From his early forays as a songwriter to recording at the iconic EastWest Studio in LA and traveling to San Francisco to finish his first LP with former bassist and brilliant producer of Girls, Chet “JR” White, Jordan Corso lived every bedroom artist’s wet dream. (Every bedroom artist that cut his or her musical teeth on late-2000 San Francisco sounds, at least.) The right people recognized something real in his demos and he discovered he had the songwriting prowess to back it all up, ultimately turning his band, which was initially forged out of the ashes of a doomed relationship, into his ticket out of Lonely Singer/Songwriter Land and on to San Francisco.
After making the reverse exodus from LA to SF earlier this year, he’s primed to fill a pivotal gap in the city’s music scene with his project Cotillon. While the band’s latest single “Before” is a somber dream pop stunner, he allows himself the freedom to experiment with different sounds, resulting in the collection of moody tunes that make up Cotillon’s eponymous debut LP. Due to be released on January 26 through Burger Records, the record traverses a wide range of styles, from fuzzy guitar pop to thoughtful piano ballads.
Ahead of his first local gig this Saturday, December 6, at The Chapel, I sat down with Jordan to talk about the evolution of his songwriting, the power of breakups, and Bay Area bands. Read on and get to know this guy, San Francisco. He wants to know you, too.
The Bay Bridged: You originally came up here to finish recording your album with JR. What made you decide to move here?
Jordan Corso: I’d never been to San Francisco before. I came up here because we basically had a plan to finish recording in LA and it didn’t happen. It just sort of dragged out. JR was like “Why don’t you come here and stay with me. We’ll take some time to do overdubs and figure it out.” So I ended up up here, and I’d never really spent time in San Francisco at all. It’s pretty crazy actually, the way the whole thing went. From when I started writing music up until this point — that span happened so fast. All of a sudden I was up here, making a record, and I had never spent time in a studio before.
TBB: You have a unique perspective on San Francisco, then. How is it treating you so far?
Jordan: It’s treating me well. When I was going to college in Arizona, the social environment wasn’t for me, I didn’t exactly fit in there but I found myself with a few friends and we were really interested in experimental pop music. We had all these weird little recording projects. I remember hearing Girls on the radio. They became one of my favorite bands. This was maybe four years ago. I wasn’t an experienced musician. I never performed in my life. But a band like Girls, they were just cool. They just did it themselves. I remember thinking after hearing Christopher’s voice, that he was just going for it. It inspired me to try to sing even though I had no idea how to at the time.
When I graduated I moved to LA with my girlfriend. While we were moving in to our place in Los Feliz, the leg of our couch broke and my both my guitar cases stacked together made the perfect height to replace the leg. So with the guitars in them I put them underneath the couch to keep it up. And I went to work for the next year.
TBB: You left them there?
Jordan: Yeah, without ever playing them. So that didn’t work out. I moved to Downtown LA and I got a new job that was just shit. I picked the guitars up again. I had so much free time that I just started writing and recording. It was really loose and sloppy. It wasn’t anything that I was ready to share with people. At the same time I was reteaching myself to play the guitar.
There’s some kind of energy that you get after a break up that inspires you to go out and do something. And I just ended up starting a band. My expectations weren’t high at all. But somehow…
There was a guy I worked with that was promoting shows around LA and he found out that I was a musician and kept trying to book me. Finally I said, “alright I’ll put a band together and play one of these shows”, and it was actually well-received. So we decided to record a little EP. From there the idea was to just play as much as possible.
TBB: Is that the same band that’s up here? Do you even have a band up here?
Jordan: I’ve never really had a band. I’ve just asked people to play with me. The cast has consistently changed throughout the growing process, and at the same time I was learning how to perform. The guys that I’m playing with now make up one of my favorite bands in LA called Deep Fields.
The idea of getting on stage was so terrifying that I never wanted to do that. But then I got to the point where I just didn’t give a shit anymore so I started to do it.
TBB: Now here you are.
Jordan: I came up here to record. When we finished tracking, I moved back to LA and I got a job. Then I went to Coachella and I ran into Alex, who is someone I met at The Chapel while I was up here. We just had a really good weekend together, so I started coming up and visiting her.
TBB: That’s cool. I love the Chapel. It’s going to be a really important part of San Francisco. I know it.
Jordan: I hope so. I was flying up here every chance I could and I just decided I was going to stay one day. A friend had a room open up and it was this freak opportunity where I could actually afford to live here. Otherwise it’s extremely competitive and unaffordable rent in the city. Oddly enough it is Christopher’s old room.
TBB: More about your songs. A lot of them seem to be about love gone wrong, failed attempts at love, stuff like that. Is there some sort of overarching theme in the album coming up?
Jordan: It’s weird because I put so much time and energy into this record, and the amount of time it took to record, mix, have it produced – all that – my life changed a lot. I focused a lot on lyrics, because I had a lot to say. Sometimes you only feel things for a certain amount of time. I’ve talked to other musicians who say that by the time the record comes out and we have to tour behind it, we don’t feel these songs anymore necessarily.
Some songs are just about being lonely. Other ones were about the way I saw a relationship existentially and how dating in LA is superficial in a lot of ways. You just kind of have fun with someone for like a month.
TBB: It fizzles out.
Jordan: Yeah and that was not what I wanted. I was frustrated by that — the lack of companionship and the overall culture of the city, the girls I was hanging out with and what not. I was writing about how you can have a bad night, something doesn’t work out, and you go home and write a song and it exists in that specific night. But a year goes by and you’re still singing it. That’s a little weird to wrap my head around sometimes.
TBB: Certain nights you probably don’t care to visit over and over again.
Jordan: Exactly. It’s a reminder. But that was all I knew. Now I’m writing new music. I basically have another record written and there’s a lot of positive material on it.
