JASON COUSE ON THE DARCYS, FEAR AND LONELINESS, AND LAUNCHING AN NFT
Jason Couse is a music producer, songwriter and composer for film & TV. As one-half of Toronto art-pop duo, The Darcys, he has performed internationally and received Polaris Prize & Juno Award nominations. Jason is a two-time Banff Centre music resident, SOCAN songwriting camp participant, and is alumni of the Slaight Family Music lab at the Canadian Film Centre.
Interview by Rebeccah Love
How would you describe your childhood? In what kinds of creative activities were you engaged?
Thinking back, I was super lucky to participate in a number of art programs as a kid. I took piano, guitar lessons, and even went to a filmmaking and photography camp one summer. Likely all because I didn't play any sports.
How would you describe yourself as a teenager? What art forms did you gravitate towards? How did music play a role in your life as a young person?
I feel like my teenage years deserve to be split into two parts, the early days of listening to punk and ska, trying to land a kickflip and just being a kid, then the later years where I got into Radiohead, post-rock, Adbusters etc. Generally having my eyes opened to media that was outside of the mainstream made all of those things feel so novel and raw. I think that stage got me really excited about finding anything that pushed the boundaries of convention. I doubt any of the music or zines I made around that time were of any quality but remember believing that if it was weird it was good.
What route did you take after graduating from high school? What were you most excited about exploring?
Out of high school, I ended up in Halifax in the Foundation Year Program at King's, partially because I felt like it would buy me some time to make a big decision about what I really wanted to do. Turns out surveying the entire history of western critical thought only makes you ask more questions, so I was looking for clarity in the wrong place. Either way I found myself in a really creative and supportive community with a bunch of other people that were similarly trying to figure it out. I remember it as a place where conversations could quickly swing from Heidegger and Tarintino to where to get the cheapest beer on any given night, where jazz and deep house music could be on the same party playlist, all of which was incredibly refreshing from the general atmosphere of my suburban high school years.
Can you share with us a brief history of how The Darcys came to be? How did you view yourselves as musicians when you were first getting started? What big questions did you want to answer as musicians? What kind of messages did you want to share?
Wes and I met in sixth grade, right around the time that he got his first drum kit. Within a year we played a school talent show, and the years following made a handful of EPs to sell to our friends. We quickly discovered that if we rented the equipment and recorded ourselves we could afford the time to be way more experimental and even started recording a few other bands to pay off our rental debts. Little did we know this would come to serve as our general model many years in the future. Through university, we played regularly as a cover band (at first just in exchange for beer) which taught us a lot about gigging and arranging. Around the time we were wrapping up our days in Halifax we decided to take that academic energy and put it into creating our first "real" album. I don't think it was really until this point that we had made the active decision to attempt being a real band, but looking back I'm super grateful that we embarked on that with years of experience already behind us. The mission at the time was to create something we were deeply enthusiastic about without playing into the automatic conventions we saw others relying on, to find our own sound and aesthetic.
How would you describe the aesthetic of the Darcys?
Since we've been active for over ten years it's impossible to nail this down. Each album cycle has had its own look, but our most recent vibe has been caught somewhere between a backlot cowboy and a self-destructive washed-up entertainer in his sunset years. Since we write our music as a duo, we're always developing characters and narratives for the songs, and end up taking a bit of a cinematic approach to it all. Sometimes if we're stuck on a tune we'll just riff on what the hypothetical wardrobe and location of the song might be as if it were a scene in a movie. This has inevitably led to some pretty wild outfits and an ever-growing collection of props (such as the briefcase overflowing with fake money I currently have in my apartment.)
What was it like working with Arts and Crafts?
We had been big fans of A&C for a long time before we signed with them so it was really exciting to have the team engage with our work. We released four LPs on the label and were so grateful for the support. Eventually, we decided to take more of the business into our own hands and started our own label, The Darcys Inc. Records, which we have been releasing everything through for the past 5 years.
Can you tell us a little bit about Fear and Loneliness? What was the most exciting part of putting this album together? When you think of the songs featured in this project, what visual imagery comes to mind?
I think you only need to take a look at the album cover to get a hint. We worked with a graphic designer to create a series of icons that reflect lyrical or narrative moments on the album and spread them across all of the branding and rollout. The most exciting thing about the whole project was finding thru-lines that could tie it all together, from lyrical themes to sonic recurrences, to elements in the photos, design, and videos. We really wanted to create a world, time and place, for our character to exist within, and have even created other characters who exist in the same universe.
You recently dropped a Swerve NFT (in collaboration with Alon Isocianu) on OpenSea, the largest marketplace for NFTs. Can you explain to our readers what an NFT is? What was your collaboration process like? Why was this a project that interested you?
In the simplest terms, an NFT is a unique digital token that you can buy with cryptocurrency and own securely. In this case, it's like buying an extremely rare pressing of an album, of which there is a limited supply, and you get to enjoy the perks of ownership (unlockable downloads to exclusive content) while it appreciates. Some people buy NFTs to sell them for a profit down the line, and some people buy them as a collectable to enjoy. It's such a new thing that changes every day, so we're just excited to be participating and gaining some experience in the market. Hopefully, we can develop some novel ways of using the technology to create some unique offerings in the future! We're so glad to have worked with OAK on this project because of his immense talent as an artist, but also because he has previous experience in the marketplace and was kind enough to help us through some of the more confusing parts of the process. We hope this is just the beginning.
What role does social media play in helping promote your music?
I mean, what role doesn't it play? It's a lot of work to constantly promote our music over various platforms, but at the same time, it is also "free" advertising. Every time we have a shift in technology and culture we see it upset in the traditional format of media. In this case, a viral TikTok featuring our song has the potential to gain us exponentially more fans than a prominent feature in a major media outlet (i.e. Lil Nas X.) Not to say that we don't participate with mainstream media as well, but our DIY past has conditioned us to do all we can to buy every possible opportunity to grow the project. One could argue this is democratizing the music industry, which might be a bit of a stretch, but at the very least is offering a platform for exposure to countless individuals that may not otherwise be able to share their content on such a scale. Whether this is a good or a bad thing I'm not entirely sure.
You've lived in Halifax, Toronto, Los Angeles...How would you describe the artist communities of all of these three places? Which, in your mind, is the most vibrant?
In truth, they're not really comparable. I left Halifax almost 15 years ago and at the time the community was incredibly warm and supportive. It was made up largely of students that have since moved on, so I can't really speak about it objectively. Toronto has also changed over the years. We can reminisce about the days when we would go out to see small bands play most nights of the week and knew nearly everyone in the bar, but that circle is getting older now and new communities and venues have emerged. No doubt Toronto fostered our growth in some very important years, and we're super grateful for that. LA again is incomparable to the aforementioned cities, especially as the hub for the entertainment industry. It just has a lot more opportunities, but the truth is I haven't had a chance to get deeply acquainted with that community just yet. Check-in with me in a couple of years!