DEAD CINEMA: I don’t pretend that I’m cool with Mat Cothran, who records as Coma Cinema, an indie-blog favorite. I’ve never had a beer with him. Before an interview at his apartment last week, I had shaken his hand once before.
But I feel like I know Cothran through his music – and from reading his often intimate posts on his Tumblr microblog, Summer Time in Hell. Cothran will release “Posthumous Release,” his fourth Coma Cinema album, Tuesday. It will be sold by local label Fork and Spoon Records on vinyl and CD, and on cassette by Orchid Tapes.
“Posthumous Release,” a record about rebuffing despair and hopelessness, was recorded in Los Angeles with high-fidelity production by Brad Petering and Jason Wyman from TV Girl and Rachel Levy, a longtime friend of Cothran’s who added harmony vocals. But a duct-tape essence remains, as the arrangements are spare and listeners can hear talking in the background between songs.
By following Cothran, 25, on Twitter and Facebook, one would know the above details, as he, like millions of other bands, uses the social media sites to share and promote his work. Unlike a majority of musicians, though, Cothran, on Summer Time in Hell, answers questions. (Tumblr is also the best place to hear Cothran’s works-in-progress, and music that he likes to listen to.)
From the goofy to the sublime, Cothran’s answers are generally insightful. He offers advice on all subjects from the music industry to partying. But when his anger is triggered, Cothran’s subsequent rants offer a broader view into the haunted soul that writes such comely songs.
Here’s an example: “you say you’re taking a break from music after the new coma & elvis albums but what if things take off in the wake of those, especially the coma one, and opportunities present themselves?”
“I don’t see that happening,” Cothran wrote in a recent post. “These labels and [redacted] know im outchea but they don’t [redacted] with bands that don’t want to rip themselves off. Some labels offer bands huge ‘advances’ that are actually just high interest loans, if yr album can’t make the money back and then some yr [redacted]. Other labels wait until you do all the work, get a following, produce yr album, and them come in hungry to get a cut.”
The above explains why Cothran, who continues to receive favorable press despite his relatively low industry profile, eschews larger labels for smaller ones like Fork and Spoon and Orchid Tapes.
Ask Cothran anything, and you’ll get raw, profanity-spiked answers that others might be hesitant to share. Because of social media, performers claim they are closer than ever to their fan base, but many celebrities use publicists or assistants to interact with fans. Cothran uses his time.
About the Spartanburg native’s love/hate relationship with Columbia: “yo why does columbia scene hate you? it’s just like philly vs. pill friends.”
“It’s either biters who are salty that i have an audience or people who just don’t (redacted) with cool music,” he responded. “Like one of the big local bands sounds like (redacted) cursive fronted by rascal flatts.”
Another: “are you gonna do an album release show?”
“I wanted to but my city’s scene tries to keep me out, all the bands here conspire on me and [redacted], i don’t know where i’d be able to do the show,” Cothran said.
There is actually going to be a release show, albeit not at a rock club. Coma Cinema will play with Belk Boys and Plank Ewing at Space Idea (a house concert) on June 15. Cothran plays so infrequently in Columbia, feeling a lot of people in the city don’t listen to his music. Yet he’s known as the guy national publications such as SPIN and Pitchfork have written about. He was hesitant to reveal names of bands he has beef with on the scene.
“I’d rather them listen to my music than care about who wrote about it. I listen to everybody in town,” Cothran said in the interview.
Recently, Cothran’s profile has been elevated because he’s using Force Field PR, the same company that promotes Chaz Bundick’s Toro Y Moi. Cothran’s fans have noticed.
“sup mat, you’ve been getting coverage in some pretty big sites/blogs lately. Have you been using a pr company?...”
“maybe some people might see this as an abandonment of DIY ethos or punk mentality or some other betrayal of something like that but to me it’s like…I live to make records…that’s all i want to do…nothing gives me that feeling or that happiness than when i finish recording a song…it’s better than any drug, or [redacted], or adrenaline rush to me…to keep doing that i need to eat/ pay my bills/ take care of my [redacted] health/ etc. so if using the industry (as horribly problematic as this industry is/was/will be) can help me support my self and my family with my art then that’s what i gotta do,” was part of Cothran’s response.
He usually replies at night.
“If I answer them at the wrong time, I start going into either a rant or a dark place or I get annoyed and start saying goofy things that aren’t true at all,” he said. “Sometimes the question will make me really upset. The ones I don’t answer are just brutally terrible.”
Chief Keef, in my opinion, is a brutally terrible rapper, but Cothran enjoys talking about all kinds of hip-hop.
“I’m happy when someone talks to me about hip-hop music, because I don’t think a lot of people that listen to me listen to hip-hop music,” said Cothran, who has made music with local rapper Karmessiah.
“I used to be way more unhinged. I’ve learned not to be, because I would say some things that I’d have to delete later,” Cothran, sitting at his kitchen table with his legs crossed in shredded Vans that exposed his socks, continued. “If I feel slighted or something ...
“When anyone makes you feel any negative emotion, it turns into anger,” Diana Kingsbury, Cothran’s friend who photographed the album art, said as she sat nearby.
“I want to be real, because a lot of people, they won’t talk to people that listen to their music,” Cothran said. “For me, those are the people paying my bills. Like truly, I can’t pay bills without people paying for my music on the Internet or buying a record or something, so I’m not going to shut them out.”
We know Cothran struggles, living off $12,000 a year. We know he hurt his ear recently. We know that he has bouts of sadness – and happiness.
“I just want people to know who they’re dealing with,” he said. “It belongs to everybody, the music does. If it touches you or moves you, then it belongs to you, too. I want them to be as much a part of it as they can, you know, without them writing and making the records. That’s what community is about.”
As the recognition of Coma Cinema’s music has swelled so has that of Elvis Depressedly, the other band Cothran fronts. Some think the monikers are interchangeable, but the difference is that Elvis Depressedly writes as a band and when Coma Cinema performs, ED backs Cothran.
“They don’t really care what (the band is named.) And that’s cool,” Cothran said. “I want to play Coma songs, Elvis songs. I don’t want to disappoint anybody.”
Cothran said “Posthumous Release” is more positive than 2011’s “Blue Suicide.” Really? The title track contains this heart-wrenching couplet: “I’ve never known someone who wasn’t lonely/No one has ever known me.”
“I had so much fun making it,” Cothran said. “I think you can tell I’m not crying in the studio.”
In a review of the single “Burn a Church,” Pitchfork wrote that the record is “still full of warped, wooly textures and heart-on-ragged-sleeve ruminations about love, death and the things they have in common. All the macabre is display on the psych-pop nugget ‘Burn a Church’: kisses from Satan, dead ex-girlfriends, and the warbling refrain ‘Kill me whenever you want to/I want you to.’
Cothran said he’s going to be reading reviews.
“I don’t want to be out of the loop,” he said. “Sometimes I can learn things from reviews.”
Long after I’m done reporting on music, I’ll still be reading Cothran’s blog. It’s one of five permanent tabs on my computer. I might not know him, but I find solace in knowing what he thinks.
Like, “what would you consider yr darkest song?,” someone recently asked on Summer Time in Hell.
“i don’t like to think of things as bad or good or dark or light or anything like that … i don’t see anything i make as that ‘dark’…i just try to tell the truth ... and to me seeing something truthful that isn’t positive is more beautiful than any kind of illusion. to me there is only the truth…and it doesn’t have a moral alignment or a color or a feeling it just is.”