For those familiar with the progressive, ukulele-heavy tunes hailing from Brooklyn’s Cousin Earth, then you may be well acquainted with their fun, quirky sound and pleasing melodies. It’s with heavy hearts that Cousin Earth announces Tara Lawton’s decision to part ways with her role as vocalist and keyboardist with the group she’s flourished with over the last five years.
After months of preparation, Lawton will soon take her final bow with the musical collaboration. The Brooklyn outfit will then welcome Melissa Raye to officially take over vocals, following months of filling in and manning the mic. Celebrating five years of connection, growth and music, Cousin Earth will perform their last gig with Lawton on Thursday, November 29 at Mercury Lounge in NYC with Albany’s own Formula 5.
NYS Music chatted with Tara Lawton, reflecting on her 5-year stint with Cousin Earth.
We’re sad to see you go, but know there’s tons of fun memories to dwell on.
Alyssa Ladzinski: What’s something you wish you could tell yourself 5 years ago at the beginning of this journey?
Tara Lawton: Nada. The journey was and has been exactly what we needed it to be. The amount of growth I’ve experienced personally, musically and emotionally these past 5 years with Cousin Earth is unsurpassed. I wouldn’t change a thing. Every element, every unexpected twist and turn led to the creation of some amazing collaborative musical art and I think our full length album Human Music shows just how eclectic and electric our journey together has been.
AL: Try to sum up your experience with Cousin Earth in 5 words or less.
TL: Crazy-ass music-making life-changing musical expedition. (See how I cheated with the hyphens there…)
AL: How have you changed as a person/musician in this timeframe?
TL: How many pages do you have for this article? No really….! I’ve changed immensely. From learning how to write collaboratively (let me tell you it takes love and patience), to playing keys with a band for the first time (I’ve played piano since I was 7 but never with a band before), to making sure we take care of each other as well as we take care of the music we create together. I have become a much fuller and more musically-rounded version of myself as compared to 5 years ago.
Joey Calfa (ukelele, vox) and I met in Corey J. Feldman’s (U-Bass, vox) project Mercury Landing in May of 2013 and Joe asked me to sing a few duo gigs with him playing ukulele. It’s all a bit blurry now how exactly it took off from there, but the whole of Mercury Landing ended up jumping on-board and shifting into Ukulelien (the band you now know as Cousin Earth). I remember bringing the melodica to the table with this unique idea that I could use it as a rhythm instrument to compliment the uke (who does that?!)…then came the keyboards and it’s all history from there. I cannot express how my musicianship has grown from working with these guys, particularly within the writing and keyboard spaces. I’m eternally grateful for their patience and encouragement as I blossomed into a keyboard player within the band.
AL: We hope to hear more music from you. What’s coming next for your musical future?
TL: Great! Me too! The decision to no longer perform with Cousin Earth wasn’t made lightly. I have been given the opportunity to make a living with a full-time singing job which just didn’t leave time to remain a full-time member of Cousin Earth. The collaboration deserves full commitment and I understand why the decision we reached needed to be made. The new singing job is mostly private events, but I am working on some solo stuff to remain in the music community publicly. I’ve never been the singer/songwriter type, so get ready for some one-woman band kinda stuff with tap shoes, accordions and other insanity. In the meantime, you can catch me making an appearance with David Schnurman, writing and singing on Teddy Midnight’s EP French Press (my rapping debut – yes, that is me spitting the rhymes I wrote at the end of the song “Come Over” with the magic of an Ableton Live filter!), playing live original keys and vocal loops for Vinyasa class at Daya Yoga Studio on Monday nights and teaching private voice lessons from my home in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I’m looking forward to further exploring what I can do musically as just one person.
AL: What do you think Melissa will bring to the group next?
TL: I’m not overly familiar with Melissa’s work, but from what I have heard her voice is incredible, soulful and full. I will be most interested to hear what she brings to the writing collaboration process and I wish her the best. She seems to have a soul of golden kindness which I’m sure precedes her onto every stage she lights up.
AL: Which Cousin Earth song has the most meaning to you?
TL: Again, how many pages you got?! Let’s start from the beginning:
“Hey Ya” Cover – This was our first musical collaboration making a YouTube video all together as a ukelele band & it will always hold a special place in my heart. I found that glockenspiel used in the video in the trash outside of our rehearsal space in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NYC and we affectionately named her “Trash Glock.” She currently resides with me in Brooklyn.
