Playing through with Cough Cool

Dayna Evans

cough cool

Dan Svizeny of Cough Cool

The first thing Dan Svizeny tells me at Tee’s Golf Center in Conshohocken, PA, is that he only has three friends. One of the three is sitting next to us: Adam Magerman, his bandmate whom he’s known since high school and plays drums in the live staging of music project Cough Cool, though when Dan talks about himself—uncomfortably at first and confidently later—friendship would be a misplaced word to describe what they share. Adam explains to me the rules of a specific golf game they play called Closest to the Pin, and Dan leans to my side, saying, “I can’t play golf without Adam.” A moment of sweetness, I think, until he admits that this is because his vision is bad.

Conshohocken isn’t by any means a glamorous town to be doing an interview with a musician, nor is it a preciously obscure one. But Svizeny hardly identifies as a musician. The office where he works his day job is nearby, and this is something that he and Adam like to do to “chill out.” The winding back roads that wrap around stark, uninhabited office buildings and large industrial complexes lead me to Tee’s, and as I pull in and park, the two are near the end of a bucketful of golfballs and razz me for being late. Dan points out a tear in his shirt, and it seems that almost immediately the two have settled in to an experience that Dan previously denied me on multiple occasions.

“It feels weird. What are you going to ask me?”

“About what inspires you.”

“Are you going to have a pad?”

“Yes.”

“I’m just not good at talking about myself,” he told me, after which he eventually agreed, explaining that he’d keep himself busy by working on his craft. That is, golf.

The bucket is empty now, and he ushers Adam and I toward a set of batting cages. The first definitive assessment I make about Dan is that he is as self-aware as he is coy, which is why he comes off as arrogant. His demeanor is friendly, especially if you’re able to “level” with him (it helps if you're from an equally sleepy section of the Tri-state area), but it’s tough to determine if he’s taking anything you’re saying seriously. The best thing to do is to just let him talk.

The pair, dressed in casual, unfussy clothes you might see on mannequins of young dads, alternate taking turns in the batting cages, and when Dan is busy swinging away and making considerable contact for an amateur, I get a chance to speak with Adam. Dan does everything in Cough Cool—from the guitar gnar to the drum machines to the muddy vocals—but has asked Adam to play drums with him in the Philly release show for his project’s sophomore LP, 29. Adam swiftly points out that Dan will probably cancel it. When I ask why, Adam merely shrugs.

“Will there be a tour to support the record?”

“Nah, probably not. Dan doesn’t want to go on tour.”

“Do you want to go on tour?” I ask, leading him on a little.

“Yeah, of course, but Dan won’t because he’d be the one driving his drunk friends around everywhere.”

Dan’s excuse for not wanting to play shows or even bother with a tour seems simple at its outset, but as he gets more comfortable with each question I ask, it turns into a bona fide ethos. With one eye on Adam popping balls to the corner of the cage with a coordinated thwack, Dan explains to me, “It’s just too much effort to get everyone on the same page. First of all, I can’t really tour because of my job. Second of all, it’s too much work. And third, the music doesn’t really translate well live.”

“Have you toured before?”

“Yeah, sure.” He runs through a list of bands he’s played in previously, all with the same three friends from the Tri-state area. Blackhawks and Nude Beach are the most standout projects in the Dan Svizeny oeuvre, outside of Cough Cool, and Dan predictably has a few disapproving words to say about the new Nude Beach, who are marginally taking off. He also doesn’t like smaller bands who have “verified” Twitter accounts when he doesn’t.

“Why not tour now if you’ve toured before?” I push the point knowing full well that this line of questioning is annoying, and that Dan is right. I’d seen Cough Cool play once or twice a few years ago, and though it would likely work better if it felt like Dan even remotely cared, the bedroom is where Cough Cool feels best. The aesthetic is just right, and while listening to his latest effort—a sludgy, cacophonic, burning eleven tracks—it’s best to keep a few plush pillows within arm’s reach. Why pretend a barroom in some foreign state is as good as a bedroom in your own?

“I don’t want to play 285 Kent for the rest of my life,” is his unequivocating response to my tour posturing, and that’s the last I say about it. I barely dare to mention the release show for 29, not knowing if it will even actually happen.

While Adam is still at bat, out of nowhere and with an eye still locked on his friend’s athletic aptitude (out of simple competition or deeper male dominance, it’s hard to tell), Dan details a story about the first time his parents really listened to his music.

“They came in my room and sat on my bed and I have no idea if they liked it. My mom got up and was like, ‘Hold on, I’ve gotta shut out the lights.’ I dunno. My brother is a super metal drummer. My dad likes that stuff.”

He watches Adam emerge, then Dan ducks into the Expert cage.

“Are you sure about that, dude?” Adam asks.

“Yeah, that last cage was easy.”

And really, his hitting isn’t all that bad.

Here are a few things that Dan Svizeny enjoys: the hit TV show Lost, Ween, the Philadelphia Phillies, pictures of himself, Tumblr (though less-so in recent years), Twitter (exceptionally smarmy), New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen, bucket hats, nostalgia, Mac DeMarco, hockey, girls, and Austin Powers. On cursory judgment, you may as well take that list, sprinkle it over a Philly blunt, and smoke it. It’s the list of things that every slacker in the world enjoys, and in the case of his homegrown stoner jams, he falls right in line. One thing Dan wouldn’t like is me writing this article. There is no doubt that he thinks this whole thing is lame. He’ll likely read it, repost it, and find some way to disparage it without directly doing so.

