Cosmo's Midnight break down every track on their debut album, What Comes Next
The Sydney twins and some of the album's guest collaborators detail the long road to album number one – out now through Sony/RCA Records.
Cosmo's Midnight were the first act I ever interviewed, way back in 2014-ish. In the four years since, the Sydney production duo have become one of Australia's landmark electronic exports, playing massive festival shows and sold-out headline tours in Australia and club gigs across the US alike off the back of some pretty huge singles, such as the KUČKA-featuring Walk With Me and History – the most played song on triple j in 2017. The perhaps most obvious example of their dominative rise is comparing their first national tour run with their most recent. In 2013, they were touring their debut Surge EP with four shows in small, 200 cap rooms – excluding a support set for TOKiMONSTA in Adelaide. In 2018, on their upcoming album tour, their growing itinerary now spans 12 shows, including multiple sold out shows at Melbourne's Corner Hotel and Sydney's Metro Theatre – the latter of which holding around 1,000 people a show.
Their debut LP, What Comes Next, shows a different kind of evolution for the duo. While their sparkling, quick-paced early sound is still present in slight bursts of synth-y shadings, their collaboration-heavy first album swings between genres, sounds and guest features you certainly wouldn't have picked from their introductory singles. The album-opening Woodes collaboration Confidence oozes with a funky, slick pop feel that is further present on other album highlights like History and Talk To Me, the latter of which featuring Swedish pop-star Tove Styrke. Meanwhile, songs like Lowkey bop with hip-hop brilliance, present again on the crunching Where U Been, which sports New York rapper Boogie taking on a Goldlink-reminiscent role gliding above a production brimming with thick bass that wouldn't feel out of place amongst hip-hop's front-runners. It's an ambitious yet brilliantly executed demonstration of the twins' production dexterity and versatility, something we're becoming more and more acquainted with on every release.
What Comes Next showcases the evolution of Cosmo's Midnight from the Sydney inner-west to the international stage, something they'll continue to solidify across their national tour this July/August. To celebrate, we spent a little (slash, a lot) of time with the duo's Pat Liney talking about the album's gradual blossoming into the art that it currently stands, with guests such as Woodes, Panama and Winston Surfshirt also detailing their time working on what is bound to be one of Australia's best electronic records for the year.
Confidence feat. Woodes
There are 12 songs on the album and no doubt a lot recorded that didn't make the cut, what drew you to Confidence as the album opener?
We had so many demos floating around. We actually wrote another track with Woodes, too - we had a little session where we'd been working on a lot of songs that were really deliberate, like we'd spend a lot of time working through the lyrics and melodies and stuff. But basically, I ended up playing some chords and told her to sing whatever came to her head and she just ad-libbed this whole thing. She had these lyrics and they worked perfectly. It had this very immediate and fresh feeling to it that just stuck with us even after the session.I went up north to my friend's beach house for a few days and I just wrote the song while it was raining and just finished it all up in one day. It was one of those songs where everything just clicked super naturally and it just felt great.
We were definitely going to have this on the album, but we didn’t know where. But there are these chords in there that are sort-of moody jazzy chords and we thought they'd be a really cool way to open the album. It kind of set the tone for what was going on, you know. That's one of the reasons I wanted to do an album – we could do these things where it's not just ‘single-single-single’. You can go into the deeper cuts and show different sides of your musicality, and that's why we were really drawn to this track.
What do you think makes a great opening track?
It's really hard to say because there are so many tracks you can use to open an album differently. Some people go for like a short atmospheric piece. Some people will do spoken word thing. A quick little riff. Ours is actually the longest song on the album, which is kind of different to what people usually do.
What really draws me to an opening track is one that sets the tone and is basically the foundation for the album to go off. I think it's something that some people will take too seriously or don't take seriously enough – it’s definitely a hard thing to do. But this was our first foray into writing an album, so it was super fun exploring how we're going to do it all. But I think there's honestly no one way to do it, but if what you do works it works, you know.
Woodes, on collaborating with Cosmo’s Midnight:
Working with Cosmo and Pat was so interesting and fun. I’ve never written with twins before, and for a writing room to have three people in it where two people have known one another their whole lives means it’s a fascinating dynamic. They have this cool body language and awareness of one another, lifting one another up and really understanding each other’s strengths. Since our first session, we’ve become good friends and most of our sessions turn into big discussions about what we're listening to or production techniques we’ve been trying or been researching. We met in the middle with a lot of influences - Jon Hopkins, Sampha, James Blake.
We actually were working on a bunch of different things together over many months. One was this single that we worked on for a while, we did final vocals and everything but then put it on the back burner. Then one week, I came up to Sydney for a stack of writing and this session was my 4th writing session in two days so I was feeling pretty tired. We went and got really good Thai food first, then sat in this little studio around 10 PM to start. They showed me some new demos and I hummed a melody into my phone after a while listening to one of them. Then I sang/spoke the melody in gibberish into the actual mic because we figured we’d lay it down before moving on.
