"I couldn’t give a shit what’s going on around us, I just want to do us" - Ross Gordon
On Friday (September 04) Cold Years will release their long-awaited debut full-length 'Paradise'. A life-affirming blend of modern punk, timeless rock and roll and all too relatable storytelling, it's a collection of songs that represent an awful lot for the Aberdeen quintet and will also end up representing an awful lot for all who let them into their lives.
We chatted to frontman Ross Gordon about the creation of the record, what he has learnt along the way and how important Cold Years is to him and the band...
How do you feel to actually be about to have these songs out in the world?
Says Ross: “Fucking relieved. It’s going to be a massive weight off all of our shoulders. We’ve had this record on our radar for two years in terms of writing and then we’re almost through a year of recording and perfecting it, so for me it’s going to be huge. I’ve wanted people to be able to hear this for so long and it’s such a massively different sound to what people are used to from us. It’s still us obviously, but we’ve added so many different elements now. There are also a lot of things on here that I’ve really wanted to say too. So for people to finally be able to hear the whole thing is really great.”
So where did the first glimmers of what you wanted this album to sound like come from?
“About three years ago we had the guts of an album written. Then we signed to eOne and went on tour with Dave Hause. When we did that tour everything changed. We came home and immediately thought this all felt different. Before we had gone out we had tracked a song called ‘Breathe’ all by ourselves. But whilst we were away we did a lot of writing and once we came home we just had so many other songs. At that point we looked at everything that we had done to that date and thought, ‘None of this is good enough now’. We just scrapped all we had because we thought it was just shit. So in starting again, we had about 30 new tracks. We had probably 80 in total but 30 or 40 that were actually there. Then we whittled it down to the 13 tracks we have now. We were even still perfecting them up until the week before we went into the studio. We were still writing ‘Too Far Gone’ in the studio whilst actually recording it. The thing was that we weren’t in any rush to record because of having the label’s backing. Before you would go in a studio and have two days to cut a load of songs. We had a solid block of time and could fuck around as much as we liked.”
It’s quite the jump when you go from having to hustle with your time to having all the time in the world. Though the things you picked up from those early days of getting things done quickly travel with you…
“Absolutely. I think that you have to go into a studio with a clear understanding of what you actually want. I hate bands that go into studios and write albums from scratch whilst in there. It’s such a waste of resources and a waste of time. As a musician you’ve got all the time in the fucking world to write a song. I don’t care if it’s at three in the morning or on your lunch break at work, you have plenty of time to write music. We are honestly writing all the time. From waking up in the middle of the night and grabbing a pen to write something down to humming a melody into my phone, it never stops. All the tools are there to do that.
“And because things aren’t what they used to be in terms of labels just throwing money at bands, you have to be quite scrappy. That’s an ethos we have always had. We’ve come from having absolutely nothing and making records on a shoestring budget to being able to scale it up now. You still carry that same hard working punk ethos with you though.”
What did that tour with Dave Hause do for you? What did you learn?
“There were two main areas. One was the work ethos that he has and the way he works a tour. We aren’t a full time band; we have other jobs on top of this. But irrelevant of that, you are still a musician. I hate people who say, ‘One day I want to be a musician’. You’re already a musician - you just have something else to help support that. But watching him play these shows every night and the level of professionalism he had was something else. Before we would go and play a tour in Europe and we would sink the 48 beers they put in our dressing room and we would party every night. That changed on that tour. The ability to watch a band like his who would put on such a show and then actually go home and go to sleep because they’re thinking about the way they will be the next day or thinking about getting up at 6am to travel. All those things really pushed it for us. It helped us realise that we have a fucking job to do and to not let anything else get in the way of that. Touring may have been a massive party in our earlier years, but now absolutely not.
“Also, watching him connect with the crowd was something I’ve never seen before. The level of interaction and charisma and all the energy he puts into every performance, it all changed the way we were writing. I was brought up on punk and listening to all these bands and watching them play and all that, you’re then able to take that heartland, blue collar sound change it up into something a bit more aggressive and gutsy and not be scared of the things you make that other people would perceive to be dangerous. I just suddenly had no fear with my lyrical content anymore. Even something like being in a really terrible relationship and not being scared of that people hearing the song about them or looking at the way our country is at the moment and not being scared to speak your mind. Being an artist is being 100% true to who you really are. Dave really taught me just how important that was.”
The core of being an artist is getting those things that you feel in your heart and soul and trying to get them out on the piece of paper in front of you. For you guys, it must be amazing to be able to get that out in so many different ways on this record…
“I think this record in particular was really cathartic for us. The first song on this album is called ‘31’ and it’s about the day that I watched my sister getting married. I watched her have her first dance and everything and then I looked at my life where I had been through a divorce. My life was in the gutter. I was in a dead end relationship in a job that was making my life a living hell. I was in a stressful place and partying too hard and trying to find a way to escape the misery of it all.
Then there are songs like ‘Electricity’, which is about finding someone who you can’t get enough of and having all this connection. Then there are the songs that are just about getting out of your hometown and doing something with your life. I’ve luckily found that now and I’m living that, but at the time I was a riot.
“This record has in a lot of ways been like therapy for me and then when it comes out people will be able to interpret those things in their own ways and see how it reflects within their own lives.”
