Kate Cooper: “Are you making any money?” and you know, “What will you do after you’re done doing this?” and “Have you thought about getting a normal job?” And, of course, you know every musician thinks all those thoughts but it doesn’t help when your mother is bringing them up.
It’ll often pop in to your head while you’re staring at the rear-end of the motionless car in front of you, comatose with rage, while a glowing stream of meandering taillights map out your commute home. Or it’ll materialize as a numbing boredom washes over you as you sit in your cubicle. It manifests itself in those silent, reflective moments, instantly filling the empty thoughts in your head. And “it” is the burden that plagues everyone who has ever lived. That nagging little pang of self-doubt that lingers and festers in the back of your head, questioning your every move: “Is this the life you had in mind?”
And that cold insecurity floods your body when the voice no longer remains that of your subconscious but, instead, becomes your mother’s voice crackling through the speaker on your phone.
Australian-born Kate Cooper (singer/guitarist) of the indie-rock band An Horse, lives with this inner-turmoil—in conjunction with the pressure of a nervous mother—as does anyone who has ever suffered through the drudges of underemployment and a daily grind. However, unlike most of us, Cooper is able to turn these negative emotions into beautiful, poetic songs. And it’s the likeness we share with Cooper in those emotions that make her songs gripping and familiar.
A layperson likely responds to these periods of shaky revelations with fantasies of commanding an audience on stage, guitar in hand. But what is often missing from these flights of the imagination are the long periods of failing and wracking anxiety that are the obligatory baggage for all of those looking to “make it.” No one likes to think about the toiling, the disappointment, the ridicule, the work that goes in to living their dream. Thus, few are destined to even try. The pathway to stardom is littered with those not strong enough to make the climb, as they say. Even Cooper, who long ago dropped out of law school, seems uncertain of where her persistence comes from, submitting in her lyrics that “maybe it’s in my convict blood” (a reference to Australia’s days under British rule).
Cooper: I’m never happy. And, in general, I’ve been very happy with our progress and everything, but, I mean, I want everything to happen quicker.
Pop ‘stache: Well, at least to an outsider, it seems like it’s all happened pretty fast for your band.
KC: Yeah, it doesn’t feel like that to me. I’m like, “Why? Why doesn’t it go faster?” You know, you look at people who are huge now, like Robyn, who has been slaving for 10, 15 years. It is kind of quick, I guess, when you look at it like that.
Cooper and bandmate Damon Cox (drummer/singer) from their modest beginning as two Brisbanian record store co-workers who started playing music together in 2007—partly motivated by experimentation and largely by happenstance—have since gone on to take on North America and Europe, releasing two full-length albums and three EPs, touring with Death Cab for Cutie and Manchester Orchestra, respectively, and making an appearance on Letterman (which Cooper’s innocent mother called, “The Lettermen’s”) playing their hit single “Camp Out.”
As poor Cooper has had to explain countless times—along with the origin of her band— the band name was born out of a fiery grammatical debate with her neighbor over the use of the word “an” before hard “h” and soft “h” words. Eventually Cooper’s neighbor, surely battered and beleaguered, in a noble display of defeat, made Cooper an adapted white flag: a sweatshirt that had the words “An Horse” written across it.
After several people around their hometown inquired about the sweatshirt—some even asking if “An Horse” was a band name—Cooper and Cox decided to adopt the name for their “incidental” group, especially since considering they already had the one piece of merchandise.
Despite the fact that there are dozens of similar sounding bands, what lodges An Horse’s flavor of rock into the crevasses of their audience’s memory is their openness, their vulnerability. Cooper has an innate ability to turn her personal strife into relatable songs.
Emotionally laden tracks, often overtly biographical and specific yet engaging and vague, coat the cortex in a thick melancholy and force all of the listener’s attention inward. This isn’t done meekly, however. Cooper asserts herself through her music with bravado, as if to say she’s comfortable with being uncomfortable, creating an intriguing juxtaposition of tenderness and relentlessness.
Cooper’s accent sends her voice warping over and around vowels in an addicting, persistent cognitive tickling. Then, behind her distinguishing voice, rumbles a confident buzz-pop, elevating her downhearted lyrics to a celebratory state.
The group’s live performances and their first full-length, Rearrange Beds, portrayed the duo as ostensibly attempting a minimalist sound; keeping the formula simple with just a two-piece. This was purely unintentional, however. By Cooper’s own admission, the first album was made by “a band that didn’t know it was a band.”
In the four years since their debut, Cooper and Cox have found themselves and begun to operate as a unified band. And while their live and recorded performances have remained just the two of them, after a genre-flipping effort in their tech-drenched remix of Rearrange Beds, called Beds Rearranged, the group has made it clear that their sound is fluid, and likely to keep evolving.
P ‘s: Now are there plans for a third full-length?
KC: Yes, there are. And they are slowly being put in motion. I’ve been home writing and sending [out] my insecure emails and demos, you know, that kind of thing. In all honesty, yes, we’re starting to work on a new record. … Every time you make a new record, it’s all about making things better. It might seem gradual to other people, but when I’m writing songs, it feels huge—that I’ve made huge jumps, but I don’t know if people always see them.
Helping the group get their start, Tegan and Sara Quin fulfilled the role of artist and repertoire for the duo, and they are still there for them to this day, Sara especially. She often provides the vote of confidence that keeps Cooper committed, pulling her out of that self-defeating headspace.
KC: Sara actually has always been involved in some degree in the music I make. And she’ll tell me, even if she wasn’t in A&R, which she is, … she’s always had this role. Poor girl. But, she still has to suffer through my demos and my emails explaining how bad they are and you know, I wanna die and, you know, that kind of thing. We’re there for each other.
And I think the more you meet other musicians—I have a couple people now that I’ve been talking with about other demos and music and stuff—that if four years ago you told me who I was going to be talking to about my music, I wouldn’t have believed you. I think it’s a great privilege. But in having talked to them, I think we’re all kind of insecure, somewhat. And I mean the only difference between us is some of these people have sold millions of records and others haven’t.
The somewhat inspiring thought is that no one is left certain. Apparently, even a room or lawn filled with hundreds of people cheering you on isn’t enough to assuage the doubts.