COSMOSQUAD have just released ‘Morbid Tango’, their first studio album since 2007’s ‘Acid Test’. For the new set, Kevin Chown, who has been working with Jeff Kollman for EDWIN DARE and Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, joined Kollman and Shane Gaalaas as a bassist. The album is driven by not only aggressive tunes where flashy and versatile guitar solos run into heavy guitar riffs and weighty grooves from the rhythm section, but also tunes have striking melodies are played with a supremely toned guitar sound. The whole set is captivating from beginning to end, and listeners will be thrilled by COSMOSQUAD’S spectacular stories. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled and pay close attention to the cover artwork and CD inserts, which are said to include visual clues which will unpick hidden messages in the songs. MUSE ON MUSE interviewed Jeff, Shane and Kevin about their new masterpiece also touched upon ‘Teen Metal Years’, the project Jeff and his brother Tommy Kollman released in 2016 under the alias ‘Jeff & Tommy’.
Interview / Text Mamoru Moriyama
Translation Hiroshi Takakura
Muse On Muse : You had your tour, also played for Eikichi Yazawa’s tour last year. Your hard-working activities drew people’s attention. How were those tours?
Jeff Kollman : Both tours were quite different. The Yazawa tour is such a big production. There is quite a bit of rehearsing and the level of perfection and musicality is quite high. I love playing and interpreting his music. Ei Chan is such an inspiring human being and musician. I’m blessed to be a part of such a great band. With my solo tours we were playing a mixture of Cosmosquad songs, my solo material, Bombastic Meatbats and a some cover tunes. It’s not so rehearsed. There’s much room for improvisation and the songs take on a different personality every night.
MM : When you had your tour, the band members were Japanese musicians. How did your organize your band?
JK : A singer friend -Tomomi Nakamura hired pianist arranger Taku Yabuki to be the music director. He is a very accomplished musician. He studied my style of writing and found the musicians for the rhythm section that he thought could best play my music. We also added a second guitar with my good friend Yone San who also plays with Yazawa. All the musicians were top notch, world class players and I was quite humbled to have them playing my music. This is find is such a wonderful experience when musicians from across the globe really dig into my music and sort of make it their own in some way. The song takes on a whole new life. To connect with the musicians on stage is every bit as much of a joy as connecting with the audience. It all becomes this energy or unity of one. That’s the magic of live music.
MM : Please tell us about the new release of COSMOSQUAD, “Morbid Tango”. This fantastic album contains not only hard aggressive feelings, but also beautiful sophisticated melodies and a fully expressed musicianship from you 3. Did you have any concept for making this album?
Kevin Chown : When we first started recorded, we had no “concept” as to how the songs formed a “single work”, with common themes…. We just wanted to make a record. We let it happen. Since we are all such good friends who have worked together for years, as we wrote, then recorded, we had wonderful conversations on breaks, just talking about each others lives, The creativity happened on its own essentially upon our life long friendships. We each have seen each other thru the darkest of times, as people, as well as thru the grandest of times. LIFE has happened while we have made music, and that is what the “concept” for the record ended up being: Its about life, and its never ending circle. When you are friends like we are with each other, free to just be yourself, in conversation and while making music, somehow, if you let it happen, music is just another form of language in which to tell a story. Our story is and then became The Morbid Tango. Its the story of life, its challenges and blessings. We dance around the gravestones, determined, hopeful, thru good times and bad, with music as the cause itself that gives our lives meaning. At the end of the day, for us, in many ways MUSIC is what we have, to our core, to give us hope thru our moments of darkness, always leading back to the light. It has always defined us thru life’s challenges, and will continue to give us the strength that we need to continue.
JK : Making this record was totally effortless. My connection with Shane and Kevin runs so deep that we barely discuss what it is that we are writing. We just jam and record it. And then we fine-tune the arrangements. Shane and I were were born two days apart and I feel that there’s something to that. Our first concert was the same- Kiss. Both mothers are named Carol and and we had challenging times with our mothers. You see music is so much about life. It’s not about the scales and notes. It’s the story behind all of that. Great songs don’t come out of a music school, they come from life’s experiences.
