LP Walkthrough: COIN - Uncanny Valley
“we created essentially a character to tell and relive the human experience we’ve had” the Nashville trio take us track-by-track through their fourth album.
Last month alt-pop trio COIN teased the release of a forthcoming new album with a smooth single titled CUTIE. That highly anticipated full-length now delights the world, as it rises from an intense fascination with the infinite possibilities and dangers of AI, and the ever-blurring boundary between humanity and technology into the cohesive LP: Uncanny Valley.
Co-produced by Julian Bunetta (One Direction, Maroon 5) and COIN themselves, the 14-track LP curates an immersive experience driven by 90s hip-hop and 70s art-rock, capturing the three piece’s evolution since their formation in 2012, and showcasing their capabilities as experienced musicians and songwriters. On the release, vocalist and keyboardist Chase Lawrence “The idea was to take the elements of classic rock - the organic instrumentation and energy of drums and guitar and bass - then put all that through a very hi-fi and modern filter”.
To celebrate the release, Chase shares with us a track-by-track walkthrough of Uncanny Valley, giving some insightful context to each carefully constructed composition.
Be sure to give Uncanny Valley a listen, as you read through COIN’s LP walkthrough below.
The night before we started it, we just watched this documentary called ‘Alpha Girl’, and it's essentially about this team of engineers who create an AI, who can play a very, acutely, human game called ‘Go’. For instance sometimes the moves are so...there are so many moves possible, that humans are like I don’t know that felt right. It’s like chess times a thousand. So they essentially had to engineer an algorithm for human intuition. This idea sent me spinning for months, it gave me this idea that it is really unclear what it means to be human. If science can replicate intuition, what else can, what defines us? What is the intangible? What is separating us from Animal, Nature, Technology - what is even real?
So this idea started to really weigh on me and it started to work its way into the music. But, learning kind of possesses this idea, to start questioning what it means to be human. I think we say it's like learning to be human, and learning to be human again, and there's an unlearning about it. Yeah, and that’s how we started that song.
It’s funny because this album started... we created essentially a character to tell and relive the human experience we’ve had. But in that character it's almost....we like, all we have is a collection of our memories, so basically we were just told our story. We thought we were telling it from an objective standpoint, but we just relive moments from our lives, so it kind of just gave us a device to unknowingly do emotional surgery on ourselves.
Speaking of that character - this is the first song we set out to use this premise of the album, of kind of writing from a very objective standpoint and using a character. So it’s literally about this character’s, an AI character’s, essentially, first kiss. Waking up, gaining sentience, and then immediately saying: “Oh, wow, this is great”... but sonically, it gets even more meta, we decided to like, make ourselves the AI engine of the song. So we fed ourselves the parameters of ‘Rolling Stones - Start Me Up’ and ‘Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.’ and we pressed compute... and that’s what we came out with.
Would you say the tracks are all put into a story line that runs from start to finish?
Yeah, very much so.
Well it was very important to us to kind of touch on all these human emotions and experience them for the first time: pain, love, being misunderstood. And I was really interested in this idea that we get wrapped up in memories and we associate them with senses. In the US there are things called ‘Cuties’ which are types of oranges or something, or clementines.. It’s like a brand essentially. And someone called it a Tangerine one time, and I’m like well it's not a tangerine it's a cutie. I love this idea of being like, they’re fundamentally different but they look exactly the same. So I was interested in this idea of talking about remembering someone differently and not accounting for the idea that maybe they were something different the entire time, and that people grow and seasons change. But musically, it's honestly the first time we’ve ever made a disco track. It was a very uncomfortable time, but I really enjoy it now.
Take A Picture
I’m trying to remember when I made this song. We started thinking about this idea of the cloud, and kind of being eternally remembered and just how blurry it gets with what version of us is real. And I think that song, I think from a 30,000 foot view, it sounds a lot like a break song and just about self-care and kind of setting boundaries for yourself. It was an important song for me to kind of write, and I always wanted to use a camera sound effect in a song.
In what way was it important to you to write that song, would you say it was a cathartic process?
Yeah, less personal and more about this idea of... or maybe it was personal in retrospect, but I don't think I ever really talked about... maybe I haven’t unpacked really… Maybe I’m just unpacking it right now. But something had happened to me a long time ago, and maybe it was cathartic actually, thank you for helping me realise it.
