For those who only know local indie rock outfit Cola by their initial offering of songs—a small collection of ramshackle, Velvet Underground-tinged numbers released online—the band’s debut EP, Great Taste, is likely to sound like an entirely different project.
But then, those who are surprised by Great Taste’s wall of swirling guitars, rumbling drums and long-decaying squalls of psychedelic feedback probably didn’t spend their adolescence trading mixtapes with Cliff Rawson—or follow him to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he studied jazz guitar and jazz composition, or on to his days in punk and post hardcore bands in New York City.
In truth, as much as Cola’s frontman and principal songwriter was influenced by the bare-bones and bone-dry arrangements of The Velvets and The Stones, he also spent his formative years mesmerized by the fuzzy, sonic storms of shoegaze giants My Bloody Valentine, the angular assault of post punk pioneers Fugazi and the spiraling guitar lines of so many emo and math rock noodlers. So, while Cola’s last set served as an homage to his heroes from New York’s bad old days, Rawson says Great Taste is much more within his wheelhouse.
“It certainly draws on the styles I’ve worked with in the past in other bands,” he says.
Great Taste’s six tracks—two of which are ambient compositions by noise guitar maestro Matt Davis—fly by. The EP’s brief running time is a bit disorienting, considering how dense each song feels. On that score credit goes to the pop songwriting prowess of Rawson and his co-conspirator, lead guitarist Aaron Anaya, who contributes plenty of tasty licks to the EP.
Then again, Rawson says the album wouldn’t be what it is if it weren’t for the space where he tracked it: a towering hall of wood and concrete in downtown San Jose, which he prefers not to name.
While he and Anaya bonded over their mutual appreciation of resonant reverb, he says the acoustic properties of the room where Great Taste was recorded sealed the deal.
When the drums and full force of the band first hit, about 30 seconds into EP-opener “Seven Flowers,” the room is palpable—and understanding the scale of the space where Rawson and Co. recorded only enhances the listening experience. It’s like hearing “When The Levee Breaks” for the first time after learning that Bonzo tracked his iconic drum part at the bottom of a massive stairwell of the centuries-old Headley Grange in Hampshire, England.
“When you hit a snare drum, it’s just fucking Valhalla!” Rawson exclaims. “That sound is kind of what dictated the direction into the more shoegazey style.” That, and having the freedom to experiment with sounds, which came with access to the space and his own recording gear. “It was just a huge luxury,” he says.
Rawson’s years of training and hardscrabble experience also paid dividends on the EP. He played drums on Great Taste—the first time he’s been behind a kit on tape in years. “Song ideas would come to fruition without some of the hiccups that would come up when I was working with electronic drums or no drums or other drummers,” he says.
He also reckons he has hit a sweet spot between the analytical training he received at Berklee and the practical, journeyman’s know-how he picked up playing in rock bands.
“You get an education, but that can paralyze you,” he says, recalling how mathematical music felt when he first left school. “It takes a long time playing in bands and not making any money—you have to pay your dues.”
Cola celebrates Great Taste this Friday at a joint record release show with fellow San Jose indie rockers Mother’s Worry at The Ritz. The EP will be available on a collectible cassette, a CD with handmade art and as a digital download.
Mar 24, 8pm, $10
The Ritz, San Jose