Five Questions With… Kevin Hearn of The Cousins

Photo: Chris Phelps
Photo: Chris Phelps

There seems to be an unusual connection between music and comedy in certain Canadian families. I’m thinking mainly of Dave and Ian Thomas, as well as Mike Myers and his brother Paul who once led a highly underrated Toronto band called the Gravelberries. Then there’s Kevin Hearn and his cousin Harland Williams, who unlike the other examples have realized their individual talents are actually compatible.

Hearn and Williams are about to release a new album on March 17 as The Cousins, entitled Rattlesnake Love. The music is as eclectic as might be assumed by anyone familiar with the pair’s resumes, and the swampy, neo-Beatnik jazz heard on the title track—featuring guest vocals from Carole Pope—gives a good indication of where they’re coming from.

Hearn and Williams had done a previous EP as The Cousins back in 2004, but their fondness for making music together goes back to childhood. In a way, that innocence is still present in what they’re doing, as the basis of Rattlesnake Love was to make an album without any rules. As Hearn notes, touchstones for the music ranged from David Lynch and Sun Ra to country and electropop.

While Hearn is best known as a member of Barenaked Ladies and for working with other CanRock stalwarts on top of his own solo career (not to mention a lengthy stint in Lou Reed's live band), his usual mild manner only partially hides his past history with some of Toronto’s more outrageous musical entities such as the Look People and Corky & The Juice Pigs. While fans of Williams’ comedy might need to adjust to his role in The Cousins, Rattlesnake Love will appeal to anyone who fondly remembers the days when the Toronto music scene could offer something completely unexpected any given night. For more info, go to thecousinsband.com.

 

What makes Rattlesnake Love different from the previous music you guys have made together?

Every song is different with Harland. For example, the title track was first improvised in a Los Angeles studio over a musical loop I had recorded with [producer] Gavin Brown. Carole Pope was with us and she improvised along with Harland. I then took all that home, organized it, and built the track around it. Also, Blaise Garza who plays with The Violent Femmes drove down from San Diego and played the flute.

 

Apart from being cousins, what makes your creative partnership work?

We respect and admire what the other brings into the creative process. We have a similar sense of humour. If we disagree, we always discuss and consider each other's point of view. I’m usually right though. That’s something we learned from our moms.

 

Frank Zappa once posed the question, does humour belong in music? What are your thoughts?

Absolutely. It definitely has its time and place. There’s plenty of serious music out there if that’s what you need. Also, you can still make a serious point, craft a poetic lyric, or compose something beautiful while employing humour. Just don’t ever use the words “garbanzo beans.” That would be going too far.  

 

You seem to be involved in a lot of varied projects at the same time. How do you approach each one?

I enjoy exploring what the musical possibilities are in each scenario. I like exploring different sounds and not making the same record over and over. I also try to adapt to what my role needs to be depending on what the project is. Setting realistic time parameters is important so I don't find myself rushing something or not giving it the attention it needs.  

 

If there were anything you could change about the music industry, what would it be?

Well, this is perhaps just a little thing but I wish that when people acquired music online, they would also receive all the credits for the recording. Maybe they do now? I don't know. I like seeing where it was recorded, who wrote what, who produced it, etc.I still listen to vinyl records, and I always love reading the credits and holding the record cover while listening to it for the first time.