Them Are Us Too will be playing tonight (Wed, July 20) at Mutant Wave at RBC, the subject of a previous feature here on Grave City. The duo are often referred to as a darkwave music project, and although TAUT were originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the members, Kennedy, recently located to North Texas. This makes them a unique kind of California-meets-Texas project, for the moment — and below I got to ask the pair behind this band about where they consider their geographic home to be.
A quick personal aside: On the heels of their well received 2015 Dais debut LP, Remain, I had the honor of booking their first gig in Dallas at the Crown and Harp in May, 2015. (Video of that show is here.) Then, as now, the band delivered a stellar performance. Kennedy and Cash are incredibly modest and open people, a joy to be around, artists to the core in the best sense of that word, and their combined musical talent is of no mean proportion; this is evident both in Cash’s lush guitar work and in Kennedy’s deft handling of the synths, the two ably weaving an intoxicating and otherworldly spell with their magickal musickal summonings.
Remain was an incredibly strong showing for a first album, with knockout singles like “Eudaemonia” and “The Trouble with Red Heads” (see videos below) although my personal favorite track off that LP is “Creepy Love.” The band has rightfully garnered comparisons to Cocteau Twins and other seminal early 80s British dark postpunk artists, and there’s some ethereal/dreampop type stuff in there that can put one in the mind of The Cranes or old Projekt Records bands.
Below, I asked Cash and Kennedy about their music, where they think it all fits into the big scheme of things — about what motivates their songwriting, if there’s a political impetus to their creativity, and what their thoughts on the current scene both in Texas and in California are. (Also, the band have a tour coming up and going on now — see those dates below as well!)
I know you’ve explained this countless times before – but, for those who haven’t heard the story: What is your name from? I remember reading it had something to do with a tent city that sprung up in California after the big financial crash and Great Recession of 2008.
Kennedy: I was on the way to the mall in Sacramento with my mom the day before my 16th birthday and we drove by a newer tent city, and I was thinking about how it was a big deal locally how many new tent cities were springing up, particularly because the occupants were “normal” families that had been forced out of their homes. It hit me in that moment how gross the media narrative was, as if homelessness wasn’t already devastating… now the imagined homeless subject wasn’t a nameless “other,” it was your neighbor or your colleague, so now it mattered. I couldn’t mentally justify the arbitrary us vs. them distinction between the “new homeless” and the already homeless, but I didn’t have another way to think/talk about otherness besides using the words “us” and “them.” It’s about investigating arbitrary lines of distinction and calling them into question.
I used to think of Them Are Us Too as a Bay Area type band. What would you all say you are now, geographically? I know Kennedy lives in Denton, now. Where do you two live?
Cash: On a personal level, since I grew up in the Bay I have always identified strongly with that. I’m still there, just trying to hold out as long as possible against the onslaught of tech money. I don’t really know about the band, though.
Kennedy: I don’t really think of us, as a band, as having a location, and that idea doesn’t feel weird to me since we’ve been touring and moving around a lot since our inception. It does seem to confuse a lot of other people though.
Cash: Yeah, a lot of people always think we’re an LA band, probably because Dais has really put us on there and we’ve played so much. I think from the get go though we never really felt like we were “coming from” or belonged in Santa Cruz during the time we met and got our start there, and that vagueness of place has carried on.
TAUT are often compared to Cocteau Twins and are usually called a “darkwave” band. Do you think is an appropriate comparison? How would you all categorize yourselves, if you had to? Who are your primary musical influences?
Kennedy: As a huge Cocteau Twins fan I’m flattered by the comparison, and I definitely see elements in certain aspects like the register of my singing and some of Cash’s guitar tones, but I think when people emphasize that comparison too strongly it glosses over a lot of what we’re doing that is just as fundamental to our sound as any of those similarities.
Cash: As far categorization goes, I hate resting too heavily on genre tags cause it risks flattening the music, but some terms, like “darkwave” do work pretty well just to put us in context among other artists we like. My go-to way to describe us is more along the lines of “dreamy and emotional.”
We both listen to a wide range of stuff and have lots of influences, so it really is difficult to pinpoint things. I could list bands that I love endlessly, but I suppose artists that have had a tangible influence on my playing in this band could include Slowdive, Andy Gill, Rowland S. Howard, Low, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Kennedy: The things that I listen to and am interested in arent necessarily what inspire me to create. I’m typically inspired by situations in my personal life or the successes of my friends, though what I listen to colors what ends up being made.
About a year ago I had the privilege of booking you all (May, 2015) at Crown and Harp — I remember Dallas had experienced some serious flooding then and it made ya’ll’s drive into the city pretty precarious. What were your thoughts of Dallas then, versus now? It seems like that was a long time ago, but also not so long ago!
Kennedy: That was our first time in Dallas, and we pretty much went straight to Crown and Harp… so we only saw that little strip, and then Lily (Taylor)’s house at the time which was rad and had an installation up. At the time I had no idea how cool/vibrant of a music and arts scene Dallas has. Cash hasn’t had the opportunity to explore it as I have , and even i don’t make it out as much as I’d like to… but yeah I definitely did not predict how much was going on.
