If you’re familiar with Dingwalls, then you’ll know how inconspicuous the place is, that you’ll easily blink and miss it. The same could’ve been said for Australian underground rock icons Cog who performed their only two UK dates over a decade ago. It was like a once in a lifetime celestial event. After reforming in 2016 however, they head out on their first ever European tour in their 20+ year career, co-headlining with fellow stalwarts Sleepmakeswaves, and Luke very generously took the time to sit down on a mild March evening atop Dingwalls’ terrace to talk about Cog’s past, their present, and their future:
On behalf of your UK fanbase, I want to say welcome back after 11 years of being away. Just from the limited time you’ve been here, has your experience been any different from the last time you were in the UK, compared to a decade ago?
Luke: Yeah, for sure, the last time we were kind of tagged on to do the shows with [NZ band] Shihad. It was very quick, in-and-out type of vibe, but this time, obviously there’s four more countries involved. As far as the UK goes, we gave ourselves a little more time before we started with these shows, to give us a bit more of a chance to have a look around, and I’m loving it, especially this area in Camden. I feel like I could stay here for a while. It’s very bustling, very multi-cultural, very happening, and it’s a pleasure to be here. Last time, we didn’t get that much of a look around, we did the sights, but this time it’s a bit more cruisey and we’re a bit more wiser, eleven years wiser [laughs].
I’m not sure if you recall, but you also played a festival, Guilfest…
Luke: Yes! Is that still going?
It went under new management a little while ago and under the new name Always The Sun Festival.
Luke: I remember an inflatable stage of sorts, or an inflatable something on the side, and I remember we went after or before, was it the Bay City Rollers?
[Editor’s note: They did indeed play before the Bay City Rollers.]
Luke: My brother was only here for two days, I was only here for three days but it was a bit of a blur. I do remember having technical difficulties at Shepherd’s Bush, but a great crowd and an awesome venue, I remember the venue very well. I don’t remember too much of the festival, other than we got there, we banged it out and got on a bus to go to the airport.
Despite being the short in-and-out trip, would you say it holds a place in your heart being among your first international shows?
Luke: Even though we’re only playing two shows over here again, we were definitely looking forward to coming back to England, because culturally, so much good music and so many good bands and people that I’ve listened to growing up come from this area or these areas in England. You know, as a muso, you just want to get a sense of what it was like for those bands at the time. I think you can relate to it in certain ways, but you’re talking about bands that I idolised. I’d definitely like to come back and play more shows.
Just to use a parallel to this, a band I’m sure you’re familiar with, Mammal, their first international shows were in the UK, around four or five dates or so if I recall correctly. What does it mean for Australian bands to come over and play in the UK? Is there any special meaning attached to that?
Luke: I think for them, I think it’s one step closer to making themselves more successful and more match-fit so to speak. If you’ve come over here, that’s a big leap for an Australian band. There’ll be thousands of Australian bands that never got the chance to come over here for a number of reasons. For us to do it after this amount of time, it’s a huge deal for us, it’s an opportunity. This could be the difference for us not coming back and spending the rest of our lives playing in our own country, which admittedly is great, but it could also open up the doors to us playing in other places. I think it’s kind of a stepping stone as well as a love affair, you wanna come here because so many fucking good bands are from here, and I think the general gist in Australia is that people from all those European countries say ‘Oh, you should come to Germany, or the UK, there’s so many people that would love your music there.’ Australia is a big country but there’s really not that many people that live there.
You guys tour extensively and have always toured extensively, what does it mean to you guys to tour so much? What do you get out of touring now as opposed to ten years ago?
