Coping Skills on Their New Album, Music Criticism and Friendship
To cap off Coping Skills’ time as TIDAL Rising Artist of the Week, the Philadelphia rock band, made up of guitarist-primary vocalist and songwriter Rachel Dispenza and bassist-vocalist-songwriter Lauren DeLucca, spoke to TIDAL about their new album, Worst New Music, their friendship and music criticism.
Could you tell me where your musical journey began?
Dispenza: Warning: if you think you’re going to get either of us to not speak over the other, it’s probably not going to happen.
DeLucca: It’s a good question, though, I don’t think I ever thought about it. I loved music growing up, but I was always a theater kid and I was in choir all through school, but never played an instrument. I did have piano lessons as a kid, but I did not connect with loving it until a little later into high school and college when I began collecting records and all that.
I never really thought that doing anything in music was ever really an option, because I never really played an instrument or saw myself as a musician.
When I dropped out of college and had to come to that conversation with my parents, where they asked me, ‘Well, now what do you want to do?’ That was the first time I realized I did not want to anything except working in the music industry. I didn’t know what, but I knew I wanted to be around creatives and musicians and figure out where I fit in, and then I met Rachel, which has led us here.
What drove you in that direction of giving yourself that choice? Was it avoiding any sort of lifestyle or was it a matter of what you wanted from life?
DeLucca: I think it was a little bit of both. When I was applying to college, I was applying to theater programs, but I didn’t think I was a good actor… or a good singer… Well, not good enough to get into programs like that. I was just certain I wanted to be a creative and be around that. I think there was a fear of not being able to do anything else.
There is an evident friendship and bond that is at the core of the band. Is there anything about yourselves as individuals that comes to light when working on Coping Skills together?
DeLucca: Well, there are aspects of Rachel that I just don’t find in many people, it’s more of a sense of humor and…
Dispenza: …the way we finish each other’s…
DeLucca: …sandwiches? I feel like it’s more if I don’t finish eating something, you’ll eat it.
(Lauren and Rachel go on for a few minutes discussing one specific sandwich-finishing incident)
Dispenza: You don’t have to print that (laughs). I think that whole tangent is the kind of thing that happens. There is something in our brains that keeps us bouncing off of each other.
How do you two work on music together? Do you work on your own and bring it to the other, or do you start out together?
DeLucca: I feel like I am more hesitant to show things that I am working on to Rachel because I think they have to be ‘done.’ You [Rachel] will send me voice memos all the time. A lot of the ideas for the songs come from your brain.
Dispenza: Yeah, I’m a little more incapable of finishing things; I need constant feedback and validation. I’ll send Lauren something and then we’ll work it out together, but the last couple of songs, songs for the new record, were much more of a collaborative process from start to finish. Like, ‘User Error’ was the last song that was written for the record, after we demoed out every other song. There was a guitar part I had, with a vocal melody and we took a break to eat. Then, I thought, ‘Noooo, use the vocal melody for a bassline.’
DeLucca: And we were listening to that, and I started humming something else along. We realized it was the [vocal] melody, so you took the melody I was thinking and put words to it. You ran away! You were like, ‘AHH’ and ran away.
Dispenza: I did, I ran away. I knew I had lyrics that would work but I had to go be alone and figure it out.
DeLucca: We also programmed the drum machine together for that demo. For most of the other songs, we brought in other people to flesh out the drums. I think it has a lot to do with us figuring out our songwriting process in this band. Neither of us are really drummers, but I think we are learning more and more what we want the drums to do in our music and being able to figure that out for ourselves and not just handing it off and saying, ‘OK, here’s most of the song, play the drums to it.’
Is there anything about your schedules as independent artists and people striving to work in creative industries that impacts your music?
DeLucca: Well, we both work a lot of jobs and even though we live together and play together and work together, we still find ourselves having to schedule time to work on band things and sit down at this time on this day to work on this song.
Dispenza: Yeah, I’ll send Lauren e-mails that line out the five things we need to knock out because we won’t have five minutes together to work it out. We don’t even really have time to write right now, with getting ready to put the record out. Especially with how much of the work goes into putting out the record yourself and booking tours on our own. I’ll get home from one job and get on the computer, answer a bunch of emails and update a bunch of spreadsheets.
Rachel, with your work running Citywide Records, were there any crystallizing moments that reinforced your desire to work in music and around creative people?