MM : Kevin has worked with you in EDWIN DARE and Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats is the bassist for this album. How come did you offer Kevin to join this project?
JK : Kevin and I have worked together since 1993. He has a keen sense of how to fit into situations. Comsosquad is tricky in the sense that Shane and I really have a single minded focus as 2 separate people when we write. Our background musical tastes and our childhoods are so much the same. Kevin is right there with very similar musical influences. I found trying other bass players that their stylistic impression change the sound of the band too much.It’s my job to guard and protect the sound that is Cosmosquad. I realized that Kevin demoed some of the very first songs that ended up on the first debut Cosmosquad disc back in 1997 so he is the perfect fit. He knows when to to keep it simple. That’s important because Shane and I are very busy at times.
MM : How did you produce this album? Please tell us detail of the process of production.
Shane Gaalaas : We started by setting up guitar, bass, and drums in the live room of my studio. We mic up Jeff’s guitar cabinet and any other live speaker signals in an iso room to safeguard any bleed issues. Everything runs through a combination of API, Neve and Millennia mic pre’s into an AVID interface. From there, we just hit record and let it roll. I run Protools remotely from beside my drumset. We just start jamming ideas…bounce things off each other.. There is a wealth of experience in this band, everyone is a producer/writer in there own right, so there is never a lack of ideas or flow. If I’m at a loss for a drum part or whatever, someone will have a good idea. That’s a luxury we have in this band – everyone has great ears and are open to trying anything. Sometimes we’ll stumble onto something right away and sometimes we just touch on a bunch of different things, listen back later, pick out the stuff we like and start piecing together an arrangement. If we do get lucky with an idea, then we’ll focus in on it and get an arrangement together right then and try to get some live takes as a band. I think we ended up with 2 or 3 songs where we used the live takes as “keeper” bed tracks. ‘The Ballad of Rick James’ and ‘Always Remember The Love’ were recorded this way. Some of the songs get built in a more layered fashion where we’ll get a basic arrangement and then come back to it in the next session, rearrange and build from where we left off. At times, we’ll hear melodies, chord progressions or parts when we’re in the control room listening back. In that case, we’ll just go back out into the live room and punch in the part. Jeff may bring in something he’s pre-written and throw it at us, we morph it into something. Once we feel we have a song structure together to where it feels right. I may hear some loops, keyboards, strings/etc and I’ll start messing with sounds from soft synths. Most of the time… I’ll add way too much and the guys reel me back in but I love building sounds and experimentation haha! When a real keyboard player is required, I’ll make some stems and send it out to one of our keyboard buddies. In this case, it was Jeff Babko, who is a freak talent. Not a whole lot of instruction is necessary when you have guys like that to work with. He’ll send me back a stereo stem and I just import it back into our session and go. I kind of start shaping the mix from the beginning of this whole process – again, another luxury we didn’t have back in the days of tape. Once we have some solid finished songs together, I’ll get into hard core mixing mode… I start with the drums, getting gain structure, eq, bus/etc, then bass. Jeff mixed a lot of his guitars at home down to a stereo stem. I’d tuck all that in. I like to take time mixing. I mix it to where my ears like it, put it away, come back to it, tweak /etc. Once I’m happy with it, I’ll send it to the lads. They’ll come back with changes they want, then I’ll start doing recalls. Typically, we’re still doing some form of overdub right up until the bitter end. I’m adding more ear candy, more guitar parts/etc. In some cases, re-tracking a whole song. I must have done 10 takes of ‘Still Life’ before I was satisfied. There are no rules in which we do things, sometimes, we fly by the seat of our pants, get lucky and sometime we fail miserably, scrap it and start over. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
MM : The opening song “Morbid Tango” is the title track of this album. The structure of this tune is dramatic then you draw us into the world of COSMOSQUAD. Could you tell me about this tune.
