Cobra Man: from Worble to Heat Wave
Written by David Paicu.
Exploding into your ears with their nostalgic and retro sound, Cobra Man is what happens when the resurrection of older sounds is done right.
The duo that is Andrew Harris and Sarah Rayne have created a library of works spanning numerous genres that are all tied together by their integral connection to skateboarding.
With two albums, New Driveway and Toxic Planet, acting as soundtracks to their eponymous skate videos produced by Worble (a skate community founded by the Mull brothers), Cobra Man has carved out a niche within the skate community. Beginning as a response to some skate friends' need for music, the band has established a reputation for having a sound that you can skate to. With hits such as 'Ociffer' and 'Bad Feeling', Cobra Man has further understood their audience and accentuated their retro aesthetic with every new release.
That being said, Cobra Man have deviated from their classic soundtrack formula with their latest release, 'Heatwave'. Drawing on their previous sounds, 'Heatwave' emits a new feeling, one that is far more confident and wholly unique.
Seeing this new stylistic development, Radio Monash sat down with Cobra Man to ask what they've been up to recently and how they plan to further explore their own sonic style in the future.
"We have the freedom to do whatever we want because that’s how we started."
How’ve you guys been during this global pandemic?
Andrew: "We have just been staying inside working on our album. We were already really doing that before the lockdown, so after that, we couldn’t really do much else. We just hunkered down. I personally have put a lot of time into learning about a lot of production stuff ... from the ground up again, just to make sure I had everything down pat."
Sarah: "We got a chance to finish up all of those songs. It’s actually been kind of nice. In the beginning we spent a lot of time [working on the songs], working with song writers and producers. It has been okay for us, we’ve been lucky with the studios and everything. We’ve had things to do and time to be creative. I can’t really complain."
How did you guys meet and create Cobra Man?
A: "I’ve been friends with the (Mull brothers) for over a decade now and they’ve been doing the Worble for a long time. In college Tom and I were roommates, he was filming editing skate videos and I was always working on music ... We never really thought about putting the two together.
We linked up after college. Him and his brothers came out and began getting more exposure and more attention and they needed music. I started making some stuff for them and then a friend introduced Sarah to me and we found we had the same musical influences. We then started to mess around with music and made a song for an Element catalogue video. After that we became a band and made music for the Worble dudes which made it more legit."
Quite a lot of your sound has retro hints to it, including late-eighties to early-nineties pop music. What kind of music helped you guys develop your unique sound?
A: "There’s a lot of disco influences. I remember disco being one of the first types of music that really resonated with me as a kid. I found a copy of a tape in my parents' garage and I always loved electronic music growing up. It was very mysterious to me.
A lot of it comes from that early curiosity I was chasing. Sarah and I both love that early pop music. We love the magical grandiosity of old rock and the attitude that comes with it as well."
Your first album, New Driveway, drew from quite a broad array of genres ranging from punk to disco. How did you guys create that sound - or manage to refine that sound - in your later album, Toxic Planet?
A: "A lot of [New Driveway’s sound] came from working with Tom and giving him what he needed. They were soundtracks. Tom would throw us some references and ideas and we would run with that. That’s probably why New Driveway has such a wide spectrum within it.
As far as what we as a band are going for, we want it to be a little more aggressive. I think that you can hear a little bit of both at the moment. You can hear us try pop, that is going to fit the video best, you can also here some more punk vibes in Toxic Planet with 'Bad Feeling'.
With every Worble video release, Cobra Man also releases a soundtrack. Would you guys ever consider releasing an album that isn’t tied to Worble or is the music largely symbiotic at the moment?
S: "With this new one we will be releasing singles and releasing on our own and going off from there. We will still work with them but this new one is going to be our first new solo album."
With making the soundtracks, how much of an influence did the skateboarders have on the way you created the songs?
A: "It definitely is a reflection on whoever’s part we are writing for. We try to reflect their style. The last thing you want to do is to take away from anyone’s part - if anything, we aim to amplify their parts. The part more determines the direction that we head in musically, the BPM or type of song. In every we do, naturally we are interested in writing pop melodies, that’s a standard for us. The sonic palate of each song is tailored to each person."
Your vocals go through a range of different pitches in your earlier songs, while in 'Toxic Planet' and 'Heatwave' you’ve settled to something a bit more consistent. Will we ever hear those higher pitches again?
A: "We like to lean into what we can do and what’s unique about us. My voice is pretty low but I can do the metal vocals sometimes too, and it’s more up to what we want to hear. I like the energy that comes along with that. I like that we haven’t painted ourselves into a corner.
We have the freedom to do whatever we want because that’s how we started."
In your earlier work, Andrew took the main vocals, however in recent releases, Sarah has started to play a bigger part in your songs. What determines your vocal pairings and assignments for you guys?
A: "It depends on whatever lends to the song really. We try to make what’s best for the song, and that’s why they are quite varied. Between us, we can cover a lot which is nice too. We enjoy experimenting and pairing our vocals. Whatever makes the song better.
It comes down to subject matter. Part of our style is the guy-girl back and forth as well as the harmonies. That’s a standard, it’s not something we put too much thought into. For 'Light Me Up', it makes sense for Sarah to sing it. It hammered the subject matter harder having someone other than myself being gaslit. It’s a case by case thing."
What are your interactions with the skateboarding community, considering quite a lot of your music is listened to by skaters who watch the Worble videos?
S: "The skateboarding community has been really good to us. We have a lot of loyal people that follow what we do and support us. It has been nothing but good things from that group of people. It is really cool to see because we put a lot of energy into our music and to see people skate to our music and to see it get them stoked is really cool. It allows us to put more energy into the music.
They are also great at live shows. They go absolutely mental and that’s really fun."
Are there any particular collaborations with any of the Worble skaters that have been particularly notable?
S: "Especially on New Driveway, Tom would show us a lot of different references with what they were thinking. Dave showed us a few pictures and videos."
A: "Ociffer is also about Dave too.
Tom told me a story about when Dave was a kid and apparently, he was so badly behaved that all his siblings thought he would go to jail when he was older. They thought he was the meanest person on earth, we wrote about Dave as a kid."
For 'Heatwave', you released one of your first music videos. Will this become a staple of your productions in the future?
S: "We are planning on releasing as many music videos as possible. They are not cheap to make but we are going to do as many as we can. We have a bunch of ideas we are working on at the moment."
All of your music maintains that retro style and freedom in nostalgia - what feelings do you hope to evoke from your listeners with the musical images you create?
A: "Togetherness and unity. We try to bring people together. Not every song is positive, but we want people to sing to them. We hope that by people singing along to them it can bring people together."
S: "Ultimately, the feeling of a power. Making people feel powerful and excited for their future. There is so much shit going down lately. The idea of empowering people and getting them excited about life is something we hope people get out of the music."