Common knowledge states that you should never meet your heroes. Not heeding this advice typically results in some combination of disappointment, regret, and an inevitable sense of your favorite thing being forever tarnished by your unfortunate encounter. Sometimes though, you get catching-lightning-in-a-bottle-lucky, and it turns out that the people you’ve looked up to for so long are actually even more deserving of your admiration than you already thought. Mat Cothran and Delaney Mills make up Asheville, North Carolina’s Elvis Depressedly, and are by definition, an exception to the “never meet your heroes” rule.
Elvis Depressedly’s music has a genuine feel to it; the emotion in the lyrics, the arrangement of each note, and the composition of each song all make their sound feel anything but contrived. The most defining characteristic of each of their albums is the undeniable ability to provide the person listening to it with a sense of comfort; like a good friend that is always there for you, who somehow always understands exactly what you’re going through and is there to promise you that, no matter what, everything will be alright. It’s the type of hope you can hold onto and wrap around yourself like your favorite blanket; there with you to weather your storm and remind you that you will make it through this. Their songs are earnest promises of better days that you can believe in and cling to like a much needed lifeline when everything else in your life seems too much to bear. It’s music that has gotten me through my darkest battles with depression, and is there with me too, to celebrate the very best of my best times.
Like their music, Cothran and Mills are genuine. They radiate kindness and warmth; being around them feels like coming home. I talked with the duo about their newest new-old album, what they hope their music means to people, the under-appreciatedness of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and what they’ve learned so far in the industry.
The songs on Holo Pleasures/California Dreamin are songs from a while back that you decided to release, why did you decide to release them now?
Cothran: Well, there’s the, the truth is you’re trying to make a record that people want to buy ya know, when you’re on a record label or whatever, so that was a way to make it more…
Mills: Well and we had already put out Holo Pleasures 1, and a bunch of people bought it, it was only a run of 500, and you know, after the run of 500 sold out, people were like gouging people….
Cothran: …On Discogs yeah, they were going for like hundreds, for a 7 inch and I…
Mills: And we didn’t want those people to get fucked over, like they spent a bunch of money on a thing that wasn’t its own like insular thing, so we kind of wanted to make something that…
Cothran: That would even out the market too.
Mills: Yeah that would add something to the original thing and so we already had those songs, so, you know.
Cothran: Once it came together, it felt like a more complete record finally, some of the songs just didn’t fit, or I thought they didn’t fit, now I think they do. Your opinions change over time, but uh, I thought they might have been too weird or something like that, but I think they ended up working out.
Mills: Some reviewer described it as a split with ourselves, which I thought was a good description of it you know, cause they’re really like two different things but they’re companion pieces in a way.
What kind of reaction were you hoping that people would have to the new songs?
Cothran: I was hoping people wouldn’t think like, ‘Ah you messed it up,’ but the thing is about that, like people got mad at Kanye about changing his record a bunch of times, but I thought it was cool, its like a patch for some software, you just come in and you just fix it or change it if you want, it’s your thing. No, no work of art is finished, like really, you just kind of stop working on it at some point, or at least that’s the philosophy I believe in, so I was a little worried that people would think that it was like too much, it seemed like people seemed to be OK with it. Its an interesting record because that record’s been very successful for us with people hearing it and downloading it, lots and lots of people downloaded it, and streamed it and stuff like that…
Mills: But also at the same time I feel like people kind of got the wrong idea about us from that record…
Cothran: Yeah, that’s true.
Mills: And so, it was nice to add on to, there’s like a political song on California Dreamin’, there’s “Angel Cum Clean.”.. also each song kind of fits together with another song on Holo Pleasures too, to liven up the idea of who we are because people got a lot of ideas about who we were from Holo Pleasures 1.
Cothran: So we kind of filled in the, uh, the first original Holo Pleasures was kind of broad, mostly about love songs, a broad kind of thing, and we kind of filled in the blanks so that people wouldn’t think we were like part of some scene that we’re absolutely, 100% not involved in like emo or stuff like that that I think is kind of like, poisonous.
