I Am The Cosmos was the title of a beautiful and groundbreaking album by Chris Bell, originally recorded in the mid-1970s, but not released until 1992 - fourteen years after Bell’s death in a freak automobile accident. While I Am The Cosmos is now recognized as a cult classic - the name I Am The Cosmos is now fast becoming more associated with a brilliantly talented duo from Dublin, Ross Turner and Cian Murphy.
Since their formation in 2010, I Am The Cosmos have been making considerable impression with their music. From their first release “Dislocate”, they have been cautiously producing material of such quality and originality that it promised I Am The Cosmos would one day release a masterwork. And now it would appear this day has come early, with the release of their sublime debut album Monochrome. I contacted I Am The Cosmos to find out more about Ross and Cian, theri backgrounds, what brought them together, and how they wrote and recorded their brilliant debut Monochrome.
Paul Gallagher: How did you first meet and what drew you together as musicians?
Cian Murphy: ‘Ross [Turner] is a drummer by trade and was involved in the Dublin music scene from quite an early age, so I was a fan of bands he played with long before we started making music together. We would meet at gigs, or he would come into where I worked and buy records and we would talk about music. There was always a mutual interest in what the other was up to musically.
‘When it comes to making music, I think even though the desired outcome is the same, we do have different approaches. I would tend to be a little more gung-ho with my ideas while Ross is more restrained. There are times when Ross will tell me to keep it simple and not throw so much at a song, and he’s always right! Wherever that balance is struck - that’s usually where the good ideas are. There are similarities too though - we both love a good melody and wanted to explore the notion of songs being quite melodic while still being something people can dance to.’
Ross Turner: ‘Cian [Murphy] and I had mutual friends growing up when we were teenagers - we lived pretty close to each other on the outskirts of Dublin. Usually bumping into each other at parties or in “discos”, spending most of our time talking about very similar tastes in music. Time passed along and some growing up took place before we actually did anything together, although I think we had always wanted to do something together musically. I was gifted the amazing opportunity to work out of and run a great studio space in Dublin, the owners had moved away for a short spell. When this came up I got in touch with Cian straight away to see if he wanted to come along and mess around with some music I was working on. Just previous to this Cian had done a remix of a very early version of “Look Me In The Eye” under the name Leisure Wear. I really liked what he did with the song, so I was eager to develop something after that.
‘The fact that our tastes are so similar we moved quite quickly into a process of putting tracks together.’
Paul Gallagher: What was the first track you worked together on?
Cian Murphy: ‘The first piece of music we worked on was “Dislocate” - Ross already had the bass-line, which was written originally on live bass. It was a very natural process, the song seemed to almost write itself. I don’t think we had any notions of a particular outcome or result - we were really just dipping our toes in-a-way. Once we had the breakdown in the middle and that synth-line, we were able to shape the track from there.’
Ross Turner: ‘Neither of us were too precious with ideas or demos we brought to the studio, we just wanted to get the most from them. Everyone has there own process for writing, and that takes time. Not ones to sit down with an acoustic guitar to write a song start to finish, we had to go through some trail and error. Rhythm tracks came together very quickly, then a certain amount searching for the right sounds took place. Once we figured out tones that we liked it made writing alot easier.’
Paul Gallagher: You’re both involved with other bands, how does that work and what makes I Am The Cosmos different form these bands?
Cian Murphy: ‘Ross plays drums with Lisa Hannigan and I play bass and synth with Ships. I’ve played in the Solar Bears live band a couple of times too. Sometimes we don’t get to spend as much time as we’d like doing Cosmos stuff because of other commitments, but it means we tend to really take advantage of the time we spend on it. It’s difficult to offer an objective definition of something that’s quite personal to both of us - maybe that’s for other people to decide!’
Ross Turner: ‘Since 2005 I have been working in bands, mainly as a drummer, so luckily I’ve developed really good relationships with many Irish musicians. I learnt an endless amount from our “big brothers and sisters.” The community in Ireland is a very supportive one - endless times we were offered equipment or advice from our seniors, invaluable help. I think people understood that Cian and I were very serious about making this album. I’m sure we will always play in other musical situations, knowing though we can return to this band at any point to focus on making music together. The possibility of it growing as a configuration or bringing other musicians in to work with us is completely open too. I really enjoyed having Daniel McAuley work on “Esque” with us.’
Paul Gallagher: If I Am The Cosmos had a statement of artistic intent, what would it say?
