Video Premiere: California Cousins—’Aspirin’

Posted: by The Editor

If you don’t already know California Cousins, your favorite emo band probably does. The Rochester, NY trio has been a reliable presence in the trenches of the Revival Which Must Not Be Named since 2015, grinding on the U.S. DIY circuit with bands like Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Taking Meds (members of Such Gold), and others. But more often than not, the band routes a whole tour, like the 58-date one they’re currently on, with no other supporting acts. They’re fiercely independent in that sense, trekking across the country and putting themselves in front of anyone who’ll listen to their intense, virtuosic fusion of screamo, post-hardcore, and mathy emo.

Coming from Rochester, a Western, NY city that’s widely recognized yet still overshadowed by Buffalo (and completely dwarfed by the downstate region), they’re a great representation of the city’s perma-underdog groupthink. Without the beer-battered assertiveness of Buffalo, or the NYC self-importance that Megabuses itself up to Albany, Rochester punk bands, within the last decade at least, are seemingly bred for being band’s bands. Polar Bear Club and Such Gold were too ragged and technical, respectively, to subsist in the Defend Pop Punk groundswell they emerged from, and the name Attic Abasement will always be inextricable from the word “underrated.”

California Cousins released their twinkly debut EP George’s Bridge in 2015, right when the bubble for FFO: Snowing, Algernon Cadwallader, and Empire! Empire! was bursting. It took them three years to follow that up with distant relatives, their first full-length that arrived in August via Chatterbot Records, and in that time span, the sound of a hype emo band changed a lot. California Cousins changed, too, but (refreshingly) opposite the pop-punk tendencies of the Counter Intuitive-lead movement that surfaced. distant relatives is nine slices of whipping rhythms, spastic time signatures, dizzying finger-tapping, harsh yelps, and the sort of melodies that require effort to commit to memory. And then it’s tenth track is a 47-second, acoustic, lo-fi pop song with one of the best punk-adjacent hooks of the year, proving they could run with the Remo Drive’s if they really wanted to.

No one else is making Fall of Troy-indebted screamo music in 2018—let alone showing up every band on the bill with even faster, heavier versions of it. And even if they are, they’re not doing it like California Cousins. Beyond their incomparable music, the band’s absurdist videos are not only a direct result of Adult Swim adoration, they could conceivably be part of the network’s programming.

Earlier this year they released a strange video for the record’s lead single “Extendo Weekend,” and today we’re premiering the incredibly bizarre visual accompaniment for “Aspirin.” The video features a litany of videogame, anime, and other weirdo pop-culture clips from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It’s an overstimulating, psychedelic, and nostalgic whirlwind that nicely complements the hectic nature of the song.

Watch it below and then read our thorough Q&A with vocalist/bassist Jordan Serrano. We discuss being frugal on tour, how genre popularity comes in cycles, and the connection between sadness and comedy.

So distant relatives came out in August, three years after the George’s Bridge EP dropped. Three years is a pretty significant gap between releases in this age, so what was the reason for that?

I feel like I never really appreciated how much work and effort goes into actually writing a full-length from start to finish. We had a lot of trouble with our recording process, so there was a lot of back and forth there. So that definitely put us behind schedule. But when all was said and done, we wanted to kind of do it as officially as possible. We took our time with it, and with Chatterbot and Deep Sea and stuff, just like working around their release schedules and everything. Just trying to have the money to do it.

When did you actually start writing the album?

Some of the songs on that album go back as far as 2015. I think one of the first tracks we wrote was “Hold This Coupon,” and I think we wrote that in, like, 2015.

Even though there was that space between releases, you guys were touring constantly. So do you guys prefer to tour and play shows rather than make albums?

I feel like I find myself having this conversation with other people while we’re on the road. I feel like the general consensus is that being in a band kind of sucks, but it’s also, like, the best thing in the world. The process of actually organizing everything and just getting everything done is pretty terrible. And working around release schedules and all of that, and just trying to promote your band and stuff. All of that is not too fun. But once you get to tour, all of that is worth it. We love writing music together, we love making music. . .I probably prefer touring over the whole writing/recording process but there’s a trade-off. You’ve gotta have something to put out if you’re gonna be touring, usually.

What do you like most about touring?

I guess not having to work. Just being on the road and being more or less self-sustaining. We’re all super conscious of the money we spend while we’re on tour and stuff. We have a budget and we kind of stick to it, and try to undercut that budget as much as we can. The feeling of being out on the road—I feel like everyday life doesn’t have a lot of adventure to it, for the most part. You get it on the weekends when you can. But being on the road is just kind of an adventure every day and you never know what you’re going to get into. And being out there with your friends and trying to survive, you know [laughs].