What kinds of things do you want people to feel when they’re listening to your music?
Cothran: I guess comfort, is a big thing that I want to feel when I hear music that I enjoy…
Mills: And that’s also one thing that’s nice to hear people say, that a song’s comforting to them in a time of need or some shit.
Cothran: Or even just in a time of just wanting to like, chill out, not so much like wanting make like “chill” music, I mean I’ve chilled out to like, Dark Throne records, or like Metallica, that puts me in a really chill mood, the song, uh what’s it called [pauses] “For Whom the Bell Tolls” that song really chills me out. But just finding it comfortable, just like your favorite book or your favorite record, or your favorite video game, just something you come home to, cause that’s what it is to me, creating it. That’s all I really know how to do in the world.
What are each of your personal reasons for making music as Elvis Depressedly?
Cothran: What do you think Delaney?
Mills: A lot of it is being able to work with Mat and be able to work together on stuff, our fans, our friends…
Cothran: Listeners, supporters, I try to stay away from the word “fan” I mean you can use the word, I just personally try to stay away from it, it feels weird to me you know.
[Mills and Cothran laugh]
Mills: Yeah, I mean same. I think that’s a big part for me, especially after doing tours with some other bands and talking to other bands, we realized a lot of them don’t have a lot of respect for their supporters.
Cothran: Yeah, I mean they treat them like fans, which is, I don’t know, I mean we are blessed somehow with what I think is an incredible listener base, and people support us. Everyone is really understanding and loving and cool to us and a lot of those types of people come to our shows usually it’s cool like, that that happens.
Mills: Yeah like I can’t imagine with this like, being my job and not wanting to hang out with the people at our shows. I mean, I’m sure once you get to a certain point it can just be really overwhelming, like Nicki Minaj or something trying to hang out with all her fans or something.
Cothran: Yeah cause the more fans you get, the more chance you have of running into someone crazy like, there was someone crazy about Nicole [Dollanganger] at our first show, I mean we had to have extra security to keep her safe from this lunatic and that’s scary, but we try to be really open with people from the jump…
Mills: And we seem to attract a certain type of really special people.
Cothran: Yeah and like, I try to be really myself online, I try to not put on a persona whatsoever. It’s funny when you do that though cause then people think that you’re putting on a persona and it’s like no, I’m really just this big of an idiot, [laughs] like it’s OK we all have our own like… I’d rather be real than cool or whatever, and I think people feel comfortable with that, and the people that come to our shows are usually really cool people. There’s the whole thing of doing it for self-fulfillment…
Mills: And it’s also nice to keep it all in-house, like I do all the artwork and then…
Cothran: We don’t have a manager, we don’t mess with middle men, we don’t do that.
Mills: Well we have Greg.
Cothran: Yeah true, we have a booking agent, and that’s like a choice, that’s someone I really trust.
Mills: And maybe at some point we would but not for this band, the whole purpose of this band is to create something and be successful and bring as many people on as possible so that we can encourage other people that you can do it on your own, you don’t have to have a manager…
Cothran: You don’t have to pay your dues so much, cause usually that stuff means like, do me a favor to someone higher up.
Mills: Yeah and you don’t have to do things for free just to get exposure. We want to show people you can do it on your own, we run our own business, and you know it’s really empowering and we hope to also empower other people too by seeing us doing it. We want to show them that you don’t have to wait around for someone else or someone to hit you up online, you can just go out and do it.
Cothran: If you’re making things that are honest and real, you’ll find someone, some group that is into what you’re doing, especially with the internet. We do it to fulfill ourselves and we do it to show everyone else that they can do it too. We want to change the music business you know. I’m always online trying to hype people that I find that have like no following. I want people to listen, I want people to share in and listen with me you know. It’s all I know. This is all I’ve known since I starting doing this at 16. I just make songs. If I didn’t do that, I don’t know, I guess I’d just wait around until I was reborn as another creature. That’s all I could do, just wait around, fill up my time and try to be productive.
