Cowards’ brand of heavy, gnarled, misanthropic hardcore fair near knocked my socks off when I first heard their ‘Shooting Blanks & Pills’ record for Throatruiner. Sludgy without being in hock to sludge ‘tradition’, metallic in the most caustic way and possessed of that numinous sense of believability that’s so hard to come by.
I meant to knock a review and interview together when the LP originally came out. Typically, life got in the way and time passed. Handily, though, Canadian label Secret Handshake have since reissued it, thus making my review and this interview a bit more timely.
Questions answered by the band as a hive mind.
Ok, let’s get the basics out the way first: tell us a bit about Cowards. How, when and why did the band get together?
Cowards: We all got together at the end of 2011 when some of us were completely out of the game and wanted to start something new. What started out initially as an instrumental doom/sludge project turned into what we are now.
There is a real sense of hostility and sickness running through the music. What kind of feelings are you channelling, and why is Cowards’ music so mired in negativity?
Cowards: Channelling might not be the appropriate word, it conveys too much of an esoteric weight. We just write and play the music that best reflects our feelings about the lives we have, what we see, hear and understand.
How does the music you make reflect the people who make it? If we hung out with you, would we find happy, well-adjusted young Frenchmen or are you as unhinged and hostile as your music?
Cowards: The best answer would be both. We’re all pretty much from a middle-class/upper middle-class background, we all have pretty decent education and manners, but in the end, it all comes down to what we have and who we have in front of us. There’s a lot of judging going on on our part, we’ll admit to that, and some of us take great pride in being scary judges of character.
Most of the time it all goes very smoothly, as you might already know, most people invested (really invested that is) in this trade turn out to be honest, passionate and down to earth folks. Really quite a lovely crowd.
But then, then you have the others, who are louder, more visible, full of themselves and ultimately full of shit. Those, we have a hard time making it work with. It happened before, once or twice, but really, not that much. Although when it goes south, it usually goes all the way there.
We’ve stated this before and we’ll gladly state it again as much as needed, we’re no more violent or hostile than anybody else, but we definitely are on the top tier of blunt honesty and this will not make friends with just anybody so easily.
What can you tell us about the LP? What were the circumstances around its creation and what does the title mean to you?
Cowards: The ‘Shooting Blanks & Pills’ LP is an exact photograph of what we were at that time, musically and personally, it is a reflection of the music we had, both created for that purpose and lying around from previous bands as well as some very old ideas.
In retrospect, it does sound a bit odd at times; that collection of songs with different moods, although the vocals make it whole in the end. But if we had to do it again that way, we would.
As for the title, I’m not going to dwell on the meaning although I’m willing to say it is as much a self-depiction as it is a tongue-in-cheek, below-the-belt jab at people we know, their lifestyles and their loud-mouthed, half-assed opinions on everything.
How did things change for Cowards between ‘Shooting Blanks & Pills’ and the ‘Hoarder’ EP? Do you think the band has evolved at all?
Cowards: The one thing that changed is, in the most unglamorous way, we became a band, for real. Previous to recording ‘SB&P’ we had never played together, not even spend real quality time, the five of us, and apart from the one guy who set it up, most guys didn’t really know each other that well. It almost led to our demise after our very first show, some of us realising they couldn’t stand the others.
That quickly changed after our first mini tour alongside ELIZABETH when we quickly rose to becoming probably the funniest pack of hyenas ever to hit the road.
Musically, we tried to do things different with ‘Hoarder’, as far as process go, other than that, business as usual. The only thing we try to achieve is not to be too redundant with ourselves and play the music we’d like to listen to.
Was it a conscious decision to merge the various sounds you have running through your music (hardcore, sludge, black metal etc.)?
Cowards: Others have said it before and as it turns out, it’s true, for us at least, we just wanted to play the music we like and would like to listen to. It just so happens that we like a whole lot of things including but not limited to those genres of heavy music and that’s just the way it all came down on us.
Of course it became obvious and conscious once we were done recording but we’re fine with that.
The defining bond being that it had to be very, very angry.
