“This is our whole thing, this is all us”: Cosmo’s Midnight on their most personal album yet
When you’ve been making music for as long as Cosmo’s Midnight have, your body of work can represent many things. For the Liney twins, it represents their evolution from Soundcloud beatmakers to fully-realised multi-instrumentalists with now two impressive albums under their belts. It represents their development from making songs in their bedrooms to cross-continental collaborations. It also represents their growing confidence, turning into two formidable artists unafraid to expose themselves and be vulnerable with their fans more than ever before, resulting in the release of their best work to date — their second album Yesteryear.
While we heard hints of this on their 2018 debut, What Comes Next, Yesteryear is a wholly authentic record that represents Cosmo’s Midnight on their terms. Moving away from relying on collaborations as much, a lot of this record is just the brothers doing what they do best -making excellent music- and bouncing off each other, only opening up their process when they felt it was really needed. Patrick Liney leaned further into his singing, taking lead vocal duties on most of the songs, and the pair were more selective with who they wanted to work with this time around. Tapping LA’s Age.Sex.Location collective, New Zealand’s Matthew Young, Aussie superstar-in-waiting Ruel and alt-indie wunderkind Stevan, only four of the twelve tracks on Yesteryear feature a guest vocalist, allowing Cosmo and Pat to flex and explore their creativity in a way they were previously unable to. What they ended up with is an album which spans not only their professional careers but their entire lives, channeling inspirations and influences first discovered as kids listening to records with their parents, yielding a body of work which sounds so familiar, so effortless and so natural, you almost trick yourself into thinking you’ve known it all your life.
That’s not to say there isn’t a mammoth effort involved in this album. Created over the space of two years, the Liney brothers delved further inward, figuring out quite literally what came next after their debut album. Having become mainstays on the Australian live circuit, selling out shows across the country and packing out festival tents for the past few years, they not only learned what their fans love about them, what they love playing and what feels right to them, but also what they’re capable of. Harnessing these realisations, the pair set about creating music that is wholly theirs, and wholly them: an accomplishment only possible thanks to reflection, introspection and most importantly, time.
From singles like ‘C.U.D.I (Can U Dig It)’, ‘Have It All’ ft A.S.L, ‘Down For You’ ft. Ruel and ‘It’s Love’ ft Matthew Young, to deeper album cuts like ‘Ice’ ft Stevan, or ‘A Million Times’, Yesteryear‘s sonic palette is richly detailed and varied, moving seamlessly from disco to psychedelic, RnB to pop. Allowing for creative freedom for their collaborators just as much as themselves, Cosmo’s Midnight distill everything they’ve done up to this point on this album, still infusing sounds they’ve used over the years with formative influences and modern production techniques for what is now their quintessential sound.
It’s easy to follow trends, sell out a few shows and kick back following the same path for a while. However, just as they reject traditional genre constraints, so to does Cosmo’s Midnight defy expectations and trends. While others might be rushing to jump on The Next Big Thing, the Liney brothers instead opted to retreat and figure out what makes them “them”. On Yesteryear, they find it again and again, and it’s because of this organic authenticity, which can’t be manufactured, that it is such a special, impressive and definitive record. On Yesteryear, Cosmo’s Midnight truly arrived, fully formed, realised and more confident than ever.
Your album is out soon! How are you feeling second time around?
Pat: I thought it’d be easier this time, but it’s probably not. I was pretending I’m so chill about releasing music now, but I still get pretty stressed out. I feel like the nervousness from this one comes from more vulnerability on this record because I’m singing on 80% of it and it’s just putting yourself out there on yet another level. When you put a new thing out, you’re exposing yourself to criticism, whether good or bad. It’s just something you get nervous about, but mostly positive excitement.
Nerves, but good nerves?
Pat: Good nerves! I’d be upset if I didn’t feel anything. It’s like pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is super worth it in the long run, even if it feels terrible in the meantime. It’s the same like when we started gigging. We used to hate gigging and now we love it. So it’s just something you get used to.
I think there would be definitely cause for concern if you’re releasing an album and you’re like, “Yeah, no worries!”
Pat: I think it’s also just with how we’re pushing forward and moving into new territory. I guess with that comes the sense of trepidation, but it’s cool. I mean, I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see the reaction because there’s definitely some album cuts. The thing about albums is that you can do things that you can’t do on singles and that is one of my favourite things about the album format, is you can throw in some surprises. It’s like a narrative and the flow and it’s just really fun.
What was something that you learned from the first album that you wanted to make sure that you applied this time around? Or conversely, was there something that you were like, hell no, we will never do that again?
