10 Years bassist Lewis Cosby found himself in the same position as the artists he admired as a child. Touring the world and making amazing music, but also fighting for creative control against a major label.
As the band prepared for the release of their latest album “Minus the Machine” and their concert at Vinyl Music Hall, 10 Years founding member/bassist discussed the group’s newfound independence, the pressure of corporate labels, naked crowd surfing and more for my weekly music column in the Pensacola News Journal.
*** Lewis Cosby Interview***
MS: July 30th is the date, “Minus The Machine” is the album. What does this new album mean for the band and more importantly what does it mean for you?
LC: For us, it’s a rebirth of this band, back to the way it was when we were unsigned. We’ve started our own label and it’s been an uphill battle creativity wise for us for probably six, seven years. We got on a major label and there’s just a lot of cooks in the kitchen. And our deal with our structure, we had a higher percent of creative control, and we were able to write what we wanted to write, but at the end of the day, there was still a battle to get those songs actually on the record. We record 20 or so songs and only so many can make the album. And the label has a huge say in it. That’s a tough thing for us because we want to put songs on there that represent us. We want to put singles out there that represent us, but that just doesn’t happen. You can scream until you’re blue in the face, but ultimately, they either have a say in what goes on the album or the album doesn’t come out. It’s just been really frustrating for us for the past few years. We’re not one of the bands that likes to go in with the mentality that we have to write some hits. We’ve got to write some singles “quote, unquote”. We just want to make a great album. If a single happens, it happens, but we’re not going to force anything. There’s a lot of bands that do that these days. We finally are able to do what we want to do. And this whole record, man, top to bottom, from the first track to the twelfth track are, I’m so proud of. There’s nothing on there like-the records before have always been like “Oh God! I love…”There’s some songs that I’m so passionate about and then there’s other ones on there, that I just cringe when I hear. And there’s nothing like that on this album.
MS: I just listened to a copy of it and for example, my favorite track on that whole album is “Forever Fields” and it’s like, I love the heavy fast stuff, but that song right there, it’s like the piano intro, it just blows me away…
LC: It’s cool that we’re able to do that. There is nothing out-of-bounds on this album for us. We built a studio here at home in Knoxville, in (10 Years drummer) Brian Vodihn’s house so anytime when we’re feeling creative, we can go in there and record. It’s also one of those things where we had all the time in the world for a while to do this record. If we recorded drums and then started tracking the other stuff, and they were like, “you know, we just came up with a cooler part and it doesn’t fit with these drums, we got to re-record drums”, we can do that now, where in the past, we were not able to do that. You go in on a major label and you got a budget and you’ve got studio time, you’ve got a month to do it. So you go in and once you track something, you track drums first and once the drums are tracked, you can’t go back and change it. So, this time if we didn’t like something, cause after you’ve been able to hear it recorded and sit with it a little bit, sometimes you just kind of like, “Ah, you know, this doesn’t sound as cool as it could be” and this time we were able to go back in and change stuff. It’s really an exciting process.
LC: Being able to travel the world and play music live. I think that when we started this band, it was really centered around the live show. That’s really all we wanted to do. The recording’s cool. Sure, you get to go in and record new songs that you’ve written, but that stuff gets old really fast. When you’re recording, you hear these songs a thousand times. By the time the records done, you’re pretty much over that. You’re already ready to do another one because you’ve already heard your song so many times. So the fun part for us as playing in a band is actually playing in the band part of playing these songs live. If anybody’s ever seen a 10 Years show, they know that we’re friggin’ looking like we jumped in pools by the end of the show because we get into. We really do love what we’re able to do for a living. For us, all we ever really wanted to do was tour and by getting signed and having a little bit of a backing enabled us to do that. That’s been the coolest part. It’s not been the radio success or selling records and stuff, it’s just been being able to get in front of people and watch our music transform people’s lives. It’s been cool.
MS: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at one of your concerts?
LC: Naked crowd surfer. And she was a female. And I can remember looking and going, “God, I hope she’s not a virgin because she’s not anymore.”
MS: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
LC: The first albums that I remember getting; I had Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on tape. My parents really listened to that kind of music a lot. I would hear some James Brown growing up. I don’t know, maybe that’s where I got my interest in stops and stuff like that. I listened to the first real tape that I got a hold of that changed my musical perspective and shaped it to where it is now is Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite For Destruction”, Metallica “And Justice For All”, really loved all the Pantera stuff, I don’t think they ever did anything bad. And then Deftones’ first record, I really got into that whole scene; I’ve always admired the Deftones cause they’ve, I don’t think they ever put out a bad record. They’ve always maintained an artist’s integrity. None of their music sounds forced. Meaning, that it’s never sounded like it’s been forced to write stuff that they didn’t want to do. They’ve always made just really well-rounded cool records all-together. We’ve made an attempt at doing that, but it’s been tough. But I think we’ve done a better job dealing with the circumstance that we were under, we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to maintain our artists’ integrity.
MS: If you had a time capsule and you could only put one song or album in that time capsule for future generations to hear, what would you put in it to say, “Hey, guys! This is music.”
