Seven Nines and Tens' David Cotton on releasing cassettes in a digital age and mixing stoner metal with jazz
You can officially call yourself a music-scene veteran when someone wants to assemble everything you've ever recorded and re-release it as a deluxe package. David Cotton qualifies as a lifer, then, thanks to Coup Sur Coup Records. Last October, the Castlegar-based label released Satisfy the Faction, a comprehensive document of a decade's worth of recordings by Cotton's band, Seven Nines and Tens. Satisfy the Faction came out in the form of a double-cassette boxed set, "dubbed, packaged, designed and hand numbered with heart and passion directly at Coup Sur Coup's HQ".
The same label is behind Passages of the Pacific Northwest, a split release featuring three Seven Nines and Tens tracks and three songs by post-everything atmosphere merchants Heron. With both bands teaming up for a show at the Astoria on Friday night (January 4), it seemed like a good time to meet up with Cotton at Strathcona Beer Co. on a rainy evening and ask him a few questions.
Q: I understand there's a connection between these two bands that goes way back?
A: I met the mastermind from Heron, Scott [Bartlett], at the Mold jam space at Abbott and Pender. That jam space was notable for producing Black Mountain, White Lung, War Baby, and Fake Shark. Scott was in Pompoir there, and I was playing with Katastroyka. Years later I kept bumping into Scott at doom shows and, like, sludge-metal shows. I was like, "Dude, I know you from the postpunk scene." Heron and Tens ended up doing a couple shows together. I don't want to say that the atmospheric-sludge community is really tiny, but it seems like we were kinda the only two bands doing it. And given that they work really hard—they tour a lot—and I really like their stuff, I thought we should do a split together.
Scott and I went out for drinks with Max [Cayer], the guy who runs Coup Sur Coup Records. I met Max through a Cave In fan page on Facebook. I posted Seven Nines playing a Cave In cover, and he replied. He was like, "Holy shit, I'm a huge fan of your band, and I have this label. Would you ever want to do something with us?" I was like, "Heck, yeah." So we put out the box set with him. And he was like, "I'll put out anything you guys ever release," so I asked him "Hey, do you want to do this split?" He ended up coming here from Castlegar. We went out for drinks, and then he was like, "Yeah, we should do it." That was a month ago, and we already have the product. It turned around pretty fast.
Q: I'm just fascinated by the existence of this thing. How does a cassette-only label survive in this day and age?
A: I think it's a labour of love. I know that he does get some monetary compensation for it. He's only been doing it a year and he works his ass off. He did a record with one of the guys from Butthole Surfers. He's always hustling to do stuff. he's got a day job, just like me, so I think he kind of supplements the label with his own day-job stuff. I just say to him, "If there's one thing I've learned, it's just keep going. Don't stop, whatever you do. Just keep going whatever happens." So hopefully he'll keep going.
Q: And he put out basically everything you've ever recorded with Seven Nines and Tens with this label, right? When did that come out?
A: That came out in October. It was basically our entire discography plus a couple of B sides. Our colleague Adam Veenendaal from Toronto, he's got an archive of Seven Nines and Tens B sides, so when he's not studying at fuckin' York University, he remasters and remixes our stuff, and he'll send it to me. It sounds so much better with proper engineering. So on the box set there's a couple of B sides from 10 years ago; on the split there's a B side that's10 years old and a couple of live songs. I think the next record—the third record—will be our best, but that whole decade of work I'm super proud of. It was cool to put it all together and to have it considering we're still a tiny, obscure band.
Q: Since you brought it up, you have a new album coming out?
A: We sure do.
Q: You're going to have to remind me of the title, because it's quite epic.
A: It's called Over Opiated in a Forest of Whispering Speakers. [Astute CanCon fans will recognize that title as a combination of two lines from Tragically Hip songs. Cotton's love of Hip-derived titles is well-documented, with previous SNAT songs like "I Come From Downtown" and "Metropolis Noir" also borrowing from the Gord Downie catalogue.]
Q: When's that coming out?
A: Spring. I don't know who's putting it out yet. I do know that it's got a lot more singing than anything we've done before. And there's no shoegaze, unfortunately. It's weird; the first record was postmetal, the second record was our shoegaze record, and our third is like our stoner-metal record, with a lot of jazz in it.
Q: Stoner metal with jazz?
A: Yeah. Now that I've had time to listen back to it—and even our producer was like "Yeah, there's jazz on it. There's lots of jazz"—that made it clue in for me. We like to go off on little tangents for, like, four bars or whatever. So, yeah, there's a lot of jazz on it. But no shoegaze, man, I'm sorry.
Q: So, how much singing do you do on the new record?
A: There's going to be vocals on every single song. One of the things that always came up with me was that I worked really hard on the guitar arrangements and didn't really put much work into the vocals. So this time my producer was like "Get it together and put some real vocals on this record."
And also, 10 years of people saying "Hey, man, you should sing." It's not annoying, but knowing that I know how to sing, I was like, "Okay, this is going to be the record with singing on it." And I did pre-production for three months straight, every night after work, to try to put it all together.
While I was doing it I read a Neil Young biography, and it really moved me. It was called Shakey. I learned a lot from it. You know how his dad wrote like 30 or 40 books and wrote for the Globe and Mail? And Neil's put out, like 60 records now. I think he got a lot from his dad—that kind of creative juice and output.
Q: Who produced your new record?
A: Matthew Roach. Working with Matt was really cool, because he's like a producer producer, and he's like "Cotton, I want you to do this and I want you to do this, and this is what you have to do." I can't say that our personalities were always in perfect holy matrimony, but at the end of the day I know that the record is really good and I know he believes in it, so I always tried to account for what he wanted me to do and I always tried to do it.
He made an interesting quote. He said, "This is the first Seven Nines and Tens record. This is a real record." And I love Habitat 67, I love Set the Controls, but this one sounds like a world-class record. It doesn't just sound like something I did in my basement. And I think that that's what he's getting at. This one, sonically, sounds really professional.
I don't want to count my chickens, because if I go into this release thinking it's going to set the world on fire, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. But I am excited that it's high-quality. And it's so streamlined. The songs are shorter, there's less parts, there's less odd-time stuff. On the first record, I would try to write obtuse odd-time phrases, but now, if it's there it's there. If it's not, I'm not going to make it odd time. That's one of the major differences, for sure.
Q: Any New Year's resolutions, either music-wise or life-wise?
A: One of my resolutions is to start a four-chord garage-rock band, only because I've been writing Seven Nines stuff for 13 years now. I love it, but it's demanding, and it's never easy and it's never straight-ahead. I just want to do something that's purely for fun, kind of liked the Marked Men or the Real Kids, or like the Strokes kind of stuff—that really jangly, straight-up guitar rock that's kind of lo-fi. That would be a resolution.