Cotton Jones has an effortless ability to, without a moment’s notice, saturate an entire area with music that captures the heart and eyes of everyone within earshot. And in the hour or so it takes to get from unfamiliar to intimate with this talent, you become enamored. Their appearance at this year’s Monolith Festival was no exception.
Bands like Cotton Jones and These United States were, for the entirety of the weekend, allowed the power to entertain; to confound, to invest with artistic integrity, to render awestruck, to enamor, and above all else, to enjoy themselves. Aforesaid energy was present even prior to the weekend, producing poignant and candid conversations in anticipation for the coming events. Jessie Elliott of These United States had a wonderfully telling interview with the soft-spoken, wonderfully original, Michael Nau of Cotton Jones.
JE -Describe the room you're sitting in right now with a song - your own or anyone else's...
MN - It's the opposite of Costello's "Welcome To The Working Week". Slow tempo, big windows and small boats going by. I'm the odd creature if I move. What's the greatest dream/vision you recall having while traveling? I've found it hard to separate dreams from my real day while always waking up somewhere new.
JE - Funny you mention it, actually. I've been slipping in and out and all sorts of between different states lately. Feeling more and more like Waking Life. You know that movie? That movie is the bees' knees. It's the bible of the bees' knees - it's what they read when they're lookin for guidance on what's the newest and latest and oldest and best of all of everything. I woke up nearly drowning in Lake Michigan one day this summer - I'll tell you more about that soon. I was already awake, so it was a weird kinda double-awakening. Like when you're dreaming within a dream, but of course the direct opposite. I've been trying to lucid dream since then. Most people've gotten pretty good at falling asleep while awake - it'd be amazing to get good at waking asleep. What's been your best dream lately, awoke or unawoke? You know how to lucid dream? You know anyone who knows that? I want to talk to these people.
Blood Red Sentimental Blues
MN -Two nights ago, I dreamt that I was trapped in the wood of a canoe at 5 am. The strange part is that I was only 4 years old in my dream. I woke up with small hands, and a smaller voice. I woke up as a toddler to my 20-something friends and began to sob like a, uh…baby, under the bridge that connects Cumberland to West Virginia. I believe I was awake and just aged to 24 during last night's sleep. Today, I've been frustrated... feeling as if I've missed 20 years of my life. I should ring my Momma and ask her to fill me in, huh? That was a strange one.
JE - Completely unrelated...We did a tour where we had all these long drives, so we had to sleep in the van 75% of the time. I've never been around so many grumpy people. I'd go into a rest stop, look in the mirror and get annoyed by the face I was making at myself. I hear you've a new US van. In all your travels, how frequently do you make it your bunk for the night? I've seen it when stalking you all on the road, and I must say it looks pretty cozy.
MN - I spent a day in Casa Grande, AZ, sleeping in the parking lot of a motel – one they rent by the hour. If you plan a 2-month stay, you're encouraged to bring your grill, have gatherings, decorate the room, you know? I baked in the bone dry yellow, for a few hours before I started feeling uncomfortably out of place. That's the first time I felt like I wasn't at home. It's been easier to keep my things in storage, as we've spent the past few years traveling 7 months of the year. You're kind of forced into making home in your mind while moving at 60 mph. Currently, for the first time, I have a place I'm "borrowing," contractually obligated to fulfill my duties as a renter. It's a place for Whitney and I to begin working on a record, in a new way... in a non-mobile way. We've never truly done that before. But, yes, the kind folks who feed us, wash us off, tuck us in, and so on, allowing us to marinate in a brief feeling of homeyness – moms and pops on a long road - that's home away from home. You've been on the road, non stop as of late... released a record, etc... when you're feeling drained, physically/mentally, what brings your heart peace?