Pat: I think something we learned was that writing an album is a lot easier when you’re doing it 90% by yourself. Last album was very collaboration heavy, and we love working with other people, but it is a very long process writing with other people. I feel like when we write with other people, it’s not just like we’re getting them to slap them their vocal onto our song. We really want them to connect with the song and if they don’t like it, we’re like, “Don’t sing on it if you don’t like it.” We want to arrive in the middle stylistically and be like, “What would you like?” It’s not just the vocals. Like, do you want to place some guitar here? Or, what do you think about this synth, do you like this synth? It’s a very super long process. When we moved on to writing this album and it was just me and Cos doing everything ourselves, we were just like, holy shit, we’re like writing songs in two days!
Cosmo: Another thing is, I feel like when you write with someone else, there is an element of compromise. Even if the song is great in the end result, I feel like both of you can somewhat dilute each other a little bit, even if you’re the perfect match. Something we really wanted to make sure we did on this album when we did do collabs is that we wouldn’t interfere really with each other’s sounds because they were quite complimentary. So I feel like a big part of this album was making sure that all our songs that we wrote by ourselves were our own expression and that no one else was interfering with that. Even though, obviously you’re asking them to work on a song with you, but that’s why we were very picky about our collabs this time around.
Pat: When we do collaborate, we have to be in the same room and write it in that time. On the last record, a lot of the songs were written via correspondence. That is super difficult because firstly, you feel like a total dick when you ask them to change something because they have to go and re-record it and upload it and send it over. You’re like, “Actually, can you do that one other thing?” It ends up being this huge chain of you just feeling like a terrible person when you could’ve just been in the room with them
Cosmo: Like, “Hey, let’s maybe do this,” which you can do as it’s happening. But an email is like, I spent all this time and I uploaded it and then you didn’t like it. Then you want me to go back and do it again? It’s just like, it becomes really-
Pat: When you’re in the studio you can arrive at the totally perfect cross [section]. You can just get to what you want really quick and it’s super easy to explore different ideas really fast. It’s a lot more natural. It is the way songs probably should be written. Writing without ever actually talking to the person is really weird. That said, I really liked the tunes on the last record, but it was just a lot harder. For example, on ‘Lowkey’, Buddy’s verse was great. Jay Prince’s verse was great. But the structure wasn’t fitting together and I couldn’t get either of them to rerecord stuff, so we ended up chopping parts of Jay Prince’s thing and making it into the pre-chorus and then chopping bits of Buddy’s to make it into the chorus. It was just this huge puzzle. So writing for ourselves, we can just go, this is what we want, here, here, here, and it just feels a lot more natural.
Cosmo: That was a huge influence on making the decision to have Pat be at the forefront on all this album.
I think also what you’re talking about there, the process of having to email, having for them to go to change this one little bit, the more you do that, the more you kind of lose that magic and that connection with the song. The collaborator is maybe a little bit annoyed being like, “I thought it was fine,” and now they’re going into it with the wrong thing and then you’re feeling bad!
Cosmo: 100% agree! You don’t want to be treading on someone’s toes too much either. Another part of the whole thing was like, if we do want someone on a track, why do we want them on at the beginning if we’re going to micromanage? So that was another reason why we decided to really try to be much more self-sufficient this time around.
Pat: I think when we did, for example, get Matthew Young, we knew he was the one we wanted to sing ‘It’s Love’. We wrote that in New Zealand with him so we could play off what he was giving us in the studio and we just really loved what he was doing. He’s a super perfectionist and he just absolutely crushed that one. Then there was songs like ‘Have It All’ with A.S.L who are from LA. That was a song that we’d totally came up with in like one day in the studio and we were just playing off each other and we were having a great time. I just don’t think that song could have happened in any other way. Same with the Ruel song. We didn’t actually write anything in the first session until the final hour, because we were just chatting so much. A lot of it is like speed dating. When you meet a new artist, you’re getting to know each other and how they click musically. Not just musically, what they’re like as a person. So much of that stuff influences the writing process. It’s super complicated, but being there to navigate all that with them in person makes it so much better.
Given that you decided you wanted to be singing more Pat, and you wanted to have more of yourselves through the songs, when you were looking for collaborators, what were you looking for? Considering that it was obviously going to be a very different process to opening it up to a big range of people, did that change what you were looking for in people that you wanted to work with this time around?
Pat: I feel like from the point of writing this new album, when we’re looking for collaborations it was someone who could offer a different aspect to the music that we couldn’t do ourselves.
Cosmo: And that was still complimentary to the sound.