Luke: For one, I suppose you get a break from your family life [laughs]. The last ten years for me, there’s been three kids, it’s a completely different life I lead these days than I did ten years ago. [Touring]’s food for your soul. I feel very fortunate that I can work five days a week at home as a carpenter but then I can play shows and tour. I build houses for a living, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do even as an eighteen year old when I left school, that was the crossroads for me. I was working as a carpenter but I couldn’t manage to do Cog and carpentry. Cog was moving at a rapid rate then, I was investing my whole heart and soul into that project, I had to make a decision and so I chose the music. I feel lucky that I’m now able to do both things. I still think I’ve got something to offer musically, I still think people enjoy coming to watch us play and it’s just been such a massive part of my life, about half of my life playing music. I feel the same about it as I did twenty years ago to be honest. I get up there and go into my own little world, and I love that feeling, trying to capture that magic, with my brother and Lucius. If you’re not feeling nervous or getting butterflies before a show or getting excited to play to about ten people, then you should probably fucking stop doing it.
Absolutely, your heart has to be in it, and if you’re doing it solely for the money then you’re doing it for completely the wrong reasons.
Luke: See, that’s the funny thing, if you get to the stage where your band does reach a level of success where you don’t have to work, you are doing it for the money, you know what I mean? Then you throw in responsibilities like children and paying bills, it’s up to you to maintain that kind of level of drive and motivation. I find it weird when people say that, ‘I’m not doing it for the money, I’m doing it for the love,’ but they have to do it for the money if that’s what’s putting clothes on their back and food on the table. It’s a double-edged sword. For years I used to say I do it for the love, and I do, but when it reached that point for us, where I stopped working and I was paying myself a wage from the band, it was the fucking greatest day of my life. In saying that, that’s also the day I realised, hang on, I’m not only doing it for the love, I am actually doing it for the money because I need money to live! [laughs]
So you’re on tour with the fabulous Sleepmakeswaves, if you were to embark on another European tour, who would you like to take along for the ride?
Luke: So many, so many great bands we’ve played with along the way. I’d really like to take a band from New Zealand called Jakob, another instrumental band. Just different, really, really dynamic, I’d love for them to have that opportunity, I think they have played in the UK before but you couldn’t quote me on that [Editor’s note: They played the UK in 2004, 2015 and 2016]. It’s been 15 years since we’ve toured with them, we had such a great time with them, good bunch of blokes, and just really enjoyed their music. We’ve always tried to put together gigs or bills together where, me personally, I don’t really like to go and see a gig where there’s three bands that sound exactly the same. I think that’s too much for the listener, I like it to be different. We’ve had so many different kind of things in place, like documentaries playing instead of a support band. You could run into trouble or shoot yourself in the foot if you got too diverse I think, but just try and mix it up.
On that subject, just to name a few other bands you’ve also subsequently toured with, Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus for example, when you guys reformed in 2016, those bands rejoiced and consistently sung your praises on social media at the news. What does it mean to you to be held in such high regard by bands you could consider your peers, and your friends and fellow countrymen?
Luke: It’s great, it feels very humbling. We were all doing a similar thing at a similar time, we’re all happy for each other, and that we’re all still going and still making music, and still enjoying it. I think there’s a genuine feeling that we all want each other to succeed and do the best we can. [Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus] seemed to have had more opportunities or they’ve created more opportunities, however it’s worked for themselves, to get over to places like Europe and India and America, where we had a bit of a funny run in terms of management and record labels. We probably made some foolish decisions or were just naïve, it just didn’t pan out that way for us. I speak to those guys on a regular basis, I go and watch them play nearly every time they’re in town or in the city. I go to their weddings, my children play with their children, our crew does stuff with those bands and vice versa. It’s become more of a family. It was a really, really exciting time for a young person, when I was touring around with those bands hardcore, in the early days, it was fucking great. There was a sense of what we were creating, this thing in Australia that no other musos were doing, we could change the world! [laughs] For a young country, it’s like a massive melting pot, and I think a lot of Australian bands strive to not sound like other bands, the good ones anyway. If you really break Cog down, there’s influences from reggae, from blues, stoner rock to metal, Jeff Buckley, there’s even dance music in there.
