KEXP Q&A: Cock & Swan’s Johnny Goss

photo by Angel Ceballos

Cock & Swan members Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford make beautiful, yet mysteriously herky-jerky music. They compose songs in a dazey space and admit that’s the realm in which they like to inhabit. Along with their own music, they’ve recorded and helped to produce albums for many Seattle bands, including La Luz and Lonesome Shack. KEXP had a chance to catch up with Goss to talk about recording, meeting Ola and pushing sounds without damaging the listener (too much).

The music you and Ola create is, in a way, subdued. Yet, it is also rising subtly throughout the piece. Do you have a particular way you approach writing? 

We do. Usually we start with rhythm or theme. We often come up with an idea like “How jerky can a drum beat be?” and try and push it as hard as we can without hurting the listener’s feelings.

Can you describe what you mean by “push it”? 

A good example of this is the track “Night Valley“. The only thing that was very important to us in that song for a long time was getting the rhythms to sound as jerky as possible while also making it something a person might want to listen to and enjoy. Ola’s weird vocal humming and rhythmic breathing help compliment and then counterbalance the idea.

How did you and Ola meet? Do you remember what it was like playing music together for the first time?

Ola and I met through a literary reference on the internet, the way the most dangerous loves are born.

We first started recording stuff in my trailer bedroom to my four track cassette deck. Back then we had four different console organs of various functionality that we would periodically buy from thrift stores. That and a nylon string guitar was all we needed to get pretty excited about making music.

What was the first song you recorded? 

We’ve always been cover enthusiasts. We used to cover a lot of Smog, Liars, Kraftwerk, Air, Aphex Twin, The Microphones, that kind of stuff. A lot of our very first recordings are on a release called Noon Hum.

Did you two ever have conversations about keeping a sort of integrity as your work progressed? Are there tenants you keep as you continue to write, record and produce? 

We could make a lot of different types of music, but we think that a band should be a pretty specific thing. If we strayed very far from “third day of being sick and feeling high as fuck” music, we would probably call it something other than Cock & Swan. So if a track we are working on doesn’t sound like a Cock & Swan track, we’ll scrap it and punish ourselves mercilessly.

Along with recording Cock & Swan music, you’ve worked to produce some great Seattle tunes as well. What was it like working in the trailer with La Luz on their first EP? 

It was great. When we lived in Bothell, we lived in this bunker in the middle of a trailer court and we’d have all these amazing musicians come out and record songs and EPs. La Luz was great because I’ve been working with Shana since forever and she had a specific vision of what she wanted. It got really hot and sweaty, so of course the records we made were kick ass.

Do you have a favorite memory from that session? 

I just love it when people are doing vocals and they get punchy. People (Marian Li-Pino, drummer extraordinaire) would be working on a vocal dub and after a certain amount of time you get hysterical from the heat and repetition. That’s where I like to live my life.

What’s coming up next for Cock & Swan? 

I just finished doing a recording session with Lonesome Shack. It was amazing. Those guys blow me away. Ola and I already have some new demos we are kicking around. We’ll be taking a hiatus from playing out to record live performances in our studio with some very fine collaborators.

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