Dispenza: I think it was a lot of crystallizing moments. My relationship to playing music was sporadic; I took piano lessons here and there. My brother and I played in an AC/DC cover band in the 6th grade talent show. He was more of a musician than I was for a long time. I think it’s pretty surprising to my parents that I play the guitar and am the one who is in a band, because he got his guitar very early on and was much better.
DeLucca: That’s crazy you say that; I guess I’ve never thought about it, but my family was kind of the same way. My brother started playing music early and wanted to play guitar, so my uncle made him a guitar and he was always way more into it.
Dispenza: Yeah, nobody in my family ever really had a strong musical background, I feel like half of the times I read about other bands in interviews, they talk about their parents playing music and being in bands. My father liked classic rock and my mother liked disco, and that’s about it. For the most part, my relationship had long been as a fan, but my friend when I was in high school had been booking shows at a movie theater, so I helped her run them.
I had gone to school for graphic design, originally. It began to set in that it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, at all. I hated the huge college feeling and the impersonal nature of it all. I returned home for a little bit.
Buuuuuut, I, of course, went to Warped Tour that summer.. I saw one of my favorite bands at the time, Taking Back Sunday. Hot take: I am a pop-punk kid. I had this revelation in the pit that being in music was the only thing I really wanted to do. I called UArts the next day, because they had this music business program they were starting that fall, so I gave them a call and I talked to the dean at that time and got into the program and moved to Philly, where I started booking shows.
I’d always wanted to be around that. My friend Ruben taught me how to book DIY shows. They offered lessons at the school and I wanted to take up the guitar again. Lauren and I both wanted to play in bands at that time and within two months of graduating college, I believe we had put our first song as a band.
So, you go to college to play music, and then, because of college, you have no time to play music.
Philadelphia has been discussed as a re-emerging rock/indie scene for the past five years or so, and now it may feel compromised due to a saturation of creatives. It provides less of a financial burden, but maybe that doesn’t speak to any of its benefits. How do you feel being a band in a city with that kind of spotlight?
Both: Hot take: don’t move to Philly.
Dispenza: This is more for other people in bands who think, ‘Oh, I’ll move to Philly and my band will take off.’ When everyone moves to Philly, the rent goes up astronomically, families who have been established here are displaced, and there is no scene to thrive anywhere else and you start killing off communities that people need more than we do.
It’s rough because when you go on the road, you go to these smaller towns and you sense that they appreciate it more. You get kind of jaded in the bigger markets, because you figure the band will be back in six months and that the current show doesn’t matter. You get spoiled by opportunity.
DeLucca: Ultimately, you can’t paint with too broad a brush, because there are still so many incredible, creative people here.
Coping Skills’ lyrics have always had a journal entry-type feel to myself, and also they are kind of meta and self-referential to finding yourself as a musician. Sometimes, they border on humorous and tongue-in-cheek. Do you, at the end of the day, take it all seriously? Or does the humor have to be a crutch for sometimes harsh realities?
DeLucca: I’ve always thought that we take being musicians and creating music for people seriously, but I don’t think we take ourselves, personally, too seriously.
Dispenza: Yeah, we don’t want anyone to see us as people you can’t have a conversation with, because we’re just two fucking idiots. I think the stream-of-conscious approach a lot of our music follows is due to making an attempt to make relatable music.
I think something you are getting at in your point is that critics affect reception. That is something we are definitely conscious of and something we wanted to make note of, not just in the branding of the album. Music criticism and journalism has this effect on not only the listener, but on the artists themselves. It is so important to be conscious of how the story of a piece of work is controlled by everyone except the artist.
If you’re a journalist, writing for some publication, you are affecting the perception of that album. Nobody should take that too seriously without investigating the motives a writer or publication has. Like you, you have a motive. Not as an attack, but you’ve been a fan and you have a motivation for writing about the music and the work you put into it writing about it, which is always important to consider and talk about.
What would you like for people to think about the band and walk away from the new record with?
Dispenza: I walk away exhausted.
DeLucca: We’ve spent more time utilizing different songwriting techniques and making a more emotional record, but ultimately, we’re not going to stop making jokes. I’d like for people to see there is room for both of those things to exist simultaneously. We have fun being in this band, so we can be silly with each other, but also write music that is serious to us.
Dispenza: It’s important to have a space to process your feelings. Much of this record is providing that space for me. I hope people walk away from it, from us really, feeling like they can do this too.
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