So to talk about a new album, it would be the first album in over ten years for you guys. You mentioned before that you’ve written new material but also brought back some old material that didn’t fit with Sharing Space, would you say that what you have so far is predominantly more new material or revisiting old music you wrote?
Luke: I would say 90% new. So [Altered States] was a track we’d already recorded, we had oodles of material from back then and after we came back from the hiatus, there were still things we worked on up until we disbanded, that we thought were too good just to throw away. We did also want to experiment with where we were mentally, our tastes had probably changed in over ten years as they do, and more excited to explore a bit more of that space. We’ve got so much material, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. We dumped everything onto a computer about six months ago now, and got brutal with it. There was so much stuff and we just needed to be honest with each other, so if one person didn’t like it, it could be a riff, it could be a beat, it could be a vocal idea or a melody, it got canned. The Police did a similar thing where they jammed on something for fifteen minutes, and if it wasn’t a song by fifteen minutes, they’d throw it in the bin. We’re not that brutal, but we got about half way going through everything and we all agreed to work on one thing, which ended up becoming The Middle.
In terms of an album, I’d love to say we’d have something out by the end of the year, but I just don’t think it’s a reality for us for so many reasons. Money being one, and also time. Flynn’s got his own business, I’m a carpenter as I’ve said, and Lucius is doing his other things. I feel like I’ve got ten fires burning around me, and all I’m doing is throwing more wood on each fire to keep them burning, and while I love the idea of recording an album, it seems the music industry and the way people buy music and listen to music is moving in a different direction. It’s not like it used to be, people hear a song, they buy the song. I love physical music, you’d have to wait for the album to come out, and go out and buy the album physically, and I love that. I’ve never downloaded any music in my entire life, I’ve stayed away from social media, I’ve accepted it, but I prefer to live my life and not have to tell everyone what I’m doing. I hardly have enough time to live it, let alone tell everyone about it! [laughs] Anyway, at the moment we’ve got our own studio now, we’ve built it, Lucius has moved up to where me and Flynn are living, and we’re happy going in and working on a song, and like Cog’s always done, it takes forever to work on a song, and if we don’t think it’s ready, we won’t give it to anyone. When it’s ready, it’s ready. We’re not a band that writes 20 songs and releases 10, we’re a band that writes 10 songs and releases 10 songs.
My last question then, with the commodity of downloading and streaming, when you released Sharing Space, the download and streaming industry was very much in its infancy, if you were to release a third album, how would you release it?
Luke: We would do it independently. I’m not sure how we’d do it, but I’d just like to do it out of our garage. Like ,’This is it, if you want it, come and get it from us’. It’s going to end up out there, someone’s going to put it up there and everyone’s going to get it for free anyway, but I would like to print physical copies and CDs, and that’s how you get it. I just think bands get ripped off for putting so much into an album, and getting no fucking financial gain from any of that. How is it any different from an artist painting a picture, and selling the picture? It’s a bit disheartening, but I guess the upside from putting music online is that anyone in the world can find it and listen to it. It’s a tough one, but now the only means for a band now to survive is through live shows and their merchandise. You can sell a million copies of your album and get fuck all for it, and I don’t see it as very fair to the artist.
You do also have bands that have made a relatively good living without having a record label too.
Luke: Are they necessary? [Record labels] have their pros and cons, they obviously have fingers in reach of all aspects, like your marketing and your publishing. If you’re Joe Blow off the street and you try to walk in, that’s a lot of phone calls, and there’s a lot of not what you know, who you know, in that industry. A very good pro from a record label’s perspective is that they have that sussed and they have the infrastructure already in place. I think at the end of the day, if you’ve got something good and you’re 100% behind it and you fully believe in what you’re doing, if you build it, they will come.
Luke, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk you, thank you.
A big, big thank you to Matthew ‘Yogi’ Donnan and Volume Touring, and of course to Luke Gower and Cog, for making this happen.
All of Cog’s newest music has been released independently on their Bandcamp page, whereas their merchandise and some previous music can be obtained on their BigCartel.
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