Davey Ray Moor Speaks To Essentially Pop Ahead Of Release Of New CousteauX Album, ‘Stray Gods’

Formed back in 1999 Cousteau had a “micro-hit” with their song, ‘The Last Good Day Of The Year’, from their eponymous debut album, bringing them fans from all over the world, and in particular, the USA and Italy. Following their second album, ‘Sirena’, which was met with critical acclaim, they saw a line-up change when songwriter, instrumentalist and producer Davey Ray Moor left to pursue production jobs in Italy, turning the songwriting duties over to Liam McKahey, who also happens to possess one of the world’s most distinctive voices. The band released album number 3, ‘Nova Scotia’, in 2005. Liam moved to Australia, and both he and Davey released solo work.

Fast forward to 2016, and Moor and McKahey “rebooted” the band, adding an X to the end of Cousteau, to mark a distinction between the two eras. They started out on a high with a sold-out show at Milan’s The Blue Note, which was followed by a self-titled album, ‘CousteauX’, in 2017. Spin a little further forward, and CousteauX are set to release their new album, the second under their new name, tomorrow, August 20. ‘Stray Gods’, is an album of 12 “darkly romantic torch songs”, including the sublime, ‘When The Bloom Has Left The Rose’, the video for which was awarded a swathe of awards, including Best Music Video: 2020 London Independent Film Festival. You can watch the video here. ‘Stray Gods’, out tomorrow, will be available from CousteauX’s official website, and Bandcamp.

Offered the opportunity to speak to another Aussie expat in the UK, and to talk about one of her pet subjects, David Bowie, Lisa leapt at the chance.

Hello Davey, it’s Lisa Hafey from Essentially Pop. You’ve got an Australian accent there I think! So have I! 

It’s hard to shake isn’t it!

How’s the pandemic been treating you?

Well, I think musicians are natural homebodies anyway, so it’s not been too bad. The only difference is we can’t go out and play. We like our internal worlds and studios and so on. Nobody we’re connected to has been affected by it, which is the important thing.

So you’ve got a new album out tomorrow, ‘Stray Gods’. Tell me a bit about that, you’ve recorded it virtually…

Well, it’s highly virtually. The way I like to do it is I do a rough version and then I get Liam to sing, and he did that, thankfully, when we were last touring, I had his vocals on hard drive, and I realised I could, by using the Internet, and various people like a drummer in Italy, and a guitar player in France, and a singer in Portugal – all people I’ve met in my travels – I could put it together virtually, and it sounded like a real band all playing together in the one space, which is a great illusion to pull off, I think.

It’s a bit of a United Nations going on there! So all these people you know from all over the world, in an ideal, non-Covid situation, would you all tour?

We would, we’re a band who were reasonably big in Europe and America about 20 years ago, and this is the second of our “comeback” albums, we’re all people with jobs and families and that sort of stuff, but we do it when we can, and take breaks from our other work when we do it. It’s always subject to limited availability, but thankfully with Covid everyone’s in the same boat.

But you and Liam are the faces…

We’re the core, yeah. We needed a songwriter who could play instruments, and a singer. With a singer with that much character and power, it’s easy to drape the right kind of instruments around the background, in support of that voice, which is what I do. I think it’s turned out to be the best album we’ve made, so far.

Wonderful! You’ve all got different things you’re doing when you’re not making music for CousteauX – so is that why it’s been four years since your last album, your reboot debut album?

Yes!! But also we were making plans to make this album when Covid hit, and also our audience – about 3000 loyal followers around the world, they’ve stuck with us for 15 years, when we’ve been broken up, so they can be patient! A few years between albums is fine. But Liam (in Australia) is in total quarantine now, it’s just struck Australia as you’d know.

Making music is one good thing you can get out of this whole opportunity. I think there’s a lot of musicians putting their heart and soul into recorded music these days, because they weren’t able to get out to the live world, and all the ecology we’re used to has been shifted. I hope we get this album out in time, to get into people’s lives, before there’s a deluge of material to listen to. I’m sure there’s also going to be an exuberant celebration of getting out and seeing live music as well.

