A Musical Story

Musician Christine Cochran, a tenacious and gifted raconteur has released an freshman album titled Someone I’ll Never Meet. Drawing influence from country, new wave, rock, and many other sounds, her music is a convergence of her diverse and interesting life experiences. She explains how she grew as a person through making this album and working with various people in the business.

This album is one of the many mediums through which Cochran hopes to share the creativity inside of her. She is currently writing a book, and she has other musical projects planned including an album of stripped down covers.

Hunter Tolson: Your website lists your genre as “Acousta-Punka-Folk-Rock,” but there seems to be a strong country influence in your work, as well as indie. What genres did you grow up listening to, and how has your work expanded to have so many influences?
Christine Cochran: Well, this will be an interesting answer.

“Acousta-Punka-Folk-Rock” is an amalgam of what people said my stuff sounded like and came serve to as my “elevator pitch” after the convergence of two things: A, the industry’s insistence on having an elevator pitch, and B, asking people within my guitar/songwriter group (The Electric Campfire Jam, Thursday nights, at Son’s of Hermann) in Dallas “hey, what does my music sound like?”

First off, thank you for making me have to think about my influences. I have no reference to quantify or qualify them, but I can absolutely give you historical perspective.
It all breaks down into distinct periods:

Birth – Fifth Grade (move, and the day I heard Rocket Man)
Fifth – Eighth Grade (moved)
Eighth – Tenth Grade (moved)
Tenth – Twelfth Grade (moved)
After High School: (moved and the day I heard Echo and The Bunnymen

As young children commonly do, I listened to what my parents listened, which included: various classical composers and conductors, jazz, popular Broadway musicals, and some Flamenco. I had a folk record or two of my own, although I don’t know whom they were by. I’m sure the folk music had vocal harmonies that really touched me. I love that dissonant sorrow of bluegrass!

A clear favorite record (of parent’s) was “Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66.” I sang along both in English and in my own brand of Portuguese to their versions of Mas Que Nada, One Note Samba, Going Out of My Head, and more.  Not only was I drawn to the polyrhythmic vibe they had going, but I wanted to be the slim girls with tall, white patent leather boots! Getting my own pair of go-go boots was the first obvious sign of just how cool I was destined to be. ; )
At the end of third grade, my mom re-married, and she and I moved to Beaumont, TX to join my new and alcoholic stepfather! I was still very much a square or nerd until one day in fifth grade, over the phone my friend Vicki played Elton John’s 45-single of "Rocket Man." It was all over; it was like Hank Hill finding Propane for the first time! It was, indeed, gonna be a long, long time.

The Beaumont climate is not good for asthmatics, so for the duration I lived there (end of 3rd grade - end of 6th) I was sick a lot with asthma and back then, the medicines weren’t so great. They made you stay awake all night, so I’d listen to the radio for hours. It felt comforting to think there were other people out there, somewhere; both listeners and bands. I completely loved Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and considered it as The Most Important thing on earth, next to Japanese gardening, with which I was obsessed at the time!

The next major time of influence was when I lived with my aunt and uncle (8th – 10th grades) in a small town called Franklin, TX. All my best friends listened to “Country AND Western!” I secretly preferred rock music, but in a clearly defined instance of peer pressure, I succumbed to wearing cowboy boots, attending street dances (at the town square), and “kicker” dancing at the KC hall! Talk about rich experience!

When I moved back to Dallas (yes, to live with my then-divorced-again mom for grades 10 -12), three fairly divergent things happened: I began attending rock concerts like Aerosmith, Yes, Foreigner, and Elton John. And I also started listening to Country music with a vengeance. I felt I could maintain allegiance and connection to my “kicker” friends whom I missed. (See also, KSCS.)
And third, I really started liking New Wave and felt a strong sense of identity with it, so the rest of high school, I’d switch between John Conlee and The Cars; Hank Williams Jr. and Blondie.

Suffice it to say that when I attended Texas A&M (wanted to be a geneticist, ended up a history major), I first heard Echo and the Bunnymen’s song, “The Cutter.” It was like something snapped inside of me. Years later I found out that L. Shankar, a Tamil violin virtuoso, had actually recorded that song’s intro. No wonder it is so cosmic! Not quite in a Western scale!

I turned onto bands like The Fixx, U2’s album War, and Gary Numan. I loved Robert Palmer’s Clues (still one of my favorite albums; he COVERS Gary Numan on it!).

