Batteryboy's Cobey Rouse: Performing solo was scary as hell

Batteryboy's Cobey Rouse: Performing solo was scary as hell
Photo by Sara Montour

Minneapolis-based singer Cobey Rouse has been hard at work. After a ten-year hiatus from music, Rouse became inspired by a Cloud Cult song and began writing again -- this time from the heart. Pairing up with Cloud Cult's Shannon Frid to form Batteryboy, the two have been making a name for themselves around town. Hosted by Vega Productions, the group's Friday evening performance at the Cedar Cultural Center will benefit providing youth with equal access to quality music and art education, and mark the release of their new single, "Winter's Gate."

Before Friday's show, Gimme Noise spoke with Cobey and Shannon about the upcoming single, along with their album due out later this year.

Gimme Noise: Batteryboy started as a solo project after a ten-year hiatus from music. What went on in that ten year span of your life? What got you inspired again?

Cobey Rouse: I started a family and career, set music aside basically as a thing from my past -- something that was fun while it lasted but didn't really have a place in my life anymore. I had always written songs more for other people, stuff that I thought they wanted to hear, and it was never very fulfilling anyway, so it wasn't hard to give up.

I went through a lot of personal stuff a few years ago and needed a new creative outlet to deal with it. I heard "There's So Much Energy In Us" by Cloud Cult, was deeply moved, and dug into their song catalog. Craig's way of sharing personal experience and emotion through lyrics sparked something in me, a realization that I could use songwriting as a catharsis for myself and those I share it with. I started writing from my heart and letting stuff just pour out; I wrote more songs in the past year and a half than I had written in about 15 years. They're all quite personal, whether dealing with my own inner turmoil, hope, loss, love, yearning, and so on, or things I observe in the world and people around me.

GN: How did you and Shannon Frid meet, and why did Batteryboy feel like it was the right project to collaborate on? CR: I met Shannon when I went to record an EP at Old Fashioned Records last spring, and Shannon was working at the store upstairs. I gave her a copy of North, which she lost, and she said she liked what she heard from what I was recording. I knew that my songs were raw and that they could use the beauty and polish that her voice and violin could provide, but I didn't have the guts to ask.

Several months later she posted on Facebook that she'd like to play more live shows outside of Cloud Cult, so I jumped at the chance to collaborate. She agreed to try a couple shows with me, and we really hit it off creatively. After a couple shows, she was ready to be part of Batteryboy.

GN: Do you collaborate on writing, or is there one sole writer with contributors?

CR: I write the lyrics and melodies initially and bring them to Shannon and she adds her own voice and gives feedback on structure. We often find ourselves restructuring a song a bit for the best result, but find our styles blend really well without a lot of effort. It has been an awesome experience feeding off of each other and our unique talents, and now with Eric [Carranza], it adds another unique element that is super exciting. I consider myself extremely lucky to have these two to help me bring these songs to a place I previously only ever dreamed of.

One thing I never alter is the lyrics. I will find a guitar melody I like, record it while singing whatever comes to my head. Then I transcribe that, and the lyrics are set. It's the best way to capture the right emotion in my opinion.

Shannon Frid: Cobey writes the lyrics and melodies for the songs and then we'll both build things from there. It has been such a fun creative process writing violin parts and coming up with vocal harmonies since collaborating with Cobey. I've discovered things about myself in the writing process that I never thought would be possible. I'm thankful to Cobey for all of the creative freedom.

GN: You just released an album in 2012. Did the writing for this new album start right after North, or was it music that didn't make it into that album?

CR: It did; at the tail end of recording North in my basement I felt I needed to add something to my solo sound, so I started playing three drums with foot pedals while singing and playing guitar. It was awful at first, so just a kick drum shows up in a couple spots on North. But I kept at it, and it really impacted the style of songs I was writing. Three songs from North are alive and well on the new album, reinvented with Shannon's help: "Beautiful," "From Up Here," and "Symptoms." The rest are all written after North in the new style that our collaboration inspired.

I've never heard anything like it, honestly. Things change so much song to song it's hard to say what our "sound" is. I call it orchestral-indie-folk-rock. Shannon has helped me take my raw songwriting and flesh it out into emotionally stirring pieces that sometimes even bring us to tears as we play them. The drums that I play add a tense, primal element to a lot of the songs, and Eric's new-found ethereal layer of keys and guitar take it all to a really special place. When you see a fan smiling and then cry during the same song you know you're doing something right.

GN: Any favorite songs off the upcoming new album?

CR: Going into recording it was "Winter's Gate," but as things progressed some magic started happening on "Cross Divide" and "Choosing Sides" that make those stand out to me. But no particular part of the album strikes me with more emotion than when Shannon's violin enters the scene in "Matter of Trust."

SF: One of my favorite songs off the new album is "Matter of Trust." The lyrics are really beautiful and it's such a calming song. Another is "Cross Divide." This one in particular was super fun to record, especially with the build towards the end of the song.

GN: What did you feel was missing that Eric Carranza added to the group?

CR: Performing solo was scary as hell, and Shannon helped give me a huge sense of confidence on stage. Adding Eric gives us not only an integral, atmospheric musical foundation in the songs, but also a solid presence on stage. His laid back approach to adding what we envision for each song has been refreshing.

SF: Starting with Cobey as a two piece I gained a whole new respect for solo musicians. With Cloud Cult, I was used to having seven other musicians on stage to perform with. Baring your soul with one other person on stage was scary at first, and you feel so exposed. Eric not only adds beautiful parts, but also a nice sense of security.

GN: It seems like the band is constantly evolving. Where do you see yourselves in a year?

CR: I don't think about that much. If you asked me a year ago if I'd be collaborating with Shannon Frid by now I would have laughed in your face. I've let fate drive this thing from the beginning and it's been working out well so far. We'll just keep creating together and see where it goes; if we need a new voice to bring our vision to life, we'll add that when the time comes. At the Cedar, you're going to see our hearts poured out on the stage, nothing held back. It's the show I've waited my whole life to play, and you'll know that when you hear us.

SF: In a year from now I hope we are still playing music at venues and exposing as many people as possible to our music. There's a rawness and heart and soul to Cobey's lyrics that I hope more people will recognize and appreciate.

GN: What can we expect to see at the Cedar show?

CR: At The Cedar, you're going to see our hearts poured out on the stage, nothing held back. It's the show I've waited my whole life to play, and you'll know that when you hear us.

Batteryboy will perform their single release show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Friday, March 1, 2013 with Fairfax, AK and Portage.
AA, $12 adv, $15 door, 7 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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