Listening to it on loop the structure started to come together, and I sat on the sofa and started to literally just fill in the gibberish melody with words that fit, since we liked the flow of it so much. In my head, I saw this really cool French girl at a club that had a secret. I recorded the lyrics I had down and those are the final vocals. It came together within about an hour. I think it’s one of the most unique vocal lines I’ve done.
Lowkey feat. Buddy & Jay Prince
It’s interesting listening to your first work and comparing it to this – which is very hip-hop and funk influenced. Do you think there’s anything that has pushed you towards diversifying your sound or was it more natural?
When we were just starting out Cosmo’s Midnight we had the song The Dofflin, which had some elements of a Timbaland, Aaliyah-like song – the little g-funk lead, things like that. I feel like some of the stuff on this album is kind of like a throwback to our early sound design, which is nice in a full circle type of way; to draw on what we've done before and then blend it with new musicality and the growth we’ve had as musicians and artists along the way.
Lowkey is a beat that I started off in LA by myself. It was literally just the drum beat. Cosmo then came back to our AirBnB and he was like “hey, check out this performance by Jay Prince,” and instantly I wanted to do something with him, anything to make it happen. We ended up reaching out to Buddy at the same time because we weren't sure if we were going to get Jay Prince, but we ended up with both of them ¬– which was good, but also like, “shit – now we have two guys on this!” It ended up working out super well though, and I don’t want to say it was a fluke, but it was something that usually wouldn't work out that easily, you know?
It’s definitely one of my favourite tracks in how it came together because it was just a beat that was sitting on my laptop and we ended up getting two incredible artists on it.
I think the obvious thing to talk about here is Pharrell. It’s a sample, right?
Yeah, it is. It’s from a song called Spaz, off the third N.E.R.D album, Seeing Sounds. I was just listening to some old N.E.R.D. stuff and we instantly gravitated like this little instrumental breakdown, to the point where we were like “we have to make a song using this.” We made a song out of it and then like two months before album release I sent it to our manager and was like “okay, this is a Pharrell sample, can you make it happen?” He was like “probably not, but I'll send it just in case.”
We were thinking “what have we got to lose, other than not being able to put on the album?” Pharrell’s team hit us back and was like “yeah, you guys can use it. He doesn’t want any money or anything, he just wants to be listed as a writer.” We were like “fuck, that is insane.” We were so blown away that we could have Pharrell in our songwriting credits on our album. I think it's the coolest.
That’s how the single turned out. We had basically taken this bossa nova beat and we just swung it out into this Timbaland, hip-hop-like thing. It just clicked, and it's really fun to play out as well.
If you guys weren’t able to clear the sample, what would’ve you done?
I don't know because all the chords in the song are literally those ones. We didn't use the sample in the end, we rerecorded it. In a way we haven’t claimed it, but we'd put own imprint on it, you know? I think if we didn't get it, it wouldn't have made the album - it would’ve just been cut. It all worked out though, it’s a bit of a fairy tale.
With You feat. Panama
This song is a bit more of a subtle song—
Yeah, it’s definitely one of the more low-key songs from the album. It’s more subdued.
Comparing it with some of dance, pop or hip-hop tracks on the album, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where you were drawing inspiration from while making the album. What were you listening to while making the album?
A lot of our writing is basically drawn off old disco, old soul, gospel and funk from the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Our parents were always listening to music downstairs growing up and it just seeped into our lives. I kind of dismissed it at the time, but then when we came back to writing music, we went back and started drawing on all these old things, like Chic and Nile Rodgers, and their production styles. We kind of draw on that stuff, but then we put the production and songwriting that we do on it.
Also, we kind of like a bit jazzier stuff – people like Coltrane. We liked to look back and draw from what already exists 40 years ago. There’s always something you can pick up on, and you can revive sounds under a new lens that a lot of people think is stuck in a vacuum sort-of thing. That's one of my favourite things about music - you're adding to the discourse of music. It’s not like “this artist is doing this, this artist is doing this,” but it’s more of a big conversation, and that’s what I really enjoy out of music and tried to do with our album.
Jarrah McCleary (Panama), on With You:
What I love most about the track with Cosmo's are the chords. They were a little bit different to the regular chords you usually hear and it was fun working out what vocal would go with it. The whole process was really smooth. We did it over the internet – basically, I just went for it and the guys liked where I was going so I just kept developing it. Usually, I sing high on a lot of records these days, but for this one I went low. I'm stoked with what we came up with.
Talk To Me feat. Tove Styrke
This song features the biggest collaboration drawcard on the album – Tove Styrke. How did that collaboration come about?