Note: Interesting WIKI info on KSCS (As FM radio listening started to increase in Dallas/Fort Worth in the mid-1970s, KSCS benefited from being the only country station on the FM dial. The rise in popularity of country music in the late 70s led to KSCS becoming a dominant station in the ratings. It also brought competition in the form of KPLX , which entered the country music market in 1980.)

What draws you to Texas as a place to play your music?
I kind of look at it this way, I’m here because I’m supposed to be. And when it’s time for me to be somewhere else, hopefully, I’ll be there instead!

You just released your first album.  What were some of the things about recording that you liked?  What did you find limiting in the process of recording your music?
I can’t even describe how much I love being in a studio! The mere smell of the electronics makes me high! All those tiny lights from all that equipment! And there’s a quiet in a studio you can’t hear anywhere else.

My favorite thing about studios: Each one possesses a unique and sublime quality, a sort of not-yet-spoken truth waiting to happen. Kind of like the field of infinite possibility or maybe the “field” that Rumi talks about. Where once was nothing comes something. It’s probably a function of physics, like potential energy in a vector field.

I was living in the Dallas area and interviewed about six people (from Oklahoma City to Austin) to be my producer. I chose Brian Sebastian (here in Austin) as a recommendation by my tracking engineer, Music Lab’s Tim Gerron.

The recording experience helped me grow immensely both as a musician and as a person in general. I bodily broke out in hives the day before! Talk about the power of the subconscious!

I did, however, learn what the term “creative differences” means. Brian did an excellent job of assembling a band. He did the lion’s share of arrangements, but we butted heads when it came to certain things. For instance, we initially recorded “What’s There To Eat?” at this incredibly fast tempo. I should drag the copy out so you can hear it! I felt that version to be completely wrong, but I didn’t know why. Fortunately, I had two separate sessions booked and by the time I came back for the second session, I had made up my mind to re-record it far slower and to use a 12-string. It was a battle, but I won that one!

What was it like working with some big names in music, such as Rick G. Nelson of the Polyphonic Spree or Grammy Nominee Chris Bell, who helped you on this album?
Anybody who works with me is a SAINT. I talk too much, am a perfectionist, and stay stubborn to my vision! It’s gotta be hellish! I remain honored to have worked with the team I did.

One weekend a few years ago, I had two coincidental invites to see two different symphonies. Those invitations provided the vision to have strings on my record! Rick was a friend of a friend in Dallas. When I met him, I sheepishly said something about how much I wanted to have strings on it, and he kindly obliged! He was my celebrity guest for sure!

Chris was awesome because he let me hang out at mixing sessions! He really “got” my vision, and we both like the emphasizing the voice in the mix. He stubbornly eschewed too much vocal processing and wanted, rather, the audience to hear the real singer in this equation. And yes, we did have to use some pitch correction!

Chris was also great b/c he expanded my vision by suggesting I work with a mastering engineer at Sterling Sound in NYC. Steve Fallone and I are now wonderful friends although we did not start out as such! I think the highest compliment that a music professional gave me was from Steve. He’s at the end of the musical food chain and has worked on projects from some seriously heavy hitters. He told me that my project was one of his favorites ever to work on. That still makes me swoon!

The lyrics of the album are very interesting and seem very important to you, for example, you describe one song as a “sparsely arranged portrait of the fallen.”  What were your inspirations, and what were you trying to accomplish?
I relate to the “receive and transmit” school of thought. I never actually sit down and think of a song. Usually an idea complete with a melodic sound just drifts into my brain. Sure, I have to exert effort to finish songs, that’s why I have SO many unfinished ones, but I have no dearth of inspiration. I’ve heard that Bob Schneider is quite the disciplinarian when it comes to his writing routines. I would like to gravitate closer to that side of the equation. And, for more insight on this topic, I highly recommend the TED talk done by author Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity.

The main reason I have any descriptions for the songs is for marketing purposes. It was never something I did before hand. In fact, I’d say it probably took me HOURS to reach any decent description of the songs themselves.

Ultimately, listeners imbue their own meanings to songs, as it should be. Lyrics are important, and I strive for them to serve the song as a whole. In the next question, I detail how the song Onus O’Reilly came about.

One song is about a transgendered man trying to find acceptance.  What experience with LGBTQ issues led you to write that song?
Back in college, I felt an acute sense of affinity with gay guys. I guess it began dancing to music at gay bars in Bryan and College Station, TX. My theory was, they didn’t choose to be gay, and I didn’t choose to be “a creative” (though I barely had any inkling of what the latter meant!).

