Back in 1999 a band called Cousteau released a record that remains at the very top of my list of go-to listens when I’m in the mood for retreating from the rat race. Cousteau was London-based at the time and consisted of the gorgeous baritone of Irish vocalist Liam McKahey and the expert songcraft of Australian multi-instrumentalist Davey Ray Moor.
Together, McKahey and Moor managed to concoct a musical potion using the darkness of Nick Cave, the sensuality of Leonard Cohen and the chill of Burt Bacharach. Their sound is a sound for introverts; melancholic, brooding, and lush. It demands attention.
The first single from the debut “The Last Good Day of the Year” garnered them quite a bit of attention and the album went on to sell more than 200,000 copies worldwide. A second record – “Sirena” was released in 2002 and although critically acclaimed, sales didn’t build on the momentum they had going. Moor decided to leave to pursue producing opportunities with McKahey staying on and taking over songwriting for the third and final record 2005’s – “Nova Scotia“, (released under the name Moreau in the US for legal reasons).
The criminally underrated Cousteau have returned as CousteauX (the X is silent) with a new album and it’s like they’ve never left.
Now after more than ten years apart, and 18 years since the last record the criminally underrated Cousteau have returned as CousteauX (the X is silent) with a new album and it’s like they’ve never left.
The opening track “Memory Is A Weapon” is a gorgeous brooding track that could easily be a Bond theme song. The song showcases everything that makes CousteauX such a wonderful band; the lush arrangement, the seductive baritone, sophisticated songcraft and elegant poetic lyrics…it’s just perfect.
“This Might Be Love” is as upbeat as CousteauX get, with lyrics about November getting cold dripping over a tango-like syncopation. “Burma” is a stunning ballad of piano, trumpet and stand-up bass that showcases McKahey’s fine voice. Next up on “The Innermost Light” they firmly sow their Bad Seeds, with a grimy track co-written by and featuring Carl Barat of The Libertines. It practically begs to be featured on Peaky Blinders.
Things slow down again with the elegant croon of “Maybe You” and the smokey shuffle of “Portobello Serenade” before the soaring Bowie-esque “Thin Red Line” jolts everything awake. “Shelter” once again slows the pace before the elegant pop of “Seasons of You” sets up the heartbreaking “Fucking In Joy and Sorrow” to close out the record. In the end you’ll be pouring another drink and looking for a cigarette.
I must say I am envious of anyone who is new to the virtuoso songcraft of Davey Ray Moor and the one of kind voice of Liam McKahey. There isn’t a miss amongst the 10 tracks and it stands to say that CousteauX have made a record that will easily be at the top of my “best of” list this year. It too is a perfect soundtrack for retreating from this troubled world.
I am pleased to say that I was able to track down Davey to answers some questions for us.
It’s been 18 years since the first record came out, and between 1999 and 2006 as a band you sold over 300,000 records, achieved critical acclaim, big tours, appeared on soundtracks and TV ads. What was that time like for you as a band?
We always thought the music was beautiful, and in the early days we ran on blind faith. So the first album was a collection of demos the record companies didn’t want; lashed together in an improvised fashion on a shoe-string budget. So to have it go gold internationally was a Cinderella story for us. Flying around the world playing to big audiences was such a treat. What a job!
“It’s easy getting famous, but its hard staying famous (as the saying goes)”
How did Cousteau lose that momentum?
It’s easy getting famous, but its hard staying famous (as the saying goes). A band needs such a great and extensive international team around them – invisibly putting it all together for them. By the end of 2002 we’d played nearly 400 shows and we just got tired.
Cousteau’s style was unlike anything else in 1999, but comparable to David Bowie, Nick Cave, Burt Bacharach and Roxy Music. How did the band come to that timeless sound?
That’s high praise indeed! We’ll take that, thanks… We love all those acts (of course), but the core of the Cousteau’s music was the kind of chords we choose, the words that wrap around the melodies and Liam’s wonderful instrument. We’re lucky in the fact that it comes out of us effortlessly.
The first record was and maybe still is the perfect date night soundtrack, what music would you put on to set the mood?
Has it worked for you? I wonder if there are any Cousteau babies out there! Personally I love 70s soul music like Marvin Gaye and Terry Callier, early Leonard Cohen, early Tom Waits, and most chill-out and dub remixes in which there is a world of wonder.
The third record, Nova Scotia was released in 2005 under the name Moreau, what were the surrounding legal issues, and have they been cleared up now?
The Cousteau Society are a venerable oceanographic and environmental business who were upset about our success and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars securing the rights to put out CDs around the world under their trademark. I haven’t heard their songs. Cousteaux is another family name in France. So we added an X to become a different name. It’s also a scar and a kiss in keeping with our life-worn story.
Lyrically Cousteau songs are like a book of short stories or poems. What and who inspires you lyrically?
Wow- really? You think so, that’s so cool and lovely to receive (as a songwriter). I believe the words are defined by the music, I just have to tease them out. I guess I aspire to my favourite people like Cohen, Waits, Joni Mitchell and recently Jason Isbell, Elbow and Ed Harcourt.
Liam dropped me a message on Facebook one day. We’d both been thinking the same thing – “Man, we had some magic between us. We should do it again. What went wrong?”
The current line up includes Davey and Liam, how did the two of you come together again?
Liam and I had a kinda messy divorce. We’d had enough of each other (love comes to a sticky end sometimes). Liam dropped me a message on Facebook one day. We’d both been thinking the same thing – “Man, we had some magic between us. We should do it again. What went wrong?”. So we did, it worked, and now as a two piece we may be able to afford to do it for a job (fingers crossed).
The new record is stunning. Is there a release date?
You think so? I am so happy to read that – especially as you like the others so much. Yes – it’s coming out on September 1st.
How and where was the record recorded?
It was recorded in so many different places. I travel with my laptop, a channel strip and a lovely mic. So it was recorded in Bath, Brighton, Sydney, Canberra and Durras (we did the vocals mostly in a beach house in South East Australia). Most of the instruments were recorded in Devon, UK.
What’s in store for 2017?
We’re just trying to get people hearing us again. We’ve got a comeback show at The 100 Club in London on September 19th, then we’re off to Spain, Portugal, Ireland and then Italy in November. We’re also recording the followup album in August. The songs are all written, so we’re looking forward to that.
Thanks for all your support and enthusiasm.
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