Named after the iconic French deep sea diver, CousteauX are back from the depths with their first new album in more than a decade.
Slimmed down from the original five-piece, frontman Liam McKahey and principal songwriter Davey Ray Moor have reunited as a duo, with an X added to their name to mark their return.
Libertine Carl Barat and his band The Jackals join the pair on a couple of new tracks, reinforcing a darker, grittier edge to the music this time around.
Founded in London in the late-1990s, Cousteau were one of a select few bands to emerge fully formed with a singular sound and approach all of their own.
Perhaps best known for the song The Last Good Day Of The Year, which featured on the soundtracks to the films Happy Ever After and South Kensington, their lush, lounge-style arrangements proved popular with fans and critics alike.
Their eponymous debut album, went gold after being re-issued and was followed two years later by Sirena, which garnered rave reviews in the US.
Beirut-born Moor quit the band before the release of third album Nova Scotia, after which Cousteau fell into dormancy.
McKahey moved to Australia to pursue solo projects, while Moor decamped to Devon, enjoying success as producer, soundtrack composer and lecturer at Bath Spa University.
And there the Cousteau story may have ended, but for the intervention of Irishman McKahey, whose FaceBook message to Moor ignited the CousteauX reboot.
Released in July, the Burma EP showed the band retaining their sensuous widescreen cinematic approach, old acquaintance Barat co-penning the track Love Is Not On Trial.
The Libertines man also co-writes and performs The Innermost Light on the forthcoming CousteauX album due out in September.
As the band prepared for live dates in support of the new record, Matt Catchpole asked Davey Ray Moor what it was like to be back working with Liam after all these years.
This is your first new music in more than 10 years, what made you decide to get back together?
We got back together because the years had made us appreciate what a good thing we had when we made music together, and what a rare and precious thing that is.
Had you kept in touch over the years?
No, not in the slightest! Kind of the way you aren’t in touch with some old girlfriends and boyfriends: some people have a chapter in your life and no more. And sometimes that’s perfect. Except that both Liam and I really understood the alchemic power of collaboration more than ever over the intervening years. Cousteau was a blend of characteristics the kind of which is irreplaceable.
Were you wary of one another when you first started working together again, or was it like you’d never been apart?
When Liam dropped me an FB message, within a few paragraphs I said: ‘Wow Man, we had something special – we should do it again’. One of the great things about surviving and remaining alive is that you learn to cherish the good things while they last.
Why have you added the X to your name for the reboot?
The name Cousteau refers to a remarkable man, French icon and environmental prophet [Jacques Cousteau]. However it belongs to a wing of his fractious family who sue each other about the name. Possibly peeved at the London chamber pop act that respectfully celebrated the great man, they went and registered the name as a trademark around the world, in a range of product categories including CDs and DVDs. I haven’t heard their songs. However, I don’t think they liked ours as they set some heavy New York lawyers on us with a serious ‘get away from the name or else’ threat. We were splitting up and grumpy anyway, so the whole thing just fell over. Cousteau the band, like the Commandant himself were dead. Later we found another family who’s name we can help celebrate. Cousteaux is a more-popular French name. It’s also plural for Cousteau: celebrating all the branches of the great man’s family. The X is cool also because it denotes a change with the past, as we used to have three other fine musicians. This is actually a new act, and one that is very close to the well-loved cult act Cousteau.
How have your perspectives changed as writers and musicians since you last made a Cousteau record?
I think that Liam has become a much, much more powerful singer. He has this crazed tex-mex rock outfit in Australia who make these roaring, haunting songs. He also worked on some filmic albums – one with [David Bowie producer] Tony Visconti. Hearing the work that Liam was doing, (that he loved) made me reconsider the parameters of where CousteauX might be able to go. There is a darker, more sinister and cinematic vein to some of the music now. Thin Red Lines, The Innermost Light and Memory Is A Weapon were all written to embrace this change.