Funnily enough Onus came about in this way: I had been seeing a guy who was really into BDSM (I, however, was not) and was mentally trying to process his predilections. One afternoon, while attending grad school (from which I got kicked out!), I was driving home from Denton to Arlington on the back roads. I was on the phone with my doctor, giving him my email address. The address begins with “ones.” My doctor, being silly, said “ONUS?” At about the same time, I looked over to a typical barbed-wire fence.

As best as I can tell, these things immediately converged in my head: onus, meaning a burden; a man trapped in a woman’s body; a barbed-wire fence’ societal convention and rules, hopelessness, denial, acceptance, courage. They all came together nicely!

What drives you to perform your music, and what do you think of as ‘a perfect show?’
I wish I were more driven to perform live. I’m pretty sure at this juncture that I need to get a band together. I enjoy playing guitar while singing, but I’m not the best player, so having a band would free me to work the stage and we can only imagine how over the top I’d get there. I do tend to talk on stage a lot and tell stories. Recently a friend suggested I market my shows more as music AND comedy. Astute fellow that one!

You state on your website that you are “an avid reader.”  What are some of your favorite books?  What are you reading now? (What do you think of that book?)
Thank you for bringing to my attention that I actually should say a “formerly avid reader!” I’ve been too ensconced with keeping up with industry information as well as social media presence. Once that starts, there’s no pleasure reading. Anymore. Ever.

Also, when I’m not procrastinating over something else, I’m writing a book about my life called “Skating to Byzantium.” Think “Angela's Ashes” meets “Catcher in the Rye” with a metaphysical flare. Abraham Verghese says, “Research is what we authors do to avoid writing,” so, I do A LOT of research!

Lately I’ve been doing copious medical research on asthma online. I want to read a history of pharmacopeia and though something like the five-volume work of Pedanius Dioscorides would be badass, I only took 1 semester of Ancient Greek. A physician friend recommended “the beginning chapters of Goodman and Gilman’s textbook.”
I also want to read The Collapse of Complex Socieities (Tainter). One of the most amazing books I’ve ever read is “Same Kind of Different As Me (Hall, Moore, Vincent) but don’t recommend it to your Atheist friends.

The previously mentioned “Angela’s Ashes” (I consider it to be a textbook on humanity) and “Catcher in the Rye” (my best friend’s favorite too, and she never even felt disenfranchised!) are two of my favorite reads. I also recently reread “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. Love that book. How he weaves in true history with genetics and fiction! An amazing work!

I used to be obsessed with short stories. I love “The Dead” and “Araby” (both Joyce), but my favorite collection of short stories is “Classic Welsh Short Stories” (Oxford. Jones and Elis editors). It was a last minute choice at Heathrow minutes before flying back to America. Favorites include: "Canute" by Rhy Davies; "The Dress" by Dylan Thomas; and "Song of a Pole" by Islwyn Ffowc Elis. 

You just released your first album, and it is getting very positive reactions from some in the music industry.  What are you plans now to further your career?
Well thank you! In my life there has usually been a huge discrepancy between my plans, desires, intentions, and outcome. Lately, I’ve been considering something I read wherein we try to make ourselves happy on a daily basis. That is somewhat of a foreign concept to me, but I’m looking forward to exploring this more.

Apparently, “non serviam,” Latin for “I will not serve,” is attributed to what Lucifer said to God. An artist friend, trying to echo Joyce’s use (via Stephen Dedalus) once said to me that through his art he would not serve. I consider it, however, my greatest honor to serve others through my art. I desire my music to move people.

My biggest joy and payback is when fans have graced me by saying they cried, they felt soothed, healed, happy, whatever. I sang Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah at a funeral last year. The room was full of people who believe in nothing but themselves, people who also disliked me. The mother of the deceased told me, at the end of the song, “I can’t take anymore.” I, not really liking her much either abruptly said, “good; then I know I’ve done my job well.”

As a pretty self-absorbed person, being mindful of service to others keeps me on task. I continually forget and hope for monetary gain (I have no problem being paid for my talent and effort; I’m just not at the income stream I would like yet), recognition, and slight fame.

I recently lost about a whole month to asthma. I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing; but what’s next is to finish songs for my upcoming record Methuselah. I’m shooting for a March release date on that. After that, I’d really like to do an album of very stripped down covers (think Gimme Shelter, Can’t Find My Way Home), and then there’s the “urban music” project I want to do. Somewhere in there I gotta finish my book too.

Is there anything else that you want to tell us about your music?
Yes, become a fan and play Burbank; for then peace and harmony will reign in the cosmos!

by Hunter Tolbert