It feels as though a lot of this record, and where the title comes from, reflects your hometown of Aberdeen and your positive and negative feelings towards it. How have your feelings towards that place changed over the years and what effect has it had on you as a person and an artist?
“You can’t change where you’re from and it’s always going to be a part of you regardless of where you go in the world. For me though, it’s been about watching Aberdeen change over the past few years. It’s a weird place where the rich are really rich and the poor are really poor. The city is geared for rich people and is geared around an industry that’s killing our planet. Essentially that’s a really embarrassing thing to be a part of and an embarrassing thing to come from. It’s very much shame upon our city.
“People there are in this tiny enclosed bubble that no one else really gets. It’s not really a multi-cultural city. There’s just left and right. There’s no in-between and there’s no even ground and it’s a really depressing place when you want it to be. But it’s also a really good place when you want it to be too. It’s still my home and it’s got my family and it’s got my friends but I’ve spent a long time trying to ignore the fact that I’ve started to hate where I’m from. I never wanted to hate where I’m from, but that feeling just amplified more and more the more that the economy declined and unemployment increased.”
When things are so black and white, how are you supposed to find yourself and who you want to be?
“It’s an incredibly difficult place to be an individual. You can’t express yourself the way that we like to express ourselves. There’s no real music culture there anymore. It’s really dying off. Some of my friends are in bands and play fucking great music, but they are few and far between. They’ve closed all our venues because of noise complaints and built more apartments. It’s a real shame. You never really get to be yourself and that’s always frustrated me.”
There are so many different elements that we’ve discussed here that have helped Cold Years become what it is right now but the thing that has got you here is the four of you. It’s you doing everything you can to become exactly what you want this to be and not letting anything stand in the way. But how has that relationship within the band been?
“It’s been rocky. The biggest change for us has been the fact that on this record we all collaborated and wrote together from a musical perspective. Lyrics are my area, but in terms of musical direction we all had massive input into that. With that comes conflict and creative difference. The thing was that we all wanted the same core thing. We all want to be a massive fucking rock band. This record pulled us together in the end though because we all got exactly what we wanted out of it.”
The idea that you all want to be a massive rock band is an ethos that you don’t hear a lot of people actually say these days, but it’s ultimately the thing that will always drive you. That desire to live out the ultimate fantasy as something you actually do for a living is such a strong vision and goal to have…
“I’m of the ethos that if anyone ever calls you a sell-out because you sign to a label or that you actual want to be a big thing, they can fuck off. I’m in this because when I was six years I stood in front of a mirror with a guitar and sang ‘Achy Breaky fucking Heart’ and knew this was what I wanted. We’ve all had that ambition from Day One.
“It’s taken us a long time to actually find our own sound though. The first few records you make are you emulating the bands that you want to be until you find your own feet. I honestly think with this one we’ve found our own feet. The thing about Aberdeen is that there are two or three bands that are actually doing something different but the rest is a weird culture of fashion bands. People copying what is going on down on the South Coast on England and if you don’t look or sound like that then you don’t fit in and you don’t get to play shows. It was the same thing back in 2012 when hardcore was a massive thing. We’ve never wanted to conform to what everybody else around us is doing. We have always wanted to do something different. At the start it might have put us on a back foot, but now I think it’s segregated us from a lot of stuff that’s going on.”
To be honest, when you’ve got that mindset you’re already winning. If you set out to be in a group of ten bands that sound a bit like you, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. The whole purpose of creating art is to find that grain and push against it…
“You’ve got to push your own limits. So many bands will release and record the same album over and over again and it just drives me insane. I just knew that ‘Paradise’ had to be different, and I think it was more of a case of us finally being able to make the music that we wanted to actually play and write. That’s going to stick with us now. I couldn’t give a shit what’s going on around us, I just want to do us.”
What does Cold Years mean to you now compared to what it meant to you in the past?
“I think right now it embodies everything that I am as person. It’s travelled with me through divorces, house moves, job changes, losing loved ones and even finding new things along the way. It’s mapped the whole span of the last five years of my life. It’s pretty mental and I hope that it’s going to map the rest of my life too.
“I think that it means a huge amount to us. As a band our work ethos is crazy. We all work 9-5 jobs and then we will go into the studio until 2 in the morning and write songs and then go into work again the next day. You have to give absolutely everything when you do that and sacrifice so much. I’ve missed birthdays, weddings, everything just to crack this. When you’re giving up that much, you need to really want it and you can’t second-guess it. Thankfully we all have the people behind us that push and support us to be able to do this and without that we would find it really difficult.”
It’s amazing how much of an effect that something that essentially started out as just an idea can take you. It’s amazing how much something like a band can push you and make you want to go against everything you’ve ever known and take those risks. It’s pretty understated just how powerful that is…
“Absolutely. I remember when we were first writing this record and I have never felt more excited about anything I’ve done in my life. There’s a lyric in ‘31’ that says ‘There’s blood on the streets tonight / I want to drink until I die’, and I remember writing that and thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this is everything that I feel’. That encapsulated everything that I was feeling in that moment and that excitement that can you get from writing that down on a piece of paper and converting them in a song is something that pushes and drives you every single day.”