Joshua Cotterino Loves a good rabbit hole. As soon as we finished our recent interview at Common Market, he turned the tables on me, asking what my favorite bands are.
It was the same back-and-forth I had with Mark Hepp and Charles Ovett of Joules, another experimental act in Charlotte, following our interview two weeks ago. New bands are like food for acts like Cotterino and Joules; they want to know about all the bands, and the bands that inspired those bands, because they'd hate to miss out on that one sound that belongs in one of their own songs.
Cotterino moved to Charlotte from his hometown of Westminster, Maryland, at 18 years old, right around the time he started to take his music more seriously. He once played regularly with local experimental rock group Patois Counselors, but has since branched out on his own, mixing pop melodies with the reverbed, synthy sounds of new wave.
Cotterino's newest project is Death Cell, which he plans to release by the end of the year. In the two Death Cell songs currently streaming on Bandcamp, Cotterino balances between catchy refrains and washed out effects. Before I gave him my inspirations, we talk about his, as well as the local scene and why sometimes you just have to make folks listen.
Creative Loafing: What brought you to Charlotte?
Joshua Cotterino: I had a couple friends down here, and I went to this ministry school in Fort Mill — Morningstar University. It's more on the mystical side of, like, charismatic Christianity, so it's pretty weird, but I'm definitely grateful for it. They had some cool music stuff there, so I was taking music theory classes and stuff, aside from the weird spiritual stuff.
Were you into experimental music early?
I don't think so. I grew up listening to a lot of metalcore and black metal and stuff like that, which, to me, I really don't consider it experimental, but I guess it's just like, "Oh my interests aren't what everyone likes." I had a lot of friends who were into the same stuff. I never really tried to make explicitly experimental stuff, but I did find experimental music inspiring, for sure.
Probably the first stuff I listened to that stuck was Depeche Mode, they were one of my favorite bands for a long time. I still love them. And The Cure, for sure.
Your music now still has an '80s new wave sound.
I've never really tried to make '80s music, but I do purposefully try to keep a new wave element to it. I like a lot of effects and reverb and delay and stuff. And I do love that there's that period in the '80s, between like '82 and '84, where they just went really crazy. Even Prince had flangers on everything and delay. And actually using those things as part of the music. Some of the first post-punk stuff, early Joy Division or Wire, they're consciously using those effects as part of the song, and not just like, "Oh, we'll put this one there."
Some of those musicians you just named are household names, but you've also named certain obscure acts as inspiration, acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Nina Hagen.
I grew up listening to a lot of fad, Christian punk or metal stuff, so probably it wasn't until I was 18 or 19 that I started getting into Depeche Mode, The Cure, and then, so, who were Depeche Mode influenced by? Oh, they were really into this band Portion Control. Sick.
So that's how you would find new music?
Yeah, I love finding out what other people listen to. I feel like that was one of the best ways to find music. Now it's great how it's actually easier now with YouTube, you can just play one of your favorite songs and then something else related comes on.
If you ask someone from a couple decades before then, they'll be like, "You can just go on the internet." I'm definitely thankful to have grown up and had access to so much music, especially underground stuff, too. I used to search the blogs for music. SoundCloud now is really great for that.
What's your songwriting process? Is it improvisational, or more structured?
I like trying to surprise myself while I'm recording, especially if it's something where I know the song really well. I'll record a demo or a voice memo or something, and then purposefully try to keep it a little vague. It's hard sometimes, I feel like, "Ehhh, that one was just too rigid, too planned out, that one kind of rambles on."
But I do a ton of takes. Most stuff I start on my computer and then I mix in tape a lot, or other stuff, afterwards. Sometimes I'll start on tape, and that's really fun, too, because you kind of have to keep the mistakes. I usually just end up doing stuff over and over again, and then try to capture a moment.
You've got The Milestone show coming up, and I know that's one of your favorite venues, but what are some others you enjoy playing around Charlotte?
Snug [Harbor], of course. I like playing at Thomas Street [Tavern] a lot because you get to play for a lot of people who probably have no idea why you're even there. You just get a lot of strangers like, "Oh, this is really cool." People you wouldn't expect.
I love that kind of stuff. One of these days I want to just set up Uptown. I can probably just get an amp or something. I feel like we need more stuff like that around here. One of my favorite artists, The Space Lady, she played on the streets in San Francisco in the '80s and '90s, just with a Casio, and it's some of the most pure music you will ever hear. I always thought it would be cool to do that. It seems a lot more punk rock to play for, like, business people. I'm sure a lot of them would like it, too.
As artists, we can tend to be a little bit like, you expect people to come, but the chances of — however many people live in Charlotte — the chances that they stumble into one of these venues like The Milestone or Tommy's Pub, you've got to find them.
Who are some of the local bands you enjoy most?
Minthill, Human Pippy Armstrong, Koosh, Zodiac Lovers, Emotron, Dallas Thrasher. There are so many great solo performers — to me, pop performers, but I guess it's experimental pop, really.
My friend Hugo Presser, he's one of my biggest inspirations. He lives in Australia. We met on a John Maus forum and we've just been sending music back and forth for, like, four years now. That was key, finding someone who made similar stuff. I think that helped me a lot. Because originally I didn't realize there were people here who were doing stuff like I do. So that was a huge lifesaver, artistically.
It sounds like you're more into finding inspiration from folks you can actually connect with, rather than famous acts.
Totally. I think it's just hard, at least for me, if you feel like you're the only one doing something, especially if people don't get it at first. Not that I had that, I feel really fortunate that I got, pretty early on, so much support, whether it was friends who were really encouraging, then just meeting a lot of like-minded artists that really encouraged me and supported me to keep going.