By Will Yannacoulias
On hiatus since 2013’s Grasslands, Cobra & Vulture’s return to the Canadian indie music scene has been welcome. Smart and experimental, the Montreal/Regina trio’s latest release Vesuvius At Home is an artfully unpredictable alternative rock opus. Amber Goodwyn and Erin Ross’s unorthodox twin guitar arrangements are jangly-sweet, subtle yet satisfyingly complex. Drummer Jeremy MacCuish’s eclectic yet tasteful style serves the music first and is integral to the band’s spacious sound. This foundation for Goodwyn and Ross’s soft, sleepy harmonies and clever, original melodies makes Vesuvius At Home a beautifully ambitious album. We were thankful to speak with Amber Goodwyn about the writing and production of a record that crossed several years and thousands of kilometres to finally come home.
The chemistry shared by Cobra & Vulture comes from decades of musical collaboration, with Goodwyn and Ross being co-creaters as teenagers and MacCuish joining them in 2009. “Erin and I started playing together when we were sixteen years old, we’ve been playing together for many years.” Goodwyn recalled. “We met at an alternative high school in Montreal. In many ways we grew up musically together, learned how to write, discovered new influences and learned together how to integrate that into our music. People will sometimes compliment our harmonies or say that our writing style is unique. There’s a lot of familiarity there, a style that came out of time spent together.”
Goodwyn relocated with her family to Regina in 2013; once settled she directed her energy towards her solo music project Natural Sympathies, while back in Montreal Ross took a break from music to focus on raising a family. The uneasy restlessness of the first weeks of the pandemic inspired the longtime collaborators to contemplate their first long distance project, Goodwyn explained. “When the pandemic hit we were all at home locked down, and Erin indicated to me she felt she might be ready to start making music again. I immediately sent her lyrics, she started making songs for them, we sent demos back and forth. Once the songs structures were set Jeremy would go into the studio with them. The whole process took two years to do.” Writing and recording of the album took place in 2020, with the following year being devoted to a mix that presented its own challenges. “In Montreal there was a really intense lockdown in 2021” Goodwyn shared. “Our friend David Krajic, who’s mixed all our releases, couldn’t get into the studio so we just put it on hold; what was the rush? Also, we’re not able to sit around a studio making comments in real time. That distance made for a really patient process, which I think suits us just fine.”
Cobra & Vulture have a unique structure and process. The songs that comprise Vesuvius At Home start with Goodwyn’s lyrics, with Ross and Goodwyn alternating musical arrangements and melodies. Track by individual track the songs move between Goodwyn’s home studio in Regina, Ross’s home studio in Montreal, MacCuish adding drum tracks at Studio A in Montreal, then off to Krajic for mixing and mastering, with all feedback from the band given remotely. Ironically this process was not entirely devised out of necessity, but was an extension of the way the group have always written and recorded, Goodwyn explained. “We’ve always liked demoing on our own. When we were all in Montreal we would play shows and liked to get together and jam, but a lot of the ideas and kernels of songs would come privately, it was rare that songs would come together from jamming or improvisation. Erin and I both have shy private personalities and that informs our songwriting. Erin will take a poem of mine and really bring it to life, find the perfect music and really make the song hers. My songs are written differently, I rarely start with prewritten lyrics, I usually compose from a melody, or an idea or experience I need to explore through sound. The way we did things before set us up for success with this project. The way we work lent itself to a distantly-recorded album.”
Despite the distance and time apart, the chemistry shared by the band members ties everything together seamlessly, lending the songs on Vesuvius At Home an easy, spontaneous organic warmth. Goodwyn shared that Cobra & Vulture’s unique structure is an asset, key to the band’s style, sound and even reflected in the name of the album. “Vesuvius At Home is a quote from Emily Dickinson. It seemed like such a perfect name for a diy home studio pandemic album. It also reminds me of the band itself, the three of us being like a sleeping volcano that comes along and suddenly releases an album out of nowhere. I really like a good album concept, I feel like it helps with the writing. It makes me happy to know that there’s some people who love the album, I’m glad its a part of their lives, and that’s enough for me.”