Your songs often feel like they have a lot of feelings and emotion in them, what is it like knowing that that’s all out there for people to hear?
Cothran: The cool thing about that is that everyone’s always gunna interpret something differently. I could say, exactly to the point, I could be like at 4:35 p.m. on Jan. 4 I did this, this and this and someone is still going to interpret it, they’re going to put their own life into it. I think a lot of people don’t realize, you can be as candid as you want and it’s OK. In the context of art, it’s kind of a free space, or it should be. There’s some scenes where people will try to silence that but if you don’t play into it, you can do what you want. One of my favorite artists, Bulldog Eyes, she just writes these really great songs and she puts herself out there in every way, fearlessly.
Mills: Some people are put off by that.
Cothran: Yeah some people are put off by that, some people are put off by things we say sometimes too, but you can kind of say whatever you want.
Mills: And the people who can relate to the things that you have to say, it means that much more to them to hear it coming from someone else. It means more to them than like any asshole that’s going to get offended by it.
What do your songs mean to you as Elvis Depressedly and on a personal level?
Cothran: I like doing songs especially that pay homage to what I grew up listening to, especially in the songwriting part. On a personal level that helps me a lot, I like to be able to reference things. I think it’s cool, like we have one of the older songs on the new release where I namedrop Morphine, which is a great band. Like some people didn’t think it was a band name and thought it was just a drug reference and thought it was funny to say that, but I wanted people to get it and go listen to Morphine and listen to “A Cure For Pain” and their lives would be changed forever like mine was when my step-dad would tell me “now this is the greatest song you’ll hear in your life” while like drinking a PBR and listening to “A Cure For Pain.” That stuff is cool to me, I like creating a little world, I like inviting people into my little world, too.
Mills: That’s definitely been a big part of it for us too with me doing the art and us creating the music, you kind of try to create your own little universe.
Your music means a lot to a lot of people out there on a deeply personal level. What is it like knowing that the music you both make means so much to people?
Cothran: It’s crazy. Totally fuckin’ insane actually.
Mills: Well and ‘cause we never thought, like Mat has the band Coma Cinema, that he started when he was 15, with the goal to put it out there. And then Elvis, you started to kind of take a break and make something that people wouldn’t be so attached to.
Cothran: Yeah, I got a little overwhelmed I think, cause I never expected anything. I just used to make music for friends. I remember getting put on websites and I was like, I didn’t even know what this is, and then just more and more people would ask me to play shows and I’ve just kind of always went with it and went with it and went with it. It got to the point where I thought I had no more goals, like everything I thought I could never do I already did, and I had to kind of reevaluate my life after and set new goals.
Like going to the UK, we played London and our first show there was sold out and it was indescribable. I was really grateful, but I also didn’t understand ‘cause there’s so many other artists out there that are so much better than me, there’s Katie Dey, there’s Cat Be Damned, there’s Bulldog Eyes. Like why am I here? So I always try to use that space and put on other people too and give back. I don’t think you get these things cause you deserve them, I think it’s partly hard work, I think it’s partly things happen, I think it’s just circumstances of the universe. It’s bizarre that people care, and they care so much, I’m just super-grateful, I’m beyond grateful, I don’t even know how to express it.
[Brushes off a fly]
Cothran: Man these flies love me, they know I’m one of them, I’m the king of the flies. What was that book? “Lord of the Flies”! They make you read that when you’re a kid but that’s kind of a heavy book… I was always more into poetry anyways, I liked William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes a lot in high school and junior high and Emily Dickinson. A lot of people hate on Emily Dickinson but she’s great, she was awesome! A lot of people love Sylvia Plath, which she’s fine she’s great too, but a lot of people love Sylvia Plath and ignore Emily Dickinson and she was doing a lot of the same stuff first. Emily Dickinson wasn’t just writing poems about like grass and flowers and bees, she was writing some pretty dark stuff too in her own right, she had a weird life too. I just love Emily, I think she doesn’t get enough credit, that’s all. They think she’s plain and boring but she’s great, I won’t rest until people know that, dammit! [Cothran and Mills laughing].
