfit Page France and has started anew with several former members, including co-vocalist Whitney McGraw. With Cotton Jones Basket Ride, sometimes shortened to just Cotton Jones, Nau, the primary songwriter, creates a similar blend of indie pop and psychedelia as with his previous band, while adding a more folky and experimental twist. Cotton Jones Basket Ride plans to release three EPs before their debut full-length. Currently one is now available on Quite Scientific Records, and the LP will come out next year on Seattle label Suicide Squeeze. Also, recently, Nau has released one EP, “The Archery,” as an art book and plans to release one more (“The Rio Ranger”).

After the performance, Michael and Whitney, along with Bryan Martin and Chris Morris, talked about the origins of The Cotton Jones Basket Ride, and whether it should just be called Cotton Jones from now on:

Jim: We have been long time fans of Page France. How many of you were in that band?

Whitney: Four of us.

Jim: How new is this project? Is this a different chapter?

Michael: It works essentially the same way as Page France. In the area we’re from, there’s a small group of people who get together and play music. So it’s a natural movement. I don’t think of it like the next chapter. It just kind of happened. We had some down time, and we weren’t really playing with Page France. It came about to keep us busy. Sometimes I get ahead of myself making plans, but we’re in a pretty comfortable spot right now where it’s starting to make sense of what it is and what it’s not. We just have a good time.

Jim: Would you say you all play a bit differently in this group?

Michael: It’s a bit looser I’d say.

Bryan: I think that it’s what we are looking for from Page France, a looseness. Cotton Jones was around before that even though we played as Page France.

Michael: My buddy Clayton Jones, who does the art, I used to call Cotton Jones, and so as a result I had the name a while ago, at the beginning of Page France. It’s kind of funny that it turned into this. It started out as a different idea to record some songs and not really worry about anything else, Then things started to progress and naturally we wanted to go out and play the songs. We’re viewing the whole thing a lot differently. Conceptually, it’s different and in my mind, personally, it just feels completely different than Page France. And I enjoyed Page France the whole time we were doing it, but this is just an opportunity to step away from all the preconceptions.

Jim: What new influences do you bring in?

Michael: I think the songs are structured different, the songs feel different, and especially at the live shows, everyone has been able to get their fingerprints on it. It feels communal, and it’s been a liberating process going over the songs recently.

Jim: What about the name? Is it Cotton Jones Basket Ride or just Cotton Jones? Obviously, the origin is related to your friend. How does he feel that you’re using his name?

Michael: I like to think of myself as his brother, so naturally he’d like it.

Bryan: I think of them as a duo.

Michael: But the name is really not that important to me. “Cotton Jones” is the core of it, and I would like eventually to have any sort of name that follows “Cotton Jones”… “Cotton Jones and the whatever.”

Jim: So each album would have a different Cotton Jones theme?

Michael: I would love that. But I guess that for whoever we are working with, that wouldn’t make things any easier on them.

Jim: Didn’t George Clinton have a million different names for his band, the P-Funk Allstars. It was like every album was something new. Like a chidren’s book series, like “Harry Potter.” Anyway, what about CMJ? Have you played CMJ as a group before?

Michael: We played last year, one of the first times we played as a group.

Jim: With this group?

Whitney: With this group.

Jim: This is the core group here, the six of you, or does it alternate?

Michael: Yeah, but I think we’d all like to have more people involved because it makes the whole process easier on everybody.

Jim: What’s the largest group you’ve had on stage together?

Michael: Six, this is it.

Jim: So how do you guys write? Do you write together?

Michael: So far, it’s been me and Whitney who have done the recording and writing, and we are comfortable working together, but hopefully when the next time comes around it will be a bigger experience.

Jim: You guys have worked with Suicide Squeeze before, right? I remember that “Hello, Dear Wind” was first put on something else and then rereleased on Suicide Squeeze.

Michael: We were working with a booking agent at the time, and he had great respect for Suicide Squeeze, and we’ve been working with them ever since.

Jim: Are you going to see anything else while you are here in New York?

Michael: I hope so.

Jim: Anything you are looking forward to?

Chris: We haven’t been able to figure out the schedule, or even our schedule.

Jim: Do you know at all where guys are playing?

Chris: The Knitting Factory, and the Bell House tomorrow night.

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