You live in Devon, while Liam is now based in Melbourne – you’re literally living on opposite sides of the world – how do you overcome that geographical separation?
We’ve got a rhythm going where Liam comes over here for six months of the year, and I can go over there for two months of the year (I’m Australian). Between those two windows of availability we’re making a pattern that seems to be working. We have very forgiving teenage kids.
Will you continue to work on solo projects, or is CousteauX now a full-time venture?
For me CousteauX is my full-time project as it so close to my soul. I think Liam will keep working on his darker stuff – I’d like to work with him on that one day. I also write with a brilliant young act called Sinnober, who do a Californian folk rock thing. CousteauX’s music comes so easily to me and Liam and I think we’re minded to do as much of it as we can while we’re still alive.
How did Carl Barat come to be involved?
In November 1999 The Libertines supported Cousteau at the legendary Blow-Up Club at The Wag in Wardour Street. Carl remembered us and liked our two Jools Holland Show songs. So, when he was writing his solo album, I had the privilege of working with a British rock icon who is also a sweet and very funny man.
Liam’s voice has been likened to Nick Cave’s, do you think that’s a fair comparison?
Liam is a huge Nick Cave fan, and I think he’s flattered when anybody says that. Personally, I like listening to Liam sing more, although I really like Cave’s lyrics and much of his aesthetic.
Who influenced you growing up?
A song called I’ve Seen That Movie Too by Elton John made me want to play the piano and write songs like that. Elton, Bowie, Floyd, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Marvin Gaye come to mind as some of the big ones. Liam was into Stevie Wonder, Iggy Pop, The Pogues, Bowie, and The Cramps, amongst others. Although both Liam and I have hundreds of albums and artists that we love.
Were you listening to anyone in particular when writing for the new album?
No, not really. I think part of what is great about making an album is that you find something that you want to hear by making it!
Your song Last Good Day of the Year featured in two films and you’ve written several soundtracks. Do you tend to write with a visual image in mind?
I believe that if a song can make images occur in the mind of the listener, then the listener will have a deeper experience of the song and be able to revisit that visual again and again; each time subject a little variation and change. I love that about songs. Movies aren’t really like that – one, two, three times is enough and then you never want to visit that experience again.
If you could work with any director on a feature film score – who would you choose?
Michel Gondry [Eternal Sunset of the Spotless Mind, Mood Indigo] because his movies are beautiful, strange and stay with you forever.
You’ve been working as a senior lecturer at Bath Spa University teaching production, songwriting, marketing and performance – are your students aware of your music?
I don’t think the students are aware of my music, and I don’t think they would really care. It’s a bit like if one of their dads is in a band. It’s cool only to a certain degree. I am delighted when one of them finds it and drops me a line.
Has working with students inspired you?
Well yes, I think it has. They keep you alert and updated. There are a lot of geniuses coming through that course, and that energy rubs off on you. However mostly CousteauX’s music gets self-inspired when I sit down at a piano and Liam gets up to a mic.
You’re new album is out in September, what can you tell us about that? Should fans expect any surprises?
Well, I don’t think our fans who have heard it are shocked or surprised. I think they’re impressed because it’s a bold and adventurous album. Because we’re not a five-piece band, we can actually craft the arrangements so they’re more textured and varied than before. Also, I think we’ve become darker, stranger and a bit more enigmatic than before. There was a danger we could’ve turned into softened-up lounge stars out to pasture.
Do you plan to tour the album live?
Well, we are doing some shows in London, Spain, Italy and Ireland. Sure, we’d love to tour it, but our mission at the moment is getting it heard so we can start filling up places again! We’re a band who were a little bit successful a long time ago, but we’re happy to build it slowly because we think this time it’s going to last. We have our own record company, Silent X Records, and that’s the phase we’re in now… Still cooking in the kitchen!
- CousteauX’s self-title comeback album is released on Silent X Records on 8 September 2017
- The band play London’s 100 Club on 19 September
- Listen to the The Burma EP on SoundCloud here