interview. Coven Brothers unleash ‘Debutante’ and delve into the depths of Indie Rock

"If you need to find power in something, if you feel hopeless, we are here. Whether that's your friends, family, or just Coven Brothers, we are here for you"
6 March 2024

Step into the world of indie rock as we delve deep into a captivating conversation with Coven Brothers. In this exclusive interview, the band members provide profound insights into their debut album, Debutante, and the journey that led to its creation. From the evolution of themes inspired by societal observations to navigating setbacks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Coven Brothers share their experiences and inspirations behind their eclectic mix of sounds.

Get ready to explore the multifaceted layers of Debutante and uncover the driving forces behind Coven Brothers’ unique musical journey.

It’s an album about the cycles of human society, from the deeply introspective to the apocalyptic external; it’s all jagged edges and clockwork riffs from a watchtower on fire

Can you elaborate on how Debutante reflects the ‘cycles of human society’ and how the album’s themes evolved from personal experiences and societal observations?

The cycles as I see them are the repeated sins of colonialism and exploitation; most of the songs on the record are responding to or engaging with one or the other. Climate disaster, violent revolution, and even the sort of “alpha male” mentality that’s become pervasive in our culture are, in my view, symptoms of a society that is deeply sick. At the root of that sickness is the fact that the people who hold the most social and economic power are only concerned with growing and/or maintaining their power, no matter the cost. We riff on that “hoard at any cost” mentality in the opening track. 

The closing track, Jörmungandr, is the most explicit about the theme of cycles. It’s about the grind of being an ordinary person who is slowly crushed to death by the capitalistic vice that demands he give all his labor in order to live. This comes a lot from my own experiences working menial jobs, times that I spent unemployed and doing everything I could to scrape by. It also comes from a cursory understanding of history. It seems like there’s been an abused and exploited underclass at the heart of every great empire and it’s like a rot ingrained at the heart of society. We can’t clean it, so we’ll repeat the same patterns over and over.

How did the setbacks like stolen gear and the COVID-19 pandemic influence the creative and recording process of Debutante?

I think it was ultimately good for me, as a songwriter, to have these barriers. At the time (early 2020) I had all of what would become Debutante written and we were playing shows around town. Having these setbacks where we couldn’t play initially put me in a really dark place mentally, but then I started to notice small issues in songs that I hadn’t taken the time to resolve because I’d been so eager to perform. There were lyrics that weren’t working, riffs and ‘moments’ that weren’t as impactful as I intended. 

The slowdown of the pandemic made me really sit with the material and tinker with it and re-write and really try to make each song the best version of itself. My style is usually much more “Go go go!”, so being forced to slow down and reassess also forced me to flex my musical muscles in more interesting ways. If we hadn’t been stopped, I think we would’ve released the record in 2020 and it would’ve been awful.

The album combines a variety of sounds, from distortion and psychedelic keys to acoustic elements. How did you decide on this eclectic mix for the album’s production?

I had two sort of meta-goals for our first record: The first was to make a strong, professional-sounding record on a shoestring budget with people I know personally. 

The second was to show as many different sides of our songwriting as I could, how many elements I feel comfortable playing with, but still have a cohesive sound. It’s why the sequencing, to me, was so important. You have songs like The Ghoul and In the Name of the King that probably shouldn’t coexist on the same record but they still work in their respective positions. I enjoy records that take you on a journey and I feel like we accomplished that.

Debutante delves into themes such as anxiety, hopelessness, and restlessness. Can you discuss the inspiration behind these themes and the message you intend to convey to your listeners?

The largest inspiration would be my own sense of anxiety, hopelessness, and restlessness. But more broadly, I think there’s power in embracing these negative feelings as a way to find the source of them. I also think there’s power in forming a community with other people who struggle with these feelings.

In the Name of the King is about the soft power of family legacy, but it also ends with the line, “If you’re looking for something, we are here,” which is my call to arms. If you need to find power in something, if you feel hopeless, we are here. Whether that’s your friends, family, or just Coven Brothers, we are here for you. 

With the band’s formation and evolution in Portland, OR, how has the city’s cultural and musical landscape influenced the sound and direction of Coven Brothers?

I love Portland. I’m not from here originally, but I’ve been out here for over a decade and consider it my home. The atmosphere alone is impactful – the constant rain from fall into spring, the way the sky is always a little gray. And then of course, there’s a thriving DIY scene here. Local bands are always putting events together with small venues or in houses, and it’s such an eclectic and fascinating mix of people. It feels like any one of them could be The Next Big Thing, if that’s what they want. It’s a city full of absolutely unique and singular freaks and I love it.

Your music addresses significant socio-political issues. How do you balance your artistic expression with engaging on topics like evangelicalism, climate change denialism, and toxic masculinity?

It can be a bit of a balancing act, to be sure. I don’t think music inherently has to have a message or “meaning”, but it’s important to me personally. On the other hand, I don’t want it to be preachy. But like I said in another answer, I believe all these topics to be tendrils sprouting from one larger societal sickness, so how can I not talk about that? 

Even with something as uncontroversial as “climate change is bad,” which it feels like we all mostly agree on, what’s our status? Still barrelling towards climate apocalypse at the hands of fossil fuel companies, private jets/yachts, etc, etc. So ultimately, if I don’t get these thoughts out, I will go completely insane. That’s all Future is Black is, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but it’s also pure frustration.

Considering your influences like Thee Oh Sees, St. Vincent, and The National, how have these artists shaped your musical style and how do you incorporate their influence into your own unique sound?

With St. Vincent, I think it’s easy to draw a line to us, because I admire Annie Clark’s guitar playing so much. She was a big deal to me as a younger musician, because of the pure artistry of what she does, the sounds she summons, and the casualness with which she does it. 

When it comes to The National, High Violet is one of my favorite records of all time, and I just think Matt Berninger’s songwriting is flawless. He also showed me that you could have some success as a front man with a deep voice. 

Thee Oh Sees, or Osees, or however John Dwyer is spelling it these days, were a life-changing discovery for me. I grew up listening to very meticulous bands, where it felt like everything was very calculated which can make for some great music, but also sometimes it feels sterilized, and I wasn’t smart enough to write like that. John reminded me why I picked up the electric guitar in the first place: it sounds fucking cool. So hopefully our music is a little bit meticulous, a little bit poetic, and a little bit deranged.

If you could open a show for any artist who would it be?

It would have to be Osees. Have you seen them? They are an absolute blast to see live, I would love to see it from backstage. And have John sign my Orc vinyl.

Where have you performed? What are your favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

We’ve performed in every corner of Portland, and we’re hoping to stretch our wings this year and get to Seattle or maybe down to the Bay in California. My favorite venues are the dive bars – that’s where music breathes, the stakes are low, the beer is good, and people are open to hearing anything.

We’ve got an upcoming show on March 8th at a place called Misfits in town. We’re super excited about this one, because it’s a benefit show to raise money for Rose Haven, a local homeless shelter that specializes in aiding marginalized people. It means the world to us that we can use our music to make a material difference in someone’s life. 

What is your musical guilty pleasure?

Boring answer: I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures when it comes to music. Like what you like, don’t let anyone judge you, and just accept that sometimes something objectively bad makes you feel good.

Fun answer: Billy Joel. I think he’s incredible and also, so so so very corny. But what can I say, I like him just the way he is.