When I realized that one of my favorite new bands, Courrier, was coming to nearby Kent, Ohio I had to contact them about an interview. They embody not only a sound that I love, but also an ethos of independent music that is particularly encouraging. The lead guitarist (Phillip) emailed me back, the percussionist (Nathan) was the press contact. See what I mean? Independent. I was beyond honored to sit down with these guys and talk about the genesis of their band and, especially, their most recent album which is how I found them earlier this year.
We met in a frozen yogurt shop but the band was anything but “cold” toward me and my barrage of questions. I began the interview with a question about the intentionality of their sound, which quickly morphed into an intriguing discussion about their songwriting process. Austin, the band’s lead vocalist, explained their unique writing style for the recent album Cathedrals of Color, saying that they wrote “around hooks.” By that he meant they began with a lyric or section of the song, then built up from there. It really seems to have worked for the album. The band collectively made the album sound like a labor of love, writing a lot of content, then polishing the songs extensively. For example, the album’s title track “Cathedrals of Color” began as three songs, which were melded together into one. I can respectfully say that the polish paid off. From all of my listens, I appreciate the care given to each track.
Speaking of writing the album, these adventurous young men explained that the album itself emerged out of a period of major transitions for all of them. Austin, for example, described a time of new marriage while also hitting the road as an interesting collision of emotion. He talked about writing “dark and confused” lyrics, then projecting a message of hope onto it. In other words, even in what seemed to be difficult situations, the band members found hope. The lyric, “Home, where I find my peace of mind,” became the slogan for the album, embodying the hopeful character of the album.
I couldn’t help but ask about the origins of the group, which began with a cultural anthropology class at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas where Phillip and Austin met one another. The duo later added Nathan and Taylor (on bass) to form the core of the group which has been together for nearly two years now. I asked about the name, which was purposefully chosen for its familiarity and uniqueness. That humility and subtlety even in the band’s forming comes through in their overall attitude toward the music business. They work hard, but they seem to see it as a privilege. They described a house show tour last year, playing in front of 30 and 40 people at a time, doing acoustic sets, as a challenge and ultimately rewarding experience. That’s the kind of band we’re talking about here. They might strive to have arenas full of raucous fans chanting their lyrics, but for now they are content to convert fans in small groups, one killer hook at a time.
When I asked about two of their songs that I really enjoy from the album, “Love is a Fire” and “Stained Glass Window,” the guys were excited to give me the inside story. They explained that the hit single “Love is a Fire” was inspired through somewhat uninspiring provocation, but has yielded a memorable song. “Stained Glass Window” on the other hand was written around a religious concept, without explicitly having a religiously loaded message. The guys mentioned that they are faith-based people, but that part of their music shows that faith isn’t always a walk in the park. As Taylor explained, life is full of trouble and doubt. The album works to wrestle with those ideas in important ways.
The inspiration behind all of this is a desire to move listeners to emotion. Since the album has an arena rock sound to it, I made several references to U2 and 30 Seconds to Mars. The guys were open to that comparison, and indicated that moving audiences to emotion is part of their goal. Austin discussed the art of the musician, saying, “sometimes people paint, sometimes people do music.” The desire to express their feelings through music drew the band together and continues to sustain them in their performance and writing. I (admittedly) backed them into somewhat of a corner on the “faith” issue, with Nathan driving home an awesome point. He said, “We don’t write music for Christians. We write music for everyone.” That attitude of creating good art for art’s sake motivates the band and their music, even if the album has considerable religious imagery.
I was really glad to get the chance to spend some time with these guys. They have a very comfortable collective “personality” as a band. Listeners get the sense, whether on stage or at their merch table, that Courrier are regular guys with exceptional music ideas and abilities. Imminently approachable, they give the sense of musicians who are happy to keep working hard as an independent band and take every opportunity they can get. After watching them rock a room full of Marc Broussard fans (decidedly not Courrier’s own fan base) and hearing Austin’s smooth and inspiring lead vocals, I have even more faith in their continued rise to stardom.
If you haven’t grabbed the album yet, please check out Cathedrals of Color on itunes.