LC: Oh my God…that’s so tough, man. That’s hard for me to answer that right now because I’m just thinking about the stuff I’ve currently been listening to. I would have to say Led Zeppelin…either “Houses of the Holy” or “Led Zeppelin IV” I believe. I’d say definitely a Zeppelin record. They were one of those bands that combined rhythm and melody and hard rock and soft rock and all those things just absolutely perfectly. They just really nailed it for me. I don’t think any of their stuff has ever gotten old to me. They’re just one of those bands that…Jimmy Page is so good, Robert Plant is so good, I mean the drums, I think John Paul Jones is the most underrated bass player of all time. It’s like he is surrounded by so much talent, but if you listen to that guy, he played all of the piano stuff and all of the bass stuff. And who…they don’t have bands like that that are so well-rounded as far as talent goes anymore. I’d throw some Zeppelin in there.
MS: As far as this year, what else are you looking forward to in this 2012?
LC: I guess I am looking forward to…I’m really looking forward to seeing the reaction to this album. I don’t really necessarily think this record is easy to digest at first. It’s not something…I’ve heard it on the radio a couple of times like Backlash and it, being played next to a lot of the other stuff out there, it stands out like a sore thumb to me. I think that it’s either going to do really well, or it’s going to be really bad. I’m cool with that. I know that we’ve put ourselves out there on this one. A hundred thousand percent. Our management and stuff was even like that; they manage a lot of bands like Theory of a Deadman and Puddle of Mudd, bands that are pretty stock, stuff is pretty easy to digest and our manager is like, “Guys, I’ve listened to your record three times in a row, I freakin’ love it, but this is either going to work or this is going to tank.” And we told him, “You know, we’re cool with it.” The whole process of writing this as we were turning in songs to management and they were like, “Shit’s really cool, but we’re not hearing any definitive singles.” And we’re like, “You know what? That’s fine. You’re going to have to take what we gave you and you can throw it out there and it either work or it won’t, but there’s bands like System of a Down that put stuff out there that’s crazy weird and I think the reason that it stuck out like a sore thumb is cause it was an individual band amongst a lot of just stock normal shit. It stuck out in a good way. We could have released other songs off of it, there’s some other songs that were safer. And they were trying to get us to release the safer ones first and we’re just like “No. we’re not going to do it. We just don’t want to do it.” That’s why we started our own label so we can do what we want to do. It’ll be interesting to see how the public reacts to this.
MS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
LC: The best advice I’ve ever been given in this music business is to stay true to yourself because if you don’t ultimately and especially if you fail, you’re going to always wonder, you’re going to go “God! If I hadn’t listened to everybody else’s input and tried to do what I thought everybody else liked, then maybe me being myself would have been that thing to take the band over the edge.” You know to write that song that I wanted to write rather than write that song that everybody else wanted me to write. Because that way, if you fail, you know that you were still true to yourself and you don’t have to live with knowing that you were being fake or whatever reason. So, yeah, I definitely agree with that you got to…in this business, the best advice was “Write great songs” ultimately. Just write a great song. It will unfold on its own. It’ll reach the people on its own. I definitely say “Staying true to ourselves was the best advice” and “Watch your finances”.
MS: Very true. Very true. This is a crazy question, but I’m going to ask it. Do you prefer, crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
LC: I used to always be into the creamy peanut butter, but now I’m more of a crunchy guy in my ripe old age. My palette is changing, I like a little texture these days.
MS: Last question. Is there anything you want the fans at Vinyl Music Hall to know?
LC: Just that, this is our first tour on this album and we’re just really fortunate to have such great fans that have stuck with us through all this. We’ve had our ups and downs but at the same time, even at our lowest points, where we’ve wanted to just give this up, we go and play shows and our fans are so passionate about this band, that when you get up there on stage and you play, whether it’s in front of a hundred people or a hundred thousand people, our fans, we can pick them out of a crowd. They give back to us like we give to them. We want to thank everybody for giving 100 percent every time we play. We notice it. We do a lot of festivals with a lot of bands that are mix-match and we play shows with like 3 Doors Down and you know in these big amphitheatres and all these people that don’t know who we are and probably don’t care who we are, you can always spot the 10 Years fans down in the front that are going ape shit and it motivates us. We really appreciate our fans.
MS: I thought that was my last question, but I just thought of something. This will be my first 10 Years show, I missed you guys the last time you came around. Of course the classics you guys have, but what about the stuff from the new album are you going to throw some of the new songs in there? In your set.
LC: Yes. Definitely. We played two songs off the record for the last little mini-run that we did, so yeah, we’re going to at least play two tracks. I know that people don’t have it yet, so sometimes it’s kind of difficult, you know, we have to teeter back and forth like, “Do we want to play a bunch of shit that people don’t know” but at the same time, people are itching to hear it. I don’t know, we’ll see. We might try the first couple of shows and play maybe more than two, maybe three or four. See how they go over, but as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather play the whole new record. I’m so tired of playing old shit.
– Michael L. Smith