JE - Strangely – cruelly – music. Or radio talk. Sound, I guess. White noise, even. The wind – those sixty miles per hour you’re talking about. Which I worry about, cause I’ve got horrible ears. Been bad since I was a kid – lots of infections, ruptured the ear drums a couple times, had a pressurized swimming incident. Scares me to live constantly surrounded by so much sound. But I guess that’s what takes the tinnitus away, at the same time. What’s the cruelest most strange thing you’ve ever done to any part of your body?
MN - In junior high, I launched a rock high into a Western Maryland sky, in my buddy's backyard... looked up to see how see how high I threw it, and after a bit of sunshine in the eyes, I lost it - that is, until it came smacking down right above my right eye. It was painful, bloody, cruel, but most of all...humiliating. I had immense pride in my underdeveloped arm.. lesson : don't gotta show off, boy! Recall an early, blushing moment of yours, will you?
JE - Makes me think of an equally showy moment of mine, volunteering to bravely go where no man (boy) had gone before, to retrieve a pigskin from the brush pile between the fences of Jason Fisher, my best pal in elementary school, and the crazy old woman who we hardly ever saw until they came, only months later I think, to take her body outta the house she rotted away in. Stepped on this brushpile, all boldness and bluster, smack-dab onto the home of what musta been a thousand million angry wasps. Immediately, the stings were everywhere on me, seven or eight new parts of my body I’d never felt before being felt, per second – ran screaming bloody murder outta that pit of destruction, falling and flailing on the ground, insects hanging off every part of me, and calling back-ups still, just rolled around in the grass, pure and utter misery, til Jason’s mom swooped in – I was near blacked out from fear by this point – and carried me into the house. Spent the next week sitting naked in a bathtub while she and mom applied meat tenderizer to every part of my poor little broken body. Humiliating – yeah I feel that. I feel that still. You think it takes a certain chip on one’s shoulder – I don’t know, maybe an anger with yourself or an anger with the world – to want to create whatever it is we create? Or can you do it outta pure and simple peace? You seem to make that happen, from the outsider's perspective, anyway...
MN - Used to have that chip, that anger, that unbridled fire in my belly to create much, selfishly, to get ahead of my head/heart - It never brought me peace - it only worried me, like I wasn't doing enough, fast enough, big enough, smart enough, attractive enough. Cotton Jones has been this experiment of patience, though it's approach is not always graceful, I can say it is honest, and growing more pure, with time, and with further practice of that coveted patience. Suddenly, it's easy to smile when something gets screwed up, or simply doesn't work out the way I'd hoped. Came a casually kind of activity, out of love, and now a fresh wind blows over this - And it feels good when a peace comes rolling by. I can enjoy the process, and the completed piece of work at once, with a wider smile. I look forward to the day we make something together - there's such an obvious camaraderie in everything These United States, from the records, to the show, and so on. Each time we cross paths, with months missed in between, I can see something fresh happening. What is it? There's so much energy and near-to-heartness overflowing. It seems like everyone involved, at whatever moment, is right where they wanna be... I don't know how to shape this into a question... just talk on it, if you can?
JE - Well, thanks, man. That means a lot. We look up to bands like Cotton Jones, our pals in Deer Tick, Paleo, Cartright, friends of the Federal Reserve collective we got going back in DC – people who’ve been through a lot together, good and bad, worked hard, got through it, loved one another, hated one another, spent too many sad nights and too many happy nights in each others’ company to even count – who’ve really earned it. Whatever it is. We’ll work together some day soon, I hope, Mike. I’d love that. Our band would love that. Let’s make that happen. Let’s talk soon. Let’s wander up into the Colorado mountains this weekend, yeah?
MN - Let's! Good it shall be. Thanks, brother!
Gigbot Downlow’ds bring you better-than-backstage access to touring musicians that you can get behind. Knowledgeable interviews, exclusive photos, free tickets, and musical tracks are brought to your browser by Gigbot’s team of music-loving mechanics to help you catch some the great talent that comes to your neighborhood.
Know the shows - and who is gonna go, with Gigbot. It’s about the best thing that has happened to live music since the whammy bar. See More Downlowd’s →