JK : The structure of this tune is dramatic then you draw us into the world of COSMOSQUAD. Could you tell me about this tune. (Jeff) I remember Shane saying let’s start the record off with a Tango. I was sort of thinking O.K. How does a Tango sound again? Ha! We wanted to push the envelope with the instrumental thing and create something a bit over the top with excitement, power and energy. There’s the raw heavy driving riff with the b5 which is mean and aggressive. Then comes the dissonant A melody over the diminished chord changes. Emotionally it feels like the world is flying by at 150 miles an hour. There’s a point where the C section comes in and it has a melodic place where we finally arrive. Though we don’t stay there for long. The songs always feels like it’s taking the listener on a journey or better yet more of a roller coaster ride. It then leads to a quiet sort of place with the minor changes over 1 droning D note. The melody quotes a bit of vintage Jeff Beck. Then the stirring begins again. It feels as if something is coming around the corner with a bit of an unsettled mood. There is a lead crescendo which builds to more madness with guitar and drum solos playing over 7, 3, and , 5/4 time.The song finally gets back to the grand melodic phrase and leads to a flurry ending riff in a cycle. DONE!
MM : “Always Remember the Love” is such a beautiful number because of its melody and tone of guitar. Could you explain about this tune?
JK : This is the ballad on the record. It’s dedicated to our mothers which have all passed away. Shane’s mother Carol had died in 2016. It’s has a very intimate sound at the top. The song is delicate and pretty as is life. Some songs need no explanation. Just sit back and listen. This one really wrote itself. I don’t remember there being a process. It just came out as we three were in the room together. We added the keys of Jeff Babko after the fact to sort of give it a lift with the organ. The solo section and bridge stir up a different kind of emotion- reflective and a longing to go back to a time that we can’t get to with our loved ones.
MM : Sangfroid” has an impressive contrast between intelligent first half and aggressive rocky second half. Could you tell us about this song?
KC : In the concept of the record, since this is the 9th track, later on in what is the journey that is LIFE, Sangfroid is the track of wisdom. Wisdom often is found a little later in life. As they say, older and wiser. When we are able to sit back and finally make sense of things, accept the things we cant change, appreciate the things that matter and always move forward. But sadly for many, just as this wisdom is discovered, mortality sets in…… as it does just towards the end of the song. We feel we are running out of time. Every year, time itself seems to speed up and we feel we are in a hurry to fit all the things we want to do, see, feel, say and live during the short time we have on this planet and in this realm of reality, as we know it.
JK : As you see Kevin looks at metaphors of life as and the concept of the music and how it relates to life experiences. From a musical standpoint, I would say there is some Wes Montgomery and John Scofield ala ‘Blue Matter’ in this tune.I had this idea lying around. I brought to the guys with a traditional Jazz swing feel with the ride cymbal. Shane adopted more a Dennis Chambers funk feel. We have a common love for these kinds of recordings so we’re not afraid to blend it into the Squad. I like hearing changes fall under one bass note as in the A section. The heavy section of the tune is really quoting the A melody in a low heavy register.
MM : After the tune “Beyond Death’s Door”, the album goes to the final tune “Beyond Death’s Door Reprise”. But the last melody of “Beyond Death’s Door Reprise” continues to the opening tune “Morbid Tango” Why and how did you make this structure?