CousteauX has been compared to the likes of David Bowie, and while I can DEFINITELY hear that, especially with ‘The Bloom Has Left The Rose’, that’s such a Bowie kind of song, there’s others you remind me of as well, like Nick Cave, and The Church. Do you think it’s down to Australian-ness – or maybe – I know they’ve been influenced by Bowie as well – would you also say there’s that?

I think that’s a very astute call actually. I think in Australia there’s a particular love for dark, bluesy, slightly gothic, romantic music, which was also present in a lot of David Bowie’s music. I know Steve Kilbey from The Church – I used to play keyboards with them!

Oh my gosh, so there’s a further connection!

So yeah, I think that’s spot on. Another thing is it’s very European, like a cabaret, light entertainment, it’s got that sort of late-night, torch-song sound…

That whole dark feeling. As you say, cabaret. I really really liked. I get that same feeling from Bowie as well.

Yes! Way back 20 years ago, when I started this whole project, part of the recipe I had in my mind of the project I wanted to assemble, was, “what if David Bowie did more ballads”. He didn’t do a lot really, he had such a range of incredible things no doubt, but he did very few love songs, straight out ballads, and when he did they were great. I think he chose not to, because he was much more interested in testing the boundaries of everything. I don’t think he wanted to be like Elton John, or stuff like that; I guess there’s a clue in that, it’s that sort of aesthetic, and vocal approach as well, he was such a great singer. People always talked about his haircuts and his costumes, but he was a fine vocalist.

His vocals got – not ignored – but the focus was more on his externals. He was a fine musician as well. 

And he always had interesting chords in his songs as well, he never did anything regular, or that’s been done before.

Bowie used to do the whole, cutting up words process for his songwriting – how is your songwriting process? How do you go about it?

My songwriting process is a little different to that, it’s actually one of the most difficult processes – there are much easier processes – every now and again, something will pop along, like, ‘Love Is A Sinner’, and ‘Praying For Rain’ is another – once you get the title, you work your way back from there. I know what kind of song that wants to be. That’s the easiest form of songwriting. The more difficult one, and the one I tend to do, is sort of meander on an instrument for a while, and we start gurning, and issuing sounds, music out of your mouth – as a singer might do – raw melodies to sing along with the piano or guitar, and then drape the clothes of lyrics on those naked melodies, if you like. I think a lot of songwriters who came into songwriting through being musicians, work that way, and it’s the hardest, because you end up with all these half-finished songs you couldn’t find the right words for the melodies.

I suppose you could leave lots of instrumental breaks in your songs; very sparse lyrically, but FULL-ON melodically. There’s an idea for your next album!

That’s a great strategy!

You mean it’s on purpose!

Well when there’s great music, you need words all the time! Music is actually more magical than language, I think, in that regard. Pure music without words, is a very deep and profoundly religious sort of thing; lots of costs come with words; music doesn’t necessarily need to communicate its power. The words have to be good when you put it on music that’s got its own power.

That’s a challenge in itself…

Exactly! And why so many musicians have half-finished songs!

Your song, ‘When The Bloom Has Left The Rose’, has an incredible video that goes with it, and it’s won a rash of awards for it – how did that feel? 

It felt fantastic! We knew it was a special song, and because it’s very rare that people talk about things like getting older in songs, it’s a youth-obsessed world, the world of music, that kind of thing is forbidden territory half the time – and without it being all sort of lachrymose, and syrupy. The director Brendan Young, he’s a friend of mine, and he was stuck in lockdown, in Melbourne. The challenge was to do something that could be done in Melbourne’s first extreme lockdown – the first ones seem the most apocalyptic don’t they – and we had to figure a way to do it, and it had to be internal shots and one external shot, and the constraints were pretty tight, but he did something pretty sympathetic to the song.

Do you know, I saw the video and I wondered if it was shot in Australia, because of the taxi.

The Ford Zephyr!

Yeah! I thought, that’s not a car I’ve seen over here!

Yeah! Well they had them in England as well, but you’re right, I had a mate who had one.

I watched the video and, as someone, well I feel like I’ve aged a decade through this pandemic – I saw the clip and it really resonated with me as well. The video felt like it could have a feature length film; you wanted to know what happened to the woman – how did she get there, where was she going.