Obviously this would suck, but I feel like I’ve always had this mentality that if there was some sort of apocalyptic event and everyone was just put into survival mode, that would be a lot more interesting than the everyday grind. . .we’re out here preparing.

Do you have any tips or tricks for other bands who tour? You guys say you undercut the budget, so what corners do you cut that allow you guys to live super frugally?

Whenever we tour we try to do something somewhat substantial. It all depends on what you like. A lot of bands are like, “yeah I gotta go into town and find the best place to eat” and stuff like that. And honestly, I think that’s a big part of the experience for a lot of people. For us, I guess we don’t care as much about that. So we roll into town and we’re like, “where’s the closest Dollar Tree?” So we can go buy some canned chicken salad and weird stuff that’s probably gonna kill us eventually.

I feel like maybe what a lot of bands might not take advantage of, is when we’re at home we all work shit jobs for the most part. So we’re not getting paid a lot, but what we are able to get because we have shit jobs is food stamps. That goes a long way, especially when you’re shopping at the Dollar Tree. And then we also tour in a minivan, which isn’t practical for a lot of bands, but it works for us and it probably saves us a bunch of money on gas.

Are there any places you’ve played where the turnout completely exceeded your expectations? Like fans in unexpected spots?

I feel like this is the first tour we’ve ever been on where people have come out to see us who weren’t just our friends. And by that I literally mean, like, we’ve played maybe five shows where two or three kids maybe knew our music. But that’s kind of like a crazy feeling still, because we’ve done a lot of touring and the only people who have ever known us are people that, like, booked the show, or the person that let us stay at their house last time. But this time, in Portland we had four or five people who knew our music that we’ve never met before in our life. Just the fact that anyone knows any of our music is just wild at this point. I’m very appreciative of that.

I guess some bands would be discouraged by touring for years without having a super big following immediately. And it obviously feels amazing to have some of that now, but did you see that as an encouraging thing or a discouraging thing to be playing to a room full of people you don’t know?

I guess it’s both. I feel like some nights you’re just like, “fuck what am I even doing? I should probably have a better job, I have a degree that I’m not using and I’m just out here in some random city playing for people that probably don’t give a shit.” So that can be pretty discouraging, but I feel like for the most part, on most nights on tour I’m just like, “fuck I’m out here with my best friends. Just getting to travel for free, making new friends, and just doing the thing.”

I feel like as much as we want a larger fanbase and want people to know our music and stuff, I feel like a lot of people who dream of touring don’t even get to do it. I grew up just thinking “fuck, bands tour and stuff, that’s kinda crazy. I wanna do that one day.” And now I’m doing it. It’s just as crazy as I thought it’d be. At some point I listened to The Starting Line and The Used and stuff and thought, “one day we’ll be on that level.” And I probably grew out of that before we started touring, which is a good thing. Not that those bands don’t rip, it’s just a good thing that I grew out of that mentality.

How would you say California Cousins has changed, either internally or externally, between 2015 and now?

We used to have two guitarists, now we’re just a three-piece. That just kinda happened naturally. He’s still our good friend and everything but he has a big boy job and we don’t. Other than that, we’ve always just kind of done what we’ve wanted to with the music. And I feel like we’ve grown a lot since George’s Bridge. I still love all those songs and we don’t play them anymore, which is kind of a bummer. But we’ve definitely taken a more technical approach on the new album, and I guess a little heavier, too. We’ve definitely all grown as people and as musicians. I remember when we first started recording these songs I was like, “wow I wrote these bass parts that I can barely play, how is this gonna work? I have to play these and sing at the same time.” 

Distant relatives is so much heavier than George’s Bridge. Do you think that was a result of just playing so much and getting faster every night?

I’m sure that probably has played into it because when we’re playing live, we’re definitely going a lot harder than we would when we’re at practice. Or when we’re writing the songs and stuff. I feel like it’s more just a result of…Christian [Ortiz, guitarist] took more of a front seat on vocals and stuff. And he fucking screams, and I feel like that definitely adds a heavier aspect to it. Also, specifically Christian and Juan [Ortiz, drummer], they both grew up listening to The Fall of Troy and The Chariot and Converge and stuff like that. And I feel like we just kind of let more of our personal influences take a front seat on this record.

