The Cousins interview – Part 1: Harland Williams
The Cousins – Harland Williams and Kevin Hearn – release new album Rattlesnake Love on March 17th. In the first of a two-part interview, Get Barenaked speaks to actor, comedian and singer extraordinaire Mr Harland Williams.As a bit of background, you and Kev as youngsters – what are your earliest childhood memories together?
Oh man, they go back! The earliest one, I don’t know if you know this but Kevin created a bit of a stir in our family when he was born; he had a hole in his heart. So my earliest memory is when he was born and word came out that he had to get like, 250 blood transfusions when he was a baby. They had to basically drain his blood and give him new blood. I think he almost died when he first was born – so he came up on everyone’s radar immediately!
So that was my first memory of the little guy – a hole in his heart.
That’s quite an intense first impression to make, unbeknownst to Kevin!
I know, the kid’s a survivor man, he’s been through a lot!
From then, growing up, how about your musical memories together – going to show or playing music together?
Yeah, we played. Kevin lived in the same city as me – Toronto – and when he turned probably around 14 or 15, he started getting in touch with rock and roll – Duran Duran and some of those bands. He started collecting instruments; guitars, he started learning the electric guitar, keyboards, electric keyboards, and I used to hang out at their house all the time because their family was more fun than mine.
He’d always be playing, and he’d ask me to come sing with him. I always liked the idea of singing, so it started there when I was in my late teens and he was in his early teens. We just realised that when he played, I somehow managed to find a way to bring in the words and the sounds and form a song – and we’ve been doing it ever since.
So with Kev’s influence coming from Duran Duran, Beach Boys and Beatles – how about you, what were your influences?
I was very eclectic – I listened to everything from big band jazz to early electronics – there’s a Japanese composer called Tomita – to pop music, to The Doors, Black Sabbath and Sinatra. I was like a kid loose at an all-you-can-eat buffet and I wanted to try every dish.
So that might be why our music now is a bit all over the place too, because I just love so many different genres that I just want to try them all.
I love that analogy – a kid at a buffet…
That’s yours, take it, just make sure you dip it in plum sauce – OK?
The new album Rattlesnake Love – tell us a bit about it, what can we expect?
Well it runs the gamut; it’s an eclectic mix – it goes from country songs, to a Beach Boys-type song, to an all-night rave song – we do an electronic techno-like rave song called “Power Pound”. I think that’s why Kevin enjoys working with me, because some of the stuff I throw at him is way out of his wheelhouse – stuff I don’t think he would’ve ever thought about doing. A rave song was not in his vocabulary – and I was like “Come on, let’s go in the studio, we’re doing a rave song!”
We had so much fun, we must’ve laughed – I think Kevin had to leave the studio a few times because he was laughing so hard – we just had such a blast.
Also, there’s some really deep love songs, some sorrowful love songs, some pop tunes – and there’s also a really tragic song called “The Clown”. It’s based on my career as a comedian; I’ve seen a number of comedians commit suicide, and I always thought it was so painful that people who tried to make the world laugh held so much darkness and pain inside – “The Clown” is very dark and moving.
There’s a Beach Blanket Bingo song called “Bikini Baby Breakdown” too. We just wanna keep our audience guessing about what comes next.
What would you pick out as a highlight on the record?
We recorded “Rattlesnake Love” in Hollywood – we were in the middle of doing it and Carole Pope walked into the session! Back in the 70s and 80s, she was probably Canada’s top rock and roll star – she had a band called Rough Trade who had several huge radio hits. She strolled in, we invited her to sing on “Rattlesnake Love” and much to our delight she said ‘absolutely’. All of a sudden I was performing a duet with Carole Pope – someone that I grew up listening to – and she’s got such a unique and special voice. She’s so talented, it blew my mind. That’s one of the things on the album that really pressed my buttons.
Of The Cousins, who would you say is the rock and who is the roll?
Man! Maybe I’m the rock because I’m a little bit more of a showman, and Kevin’s the roll because he’s the guy with the musical brains. I think I like to be out in front of the crowd and really push the energy, whereas Kev likes to sit back and get absorbed and be the master of the music. I think that works well for us both because Kev’s so talented with music.And your experience with comedy and stand-up lends itself to that…
Yeah I’m pretty fearless, you know? I’ve been in so many movies and TV shows – and I’m on stage in front of live audiences every night. It’s just me, so I’m really good at just being out-front like that.