On Holo Pleasures/California Dreamin’, which of the songs mean the most to you and why?
Cothran: On a personal level, the title track, the California Dreamin’ song means a lot to me. It’s about my friend of like 11 years that moved to Costa Rica, and I was in a weird situation where I didn’t know if he was ever coming back and it was kind of like a goodbye song, like a thank you for being my friend and I love you, I’m sad but I wish you the best. He did come back and now he lives next door to me, so it all worked out, but to me, it was like capping that friendship off with like a love letter. I don’t think there’s enough platonic love songs. People should write more songs for their dogs and their friends and their cats, their fuckin’ spider; like whatever, not everything should be about romantic love, like romantic love is great but not everything should be about that.
Mills: I really like “Nakamura” a lot, like Mat writes all the lyrics so it’s kind of hard for me to have a connection that way but I do really like the lyrics…
Cothran: And there’s a ton of emotion in that synth part that you wrote.
Mills: Yeah that’s exactly what I was gunna say. And like it’s named after a Japanese pro-wrestler, like there was one night where Mat stayed up super-late to watch Wrestle Kingdom, which was going on in Japan live, and so we watched that and I wrote that synth part trying to be inspired by him [Nakamura] as an athlete and I used that as my inspiration for the synth part.
Cothran: I think you nailed it, it has such a delicate part but it’s very strong and that’s what he [Nakamura] is, like he has a delicate style but he’s so strong. He’s the king of strong style. But yeah, all of the songs are really important to me. Some of them were left off the first time just because they did seem more heavy to me, not in a bad way. You can be heavily positive too. Pure brilliant happiness can weigh on you as well. There’s some songs that are sadder on there. There’s the “Cop Poet” song which is speaking on police violence and how horrible it is. It has to change, it has to, for society to continue in any sort of positive way. If police don’t stop killing innocent people, something will happen, there’s going to be justice, whether it’s something like I believe in like spiritual justice or justice from the people. So that song, a lot of the songs were thought to be too heavy for the record originally, but now I’m glad they’re there. It completes it.
You’ve been making music as Elvis Depressedly for a while, what has your experience been over the years as a project together, what has that been like?
Cothran: It’s been ups and downs and mostly great. I’ve learned so much, Delaney taught me a lot. Delaney is a very talented musician, very intelligent.
Mills: Yeah it’s been a very great learning experience ya know, ‘cause we’ve talked about the idea of starting another project and just like taking what we’ve learned, both from the musical standpoint and like a business standpoint and using what we’ve learned to start another project and see what we can do starting with something completely from scratch ya know. Elvis really took off and was totally out of our control and out of nowhere, like Holo Pleasures got no press, nobody wrote about it, it came out on Bird Tapes, which was like a defunct label for a long time, so it’s just kind of crazy that that even took place.
Cothran: Our relationship has grown at the same rate as the band almost, we’ve become closer as the band has become more…
Mills: Yeah cause it started out just with Mat using my drum kit or whatever to record stuff…
Cothran: And before that it started with you [Mills] just sitting in my room while I like drank beers and you drew and just listen to records and not even talking much, just both of us in a very small room for hours and that was how we hung out as friends. It grew as the band grew.
Mills: It’s also been great as a means for meeting a bunch of new people. One of our first shows together we drove to Baltimore to play Teen Suicide’s last show, or what we thought was Teen Suicide’s last show, and I knew a lot of people from there online, but it was kind of met like Alec and John and everybody who would end up being, like we met our best friends through this band.
What is your typical process for writing a song, like from your first idea to when it’s done?
Cothran: It depends, I usually bring the base part to Delaney and then she transforms it from there.
Mills: Well you usually have the lyrics and then like kind of an idea of the melody.