We started this song with Sarah Aarons, a Melbourne songwriter who is now living in LA. We wrote this idea super quickly and it was just sitting as a demo on our laptop. Anyway, Tove Styrke was in Australia to promote new album and coincidentally, she’s also signed to Sony/RCA, who we’re also signed with. We went to her show and we met her after, gushing about everything. We ended up going down to Melbourne later that week and finished Talk To Me together. We finished it by the end of the day and then she went back to Sweden before she hit the road again overseas. We just went back-and-forth over emails to finish it off and it was done.
It was super quick, and she's so bubbly. I liked how her personality really came through into performance. The way she throws her voice is so powerful, and I can't imagine anyone else being on the track
That’s great – seeing her name on the tracklisting was really surprising. She’s a massive get now.
Yeah, we weren’t expecting it all to be honest. It’s something that definitely happened out of the blue. We were just like “yeah, we’re going to give this a try and hopefully it works,” and she was super down, so it worked.
Get To Know feat. Winston Surfshirt
This was done live at Falls, which worked with both you and Winston being on the line-up. Was that always planned from the beginning, or did it just happen in the moment?
Well the moment we realised that we were both on the line-up we decided to perform this together, I mean we would have played in his set too if we made any songs for him. I felt sorry for him because he had to run from our stage right over to his as soon as he finished playing Get To Know so he could go perform as well.
Is it still nerve-wracking playing out singles like this live before they're out? How so?
Always, you never know how people are going to react and I feel that people often want to hear songs they already know, so new songs can be a little challenging. But it's a great to get a really honest first impression so it's always lovely to see people react the way they do to our new stuff.
Winston Surfshirt, on Get To Know:
I met Cos and Pat last year. They sent me a few beats to sift through. I was immediately into Get To Know and started writing to her straight away. It was a really easy write, sometimes words can take a while but most of this came out instantly I just needed to structure what I was saying. I then went into the studio to put some cleaner takes down and she was released about thee weeks later.
Where U Been feat. Boogie
This is basically a straight hip-hop track. What was the thought process behind this song?
I feel like a lot of the tracks we were writing were inspired by where we were. Songs like this we wrote in the US, in LA, and we were just writing bouncy shit which sorta just matched the scene we were in. We were meant to do a session with this guy that fell through, and at the time, we were listening to a lot of Shady Records-type stuff and seeing what was going on there. We ended up coming across Boogie, who is so slept on but at the same time so promising – you just know something good is going to happen out of him. We reached out and got that top line back like a week later – he killed it.
With this album, we weren’t thinking like “hey, we’re going to put Get To Know or History and put it on ten times in a row.” We wanted to show all the different shit we could do as producers – our diversity. We wanted to show all the house stuff we can do, all the hip-hop stuff we can do, all the pop stuff we can do. All these different sounds. For this track, it all clicked so well with Boogie that we couldn’t not do it.
There were a few tracks we were kind of working on for a while, but then there were others that just clicked incredibly fast – like this one. I’ve always wanted to do a straight hip-hop track and make something that you could blast in your car.
What Comes Next
This is a little interlude piece that blends straight into Polarised. Were they both written in the same session, or was one written separately to complement the other?
They were written in the same session. It was written as the extended intro, but it was quite short - like 20 seconds. What Comes Next comes right after the Boogie-featuring track, and we wanted to pull back the energy because the Boogie track is very in-your-face. So, we were like “let’s strip back the energy” and put something more chill in here.
We ideally want people to get the full experience from the album, so we wanted to switch the pace and give the listener a bit of time to cool down after the song – reflect on what’s happened so far and prepare themselves for what’s to come. That’s one of the fun things about writing an album – doing an interlude. I just sort-of have to do it, you know? It’s part of the experience.
Do you have any favourite interlude moments from other albums?
I like the idea of there being continuous play into the next track. I’ve been listening to Jon Hopkins’ new album Singularity a lot, and basically the whole concept of it is this seamless playback of the full album. We were listening to it basically the whole Groovin’ The Moo trip and we were just blown away. I have no idea how to do that kind of thing - you've got to really have a vision and commit to this hour-long opus. It’s the kind of album where you can zone out and have it on in the background or you can listen to it actively and enjoy it just as much.
I love that album. There’s lots of ten-minute soundscapes and ambience, textures, patterns and so on. I feel he’s just showing off the value of the album format. He’s showing off how much you can do with an album that you can’t do with a single-single-single format. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to do an album – so we could do things like make interlude tracks and have it make sense.
Polarised is the first time you’ve personally sung on a track that you’ve released. Was there a particular reason why you wanted to use your own vocals?