Pat: It was really a difficult process of finding someone who would musically work together and then also thematically, they could sit on the same page as well. Like Matthew Young, the theme of his song perfectly tied in with the rest of our record and I just loved his vocal melodies and I could sing backing vocals for him. It all just meshed really well. On the Ruel song, he’s got that incredible R&B, super powerful voice that obviously I cannot go near that kind of style. So if we wanted to do that sort of music, I would never really attempt that myself.
Cosmo: [We wanted to find people that] complement our production. We still wanted to write these certain songs, but to force Pat down that avenue would be too difficult and kind of sounded forced and even maybe bad, you know? So we were like, let’s find the right person to fit that style.
Pat: All these people we worked with were really natural fits. This album just felt super natural with everyone we collaborated with. It felt like we just sat on the same page musically.
Cosmo: Also, just everyone we gelled with really well on a personal level as well, which is really great.
That always helps as well when you’re in the studio with people and you want to be getting along
Pat: You’re less shy and you’re not afraid to be honest and be like, “Honestly, that was pretty bad. Let’s do that again.”
Cosmo: When you feel comfortable enough with each other to make suggestions that other people may find a bit confronting.
I think natural is a really good word to sum it up. That’s how it feels when I’m listening to it. It flows really naturally, the themes are really naturally occurring. It just feels so effortless even though you can hear how much effort has gone into it.
Pat: That’s dope because that’s exactly what we hoped for, really, to sound really natural and effortless, but obviously it’s very painstaking.
Even in the grand scheme of the discography of your work, this album feels really naturally evolved from where you were from 2013, 2014. It all fits really nicely together. Looking at your work that way, does it feel that way on your end as well?
Cosmo: Yeah, for sure. I can still hear synths and cords that we were using as far back as 2013 still appearing in our music today. Stuff that we were putting out on our first EPs, even like the chord design, the synth design we were using then was used on a lot of tracks from the last album and even on this one as well.
Pat: I feel like it’s something we did subconsciously and also we thought about a bit going into this record. What stuff do we want to keep going, legacy things we want to keep going sonically and musically? And then what things do we want to do that are new territory? I feel like on this record, it was a lot more like 70s and 60s pop elements and more RnB, whereas our last record there’s a lot more hip-hop elements. There was like Montego, which was the Pharrell sample. There was the Buddy and J Prince feature and also the one with Boogie on. So there’s a lot of rap and hip hop.
Cosmo: It was just very not like the SoundCloud era where we came up making beats and remixes and stuff, this new album was very much just all coming a bit more from within.
Pat: This album is super separated from the wave and the hype. We didn’t intend to, but when we were writing music on the SoundCloud, it’s very the culture and like a clique, and you write in a certain way because it’s what people want. But as we progressed, we wrote our last album and we were doing things that we felt were really uniquely us, where we’re like, let’s just keep doing that because that’s rad. Playing live was a huge factor and influence in writing the record. IAfter we toured all these songs and we came back into the studio, we didn’t want to get back onto the laptop and start writing with a mouse or just clicking everything in. We were picking up the instruments that we’d been using to tour with for the last two years and going, “Wait, why don’t we just use this instead?” It just ended up making new songs way more natural and grounded, and they’re a lot more loose. A lot of stuff on our last record was loose, but it was done in a kind of fake way, where it was written really specifically and then we’d humanise it by tweaking little bits here and there. Whereas on this record, we can play it in loosely and then tighten it up, so it’s like the reverse. Honestly, I think it sounds fresher because when we were writing on this record, we’d get the initial idea out super fast and then we’d try to hold onto that feeling of freshness all the way to the end. On the old music, we had these ideas and we had to make them feel fresh and loose, so it was very difficult. This way it was just super fast and felt a lot more natural this time.
A lot of your musical influences, even from before your debut album are rooted into what you were listening to as kids with your parents. It’s interesting that this album is your most natural and it’s also the album that you’ve probably gone as far back as possible in terms of your musical foundations in those formative years. Why did you want to dive right into that nostalgia this time around and go all the way there, back to what you were listening to as kids with your parents?
Pat: I don’t know if because we are a little bit jaded with modern songwriting, it just feels hyper produced and a little bit inhuman. The music we’ve always liked has been that sort of really grounded, organic, just funky stuff.
Cosmo: Listening to that music from back when we were younger and apparently playing it, juxtaposed with the music today, it just feels fresh. It’s so rare to hear that. When that kind of music does come out now today, it sounds so set apart and authentic that you just can’t, you’re drawn towards it. As we were drawn towards these songs, we just started to write in those kinds of styles as well.