His constant dissatisfaction with and disinterest in things is part of the reason why he and his music are so compelling. I once talked to him about whether he identified with nihilism, and he responded with “yeah, probably.” He lacks the win-you-over charm of Elvis and rarely expresses empathy like you’d find in a Springsteen or Seeger song, but not unlike the three, he has something that draws people to him. His music, in its quiet, studied singularity, unleashes something close to but better than “millennial malaise.” Cough Cool cares but doesn’t really care. Cough Cool is sorry but not actually sorry. Cough Cool is what every kid is feeling when they don’t really know how to feel anything. It’s like having your weed laced with the taste your mouth gets after a yawn. 29, a follow-up to 2011’s Lately, is the rule, and in its consistent despair and inertia, there appears to be no exception.

29 will release on Bathetic Records tomorrow (June 11), and with a stream on The FADER and a hefty effort on the part of Cough Cool’s Asheville, NC-based label, it appears that the album might hit quite hard. Or, really, as hard as any lo-fi, shoegazey album drenched in nostalgia, ennui, and melancholy could. It’s a record for the inherent aesthete, which doesn’t mean that it’s a difficult listen. The only thing difficult about 29 is how voyeuristic it feels—it’s one of the few efforts I’ve listened to in recent years that has legitimate claim to its bedroom roots. Dan’s vocals are close and sumptuous, while his guitar and bass lines are often densely overlayed with multitudinous tones. But it’s the process of making 29—something the listener inherently feels distant from on most records—that feels overtly intimate. Its scope is small and personal, and when Cough Cool’s signature slushy guitar riffs make their way into the plush packaging of each track, the impact reveals Dan Svizeny’s understated adroitness. Lately was a record that felt very much of the moment, while 29 is Cough Cool’s chance at longevity.

After emerging from the Expert cage and looking proud, Dan tells me that his lyrics don’t have meaning, that he uses simple phrases to construct his songs, and when I ask if any of his songs were written about anyone in particular, he shakes his head emphatically.

“I’ve never written a song about anyone. I don’t know why.”

Another thwack cuts through the conversation and it startles me as if a bubble had just burst beside my ear.

Later on, we end up mini golfing. They’re good and I’m bad, though with time I improve. I’m starting to get tired, not just in body, but in mind. As an inherent optimist, it can be deeply troubling to be around people who seem to revel in being so jaded. Earlier, Adam had told me that Dan “loves that people like his music” and for a pair who claim that they listen to music “all the time,” it seems prudent to investigate their more positive influences and interests, so I ask what bands they like.

As if they’d been anticipating my question, they immediately launch into a takedown of live music, new bands, and how going to shows is often a “waste of time” for them. They’re picky, they claim. Adam and Dan are speaking now as if they are a two-headed beast, like Cerberus if two of the dogs had gnawed off the third’s head.

They say things like,

“We don’t like live music.”

“We just don’t think Philly is a good place for shows.”

“We’d rather just stay home and watch baseball.”

And the best byte of them all,

“We don’t have any friends. We have way more enemies than we have friends,” to which Adam finally puts on a scowl, demanding Dan speak for himself.

Attempting to transition things to a lighter note in the midst of mini golf is tougher than it seems, but when they inevitably get to listing bands that do appeal to them, the two start to liven up.

The Fugees, Mac DeMarco, Sublime, Smashing Pumpkins, Ween, Saves the Day, and Julian Lynch all make the list. Adam hates 311, but Dan can’t understand why. Adam loves Cat Power, and Dan finds this hilarious. One choice note Dan points out is that he never stops liking anything, which goes without saying given the dense 90s influences that populate his taste.

“If it brings you any kind of joy, then it’s worth it” is the most pointed and poignant thing he’s said all night, and I write it down feverishly, then practically erase it, thinking he might once again be making fun of my self-serious questions with self-serious answers.

As we get to the 18th hole, we’ve stopped keeping score, and we all watch our neon balls spiral down into oblivion, never to come back. No one really won. Dan brings up Ween again, for the fourth or five time this evening, reminding me that they are his favorite band. His Tumblr is littered with Ween videos and when the duo broke up in 2012, Dan wrote a heartfelt tribute to them, evoking a rare tone of gravitas not usually found within his wheelhouse. It’s called “Ween—From Someone Who Really Cares.” An original version of the song “Intro to Regret” on 29 features an overdubbed interview between a hapless, struggling, female interviewer and a monotone, mostly unresponsive Dean and Gene Ween. I'm reminded of this now, not entirely by coincidence.

Ween are from the same town as Dan and Adam—New Hope, PA—and the two affirm that Ween are largely responsibile for why they act the way they do and are the way they are.

“No one would bother them, you know,” Dan tells me, wistful. “They just would sit in this bar—it’s called John and Peters—and there would be live music every night. And they’d just drink.”

I wonder where this is going.

“Basically, one night, Dean Ween came up to me and Adam and said, ‘You guys are in a band, right?’ And we were both like, ‘Yeah’ and that was it. He didn’t ask to listen to our band or talk to us about it. It was the coolest. We were freaking out.”

Cough Cool’s 29 is available on June 11 through Bathetic Records.

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