Hands Upon Black Earth
An interview with Bobby Cochran.
It’s funny how favorite bands can become favorite bands in such a roundabout way. Take Hands Upon Black Earth, for example. I’ve been reviewing Sequoia Records releases for about a year now. I’ve often thought the label had too many compilations. You know, take the best of the best from their extensive back catalog of New Age, Trip Hop, Chill Out, etc. and throw it on a new disc.
Yet, it was this very medium that turned me onto HUBE, through Bobby Cochran’s previously unreleased (OK, so maybe it’s not all old material) “Vinsandaan” track. Having singled out that as one of my favorites on the Hotel Tara compilation, Mr. Bobby decided to email me directly to thank me for the review and offer up a copy of his self-titled debut. Several months later and Hands Upon Black Earth is still groovin’ my CD player. How’s that for roundabout? But enough of this, on with the interview!
MusicTAP: Where did the idea of calling your project Hands Upon Black Earth come from anyway?
Bobby Cochran: There's an inspired writing from the early 1900's called Liber al Vel Legis, wherein the phrase "...her lovely hands upon the black earth and her lithe body arched for love..." is one of my favorites. It's one of those things that has multiple meanings for me, though I'm not sure how anyone else might feel about them...
TAP: When did you first begin writing and performing music?
BC: I've been a drummer since I was 8, and began playing in bands, doing shows and recording at 14. I was in this speed-metal band from ages 16-22, going on tour and making records and all that. Though my early performing years were primarily in metal and other heavy music, I did spend a lot of time listening to all types of music and occasionally playing with other folks in a bunch of different genres.
TAP: Why electronic music, some may call Trip Hop, as opposed to any other form of music?
BC : Well, over the years my tastes have shifted and moved around, and this is just what comes out. When I first began making music on a computer, I wanted to make house music, more electronica. But when it came down to it, I didn't have the ability or desire to make house music; I just made what came to my head. And realistically, there's only a part of the album that could be easily categorized as Trip Hop. There's stuff on the album that's pretty dancy, and some stuff that's aggressive and dark too.
TAP : Where does much of your inspiration come from?
BC : That's a hard question to answer. I'd say that I'm inspired by the music I listen to, but mostly I get inspired by just sitting down at the computer (or on the guitar) and trying to make something I'd want to listen to.
TAP : Your music is based in the electronic realm. What synths and other equipment do you use? Do you also utilize more organic instruments?
BC : On the CD, I used my Roland JX-305 and JV-1080, as well as a Korg Triton that lives at the studio where I currently work. I play bass, guitar, and drums as well. Most of what you hear is performed by me using loops and samples, but also just making textures and melodies with the synths. The next record is going to have way more live instruments on it than this one.
TAP : What can we expect to hear on your next album?
BC : For this next album, I've been pushing myself into areas that will expand on the ideas and vibe of the first one, but be something much more comprehensive and connected to things I want to get across. I've been collaborating with Irina Mikhailova, who's a totally amazing vocalist whose background is in Eastern European folk singing, as well as electronica (she was in Medicine Drum for a number of years). The process with her has been very fruitful, and I'm excited about the different direction we've gone off in. I also have enlisted Rena Jones to play some cello on a track, as well as having Sharon Knight[who sang beautifully on a number of songs on the debut album –ed.] and some other folks contribute. I'm trying to be more conscious of what I'm doing versus the first album where it was just stuff that came out without any real preconception. Though the album's not done yet, so we'll have to see how it actually turns out.
TAP : How did you get involved with Sequoia Records?
BC : Through an old friend of mine, Zack Darling. He's a graphic designer and had been doing covers for Sequoia for a while when he passed along a demo of my stuff. Steve Gordon[founder of Sequoia Records – ed.] is the guy I got connected with, and I've been giving them songs for compilations for a year or two now.
TAP : Any possibility your next album could be released through them?
BC : Not sure. Steve and I kinda began talking about releasing this album, but I decided to do it myself. Now I know I'm not enough of a salesman/promoter/businessman to properly market myself, so I'm talking to some other folks about releasing the next album. I've signed a deal with Cyberset Records (used to be Cyber-Octave) to digitally release both this CD and the new one, but I'm still looking for someone to release a hard-copy CD. TAP: Where have you met those who have performed with you, particularly
Sharon Knight? I loved her soulful voice on "Ghost Song" and "Lastime."
BC : Sharon is a dear old friend of mine, and I totally agree, her vocals really make the album more than it could have been. She and I were in a band together 10 years ago, and though we don't perform together anymore, we're still close.
TAP : Ever play out?
BC : I have played a handful of shows in the last year and a half. A couple festivals, some small shows around where I live and in San Francisco as well. It was fun, but my live show is not as exciting and engaging as I'd wanted it to be. I won't be playing again till I have a full band together.
TAP : What are some of the artists who have inspired you?
BC : Great question. The most influential bands, musically, have been Fields of the Nephilim , Curve, 16 Horsepower, Massive Attack, the Deftones and The Verve (the first album primarily). Those are pretty divergent bands but all of them have a sense of melody and ambience or vibe that I really connect with. But just for inspiration, the list could be long... Arcade Fire, Wilco, Interpol, some of the 90's shoegazer stuff, and some of the early 80's goth stuff as well as ambient electronica.
TAP : If there were no barriers, whom would you love to perform or collaborate with?
BC : If I could collaborate with anyone right now, I'd probably choose Chino Moreno from the Deftones or David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower. I'm sure there are other people I'd love to work with but those are the first that came to mind. Oh, and maybe I'd collaborate with Toni Halliday from Curve. Her voice just kills me.
TAP : We're waiting for a dedicated website to keep up to date on your work. When's that going to be functional?
BC : Hopefully in October. As a struggling artist, it's been tough to get the right person to work for the right price, but I think I've worked it out with someone to get a website up by the time the next album comes out.
TAP : And finally, what’s a typical day in the life of Bobby Cochran like?
BC : Well, I'm glad to say that no day is the same, but I could generalize and say that I spend most of my days at the recording studio where I work, I drop my kids at school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, and work on music at home in the evenings. I like to keep things interesting though. Too much of a daily routine makes me feel gross. Thanks for the interest!