I think she’s very cool. She’s proud at the end of that, she’s striding down the laneway, doesn’t give a hoot about it; it’s wonderful, it’s not a sad song, she’s like “hey well that happened”, you know. You can be a proud, beautiful human being; had the ending been any different, it would have been a trying too hard, melancholy kind of thing. But it’s a light touch in the way the video helps the sense of pride, and resolve, in the lyrics.

So what are your plans post-Covid? Do you have a tour in mind?

I would like nothing more. We can make it work by playing the side shows we can mean we can afford to fly Liam over, and we’ve got an Italian band too. So last time we went over to Milan and rehearsed, and came to London, and then did our European shows. I can think of nothing nicer, than in 2022 to play our set at festivals and summer gigs again. We used to do lots of them, and it’s great fun. The other mission is to record as much music as we can. As soon as we get Liam’s voice on tape, it’s something I can work.

What is it you think, makes you so popular in Italy?

We’re popular in the US as well, but a wonderful thing happened in Italy, the result of some bits of good fortune, one that got us a leg up was a song of ours – 20 years ago – got used in a really big TV advert. Actually, 2o years ago today it would have been on TV, and radio all over Italy. It was a beautiful advert, two lovers chasing each other around, in Venice etc, all that sort of intrigue and romance. All it did was play the song, front to back, with a pack shot at the end. It made millions of Italians hear this song immediately, and associate it with something beautiful and sumptuous and luxuriant; all those associations helped, they rushed out and bought our album to hear this song. And that song from 20 years ago was a micro-hit for us, and keeps being played around the world, crazy places like Argentina and Israel, and Brazil…we’ve fans who are really devoted coming from all over the place, and largely because that song kept opening doors.

I know that the South Americans are very passionate fans – and if they like your music, you’ll be loved forever.

You’re right! Actually the biggest city that plays CousteauX on Spotify, and also Facebook, is Mexico City! Back to Italy though, part of the culture is that they don’t mind things that are trying to be beautiful for beauty’s sake. Which can of course lead to kitsch, and naff sort of stuff, but they admire things like beautiful voices and musicality that goes a bit further than having been made with the intent of being sexy or cynical, or making a kind of comment or critique. Such as beautiful ballads!

Well it works! And you’ve hit a winner!

I have one more question and it’s one I ask everyone I interview, and it is, what question do  you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but no-one ever does?

Wow. I have to think what I’d like to ask various musicians I’ve loved, and, so my question is, what is the part of your entire job, as a musician, your working life, that is the best? What is the best moment?

So what is the best moment?

Haha! I think the best moment, for me and Liam, is after he puts down his first vocal on a track – previously I’ve sung it to him, and he’s learned it – that moment we listen to it back through the speakers. We get that feeling that we transmit to strangers who love our music, for the first time. It’s the sound of his voice in that kind of music, it’s got a certain electricity. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but for those who resonate to it, there’s something about it that sounds sort of classic.

Is it like – you’re able to put yourselves in the position where it’s no longer you guys who’ve made this song, but you’re listening to it as others will hear it?

Exactly! We’re the first members of the public to hear it! We pump it up loud on nice speakers, it’s such a brilliant experience, and that makes all the hassle of being a musician totally worth while.

That’s excellent! 

That’s a good question! You nailed it!

Thank you so much for talking to me, and all the best for tomorrow with the release of ‘Stray Gods’! Your fans are going to love it.

Thanks for giving it a listen. I appreciate it.

About the author

Lisa has been writing for over 20 years, starting as the entertainment editor on her university newspaper. Since then she's written for Popwrapped, Maximum Pop, Celebmix, and ListenOnRepeat.

Lisa loves all good music, with particular fondness for Jedward and David Bowie. She's interviewed Edward Grimes (Jedward), Kevin Godley, Trevor Horn, Paul Young, Peter Cox (Go West), Brendan B Brown (Wheatus), Bruce Foxton (The Jam), among many many more. Lisa is also available for freelance writing - please email lisa@essentiallypop.com