Band Booking: Talking Songwriting, NYC and Recordings with Cool Serbia

Raz Khandpur, Renan McFarland and Caleb Harmon make up Cool Serbia, a Brooklyn band who play feedback-heavy rock music in venues across New York City and its environs. They began in Austin in December 2010 as Boy’s Life, changed their name a year later, and moved to New York not long after that. I caught up with them in their studio last weekend and got them to chat about their new EP, their move and the state of recorded music.

Tell me about the band’s new EP.
Renan: We recorded it in Austin, Texas at Cacophony Studios with our friend Eric Wafford. He’s a mastermind.

Kill Someone” is catchy. Are you putting that on the new EP?
Raz: Yeah, it’ll be on there. We have a relationship with that song because it was the first one we really wrote together as a band. It’s my favorite song to play.

Do you have any influences in terms of how you write your lyrics?
Raz: They mostly come from the mood of the song. Most of our songs are just polished versions of jams we do. The lyrics are more meter-based. How does it fit, how does it pop, looking at it as its own instrument. Who the fuck can hear your vocals at a show anyway? So it’s mostly about getting the meter in. And then I’ll get the Notes app out on my iPhone and just mess with words, and then decide from there what’s the tone of the song, and what I want it to be about. And usually it’s unrequited love.

Are there any books you guys are reading right now?
Caleb: The last book I read I actually didn’t like. It was Journey to the End of the Night by Ferdinand Céline. It was really boring. This girl I was seeing at the time gave it to me and she was really into it, just for the obscurity probably. I forced myself to read it but it was fucking bleak and boring. Other than that though, I always go back to Raymond Carver’s short stories. I can read any of those stories over and over.

Raz: It’s good to do that, to go back and revisit stuff. I’m revisiting some magic realism stuff. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When I read that stuff I was seventeen or something and I’m a different person entirely now.

Renan: I read some Bolaño, 2666. It’s a sprawling tale. He’s a badass.

How do you like playing in Brooklyn versus Austin, where you’re from?
Renan: It’s easier to play music in Austin. That’s why so many people do it. But there’s something to be said for things being more challenging here. It’s more work, and I think you take it more seriously. People in Brooklyn come to a show because they want to seek it out.

Caleb: Yeah, the audience is way more receptive in Brooklyn.

Raz: We got kicked out of our own farewell show. They got busted for lighting fireworks off, then they came to find me and I was getting high by a Port-A-Potty, so they were like “All y’all need to fucking go.”

What I love about Brooklyn is the DIY shit. You can play a deli, you can play a rooftop, there’s that Italian restaurant/venue, the different spaces all change your perception. It’s cool not only as a showgoer, but also as a performer, you tap into a different persona based on where you are, like if you’re in a posh place – we played that place Paperbox, and it’s like they’ve brought the Lower East Side to Bushwick. So you never really know what you’re going to get.

Renan: The EP’s going to be on everything by the way, it’ll be on iTunes, it’ll be on all digital channels . . .

How did you do that?
Renan: There are a couple of services that’ll consolidate everything and give you the royalties basically.

Caleb: You just pay them a fee. It’s really nice. And you still own the rights to everything and you get all the royalties. All you need is an LLC and a tax ID number and you can sign up.

Renan: We talked to a couple of small labels. I really think that the role of a label has simply become a bank account.

Raz: I think the concept of albums has lost value.

Renan: Just go a song at a time. Debut it on Pitchfork or something.

Raz: It’s much more manageable. And it works for the attention span of the average consumer.

Renan: But you can’t just be a song on someone’s computer. You have to connect live. It’s all about Internet and touring and luck.

Cool Serbia’s self-titled EP will be available on February 27. They will be performing that night at their EP release party. See their Facebook page for more details.

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