Local Artist Spotlight and Album Premiere: Cock & Swan – Dream Alone

Cock and Swan

There’s something about the booming sound of an analog synthesizer that excites the imagination. Decades of filmmakers and composers have utilized the mesmerizing power of these instruments, from John Carpenter to Vangelis all the way through Hanz Zimmer and Cliff Martinez. So it made sense that Seattle duo Cock & Swan were asked in 2015 to participate in Puget Soundtrack — an ongoing series that pairs artists with films to live score at the Northwest Film Forum. The two musicians have proved themselves masters of creating mystical and mythical vibes with their array of keyboards, along with Ola Hungerford shimmering vocals. For their performance, they chose Only God Forgives — a divisive film by Nicolas Winding Refn (DriveThe Neon Demon) starring Ryan Gosling.

All of the visual lushness of the film proved itself to be an apt canvas for Hungerford and Johnny Goss to create over, showing an immaculate appreciation for Refn’s creation. After the performance was done, the band still wasn’t done with the music. Inspired, they took the tracks back to their home studio and began reworking the material. A selection of these songs has now manifested themselves in the band’s latest record, Dream Alone, out November 2 via Hush Hush Records. Even apart from the film, Dream Alone is an arresting collection of powerful synthesizer rumbles and enrapturing songwriting. The mystery in the layers of their keyboard compositions is as rich and compelling as any film. We caught up with the band to talk about the process of re-scoring the film, their love of synthesizers, and another impending release from the score called Julian’s Sword. You can also stream Dream Alone in its entirety below.

The songs on this record were originally used as a part of your score for Only God Forgives during your Puget Soundtrack performance at Northwest Film Forum. What made you choose that film and how did you first begin the process of re-scoring?

Johnny Goss: The film came to mind immediately. It’s a detail-rich film that favors dense visual information over dialogue. Characters and relationships are spelled out by the physicality of the actors and the staging of the scenes. That’s perfect for the type of score we had in mind: a score of interconnected songs, not ambient soundscapes. As soon as we put the first track down we started to see how the film changed and expanded the composition. Accidental connections and meanings formed right away. After that, we knew that’s what we’d be spending our time on.

Ola Hungerford: We had plans for our life before that, but that’s all over now!

Even before you did Puget Soundtrack, a lot of your music has been characterized as “cinematic” and you’ve also worked with choreographers for dance performances in the past as well. Has either of you worked much in film before? What about your music do you think lends itself so well to be paired with visual mediums?

Hungerford: We haven’t worked much directly with film before. But we’ve always been compelled by atypical experiences and those unique feelings that are hard to put a finger on. A film can conjure those alien emotions. Our sense of texture seems to also translate to a more cinematic vibe. It wouldn’t work for a Lord of the Rings movie but there’s a sense of slow motion with some films that leaves a lot of space to have weird feelings in that world. That’s where we feel at home.

Goss: We tend to emphasize instrumentation and production flow. People might identify that as cinematic.

When did you decide you wanted to revisit the score and turn it into Dream Alone? Were there any unique challenges in re-contextualizing the music away from the film and into an album?

Goss: We’ve always been attracted to short releases and we knew we wanted to do a smaller package for this record. The full-length score acts as a deluxe version for people who, like us, want to get into the minutiae.

Hungerford: We like having instrumentals, remixes, and tight tracklists, so we try to provide those things. The main challenge was not spoiling any of the special moments in the full score. Like the rest of the project, Dream Alone seemed to put itself together.

You heavily use analog synthesizers across the record and have throughout your catalog. What about the sounds of these instruments inspires you as you create? Can you recall the first synths both of you ever used?

Goss: We are four-trackers at heart and we come from the world of thrift shop organs and nylon string guitars recorded to cassette. These things do a lot to start songs and inspire choices. The instrument tells you what it wants to do and we rely on that.

We learned synthesis on a Microkorg, but sold that to a guy in the Guitarville parking lot. We immediately beat feet to a Tacoma music store and bought a Roland SH-101 with the proceeds. That synth serves us very well and very often.

The nine tracks on Dream Alone are just part of the score and you plan on releasing the rest of the 27 recordings as Julian’s Sword in December. What made you want to pull out the songs for Dream Alone as their own collection? How would you say the experience between Dream Alone and Julian’s Sword differs?

Goss: “Stay Down (Signal Cut)” is a great example of the difference between the two records. On Dream Alone its final section has a funky backbeat exposing Ola’s three-part vocal harmonies and whispers. On Julian’s Sword, Ola’s vocals are buried in tom drums and a malfunctioning bass synth crescendo. The material on Julian’s Sword has expanded intros and outros, and the tracks tie together and sample one another.

Dream Alone is a tight album that you can put on without your friends getting mad at you. Julian’s Sword is for those drives alone when you need to think about all the mistakes you’ve made and continue to make.

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