“Universoul” -Our first music video! What a time we had making that music video. All of the palpable love shared in that room and the cinematic brilliance brought by Michael Varley and Jessi Highet! I was in the T-Rex suit in the video because our good friend and super-fan Evangeline Rera wasn’t feeling well enough to be in full dino costume. The “viral” T-Wrecks Tap Dancing video came from that day as well. They made me into a meme! Crazy. What a time to be alive!
“Alive” (Track 7 on Human Music) – Writing this song was truly our first full-band collaborative experience. Corey wrote it on ukelele, hence the trading of uke for u-bass live, and brought some lyrics that Joe & I worked with to turn into the song you hear today. I remember work-shopping the song at Corey’s Williamsburg apartment and writing a rough melody that we recorded a scratch track of and sent off to the others. Next rehearsal Joe shows up with a killer bass-line, Nate (always) brings the finesse with that smooth beat and Terry adds stellar interesting, echoing harmonies…bam. Alive.
“Peculiar Patterns” (Track 1 on Human Music) – This song is particularly special to me because of the vocal work and harmonies. I wanted an opportunity to improvise vocally in a similar manner to how Joey improvises on uke and it was provided for me in the middle section of this tune. (Thanks, guys!) Corey came into a rehearsal one night with awesome lyrics and a vocal line over Joey’s beautiful ukulele composition. Terrence Brennan (vox, keys, kazoo) throws on a harmony and I remember having missed that rehearsal because the next time I was in rehearsal I heard for the first time what Terry and Corey were singing and I didn’t even have to think twice about my high harmony part. A harmony that follows the curves of the verses, adds a smooth lyrical element over the dancey B-sections and “falls” down from the top like the rain as the other parts rise slowly from underneath to meet the challenges of that very rainfall. That rehearsal was magic for me and I remember it vividly. There was no thought, the song wrote itself.
While recording “Peculiar Patterns” with Matt Einsidler at Audio Workstations, Inc. where we recorded the album, I was going through honestly probably thee hardest experience of my lifetime and I poured my soul into the singing and recording of this track. It’s actually difficult for me to listen to still to this day, particularly around 4 minutes and 18 seconds when I let out a large vocal wail. I can hear and feel all of the pain I was experiencing…so fresh and so raw at that time in my life and it remains a doorway to that place of intense longing, vulnerability and inability to understand. I can’t help but feel for my younger self as she struggled to accept the circumstances. It’s a story for another time, but this song has my heart in a way that is so very, very special to me and it always will. My boys in Cousin Earth also allowed me to NOT BE AUTO-TUNED on this album (which is unheard of in 2018) and so here I shall use my bragging rights I have reserved. I will forever be grateful to them for allowing just me, my voice to be captured on Human Music.
“Keep On (Show Me the Numbers, Ian)” [Track 9 on Human Music] – My baby. My first tune I’ve written and recorded with a full band. Dope. The weirdest song you will ever hear; I admit I wrote it to be difficult. I wanted a very challenging musical piece and I got it, but in hindsight I definitely would have done some things differently while writing that piece to make the listening experience more fluid. What is life experience if we do not learn from it, eh?
The guys were lovely enough to indulge this crazy idea – a theatrey, jazzy sounding A-section juxtaposed by an off-tempo eerie sounding B-section that I originally wrote as a vocal loop with my Boss Loop Station. Drummer Nate Searing helped to pull this song together by mastering the challenging tempo changes and developing the syncopated hits in the middle section of the song which Corey brought to the table (a true collaboration!). The lyrics are odd, but if you listen closely it tells our Cousin Earth love story. This song is the only sort of love song I would willingly write, and it is for my love of the four amazing men, my brothers that make up Cousin Earth. I am proud and grateful to have this song on Human Music and we will be playing it live for my last show with Cousin Earth at The Mercury Lounge in NYC on Thursday, November 29 (doors at 9pm; show at 9:45pm with Formula 5 of Albany, NY). It’s likely to be the last time the band ever plays the song live. Please join us in celebration!
AL: Do you have a message for the fans?
TL: I’m not going far. If you’ve read this entire article, I promise I love you and I thank you for your support both of my personal career and Cousin Earth. Whether at shows of my fellow musician family, sitting in or performing solo, I’ll see you out there…in the words of Cousin Earth…WAY out there.