I do try to sing of stuff, but most the time it’s just testing out a melody or a top line that we’ll play with and get someone else to cover. In terms of the album though, I actually recorded backing vocals on quite a few songs on the album – like the Panama feature and the Boogie feature. But then this track was just me and honestly, I can’t really explain it – I can’t really justify it other than when it happened, it just felt right.
I was just in the studio playing these two chords on this really basic pad, and I kept singing this melody over the top over and over again. It was just looping around my brain and I was just like “yeah, I need to sing this out, otherwise I’m going to have it stuck in my head for the whole week.” With the lyrics, you can project any meaning you want to it but it’s about feeling polarised. I only actually sing polarised once in the song, the rest of the time I’m actually saying paralysed, but yeah. It’s sort of about being at a crossroads and feeling stuck, and although it wasn’t how I was feeling at the time, it was the feeling that the song gave me. Listening back to it, it’s now one of my favourite tracks on the album, particularly how the tracks sort-of sounds self-discovered. I didn't really have to work for it, it just arrived, you know?
I just really enjoyed writing that one. I had to keep my voice on it because it just felt natural. I definitely want to keep singing on songs though, I never did before because I felt too self-conscious, but I feel a lot readier now. It was nice having my voice sort-of complementing all the other artists on the album.
And if you keep singing on songs you can probably cut down on collaboration fees.
Yeah, for sure. You should talk to my manager about that – poor guy had to sign off on all the collaborations.
Now, that’s Sarah Aarons on vocals, right?
Was there a particular reason why you decided to keep that collaboration a little more on the down-low?
We were just respecting what she wanted. She was in this interim period of moving away from her Paige IV project and into songwriting, whereas now she’s gone back and features on tracks using her name – like on that The Rubens song. She’s embraced that again, which is great because I’ve always told her that her voice is incredible and that she’s got it. She’s got such a great voice, she’s a natural.
With History, we were writing in Melbourne for the first time after going to Revolver the night before and we were feeling all pretty buckled. We went to the studio and Sarah had a big night too, so we were like “hey, let’s just go get some fruit and feel terrible together,” so we just chilled out and didn’t end up writing anything. After about four hours we were like “ah shit, we have only two hours of studio time left and we haven’t written a thing yet!” So, we ended up going back inside where I had this chord progression going on. She sang this vocal into a shitty little road mic – not a studio mic at all, just a small hand one – and it was all done and dusted in about two hours. We ended up re-recording it in LA six months later and the vibe of the original was lost, so we went back to the original hand mic and kept the quality of the hand mic.
That song for me captures Sarah as a person. It’s her personality to an absolute tee. She’s such a cool person and I’m sad she’s moved to LA now because we don’t see her that often that much. She was back in Sydney the other month, so we all hung out together and it was awesome.
Dreamer feat. Pauli The PSM
This is the final collaboration of the album. What is your approach to collaborating with other artists?
One thing about us collaborating with artists is that we don't want to bend them to our vision, we want to kind of meet halfway. Other people can do it how they want, but for us, we want a collaboration to bring a part of their thing into a part of our thing. If people are looking for top lines to fit over their particular style of music then that's cool, but we've always really enjoyed meeting halfway with the artist – maybe not meeting halfway but drawing inspiration from each other and arriving at a cool spot that you wouldn’t if you were making music just purely for yourself.
This song has some little pockets of first work in it, particularly in that light synth. It would fit right in with your early work.
I completely agree. This one has some heavy Latin influences – it’s basically a bossa nova beat but trapped out. I feel like the Panama track in the verses has some real bossa nova influences come through. Cosmo has been playing bossa guitar for the last six months and I’m over it, but I’m so glad he did because it formed the base of this song.
This is really just a fun outro track. We wanted this instrumental hip-hop loop that you could play for 15 minutes without getting boring because it’s so fun. We wanted to just wrap this album up with this playful party vibe. It’s not a banger, nor a quiet track – it’s just a good feeling.
We wrote this one in like, two days. It came together super quick and felt really natural. We had these little vocal melodies that we recorded ages ago and we just pitched them up and you have the bulk of the song. It was very quick, and the freshness to it has this lasting impression to me – it doesn’t feel dated. It feels immediate. It’s hard to explain, but it has this feel of... chill. It’s not overworked or anything.
Astral People (Cosmo's Midnight's management team), on What Comes Next:
Cosmo's Midnight's debut album is probably the most hands-on we've ever been in terms of creating an album due to the nature of the 'producer album' project itself. We spent the past 3 years countlessly contacting managers, publishers and labels finding the perfect collaborators - some worked out, most didn't, but at the end of the day, we're incredibly proud of what Cosmo's Midnight have put together for their debut album.
I also never thought we'd clear a Pharrell sample in one week.
What Comes Next, the debut album from Cosmo's Midnight, is out now through Sony/RCA Records.
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