Interview with Cold Weather Company
On a bitingly cold New England day, I met up with Steve Shimchick, Brian Curry, and Jeff Petescia from Cold Weather Company outside of The Middle East before their debut Boston show. In between digging through old vinyl in a Cambridge record store and devouring $1 oysters, we talked about touring, recording their sophomore album; A Folded Letter, and shooting album art amidst plumes of smoke billowing from illegal fireworks.
The New Jersey based alternative folk band first formed in 2011 when Jeff and Brian, who were both attending Rutgers University, had a chance meeting on campus.
I was a freshman and was playing with this girl for an open mic night trying to get myself to play out more. It was a weird rainy day and I was practicing on a park bench when Brian walked by. He had on a Chad Stokes shirt and we had on the same Sanuks and the same color and brand guitar case. It was one of those moments where you look over and you’re just like we should be friends.
Following that first serendipitous meeting, it took another two years for the final Cold Weather Company lineup, and name, to solidify. After Jeff and Brian linked up on that rainy day, they began playing together under various names at a monthly open mic on campus where, one night, another performer timidly approached them.
I remember watching these guys play and I recorded videos of their sets and posted them to YouTube. I felt so nervous talking to them. I especially remember being nervous talking to Brian. He was older and had just really rocked some covers that night.
Nerves aside, Jeff and Brian liked what they heard in Steve’s piano playing and singing and invited him to join the group. Despite their mutual admiration, it took another year for the current lineup to start playing together on a regular basis and begin working on their first album.
What was the most challenging part of this second record?
Brian: I think we were trying to set a higher standard for ourselves in this album. For the first album we were really focusing on being two acoustic guitars, a piano, and 3 vocalists and we wanted to stay as true to that as possible. We were also letting some things slide when it came to timing but wanted to have an organic and raw sound. For this one, we were going for more of a refined sound and a little fuller. We wanted some more cello, we wanted to add some drums here and there even if it’s just me with a big floor tom in my bedroom with a mic on the floor. I think we tried to layer a little more and really explore what we could do with the songs more than we did in the first album.
Jeff: The newer songs are much more fun to play. They’re much more instrumentally complex. Guitar wise I’m doing a lot more riffs. Overall, we feel like the new stuff is a lot more challenging. Like I’ve got to be on my game. It’s just more fun.
*Note.....The show in Boston is part of the last leg on a grueling 16 day tour schedule that took Cold Weather Company from Durham, NC up the east coast through Maine with a show every night. Brian and Jeff both have full time jobs in addition to their time with the band and the trio wanted to make full use of every vacation day they were able to take.
*Note...As Steve was quick to admit, planning a tour as independent artists isn’t always an easy process. The previous week, when they were still touring with Bluebird, Brian’s converted mini-school bus that he had painted light blue, they arrived in town the day of a show they weren’t sure would actually happen. After several urgent emails and phone calls, Steve was finally able to confirm the date with the venue just seven hours before they were slated to play. Overall, the guys have been enjoying the tour though and those stressful moments have been balanced out with more enjoyable ones.
Brian: Philly was definitely great, Radford was great, last night in Providence was great. The number one thing you want, especially since we’re not heavy, we spend a long time writing these lyrics – a lot of them are very personal, we spend a long time on the guitar phrases and the piano phrases and we want them to be heard. When we get a room of people that are actually listening and responding and asking about it later that’s what makes a great show for us. I’d rather play to 15 people who are really engaged and talk to them afterwards. It just feels better overall.
Steve: Last year in Philly we played a basement show, it was a little less… I wouldn’t have invited my parents to it. [This time] my parents were able to see us in a good environment. It was intimate and friendly with really nice lighting and the whole setup, the bands we played with were great. It’s nice to go back to these communities that are welcoming and that are really just looking forward to hearing you play again.
*Note...From watching their interactions with each other, it’s obvious all three members of Cold Weather Company really enjoy playing music and being on the road as a group. Earlier in the day, we stopped by Cheapo Records to comb through their diverse selection of CDs, vinyl, and tapes. In between laughing together at some of the more suggestive and dated album art, Jeff quickly found two handfuls of CDs he wanted to buy. I think Brian managed to talk him out of a few but he still left the store with several new purchases and a smile from ear to ear.
As their current tour wraps up, Cold Weather Company have already started looking ahead to what’s next and are setting their sights on more live shows.
Steve: The album’s only been out for a little over two months so we’re just trying to see how far we can take it. We haven’t traveled nearly as far as we’d like to. This year, especially in the coming summer and fall, we’re going to get into setting up the next tour. I think this is going to be a pivotal year in showing how far we can take the album. We’re just going to play it out as much as we can and really make the most of it.
Brian: We’re proud of the first album and hold it near and dear to our hearts but I don’t think we saw it as the place where we were ready to jump in. This one feels a lot more like a jumping point. We’re very proud of this, we worked on it for a long time.
In addition to planning more tour dates, the band is also pushing the new songs for placement in movies and short films. Their dream placement: a Wes Anderson movie.
Brian: His movies are so fun and out there. One of the best compliments we get is when people say that they love listening to our music on road trips or traveling around or that it takes them to another place.
Several songs from A Folded Letter have already started popping up as the soundtrack for videos on YouTube and Instagram. Although not quite offering the exposure of a Wes Anderson film just yet, the videos have still attracted thousands of views from all over the world.
On creating the album art for A Folded Letter:
Brian: I had a dream of what I wanted the album art to look like with these three figures confronted by floating orbs in the middle of the woods.
To bring the idea to life, Brian, Jeff, and Steve headed out into the forest at night armed with camping lights, smoke bombs, and a tripod.
Brian: I set the camera up on a tripod with a 30 second exposure and was running around throwing these illegal smoke bombs all over the place to create the fog. For anyone who was wondering, the lights are actually camping lanterns inside of trash bags.
What would you say if you could write a letter to all of your fans?
Brian: Someone told us one of the new songs was their favorite song. How could I possibly display what that means for somebody to say hey that song that you guys wrote in your living room is my favorite song that I ever heard. I cannot comprehend it. You can’t explain what that means.
Jeff: If I could send a letter to everybody I would say thanks so much…yeah, just thanks so much.