Ross Turner: ‘It’s very important to retain a honest way of working and musicality. That we do everything in a human way and don’t rely on computers or automation as much. I love the idea of sonically figuring things out in a certain room or manually having to draw out sounds and tones. Laptops and midi controllers are really useful and some people do wonderful things with them but I don’t like to see that as a sole use for making music. I wanted to have some grit and air around the instrumentation we used and continue to use.’
Cian Murphy: ‘I don’t think we had any particular target or statement in mind, only that we would please ourselves and be stimulated in some way by what we came up with. For me anyway, the pleasure of the process of writing the songs was enough. Music is made to be listened to obviously, but we didn’t let external concerns dictate how things should sound, or consider whether what we were doing was fashionable. It was really just about being satisfied with what we did on a personal level.’
Paul Gallagher: Tell me about recording your debut album Monochrome?
Cian Murphy: ‘Initially we were just making tracks but soon it became clear we should push on and put something cohesive together. As Ross has pointed out, our time was limited to pockets of activity every couple of months which meant we had plenty of time to sit with the tracks and then return to them with revised ideas in terms of structure or arrangement. Nearly every idea we worked on from the demos ended up becoming a track on the album, which was really encouraging as it meant the basic ideas were strong enough to see through to completion.’
Ross Turner: ‘There was never a time restraint or deadline for getting the album finished. We actually had it finished recording wise by February 2012, then mixed and mastered it in the spring. From summer 2011 til winter 2012 I was touring pretty consistently with Irish singer Lisa Hannigan, as she had a big fanbase and demanding live schedule. So Cian and I would grab the windows of opportunity I was home to work on tracks. In a way it was a good thing because we worked fast and didnt linger too long on ideas, it gave things a spontaneity. Helpful also having the space to consider what we had done, and judging weather the way it was going was what we wanted musically. Generally we were happy with what had been done and moved on. We relocated the recording situation to a house I was living in Dublin, which allowed us more freedom and a new environment, it also brought certain limitations which was a good thing, it made us work more concisely. Mixing the album with Rian Trench of Solar Bears was another relocation, we benefited greatly from working with him at that important stage. Both sonically and musically he brought the tracks to a better place.’
Cian Murphy: ‘There was no specific order to the tracks being recorded - we would usually work on tracks up to a point and then move on to something new. This way we were able to put some distance between us and the tracks while maintaining some momentum. We would return to each song after a few weeks/months and try and apply finishing touches.’
Paul Gallagher: What were the influences?
Cian Murphy: ‘Arthur Russell and Matthew Dear - there’s an ambiguity to their vocal and lyrical styles and a sense of longing in their productions that I think we’ve tried to incorporate into our music.’
Ross Turner: ‘The album’s monochrome theme came when I was searching for ways of writing and a concept I could tie throughout the lyrics. I had been to a Yves Klein retrospective in the Pompidou in Paris and it had a massive impact on me. How the density in one particular thing can be so incredibly strong, and the simplicity of looking at something in a way that you focus on it completely, it reveals more than you thought to be there. At home I read the books I had bought on him in the gallery and it started to make sense to consider that simplistic and powerful context as a way talk about things. Musically and sonically I got most influence from the Japanese band Mariah’s early 80’s album, Utakata No Hibi. It has really unique sounds, arrangements and production but wasn’t a million miles from what Bowie and Eno had done together on Heroes and Low, which are two of my favorite albums.’
Paul Gallagher: How do you write together?
Cian Murphy: ‘I will tend to throw ideas out on guitar or keyboard until something catches Ross’s ear. From there we’ll develop that particular melody to a point, and then repeat the process. Eventually there will be a number of strands which Ross will edit and pull together into an arrangement. Also Ross does all the drum programming, which is a mix of samples and live playing. We found this combination humanises and warms up what might otherwise be a cold and slightly sterile drum track. We have always tried to use only what we consider to be essential in the songs, so the process of refinement is important.’
Ross Turner: ‘The album is made up of songs that I had from early days doing stuff on my own to structured ideas Cian had as demos. A few were built from scratch while figuring out ideas together in the studio. It was really great to see basic ideas develop and find a form. I was always excited about what Cian would bring in demo wise. We had roles to an extent - I took care of most of the engineering and gear end of things and Cian played most of the parts. It was amazing to be able to hand him pretty much any instrument and get something cool out of it. I would always write or do any vocal parts on my own, it made it easier for everyone. Making the album was quite insular, no one else apart from Rian, who played piano on Lost Rhythm, played anything on the album and we didn’t really play the tracks for anyone. The focus was to just get the songs to where we were happy with them.’
Previously on Dangerous MInds
I Am The Cosmos: EXCLUSIVE premiere of their album track ‘Lost Rhythm’
With thanks to I Am The Cosmos and John Kowalski