By MICHAEL HAMAD, firstname.lastname@example.org
April 10, 2014
It didn't take long for guitarist/singer Henry Hall, drummer Robby Caplan and bassist Evan Low to find each other after arriving on the Wesleyan University campus four years ago. Within the first couple of months of the semester, they'd formed Grand Cousin and began playing around the Middletown campus, which has gained a reputation in recent years as an indie-rock incubator of sorts (MGMT and Das Racist are two high-profile groups to come out of Wesleyan).
"I knew when I came here that music was going to be a big part of my experience," said Low. "We were lucky to run into Henry, who showed us a lot of songs he wrote in high school. That's why we very quickly became a band that could play original music."
On Thursday, April 10, Grand Cousin opens for X Ambassadors at the Space in Hamden. Although the trio has spent much of the last four years playing shows around campus, they've recently been gigging down in NYC, at venues like Arlene's Grocery, Hall said. They performed at StageOne in Fairfield last fall.
"When we first started freshman year, we stuck to Wesleyan campus shows, which are always amazing because we get to play for our friends," Hall, the son of comedy legend Julia Louis-Dreyfus and writer/director Brad Hall, said. "This year we wanted to go outside the school and to play different venues." "Every time we play a show we're lucky enough to have someone say, 'Hey, we've got this venue,' which leads to another show… It goes on and on."
You can find a few Grand Cousin tracks on their website and SoundCloud: the loping 6/8 slow-build "Camera," the cutting "Take You Out," "Let Me Know" and others. Hall often sings in sharp falsetto, weaving guitar lines around Low's counterpoint and Caplan's understated figures. There's some admirable misanthropy going on in his lyrics; "Wish I could love like you and feel no pain," he sings on "I Hate People," "but you love people, and I hate people." "Constant Improvement" shifts into a higher gear for the chorus: "When I was young you know I had a lot of fun / but now that I'm here I've got to work on things / It's just my kind of constant improvement" — a sonic stand-in for the singer's superficial growth and development — then reverts back to loping verses and a climactic outro.
None of the band members are music majors, though they've taken some classes in the department. Hall, a film studies major, has been incorporating music into his projects. In Grand Cousin, he's still the principal songwriter. "I write the songs and bring them to the guys, and we arrange them for our setup," Hall said. "I've just been writing my whole life. It's always been an important aspect of my creative being." Hall also penned a prose piece about "Camera" for the Huffington Post (Arianna Huffington, he said, is a family friend).
There's a The day we spoke by phone, they'd just received a mastered copy of their debut EP. With their EP finished and graduation looming, there decisions to be made: where to move, how to proceed, and so on. Low, a native New Yorker, said he's been trying to convince Hall to move to the city after graduation. "He's finally agreed to do so," Low said. "We haven't been shopping around for a label. We're trying to take it step-by-step, to see how it feels to be off campus to have this as our priority. If it feels really good, we'll record more and that would be something we'd present to a label, but we haven't thought about that."
It's not hard to imagine Grand Cousin as a successful, NYC-based band sometime soon. Meanwhile, they hope to land a booking at one of the small stages at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., which happens in mid-June.
"Either way we're hoping to do a six-city tour on our way to Bonnaroo, because we're going anyway," Low said. "We're hoping to find some venues on the way, to have that experience."
GRAND COUSIN performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at the Space in Hamden with X Ambassadors and Parade of Lights. Tickets are $10 to $12. Information: manicproductions.org.
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