Them Are Us Too have a solid following in the newer darkwave scene that includes bands like Drab Majesty — at least that’s my impression. You got a really cool recent write up on Post-Punk.com. What are your current impressions of how that scene, nationally? Who are some of your favorite bands?
Cash: Yeah, I mean for obvious reasons we often operate within that sort of scene generally, and there are some really great bands around playing music that could be described as such. But I do also get kind of bored of that world. Like there are lots of bands making music that sounds amazing, but I find it too homogenous in a lot of ways, and especially I’m tired of being mostly around straight white guys in that scene. It’s really dull and alienating. I spend more time in scenes organized around other ideas like queerness because it feels closer to me and often rather intimate and has a diversity of perspectives and expression I don’t see in the general darkwave scene, though there is of course crossover.
Kennedy: Same goes for me… there are bands that I love coming from both the “darkwave” scene and national queer scenes, but the latter are where I feel most comfortable/invigorated by far. Mmy favorite newer darkwave-y-ish (to use that term incredibly loosely) bands on this continent are the Dais roster, the Holodek roster, Underpass, Animal Bodies, Some Ember (when they live here…) but there are honestly a fuckton… so many local DFW favorites too that I feel like could loosely fit that categorization (off the top of my head, Wave Swinger, Pleasure Principle, Vulgar Fashion, iill and Bathhouse, obviously…etc)
What happened to the Denton show that was supposed to happen recently?
Kennedy: It was booked at Rubber Gloves We looked into booking it elsewhere but hit dead ends for anything fab. We want to play there in the future though. There are so many killer acts and people dance their asses off. It’s a hot scene.
What is next for Them Are Us Too? Discogs still has only your Remain LP and the Part Time Punks session up as your releases. What’s coming down the pipe?
Kennedy: We are writing and working on demos. I’d like to have an albums worth of material studio ready by the end of the year, but I’m not interested in rushing anything.
Cash: Some of the material is stuff we’ve been playing or working on for over a year, but the LP and subsequent touring took up so much time that we’re only now getting to focus on those ideas in earnest.
This is a question I try to ask everyone I interview: If you were stuck on a desert island, and somehow could play records or listen to music magically, even in lieu of non-existent electricity, etc., but could only bring 5 LPs with you to listen to for the rest of your life, what 5 LPs would those be, and why?
Kennedy: I’m thinking of records that I not only enjoy but that serve a crucial mental or emotional purpose… like records that really transform my mood or mindset… off the top of my head definitely “Souvlaki” (Slowdive) and “Shaking the Habitual” (The Knife)… maybe “Restless Idylls” (Tropic of Cancer,) “I Shall Die Here” (The Body/Haxan Cloak)…. and like a really good techno album but I don’t know what that would be.
Cash: That’s an excruciating choice of course. Broadcast’s “The Noise Made By People” is the first thing that comes to mind. Their whole discography has stuck with me my whole life and never gets old. It’s the sort of thing where you can always get lost in the intricacies. I’d probably throw in Slowdive’s “A Blue Day” comp, any album by the Knife and Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” I’d have to have one thing that could totally obliterate me when I need that catharsis, so I might put Dreamcrusher’s “Quid Pro Quo.”
Are there any salient political points you feel that Them Are Us Too try to convey? Is TAUT a political band?
Kennedy: Short answer, no… in that we aren’t actively trying to convey anything specifically to anyone through our music… That being said, we are both very thoughtful and intentional, and I think most people would consider our politics radical. The way we move through the world is informed by our ideologies, including how we exist as a band. I think we are more intentional in that respect than many other bands, in terms of what we are willing to participate in and what we will not tolerate.
Cash: I totally agree. I think we’re political in that we recognize that everything in life is political, that you can’t be apolitical or neutral, so we have to try to be aware and intentional about everything we do.
What do you think the future direction of your music is — what are you going for, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Kennedy: In terms of what we have already worked on, I think there is a slightly more mature aspect to some of what we are doing… some of it is less self-indulgently heartbroken (though there is still some of that) and a little more thoughtful, resigned to the heaviness of something, i don’t know. I mean we aren’t teenagers anymore so I anticipate the next LP will be a lot less naive. But i don’t know much more than that since we haven’t made it yet.
Cash: I also think we’re digging more into the heavy shit. Like our first record has a lot of sadness, but this material is going deeper into the uncomfortable corners. I think the sound so far is reflecting that too, it’s less bright, slower and more spacious. Primarily though I think we’re just much better musicians and more ambitious songwriters than when we were working on Remain.
Anything else you want to give a shout-out to, or say, before we close this?
Kennedy: Shout out to the DFW freak scene for welcoming me into the fam. And to the people who work to make sure cool shit keeps happening in spite of recent challenges. And shout out to people who dance at shows.