Cosmo’s Midnight on new single, ‘Yesteryear’: “We want to evolve and push forward, but not let go”

Pat Liney tells NME about his decision to sing on the track, its meta music video and what the year holds for the band

Sydney electronic duo Cosmo’s Midnight have released a new single, ‘Yesteryear’, along with a cheeky and innovative music video.

‘Yesteryear’ marks the duo’s first release by themselves since they dropped ‘C.U.D.I. (Can U Dig It?)’ last year, which also gave the band their triple j Hottest 100 debut. In the meantime, they’ve dropped a string of collaborations, including ‘Have It All’ with age.sex.location, ‘It’s Love’ with Matthew Young and 2020’s ‘Down For You’ with Ruel.

‘Yesteryear’ marks a sonic change for the band, with Pat Liney taking lead vocals throughout the entire song. Its accompanying music video, directed by Jordan Kirk, makes extensive use of green screen to humorously ‘capture’ the behind-the-scenes of making a music video in socially distanced times.

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NME caught up with Liney on his decision to commit to singing, the concept for their music video and what’s in store for Cosmo’s Midnight in times of severe uncertainty.

Whose idea was it to re-work the concept of a green-screen video for ‘Yesteryear?’ 

We knew it would be a thing that would happen with isolation. It’s sort of opportunistic to do a tongue-in-cheek version of it and see where it could go. Our friend Jordan [Kirk] and our manager came up with the idea together and they were just spitballing together. They asked us if we thought we could pull it off. We just had our iPhones and probably recorded three hours of bullshit, and the editor had to sift through all of that and make something out of it that made sense.

We’ve seen massive pop stars like Ed Sheeran do heavily green-screened videos, but ‘Yesteryear’ is unique in its structure. 

Yeah, it’s definitely a bit of a meta one. We were like “Does this work? Is it too much information for the viewer to take in in one watch?” but then we thought that if a viewer wants to see more, they can give it another play. We just wanted to do something funny. Being at home is a good excuse to do something different.

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It’s also about being resourceful and doing what you can in limited space. 

Yeah, exactly. A lot of these careers – make-up artists, stylists, editors, choreographers – are gig-based and based on human interaction. We wanted to see if we could incorporate those people who are not seeing much work in the moment into the clip, and then make it humorous. The make-up artist was obviously meant to paint our faces, but since she couldn’t do that she had to give us a little tutorial and we looked like absolute shit. Those were the ideas we were throwing around and it was really fun to do.

Was it difficult to co-ordinate?

Yeah, it was probably the longest shoot we’ve ever done. There was so many moving parts to get it locked away. There’s the part where we’re told that the label want us to do a TikTok dance, so we learned this dance. We had to paint our faces – which took a solid hour. We did a call with our stylist, who was obviously acting, but she was great. We had to go through our clothes and she styled us remotely. It was probably like two days worth of green-screening.

‘Yesteryear’ is about “contemplating the future”, which is timely because six months ago we couldn’t have predicted we would be in this space.

We wrote the song in December and January, and even January was so hectic. This year has been so full on that people have already forgotten about the bushfires. There’s been so much shitty stuff that it’s already been pushed to the back of people’s minds. The song is called ‘Yesteryear’ because not only is the tonal palette of the song throwback, which follows what we’ve been doing with our last releases, but thematically, it’s about looking into the past and learning and growing from it, while also not dwelling on it.

Does that bleed into how Cosmo’s Midnight write music?

I feel like it’s more of the direction of how we’ve been writing lately. Stylistically, we’ve always looked back on the past. A lot of our music has been inspired by ’70s and ’80s music, especially disco and punk and psychedelic. Musically, 100 per cent. But now I’ve been singing on stuff more, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the meaning behind the music. It’s been a new challenge, but I’ve been learning so much – not just about the songwriting process – but that singing is just a different side of writing. You’re exposing yourself in a new way. It’s a natural feeling, though. It’s the sort of expression that everyone has.

What inspired the choice for you to sing more on the recent records?