What’s some of your favorite stuff that Kev has done, be it solo or with BNL – or something else?
You know, I have to say – my favourite stuff is the stuff he’s done with me! I know that sounds selfish, and I like his other stuff – it’s all great – but I really like the stuff we do. When Kev’s doing his stuff with everyone else, he’s just kinda doing it on his own, but when we do it together it feels like we’re one person – there’s a real bond there I find.
I love the stuff we come up with, it makes me feel good that we do it together. He finds the music, I find the words and it’s magical.So I opened up questions on Facebook and Twitter and here’s some of the stuff that came in…
Karen Wood on Facebook asked “When will there be a Cousins show? I need to start planning”. No pressure!
Me and Kevin talked about that. We’re kinda just doing this in the digital world because we both live so far apart, and we both have such busy careers. We thought we’d put it out there in the digital world and if people react to it and we get great feedback – and people are consuming what we’re offering – we want to do a show, but we’re waiting on reaction and seeing if it’s gonna work out. We’ll base it on how many people come to the party and where, but we’d love to do a show somewhere, sometime.
We’d love to do it, I’m telling you.
Paul Ramsey on Facebook asked “Tell us about the time you were stranded in the desert…”
Is he referring to the photos?
I don’t know how many times you’ve been stranded in the desert! I assume so…
A post shared by The Cousins (@thecousinsband) on
We weren’t really stranded, but those pictures were taken out in the Mojave desert and it’s a place where I go – I actually own some land out there – I bought 20 acres in the middle of nowhere and I think you can actually see it in the background in the picture.
I go out to the desert a lot because it’s very peaceful and I find it very soulful. I love it out there because it’s naked, there’s no trees, there’s nothing hiding the earth – you can see everything. As far as being lost; maybe spiritually, maybe mentally; it’s just a great place to go and get lost in your mind.
@birdnigameguy on Twitter asked “Will there be any music videos like the one for Love Song Years?”
Yeah, we have three videos – if you go to my website harlandwilliams.com and click on the music page – they’re just ones we shot on our own, they’re not super-professional, but I think again depending on the reaction to the album we’d love to do a real video.
I’ve been reading some of the Cousins quotes on social media – they’re profound and moving.
I read this one:
— The Cousins (@TheCousinsBand8) February 3, 2017
…and wanted to know what’s the last music that made you feel crinkly all over – not including The Cousins?
That would have to be a song by a band Platinum Blonde called “I’m Not In Love” – a band out of Toronto and it’s a really catchy pop tune. There’s something about it, I love the way it’s put together. It’s one of those songs where I’ll play it over four or five times.
and this one…
“Music should be so powerful that it would want a skunk to spray its stink backwards all over its internal organs” Quote from The Cousins
— The Cousins (@TheCousinsBand8) February 11, 2017
…had me wondering – what is the stink of The Cousins?
Sensual and mysterious. We like to keep our audience guessing, but we also wanna keep them hot and moist.Would you rather be chased by 10 rattlesnake-sized Kevins, or a Kevin-sized rattlesnake?
Wow! Probably the ten Kevin rattlesnakes. That’d be fun, there’d be more panic.
I just recently saw a documentary on a remote volcanic island, there’s these poor water iguanas that are born in the sand and they have to run across the sand to get to the coast – then literally 30 or 40 snakes emerge at once and chase the thing across the sand.
It was really exciting and adrenaline-filled and I picture myself as that little lizard that gets to the water, but Kevin tries his best to eat me. I make it to the water and snort salt in his eyes.
Here is the footage – taken from BBC’s Planet Earth
Maybe you’ve just found the official music video for Rattlesnake Love…
Thank you very much to Harland for speaking to Get Barenaked!
You can pre-order Rattlesnake Love at this link.
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Stay tuned as next week, Kevin Hearn will answer some questions about The Cousins upcoming album and much, much more. Part 2 will be with you in a jiffy!