We ummmm.. *laughs*... it’s really funny actually. Somebody sent me these chords, and I was joking, totally joking. I sang this part and I sent it back to them and I was laughing hysterically, and they were like that’s kind of good actually. Some of the best ideas are born out of jokes, probably. I kept going on it, and just kept writing, and just writing gibberish... it took a long time to write the song because it felt so uncomfortable and so wrong. My friend Julian who produced the album with us, showed us, played ‘No Diggity’ for us, and I hadn’t heard that in a long time, and I was like “Oh yeah” and I kinda sang the lyric of the chorus after listening to that song, and “Young forever” kind of came out super naturally like gibberish honestly. After some time unpacking it, we thought about the idea of youth and I was like “Wow I have no problem writing about this”, and I was realising that, I don’t know, and I think we all deal with this probably on a level “Who are we without our youth?” and I think so much of our identity is wrapped up in that. We talk about eternal relevance and legacy, and ageing gracefully. And we just used Brad Pitt because he's like an emblem for like... I don't know, agelessness, so it just felt like a pithy pop culture reference to just kind of like shove all of it in the drawer.
So Ryan sent this song, Ryan the drummer, sent me a voice memo called ‘Fake Pop Song #1’ and it was actually the first verse and the chorus, totally finished. Like, that’s his vocal up the top, it's Ryan’s vocal and I just sang with him and edited it. And then one day, he kinda added a different beat to it and it’s the same original piano, everything about it, just the voice memo he sent me, and I just added my vocal under it. And then I added these drums on top of the chorus and then we finished the second verse. Actually the bass too, is the same bass from ‘Chapstick’. I cut it up and changed the notes, and used it. It’s kind of got this weird push and pull to it, that it went from ‘Fake Pop Song’ to ‘Killing Me’ pretty fast.
I Think I Met You In A Dream
I’m probably most proud of this song, it’s kind of the same philosophy as ‘Chapstick’, where we fed ourselves the input of the band, Velvet Underground, but then used modern drums, and modern production from Common and Kanye West. We kind of put those things against each other, but we re-recorded the drums eight times really. I was very, very set on making this song sound timeless. It couldn’t be timeless enough. I wanted it to sound like it was picked up from another timeline or another lifetime, way before I was born. But at the same time I needed it to sound aggressive enough to compete today. So it’s a push and pull. We finally committed and we kinda appeased both people but I think more so it really sounds like a song that could have existed a long time ago. It just feels like I’ve heard it before and I can’t shake that feeling. I love it so much.
So Andrew, our creative director, makes a lot of our visual graphics. He sent me this video of his casio keyboard in his childhood bedroom playing that beginning riff. I immediately dumped into pro tools and I put these drums under it and cut it to make it on time. Immediately, I grabbed the mic and it was the original take, and I just knew. It took me a long time to finish this song, but I had the first 45 seconds of the song, they’re all just the original vocals where I was just a stream of consciousness, talked about kind of this idea of being misunderstood. The title came from another documentary I watched, I don’t remember what it was. It was about AI actually, and this idea that we program these algorithms and they keep making themselves more and more efficient, and it’s a black box and we don’t know how it works. I was so inspired by this idea, Anthropomorphising or, like a robot essentially to just being misunderstood on a fundamental level. And so, yeah that’s where that song came from.
So I made this song, (during) a crazy snow storm in 2021 and my power went out and I went and stayed at my sister’s house. I had these zoom co-writes set up and I didnt want to cancel them, I wanted to stay productive, so the only quiet place I could find was in my nephew’s bedroom and he’s like 5. So I made his Hot Wheels bed my desk and it’s surrounded by toys. I don't know, something that day, I had to explain to the person like “This is not my space” and I was like “You know what, it works”, and I just said that. I just had this moment, where I like, this pure and innocent nostalgia, and I remembered that my car was running and I was trying so hard, and was ignoring some glaring problems in my life and I put myself in that place that just because it’s working doesn’t mean it’s not broken. Again, I think actually ‘Take A Picture’ was an important song, but this song was the most personal and cathartic experience and it helped me unpack a lot and move on and realise that, I’m choosing to be broken and so much about like, life is perspective and I chose to shift my perspective.