TBB: I was going to ask — now that you’re in a different city and in a solid relationship, has your songwriting changed?
Jordan: I’m always willing to work hard and never afraid to throw away songs. I’m focused on trying to grow and find my sound. There was this guy Arthur Russell that I was pretty into for a while who would write songs every day and record them to cassette, then get on the Staten Island Ferry and ride around and listen to his them and often times throw the cassette away after. Then he maybe kept the choice songs that he liked for longer than a day.
I started recording demos and walking around San Francisco when I first moved here. I wasn’t working or anything, I just sort of came up on a whim. So the first two months I just wrote songs and walked around the Mission listening to them.
Not only were the themes different but the sound is evolving. We just released one song and it’s coming off as we are a dream pop band. It was difficult to decide which one to release because every song on the album is a little bit different than the next as far as the genre. That was something that JR helped conceptualize. That was the thing about him that I was attracted to. He did whatever he wanted. So when it came time for me to make a proper full length that was actually going to maybe propel me to a different stage where I wasn’t just an LA local band. JR helped me do that. He was an advocate of literally doing whatever you want. Any kind of song. Whatever you want to do, let’s just do it. I think he’s one of the best out there. But what labels want and what he wants can be completely different things. He’s pushing me to do what I love, do what makes me happy, experiment. And when it came time to shop the record, people were confused by it. They would hear one song, then another song, and they didn’t know what to think of it. It was an insecure feeling for me but at the same time I had to constantly remind myself about why I’m doing this to begin with.
Every two or three months we’d play shows, and every time its like, should I keep doing this? I mean I understood music and I understood what being in a band was and how impossible success is. It’s so unpredictable. The bands and artists that I love, most of them never made very much money at all. I felt kind of weird to the point where even after we made this record and we had a manager shopping and people judging it, I was kind of like, should I even do this? I can’t really handle the rejection and the criticism. From the beginning, I was never really trying to be a great singer or a great songwriter. I was just kind of doing it for fun and for me, without those expectations of success. I met this guy Brian Hughes who started Castleface up here and he encouraged me to share music with him. We were emailing, I was showing him demos and he listed some producers who might want to work with me. When JR’s name came up, that would be something that would make me want to keep making music — the opportunity to record with him.
TBB: Did anything strike you about his process? Was he tough? Did he want you to record it a certain way?
Jordan: He was a tough sell. He liked the stuff that we had online. I had a couple EPs done and he liked it, but he needed to hear all the new demos. And I had that feeling like “oh shit, he’s probably not going to be impressed”, because I just had acoustic into mac book songs out of time and stuff. My demos were just messy. But I sent him this soundcloud of thirty-something songs. He wrote back that he likes this song because of this, and this because of this and had all these ideas. Even then he wouldn’t commit to producing us until he could meet up and see us play. It may have been a kind of test to see how serious I was maybe. Him letting me drive the car and follow up. It does take a lot of commitment to make it happen.
TBB: You haven’t played any shows up in SF, but you have the one at the Chapel this weekend and are scheduled to play Noise Pop. You kind of skipped out on playing all the shitty bars here.
Jordan: JR said that. One of the first places he took me to was the Knockout, and he said this is probably where you’ll start playing. And I thought, ahh I did this in LA already!
When you’re in LA, you play a show and there’s usually 3 or 4 other bands on the bill and the people are kind of networky, like hey lets play a show together sometime and they email you and follow up and try to put bills together. But on any given night you could end up on a bill with something like – I respect people for trying but sometimes there are band with a bit of a passé sound, like power punk or sunset strip rock – there’s a lot of opportunities like that, and the thing is in SF, every band is legitimately cool.
TBB: I’m so happy you said that! I agree. None of it is throwaway stuff.
Jordan: No one is doing that. It’s almost intimidating. You go and see like CCR Headcleaner or Fronds and it’s just cool and the crowd is cool. When I was living in Arizona I had a Ty Segall record and a Girls record and I was looking at San Francisco as this fascinating, intimidating place. Like, that’s the place to play music, not LA. LA was just a convenient place to move to after school. There was nothing convenient about moving here. It was ballsy to come here.
TBB: What’s next for Cotillon, besides Noise Pop?
Jordan: You know, I almost didn’t put this record out. I wasn’t happy with what was happening and the amount of time it took.
TBB: Did running out of time make you nervous?
Jordan: We finished this record in the beginning of May, and we just put our first song out in November. I’ve always been in a hurry. I want to be someone who keeps releasing an abundance of material. I noticed in the Los Angeles scene, people would write 8 songs and stand by them and push those songs on everyone and play them for three or four years. And I knew that the first songs that I wrote weren’t going to be my best.
Burger is a light in a very mixed up music industry. They’re supportive and welcoming to weirdness. The validation of them wanting to put my music out kind of gave me that little extra boost to keep going. So that was exciting. I’m excited about the the way we sort of fit in with them now, because we’re not necessarily a garage band.
TBB: No one’s heard the record yet, so how would you describe your music?
Jordan: Well, it makes sense to say that its mood music. Depending on how I feel will set the tone for the time, is is going to be fast of slow, and also minor/major, and what I want to say. These songs are written in small windows of time where I’m feeling something. I don’t just write. I write when I need to say something.
TBB: Last question: What’s the story behind the name?
I was watching a lot of French new wave films at the time so I wanted a French band name to kind of pay homage to where a lot of the influence was coming from , and when i was a small boy my parents used to send me to cotillion, which was this school for manners, posture, and ballroom dancing. My mom used to dress me up like a toy doll for it. Anyway, I thought it was a cool name and it would make my mom laugh.
Froth, Useless Eaters, Cotillon, Emotional
December 6, 2014
9pm, $10-12 (all ages)