For some reason I think Cowards have a very urban sound: it’s very much ‘city music’. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Paris, what goes on there and how you think it influences you as people and musicians?
Cowards: For some reason nobody ever told us that before and for some reason it is a shame because if we ever did something consciously as far as the music goes, it was, and still is, to try and keep it very urban, so thank you. We are from the city after all and have always found it funny/depressing those bands who try and sound from the swamp of Louisiana, as if their best friends were alligators when in fact their best friends are the concrete pavements they work day in day out…
Having said that, we don’t have a particular relationship with Paris, we just live there. Some of us love this city, others hate it but we all share a sense of belonging, whether we like it or not, to The City, not particularly Paris, it probably could be any city, it is the urban atmosphere that appeals to us.
Considering you’re our closest neighbours I find it weird that we over here in the UK don’t seem to have a clear picture as to what’s happening in the underground scene over there in France. I’m aware of individual bands and labels (Throatruiner, Ratbone, Solar Flare etc.) but have no idea how cohesive it all is. What’s your view, and how do you think Cowards fit in?
Cowards: First off, don’t feel bad, apart from the very handsome guys at Oblivionized and their friends we shared the stage with when they had us over, we had no idea of what was going on in the UK, except for a strange feeling, that proved to be true, that British bands have a very professional feeling and extraordinary talent and skills, more so than most French bands, including us of course.
As far as cohesion, we couldn’t tell you. We do have some friends here and there, but we’re not feeling much love and/or interest for us, except for the indefectible support of Matthias (Throatruiner Records) and Alex (Deadlight Entertainment). That’s fine because we do have good allies outside France, be it only Pedro and Vitor from RVINS records in Portugal.
Whatever the reason, we’re not part of the scene so to speak. The funny thing is that we know people know us, because we hear them blabbing away, it most recently appeared that we are racists, violent, arrogant and destructive posers, how would anyone want us to be part of their scene? Haha. You’ve got to love when people talk, and who knows what we’ll be in a couple months, we’re anxious to hear it.
How – if at all – has France’s punk rock history (be it Kickback, the Stonehenge Records stuff of the 90s or whatever…) affected your outlook and the way you do things as a band?
Cowards: Except for Kickback (who we ripped off everything good we have apparently), and French black metal (Deathspell Omega to name one) we don’t have much interest for it all.
You toured over here earlier in the year – how did it go? Any strange or weird tales to recount?
Cowards: It all went very smoothly. People in France told us it would be hard: no audience, no money, no selling merch, no place to sleep, no food. They were oh so wrong. Zac (Oblivionized) set it all up perfectly, people showed up at every show and we ended up coming home with some extra cash, which is always good. Like we said before, lots of very good bands, very talented and so young it’s sickening. Plus Wetherspoon’s. Can’t go wrong with Wetherspoon’s every day.
Weird tales… Let’s see… We were invited over by a girl and her boyfriends, plural, to score some (which turned out to be cheap garbage) and she ended up fucking very loudly in her toilets with one of the dudes, while the other stayed with us, helpless. She claimed she was a Super Mario Champion and that she probably could make us all come under five minutes. Needless to say we were not interested. That’s the weirdest tale from our UK trek, so you see, it all went very smoothly.
What do you all do outside of Cowards?
Cowards: We try and make an honest living. One of us feeds people, another is a craftsman, the other teaches stuff…
What plans do you have for the band’s future? What’s happening next and how do you think Cowards will evolve over time?
Cowards: It just so happens that we’re going to hit the studio for five weeks beginning of October, to record the follow up to ‘SB&P’ and as soon as that’s done we’re going to set up a Euro tour with our friends in Oblivionized. We’ll try to go back to Portugal, maybe hit Spain, we wish we can come back in the UK sometime this year too.
‘SB&P’ has been reissued by Secret Handshake records up in Canada for North America and we also hope we can go all the way there and make new friends. Or foes.
As for us evolving, let’s pray we can get more and more people talking shit about us, because, let’s face it, there’s no such thing as bad press.