Dead Gaze Leader Cole Furlow Talks Recording Debut Album, ‘Brain Holiday,’ at His Dream Studio
Growing up in Jackson, Miss., sitting on the edge of the storied region that spurred Delta blues and some of rock’s most important music, Cole Furlow knew all about local history. The singer and songwriter is now based two hours away in Oxford, home to the legendary Sweet Tea Recording Studios, which has hosted everyone from Buddy Guy and Elvis Costello to Animal Collective Modest Mouse. With the recent release of ‘Brain Holiday,’ the full-length debut from his band Dead Gaze, Furlow has added his name to the studio’s impressive list of clients.
Dead Gaze features musicians from Oxford’s Cats Purring Collective, which also includes the bands Dent May and Bass Drum of Death. One of the confab’s more pop-centric outfits, Dead Gaze combine lo-fi aesthetics and ornate psychedelia, as heard on their nine-track debut.
Chatting with Diffuser midway through the opening leg of Dead Gaze’s first-ever proper tour, Furlow talked about recording in his dream studio and preparing for the second half of the the trek, which kicks off in Europe later this month.
How did you discover music growing up in Mississippi?
My father is a marching band director and concert band director at a high school. I grew up my entire life seeing him doing his thing. I would always want to be a part of the band, but I was too young and never really in the right state of mind. I grew up around a lot of it, though, and he always was around kids playing music. That really made me want to be a part of music.
It was probably encouraging to see younger kids play music at that time, too.
Yeah, especially since I was always the younger kid. The music scene there is run by dad-rock kind of blues. There is a record label in Jackson called Malaco, and they did a really good job of making sure Jackson stayed hip to modern blues music. We grew up around different curated old-school R&B festivals, which our parents took us to when we were younger.
How has being a part of Cats Purring Collective impacted your music?
It’s definitely been a fun thing to have a larger sense of yourself with other people. It’s why we did it in the first place — to be a unified thing. It’s easier for people to see a group of five people making music, instead of one person trying to get all this music out there. Bass Drum of Death, Flight — we have a bunch of bands that come from out little area. It was easier for us to call it one big collective, but it’s also fun to be able to say that we come from Oxford, Mississippi, and we’re part of Cats Purring Collective.
How often do you get to play with other members?
My band consists of people who all play in other Cats Purring bands, since I record everything at the Cats Purring house in Oxford. I have to be able to get a rotating number of friends who play with me. Most of my original band members are academics who are all in school or teach in school, so I always have to find other people to help me out. There are always members of other bands around.
Coming from such a DIY background, how was going into Sweet Tea Studio to record?
It was a dream. I remember being a younger kid and going up to Oxford from Jackson, and my dad telling me, “That’s where they make the best records in the state.” I’d always be in awe of how great the studio was. It wasn’t until years later when I became friends with an engineer who worked there, and he took me in to check the place out. A few years after that, it ended up that I was able to work in that studio. It’s a beautiful studio, and it was a dream come true. The vibe is incredible, and the gear there is unparalleled. They have stuff Paul McCartney used, and all these old school, very vintage setups. It makes you feel reverent and respectful of the space, and it comes through in the music. It seeps into what you’re doing, and it makes you want to work harder.
And it must’ve been that much better for you, having the studio right there in front of you.
Yeah, it was always this thing with me, just in the back of my mind saying, “If I could only record at Sweet Tea.” I always had these little goals, and I’ve been coming face to face some of them lately. Once you start reaching these goals that you’ve been working toward your whole life, it’s hard to find new ones. I made this huge pop record at Sweet Tea. I had 11 days free at Sweet Tea, and I got one of my best friends to engineer and mix it.
It’s such a dream come true that I’m having a hard time figuring out what my next goal is going to be. And I do have other goals, but it’s harder to release the goal you have had for so long. I’ll probably record my next record, too, and it’s pretty crazy for me to even get to say that.
There’s such an easy tone to the album. What was inspiring you while making it?
I really, really, really, really wanted to make a successful pop record but still be honest to myself and add my twist on songs. I wanted it to be something everyone could listen to, from the Brooklyn hipsters to the San Francisco hipsters to nerds in Iowa. I wanted every single person who listened to this record catch the hold of it and really grasp it.
In the studio, I was constantly thinking about how to make it accessible and make sure every sound that we put in there was delivered in a very big manner. We really talked about what was going to go into the songs, and I think the outcome was very special. I think in some ways we succeeded, and some ways we failed. If nothing else, it’s a very nostalgic-feeling record, like older pop music like the Cars, or even something like Weezer. When I go back and listen to it, it makes me think of the records I listened to when I was a child, and that’s what I wanted. And the reason why is that I thought I wouldn’t make it back into that studio. It’s a billion dollar studio in my hometown that I’d been shunned away from, so might as well go all the way.
It does have a universal appeal to it. How has it been translating that into a live show?
Before this, we’d only done a bunch of week-long tours. But right now, we’re on a real, proper tour. We’re touring as much as possible, but I’m also about to go over to Europe and play bass with Dent May’s band, then my band Dead Gaze will come over to play for a few weeks. After that, I plan on sleeping for a few months. It’s going to be a test of my manhood in some ways. [Laughs]
Honestly, though, it’s a little weird playing right now. We’re not fully equipped to pull off all the new stuff. We’ve been playing a bunch of songs off the compilation record and a few songs off the new records. It’s hard to integrate the new records with a band that’s used to the older songs, but I’ve got a bunch of new guys to come with me on the next tour in Europe. We’re going to sit down and learn the whole new record, though, so we’ll be rehearsing a whole bunch until then.
Now that you’ve been on the road, what have some of your favorite moments from your first real tour been?
It’s hard to say. Shows in New York and California and Chicago are really fun, but smaller college towns are fun, too. America is so lucky to have such good clubs, because even the bad ones are overshadowed by how good the good ones are. They do a nice job of making sure you’re comfortable, and making sure you’re having a good time. Every state is lucky because they is always going to be at least one good venue is every state.
We played in Birmingham, Alabama, at this place called the Bottletree. Birmingham isn’t always the best place to play, but that venue is so comfortable, and they take good care of you in so many ways. They really make you feel like you’re at home. It does matter and makes you want to play better. On top of that, it makes you want to go back.