An Interview with Louis Cole

Will Schube chats with Louis Cole about his Brainfeeder debut, LA jazz, and the phenomenon known as happy-sad.
By    October 3, 2018


Brainfeeder’s roster scans like an island of misfit toys. The only prerequisite for being tossed atop the heap is that your music must a.) must possess the funk and b.) must absolutely slap. Louis Cole’s new LP, Time, satisfies both criterion and as such his recent deal with Flying Lotus’ label makes perfect sense.

Time is weird and wonderful and sounds like a child’s box of Legos—chaotic but assured in the fact that all the pieces have to fit. Album opener “Weird Part of the Night” makes the album’s ideal listening situation profoundly clear, and over a funk-dance groove, Cole wonders aloud why everyone else is asleep and why he’s feeling…very much not asleep. The Thundercat assisted “Tunnels in the Air” features instrumentation that Weezy would rap over in 2007 before morphing into a lamentation of love gone awry. This is the rare Thundercat featured track that doesn’t sort of just stop and let the bass wizard dance upon his fretboard for sixteen bars. Instead, Cole lets ‘cat handle some vocals and the results are, as you may surmise on your own, delightfully off.

Cole’s musical lineage started in the experimental pop group KNOWER, which Cole helmed with Genevieve Artadi. Artadi’s fingerprints are all over the record, and her vocals are featured on “When You’re Ugly.” Cole took seven years between the release of his second LP, Album 2, and Time, but in the interim KNOWER found a wide audience and he went legit viral with a song about not wanting to look at your bank account. Time is a reminder of Cole’s solo skills, his auteur approach that mirrors other LA oddballs like Ariel Pink. Who else but Cole could pull off a slow jam called “After The Load is Blown” and have it carry serious emotional weight? It should be weird and very gross but instead it’s just fun, eccentric, and tinged with sadness. Louis Cole wouldn’t have it any other way. —Will Schube

How has the reception to the record been so far?

Louis Cole: It seems to be good. A lot of my close friends have said some really deep things about it that I really appreciate, which is so cool. I’m happy with it. Well, the main battle for me is always getting myself to be cool with it. Even when I release something I feel like I have to keep making more stuff.

Are you a perfectionist in the studio?

Louis Cole: Yeah, kinda. If the vibe of a song is not right or not up to the level I have in my head, then I can go there. Sometimes sounds will come out really trashy or distorted—some sort of mistake that sounds really cool. I like exploring that stuff, too.

Has being a home studio musician influenced the sound of this record?

Louis Cole: That’s the only way I feel comfortable. There’s something about a studio that doesn’t feel right to me. It’s hard for me to work from a studio. I have to do it like this, but I can get all the sounds I like and need out of a house setup.

Did you have all of the collaborators on this record come into your studio?

Louis Cole: With Dennis Hamm and Brad Mehldau, we met at other places. Thundercat just gave me a file on a flashdrive. It was an already recorded vocal. Genevieve [Artadi] recorded here.

Since y’all had a band together, did Genevieve influence the way this record sounds outside of her one featured track?

Louis Cole: Definitely. We’re so close musically. She’s my most trusted person to check anything I’ve worked on. I just trust her ears so much. She’s a big part of the process. Even if she wasn’t actively singing or writing something, she’s a big part of it.

When did you begin working on Time.

Louis Cole: About two and a half years ago from the release. I don’t even know when that is, maybe early 2016.

I know “Bank Account” got very popular around that time. What was that like and what was your response to its success?

Louis Cole: It was a song I knew I didn’t want to put on the album, I knew it had to be separate. I put out the video because I wanted to show people that I’ve been practicing the keyboard. I just put it out and I had no idea it was gonna do well. It was at the start of this whole new level of career success that I’ve had these past few years. It was the only video of mine that went viral. It’s really crazy. I did not expect anyone to give a shit about that because it’s such a small little thing. After that other videos started to do well and it all felt connected to that. That was the start of something, weirdly.

You took seven years between solo records. Why such an extended break?

Louis Cole: I was just following my inspiration. At that time making stuff with Knower was more inspiring to me. I was doing a lot more electronic percussion and that sounded cooler with Genevieve. Now I’m more inspired to work on solo stuff.

When did you start playing the drums?

Louis Cole: I was eight. I was in second grade, so seven or eight.

What was some of the first music you gravitated to as a player?

Louis Cole: I really liked Stevie Wonder. There was hammered dulcimer stuff—I think it was Celtic—that I was really into. It was a cassette tape that my mom played for me once. I just got really into it for some reason. I got really heavy into James Brown a few years after that. R&B and Aretha Franklin, that era was really big for me. That was the first music that really impacted my whole life.

Did you want to be making music like that growing up?

Louis Cole: Someone gave me a book when I was really young of James Brown basslines. It had a CD with it and you could play along. I would learn the parts for those songs and I didn’t know if I was consciously thinking about making songs with those vibes, but I happened to learn those parts and it really became the basis for a lot of my music.

Did you study jazz growing up as well?

Louis Cole: Yeah, my dad played jazz piano so I’d jam with him all the time. That was my education. But I was in the jazz band in high school as well. I went to USC for music after high school as well.

Musically speaking, how has your relationship with your father played a role in your career thus far?

Louis Cole: He’s definitely my biggest influence by far. He’s how I learned how to play. Also, he’d play really cool music around the house. That was the foundation for a lot of what I do.

Does jazz still play a role in the music you’re writing now or are the two worlds totally separate?

Louis Cole: It’s totally connected to what I’m doing now. Jazz is so cool because it’s full freedom in the moment. If you have an idea you just go with it, try it out and experiment with it. I just love the freedom of that. A lot of the songs on this record were born from me just experimenting. Even if I knew what the entire song was about beforehand, the spirit of improvising is there. There’s just something about the spirit of jazz that’s totally connected to me; or, I’ve connected with it, more accurately.

I know you play a bit with Sam Gendel and Sam Wilkes, amongst other experimental artists. Can you describe that part of the LA scene?

Louis Cole: I’ve known Sam Gendel for a really long time. We go way back. We’ve always been in each other’s lives musically. He definitely has seen me go in a lot of directions and I’ve seen him do the same. It’s just cool to have a musician like that who you just really have a deep trust with. Any time we play together is just like instant intensity.

I love playing with Wilkes, too. I met him more recently but he’s just so good. He gets really deep into the music and he learns it so deeply, too. It’s so cool to play with someone who feels it so intensely and really cares.

What’s your relationship with the rest of Brainfeeder like? How do you think you fit into that label’s philosophy?

Louis Cole: I’m so new to the label that I really don’t know a lot of the people there or on the label. I’m friends with Thundercat and have hung out with Flying Lotus a few times. But I like Brainfeeder a lot because they trust me and let me do whatever I want. They’re just really supportive. I think they appreciate what I do, too.

With the record out now, where do you see yourself headed next?

Louis Cole: As soon as the record came out I just wanted to make more music. There wasn’t really any moment of, ‘Oh yeah, cool, the album’s out!’ There’s something inside me where I just want to go even harder and rest even less. I’m just working on new songs right now.

You blend up-tempo, quirky music with dark and depressing lyrics. What’s the philosophy behind that and why do you like to layer your music in that way?

Louis Cole: It’s probably that I’m purely just feeling those things in that moment. I guess I just like both emotions and I’m not trying to fit into either one. Sometimes the song will have corresponding emotions, but sometimes they do battle each other. In real life, I experience that, those ups and downs. I go from dark to light a lot in a short period of time. That’s probably why it feels comfortable to me. I may have a better answer for that in the future, but for now, that makes sense.

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