JK : We added the reprise after we had recorded the initial 10 tracks. We were somewhat obsessed with the orchestral arrangement, which for us was a stretch into uncharted waters, and we took that arrangement from Beyond Deaths Door, which included orchestral percussion, strings, etc…., then added the additional guitar tracks. In our “story” of The Morbid Tango, it’s the final chapter. Death itself. But with glory. When you think about it, death is a part of life. It’s a miracle to have lived far more than it is a tragedy for life to be over. Is it ever REALLY over? Do we know? But, just when you get to the end of the song, the last thing you hear, is then the first thing you hear, and life starts all over again. At the end of the reprise, it’s the sound of Lake Michigan (where Kevin is from, on the beach he grew up, as recorded on his iPhone) as if life is fading off into the distance, upon the waves. Then it returns again on the other side of the horizon, only as a new life in a new story about to be told. Something tells me, wherever our souls end up in the after life, they will likely be making music, so perhaps this is the prelude to the next “concept” of the afterlife on the other side of that horizon. Who knows? In the CD case, beneath the CD, the artwork is of a clock, in a circle. Midnight is birth AND death. The end AND the beginning. We wanted to find a way to make a poignant statement that there is never anything to be afraid of. Life will be. So will death. And then so will life be, once again. It’s the never ending, self writing story, that is life. As told thru the sound of COSMOSQUAD. Making this record built a stronger bond between us as people, and with that bond, we felt we could push our boundaries into uncharted waters, musically. We really hope that all get the story as we see it. Its hard to tell a story without words! But, that IS the power of music.
MM : You and your brother Tommy Kollman recorded tunes onto a 4-track tape recorder in 1983-1984 and made an album “Teen Metal Years”. This album consists full of flashy guitar instrumentals. Please explain us about this album.
JK : These were my first songs I had ever written back when we were teenagers playing in Dad’s basement in Toledo Ohio. I was completely obsessed with recording songs every day with brother Tommy. This release is really a snapshot in time of what we were recording in 1983 and ’84. It very much heavy metal (Randy Rhoads) influenced. I found these tapes in the garage and thought it would be a great idea to release them.
MM : Do you have any memorable episode in that time or when you were making “Teen Metal Years”?
JK : Those were some of the best years because we were really on a path of discovery with music. There’s something really magical when you don’t quite know from a theory standpoint what you are doing but you come upon this different kind of mood or scale shape or whatever. The whole record is a memory of our youth. It’s bittersweet. It defines who I am at the core. My brother and I had such a musical bond. It’s like the Eddie and Alex Van Halen thing. Imagined if they released 20 songs from when they were 15 years old. You would see how it morphed into the Van Halen sound.
The brother/musical bond is always a strong unique thing. I think we really pushed each other to reach a higher level. I’m quite proud of the technical ability I could play at 15 years old. I really cherish all the time spent jamming with brother Tommy.
MM : You often post your guitar play footages that you are paying tribute to Edward Van Halen. Is Eddie very special for you?
JK : Edward Van Halen is was and always will be the benchmark of tone, the king of Rhythm guitar and so much more. His playing is filled with SO much attitude. Everything he plays has such a unique spin on it. He changed our perception of guitar. He taught us that there are NO limits. It was like when Hendrix came out of nowhere. WOW!! This is what makes guitar so powerful. In the right hands it can be so expressive.
MM : We guess Japanese fans would love to see you to come to Japan as COSMOSQUAD. Please tell us your plan in future.
JK : We are trying to align our schedules to comes to Japan this year. I’m hoping for July. Fingers Crossed!!!
MM : Please give a message to your fans.
JK : The Japanese fans are so inspiring, so sweet , and so awesome. I have made such longtime friendships with so many of the fans and guitar players. It is truly my favorite country and I’m always longing to return! See you soon!
COSMOSQUAD facebook https://www.facebook.com/Cosmosquad
COSMOSQUAD twitter https://twitter.com/CosmosquadUS
Jeff Kollman official site http://www.jeffkollman.com/
Shane Gaalaas official site http://www.shanegaalaas.com/
Kevin Chown official site http://kevinchown.com/
The Morbid Tango / COSMOSQUAD
01. Morbid Tango
03. The Ballad of Rick James
04. Anatomy of A Beatdown
05. Recollection Epilogue
06. Always Remember the Love
07. The Crosses
08. Still Life
10. Beyond Death’s Door
11. Beyond Death’s Door Reprise