As opposed to George’s Bridge, where I feel like that was more in the meat of the emo revival. It was kind of still new to us, more or less. Because I still remember the first time I listened to, like, Algernon Cadwallader, I was just kind of like, “what the fuck is this? This is wild, this is a whole new genre to me.” And I feel like as we were discovering more music like that, those were our influences at the time. But I think we channeled more of our influences over our lifetimes, rather than just a specific period of time. And the recording quality. We all have better equipment now, and I think the tones on the last record make it sound a bit more jangly than we intended.

When you guys emerged in 2015, “twinkly emo” was super popular, and now it’s not as much anymore. But is sounding “relevant” or fitting into the current crop of hype bands something that you consider or concern yourselves with? 

I think it’s definitely a concern to a point. I think we definitely didn’t really take it into account while writing, because I think we just wanted to write what we wanted to write. I have two thoughts about it. One is that P Daddy and that kind of crew of bands, we’re friends with a lot of them. We used to tour with P Daddy and stuff but I maybe wouldn’t expect that now cause we’re totally different, and I don’t know if it would make sense to people that like P Daddy. You wanna be able to do stuff with your friends, and I feel like most of our friends are not playing the same kind of music as us.

But obviously music just comes in cycles. And I feel like if you can stay true to what your band is over a long period of time, eventually the cycle for your genre is going to come back. And we’re just kind of hoping to keep it together until people start liking, I don’t know whatever you would call it. Mathy, screamo, emo I guess? Becoming a little bit poppier is definitely something that’s crossed all our minds, but I don’t know if we’d necessarily want to act on that.

“Camp Shorts” is such a short, kind of afterthought of a track but it’s legit one of my favorite hooks of the year. Was that intended to be a more fleshed out thing or did you write it to be the lo-fi acoustic song at the end of the record?

To be straight up with you, we totally bit that idea off Get Warmer by Bomb the Music Industry! There’s a song at the end of the record that’s essentially the same idea, just this very lo-fi, fast acoustic song. And one of Joyce Manor’s records ends with a song like that, too, and for some reason that comes off to me as the perfect way to end an album. So we just had the idea to end our record that way, and I just wrote this song and they were like, “yeah I think that’s the one.” I think it can definitely come off as an afterthought, but to us it was totally intentional.

The videos you guys have released for this record are super wacky and hilarious. What’s the process behind them? Who creates the ideas? Who edits them?

I have a very strong interest in making videos and stuff, and video editing. When I was just a kid I had some shitty digital camcorder, and me and my friends would just always make videos and little skits and stuff. Now I have a somewhat nice camera and I got a green screen, so I was just like, “well let’s use this green screen. And keep it somewhat simple.” I feel like I’m not really good at telling a story with a video, I just want the visuals to look interesting and funny. I came up with the ideas for the first two, and then Christian and Juan’s roommate Eli [Zarpentine], that’s his car in the [“Aspirin”] video and he came up with the whole premise and stuff.

He was super helpful because I was like, “damn I really want to make another music video before we leave for tour but I just don’t think it’s gonna happen.” And he was like, “nope, let’s do it. I got this idea let’s just fucking get it done.” And yeah we got it done.

How would you describe the plot of the “Aspirin” video to someone in as few words as possible?

A guy takes some off-brand Tums. And they’re expired, and he trips for some reason and apparently kidnaps someone. And maybe turns into a werewolf? That’s up for the viewer to decide, I guess.

You guys have sort of an aesthetic of being super niche, funny, and weird internet humor on your socials and videos. But your songs are very sincere and can sometimes be pretty emotional and forthright about your emotions. Do you have any comments on that?  

I feel like essentially it’s combining two passions. Music is all of our passions, we love just having an outlet for however we’re feeling and maybe connecting on some deeper level with people. But we’re all raised on Adult Swim and super weird shit. It’s kind of like stand-up comedy. My point of reference is kind of, like, there’s a strong connection between depression, or feeling shitty, and comedy. Some of the most tortured people are also the funniest—not saying that we’re tortured or funny. But I feel like there’s a connection between emotion and comedy.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Is there gonna be a spot for me to plug other bands we like or anything? Can I give a shout-out?

Sure, you can give a shout-out.

Alright, shout-out to Taking Meds, Druse, Full Body, and Carpool. I thought of that just in case you asked me [laughs].

distant relatives is out now via Chatterbot Records and Deep Sea Records.

Eli Enis | @eli_enis

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