Take The Stairs
Joseph, the guitarist sent me a voice memo of him playing, this existential crisis of a song that sounded really bizarre. All it was, it was kind of like a guitar and he was singing “What is the purpose, what is the point of having control..” and he kind of just sings that over and over. It was in Nashville at the time, and he sends it to me, and I run to his house and I just slam my computer on the table and I dragged that voice memo in there and I make it on time and then I pull in this one note trumpet sample and I cut it up and it sounded so bad *laughs*. But it’s actually what we ended up keeping but got somebody else to play under it but we had to keep it. It’s like this casio sounding toy trumpet sound. I played it and it was just perfect and Joseph was singing it too. It’s also the first time he’s sung a COIN song before too, and I think it's one of my favourite songs on the album too because It’s an ode to not overthinking. “If the lift is broke take the stairs”, and I think it’s about shifting the perspective. It’s the idea of taking the long way home, and sometimes heaven could be right in front of you if you choose it to be.
This was the last song we finished for the album. I had it for a while and I didnt know what it was, if it was going to be on the album or not. Somebody came up to me at a show in October and said: “Chase, thank you so much”, they were super kind, and they said, “If you have anymore song about..” ‘cos the album was almost done at this point and they said, “..if you have any songs on your computer about getting older and acceptance of being misunderstood, please don’t keep them on your hard drive” and it haunted me. I was like “Oh my gosh, I literally have a song called ‘Getting Older’” and so, okay I was like, I don’t care if this fits the album or not this is going on here and it just slid perfectly into place. It holds a special place in my heart. That’s my favourite lyric on the album actually “I’m getting older... I’m getting out of the way” and I feel like it’s the most human thing that any of us can experience.
Watering A Dead Flower
Another one that Andrew, our creative director, we were just pulling from everybody on this one. He sent me this guitar riff, and I just knew. It was written maybe in the same week as ‘Getting Older’ too. I just knew exactly what to do, again the lyrics are my first take. First stream of consciousness, so much so the theme of this album, we always wanted to make, with feeding the computer kind of like feeding it ‘My Bloody Valentine’ which is one of my favourite bands and it’s kind of like our ode to that band. Lyrically, it hits home in a place we were in 2020 a nd 2021, but we didn't have a place to fit this song so it feels like the missing puzzle piece of this album.
Plug Me In
I think it’s my favourite, I don’t want to say favourite...maybe it’s my favourite song on the album. Short songs on albums always have a special place for me even artists growing up, I don’t know why, minute thirty songs were always my favourite. This song came out, very fast and came out of realness. Again, realising that the choice to be happy or the choice to be sad is yours and it’s right in front of you. Again, going back to this character we were writing from, it started as this idea of kind of accepting the idea that maybe there is something intangible about humanity that cannot be replicated, but from a very personal level. I think anybody can relate to the idea of getting your serotonin from the internet, especially for the past two years. So this idea of being defeated, and “literally I just accept it, just literally distract me from the chaos I’m immersed in”. It was an honest expression and it works on a few different levels. Musically too, it’s so real and so raw, and it’s so COIN. I don’t know how else to say it. I’m so grateful that we were able to finish that song. It was easy to write, but hard to finish...I don’t even know if that makes sense. But it’s beautiful and I’m so grateful for it.
This song was called ‘Robot Sunrise’ for a long time, like a temporary title. Another one that Joseph sent me this guitar part it's just like “Open your eyes.. Sometimes a little sunrise can look like a sunset”. Again, this idea of shifting your perspective and realising the world’s all around you if you just take the time to look around. I knew it, when he played that first guitar riff or the guitar chords, I just knew it was the last song on the album. I didn't know how it was going to work out, I didn't know what the song was about or where it was coming from or where we were headed for with the whole thing. I knew this was the, how do I say this, this epitomises or encapsulates what the entire album is trying to say in so few words. It’s like there's no way to really replicate what’s real and there’s no idea, none of us have any idea what it means to be human. All we can be is a more clarified version of what we were yesterday and this idea that we’re all just learning, and all we can do is just learn and just love and do better than we were yesterday. It starts back over so perfectly too.
COIN's new album Uncanny Valley is out now via 10K Projects / Homemade Projects / Virgin Music Australia.