There’s a special feeling that comes from taking joy in doing something you’re not especially good at. It’s the joy of being a child. The freedom of being without self-awareness.
In a time when feeds are filled with talented and exceptional people, it’s easy to forget what that feeling is like. As we become adults with reputations and identities we derive meaning from, our openness to try things we’re bad at dwindles. Better not to try and leave our self-perceptions intact.
But what if people went the other way? What if more of us embraced our unexceptionalism?
I share this prologue to set some expectations.
This year during quarantine, my wife, four-year-old, and I started a proudly unexceptional family band, called Cozy Cozy. This week our first record, The Family Album, went up on streaming services (Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, SoundCloud).
When you hear “family band” your mind may leap to images of the Jackson 5, Hanson, or Dr. Funke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band. Our inspiration is a different family band: Don Cherry’s Organic Music Theatre. Here they are on Italian television in 1976:
The liberation of feeling and largeness of soul (to paraphrase Sojourner Truth) that Cherry’s music creates is extraordinary. It’s the most alive music I’ve ever heard. Though we don’t have Don Cherry’s extraordinary talents, that spirit is the goal of our music.
I (Yancey) sing and play guitar. Jamie (my wife) plays lead on ukelele, electric guitar, and keyboards. Koji (our four-year-old) drums, sings, and plays ukulele.
Our songs are improvised and recorded in one take. We sit in a circle with a phone on the floor between us, recording a single voice memo for each session. Whatever happens happens.
A session lasts no more than twenty minutes, at which point Koji will start to fake yawn (as you can hear at the 1:20 mark of “Don’t It Burn”) or find another way to signal his desire to do something else. Each session produces one or two moments worth saving. We’ve posted 45 of these songs to Soundcloud so far. The Family Album collects 18 of our favorites.
I interviewed the band about their music. Here’s what they had to say.
Q: What’s your favorite Cozy Cozy song?
Koji: The “Mars” song. When I don’t listen to the “Mars” song I think, ‘where’s Mars?’ And I mean the song.
Jamie: “Constellation.” Because it reminds me of the Durutti Column and that makes me feel happy inside that I can make something that sounds anything like that. Also because you told me once that the song made you picture me standing inside a snow globe playing my electric guitar. I like that.
Yancey: “Last Time.” When Jamie started playing the piano part it felt like a song we’d discovered rather than made up. So good. We recorded it during the West Coast fires. On that particular day we couldn’t see anything out our windows other than a blanket of smoke. Things felt bleak. Making this song helped.
Q: What do you like most about your music?
Yancey: That it isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is.
Jamie: I love that it feels so natural. That there’s no pressure. I feel free. I’m unexceptional. I know I suck at guitar. I’m not afraid of that. That lets me just be myself. And you know what? I don’t suck that bad. I like how it sounds!
Koji: I like listening to our music more than making our music.
Check out Cozy Cozy for yourself:
Peace and love,
Yancey, Jamie & Koji
Here’s a Spotify playlist of the music that inspires us: Cozy Cozy loves.
Our gear is very basic. Koji drums on a bucket we got while picking berries. Jamie plays a children’s electric guitar. We do have two very cool Critter and Guitari miniature synthesizers: a Pocket Piano (dead-simple and amazing) and an Organelle (more complicated, also amazing). They’re incredibly intuitive and fun to use. Highly recommended.
Because I spent the first decade of my professional life as a music critic, I have to be a pedant: calling Don Cherry’s Organic Music Theatre a family band is debatable — only Don Cherry and his wife, artist Moki Cherry (whose Wikipedia page is longer than Don’s and super interesting), were family members. But this amazing 1978 documentary on the Cherry family — whose children include Neneh Cherry and Eagle Eye Cherry — also makes clear how integral the family was to their music and art-making. A whole family of heroes. The coolest.
Do you embrace your unexceptionalism? How so? I’d love to hear your story.