Pat: I think it was not necessarily a super conscious decision. As we were writing music, ur dad sends us songs. He sends us 20 songs in an email and it’s anything from Elton John to The Beach Boys to Todd Rundgren. A lot of these artists, like Michael Franks and Todd Rundgren were artists we’d never heard of before. My dad has the Todd Rundgren album with ‘International Feel’ and stuff on it. He used to play it when we were young and I’d completely forgotten it. So I guess in a way, hearing it again when you’re older and you have your own tastes and stuff, you have a little eureka moment like, “Oh! This is actually dope!” So when it came to writing this record, we were just like researchers, we were just digging through all this old stuff. We were listening to it, Luther Vandross, Boney M, tons of Nile Rogers, all his stuff. Madonna, David Bowie, Sister Sledge. We were like students of that era. We were listening to a ton of 70s and 80s psychedelic and disco. As the album progressed, we even started going even further back into things like late 60s pop.
Cosmo: That was like less disco and more ballads.
Pat: Sometimes we’d be writing a song and Dad would be like, “Oh, that reminds me of this song,” and then he’d send us a bunch of different songs. I’m like, “whoa, this is cool! I didn’t even know of these artists before!” Then I’d go and listen to their discography and I’d be listening to all these cool synths.
Cosmo: For example, The Beach Boys. When I was younger I used to think The Beach Boys were so cheesy. The way they did all those big vocal choral stacks and all that. But then when my dad showed me this other album called Sunflower with a track, ‘All I Want to Do’, and it was so, it was like proto-garage rock, like super bad production, really poorly mixed, but it just sounded so organic and cool. It was one of their least well received albums but to us… It was like nothing like they’d done before and it almost predates all of the stuff you hear today, like with Tame Impala and like Wavves and like Beach House, all those acts. I think you can hear them in that sound.
Pat: Even Rex Orange County, and all these artists that are popping off today. It feels like their sounds are inherently nostalgic, but they have this pop, modern glisten to it. That’s what I really love about writing music in the 21st century, specifically 2020, is that we have this huge library of music we can instantly draw on. Then also technologically, we can be like, I want to make these old sounds and I can just pull up all the retro stuff straight away, and then I can blend it with modern production, like I want to put in a chopped up hip hop beat or whatever. It’s just so much flexibility that it’s just super exciting to write music.
I feel like you’ve accessed this certain power of just trusting what you’re good at now. You know what you’re good at, you know what sounds right. You know what also feels right to you, which I think is the biggest thing and not going the way of the trend and just doing what actually feels right. The more that your music has progressed, you’ve just gone further and further into what is more genuinely you, more authentically you. Do you think that just comes from over time that that confidence has been able to develop? Or has it been a challenge for you guys that you’ve set yourselves to be like, “All right, we’re going to try and just trust ourselves here”?
Pat: I think it was definitely a trust element in that we were like, we’ve been touring for four years solidly now and playing these song out. We see how they’re received to not only people who are fans, but people who are total strangers and never heard it before. We’re playing sets of entirely our own music. To see how people respond to us live gave us the confidence when we went back into the studio to keep pursuing our own thing.
Cosmo: We just make all the music and play only our music. I think a big part of it was I don’t think it was necessarily a huge, “Who are we? What’s our sound?” You slowly form these choices over time. I think this could have only arrived through time. It’s only now that we are at our second album and we’ve been writing music for this amount of time that we’ve gotten to this point. It’s been like erosion over time, any extraneous or superficial things have fallen away.
Pat: It’s something that we don’t super think about now, it’s definitely just a time thing. I think confidence comes with maturity and time and I feel like this album is more of a coming-of-age album. Our last album was like we were all very much like, “What are we doing?”
Cosmo: That album for us was like wanting to make a statement, like wanting to get ourselves out there. And this one was like, we’ve established ourselves. How do we want to be perceived now. It was like, this is going to be our new sound. Not our new sound, but it’s like where we’ve arrived.
What is something that you want your listeners, new fans, old fans, to take away from this record? What’s something that you want people to be hearing or tapping into when they listen to it for the first time?
Pat: Well, one thing that I really like about music is that I want people to be able to listen to it as deeply or superficially as they want and still enjoy it. I feel like music should be enjoyable at multiple levels. I think something I want people to be able to take away is if they listen to it over again, they can pick up on the subtleties and details and the lyrical message in the album, or they can just listen to it and go, “Damn, this is funky and fun!” Something that I want people to take away is, I hope that they can appreciate the full shebang. I don’t know how else to say it. Like, this is our whole thing, this is all us. And this is the first time we’ve really committed ourselves and the vulnerability that comes with that is something that I want people to hopefully appreciate it.
Cosmo’s Midnight‘s second album, Yesteryear, is out now. Buy/stream here.
Interview by Emma Jones
Photos by James Simpson