Cothran: Yeah, I usually write while walking around and just singing to myself. Which, sometimes I don’t know that I’m not alone and I’ll just turn around and I’m just there walking around singing weird shit to myself. So I’ll take that and then Delaney will kind of process it from there.
Mills: Yeah like after the base part, cause you’ll [Cothran] will have the melody and the base part and then I’ll try to write the keyboard that doesn’t conflict with the base part. I’m like the lead guitar or whatever, I kind of take the place of the lead guitar, and then I’m kind of like an editor.
Cothran: Yeah you’ll [Mills] definitely take my base ideas and make them more interesting. I think in the future though we’re probably going to work a little bit differently.
Mills: I’ve just recently started to learn how to produce things on my own so I think going forward I’m probably going to be more involved with the production and engineering.
Cothran: We’re at a point in our music journey where we have access to equipment we never had access to before.
Mills: Yeah like I hadn’t had really a computer for like five years cause mine got stolen while I was in college and then I had two of those like plastic Macs or whatever, but like one of them was a hand-me-down and neither of them really were capable of running like any software.
Cotrhan: Yeah and now because people have supported us to the level that they do, we were able to get some really nice stuff. I think our next record will definitely surprise people.
Mills: And we’re never going to stop being real with people, it’s just that we have access now to a lot of equipment that we didn’t have before, like more instruments and more recording equipment. I’m just really excited to see like, after this tour what we can do.
Cothran: I wanna be top 40 someday; like, Kanye’s the realest person on the planet and he’s top 40, like I wanna chart top 40…like how funny would that be? That would be the funniest damn thing to happen. I’d laugh forever, I just wouldn’t stop laughing like I’d have to go see like specialists and doctors cause I just wouldn’t stop laughing. Even if I was number 39, or fuck it, 40, or even 41, I’ll take up to 42 cause that’s like “Hitchhikers Guide,” up to 41 I’m happy.
So lastly, what do you want people to know about yourselves, or Elvis Depressedly or this last record in general?
Cothran: [long pause] Umm, I think everyone pretty much knows about everything about us. I mean any more and then it’d be like watching the Big Brother live stream. I don’t know, I mean, we always tell the truth. At this point in my life, I’m more concerned with helping other people get to the point that we’re at cause there’s so many pitfalls.
Mills: There’s so many people trying to take advantage of you and we’ve had people like fuck us over and stuff that we didn’t even know, so trying to help people avoid that kind of crap.
Cothran: There’s a lot of shady people, all these old, goofy-ass men that wanna make money for nothin’ and that’s sickening, I hate them, I really do, and they know who they are.
Mills: Yeah and our email is on our twitter account so if anyone out there ever has a question, especially about the industry. Like when people are giving you contracts for like indie labels, I mean contracts for indie labels haven’t changed in like decades and people think like, “Oh it’s gotten so much more transparent” but there’s still people that are thinking like one step ahead and are trying to fuck you over so, anyone out there who feels weird about the industry or music. Like we’re not super technically savvy, but don’t be afraid to reach out to us about that kind of thing.
Cothran: We have the wisdom of injury. We have the wisdom from being hurt that we can pass down to you, like if you see someone slip and fall, you’re going to be more careful and we’re more than willing to slip and fall in front of you so that you can learn from our mistakes. There’s a lot of people that tell you, “Oh, you don’t wanna be a sell-out, you don’t wanna be this and that” and they say that to keep you from getting what’s yours.
Mills: Yeah they don’t want you to compete with the artists that do have to pay like a lot of managers and stuff and have to worry about all this bullshit, but, you can, you can compete.
Cothran: The music industry is a lot like Blockbuster. Blockbuster held on as long as they could, they didn’t change anything. They just said, “Ah this stuff will pass; Netflix? Man what is that? It’s a trend, it’ll go away.” Where’s Blockbuster now ya know? That’s where the music industry is gunna be. But we’ll be here. And everyone else will be here that’s cool, and we’ll have a big party once they’re gone. We’ll pop bottles at their symbolic funeral ya know [laughs].