It was kind of on a whim. On our last record, I sang on a song called ‘Polarised’ and it got a way better response than I expected. So I thought I’d give it another go singing on a track, and ended up doing vocals of ‘C.U.D.I.’ Then, I started lending backup vocals on all the subsequent releases like ‘Have It All’ and ‘With Love’ and even the Ruel song. I kept developing that skill and sound, little by little, then it got to a point where I just wanted to do a full-length song.

It turned out surprisingly decent. Sent it off to friends and management, and they were all pretty behind it. When I was younger, I used to sing in a choir so that skill set was hiding somewhere, from a long, long time ago. My brain has just been dredging that up. I am pretty nervous to sing live now, but it’s got to happen. I can’t not.

Are you also looking forward to it, though?

I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a different kind of expression and it’s very personal, getting up and performing. It’ll be daunting but it’ll be rewarding.

It would also just change the vibe of Cosmo’s Midnight live, anyway.

Yeah, I think the thing is – as we’ve been performing live – it’s been evolving from a producer thing to a songwriter-y thing. Before we were writing beats and getting features for every song, now it’s gotten to a point where we’re crafting the whole song. If it calls for it, we’ll get a feature, but now that’s the exception rather than the norm. It’s something really exciting and I never would’ve predicted it.

Since we’ve spent the last three months or so in isolation, have you been spending time reflecting on the Cosmo’s Midnight project? 

The last 12 months have been a big reflection time for me, thinking about where we’ve come from and where we’re going and how we can stay true to what we’ve built so far.

That sounds like the theme of ‘Yesteryear’.

Yeah, that really is the crux of the song, isn’t it? What we want to do down the line. We want to evolve and push forward, but not let go. We want to grow and build on what we have already, but not depart from it entirely. We want to keep the funkiness, we want to keep at the upbeat and uplifting stuff. But we want to move it to something that people can relate to on an emotional level as well. We’ve done that before, but now it’s like we have full control of the experience. It takes a long time to write this music now we’re doing every little piece.

I assume you’ll be approaching just playing a live show differently, once gigs and festivals start up again.

We actually were going to debut our new live show at a festival earlier this year, but it got cancelled because of COVID. We were going to make it into a proper four-piece and I was going to step off doing drums and get my friend to drum full time, and I’d be doing keys and singing. But that didn’t happen. When this is all over, that’s what we’ll be leaning towards next – me focusing on singing and keys. I won’t be playing drums as much, but I’ll pop in a cowbell here and there.

For one, I’ve got terrible multi-tasking skills. I can just barely play keys and sing at the same time. That’s like my limit. I’ve got so much respect for people who can drum and sing at the same time. That is insane, like your brain is split in two. It’s ridiculous.

Obviously, we don’t really know what the music industry and touring space is going to look like for the next few months.

It’s such a free-for-all. Most musicians are going to get their money from shows and merchandise. I know a lot of my music friends have gone on to JobSeeker, because it’s really hard to get by on streaming alone. Everyone’s trying to react and adapt to what’s going on, but it’s a cautionary tale as well. Australia hasn’t been hit as bad as other countries with coronavirus. It’s the first time that our generation has been hit by a total pandemic like this, and it got me thinking how will we react in the future to such things. Will there be systems in place for future issues where the world doesn’t go into total shutdown? It’s had huge repercussions on every industry but especially for ones that are based in close social proximity.

It’s hard to predict but what will the rest of 2020 look like for Cosmo’s Midnight?

Well, we’ve been working on our next big project for over a year now – I can’t reveal specifics. But it’s almost wrapped up. We’ll be dropping a whole bunch of new music throughout the rest of the year. We’re moving into a more organic sound and really doubling down on singing and playing guitars. Everything’s more performative and expressive, but keeping true to what we’ve built over such a long time.

We wanted to differentiate ourselves from other producers who drop a record, and there’s a super long list of features and collaborators. They feel like producer-curated mixtapes, whereas we want to release something that’s personal and came from us. When someone else is on a track, it becomes their story and their message and their personality comes out. That’s a good thing, but if you have something you want to say across a body of work, then you need to say it. Having heaps of other people involved can make that message really hard.

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