Los Angeles musical trio Distant Cousins is gearing up for the release of Next of Kin. The album by band members Dov Rosenblatt, Duvid Swirsky, and Ami Kozak is their first full-length release, featuring a unique indie mix of pop and folk sounds and vibrant harmonies. I checked in with Swirsky to dive a little deeper into the development of the new album, which is due out on November 30.
Which instruments do you play?
We all play lots of different ones. We’re strongest maybe at certain things. We tend to lean towards that when we play live. I mostly play guitar. We switch off on almost everything.
Who are a couple of artists that have inspired your love of music?
I grew up in Israel on a hippie commune where there were like no electrical appliances. The one electrical appliance that our parents did have was a record player with records they brought over with them from the States. I grew up on a heavy dose of American folk music, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, but lots of classical and world music as well. Between the three of us, we have a ton of influences. Ami Kozac, another band member, is a big fan of pop music. We run the gamut of all different genres.
What’s a big takeaway for you since making your EPs that you brought to the new full-length album?
Well, this band started working right away on a lot of music towards specific projects. We started out by writing a song for a movie, then we wrote music for TV shows and things like that. One thing we all tried to do on both EPs and always is to write songs that really pack as much as they can into them. We’re getting to the point, whatever that is. We hold everything we write to a very high standard, which basically is our own standard. If we don’t like it, we won’t let it go. We work on it until we’re in love with it, and then we share it with the world.
How did you come up with the title Next of Kin?
There’s a song that came at the last minute. It’s called “Mighty Love.” It starts out in the first lyric, “Nine months in, my next of kin carries the world around.” When we play the song live, it’s so powerful. We went right to the studio and recorded everything live, which we rarely do. We all have our own little studio that we record bit by bit. In this song, we just went to the studio and live off at the floor. We played it in a really cool new studio called Live Monkey here in Los Angeles.
The studio used to belong to Elliott Smith, and it still has all his equipment there. There’s such an energy in the room! We’re all big fans of Elliott Smith. The whole process was so easy for that song, from writing to recording it. It felt powerful. When we were thinking of an album name, we just came out of that experience. We were like, “That song feels like the energy we want to continue with the record.”
We want the same meaningful and easy energy to permeate through the album. But Mighty Love felt a little – (laughs) – we didn’t know if we could get away with calling our record that. So Next of Kin [fit] being that we’re such family people and our families are close. Our band is Distant Cousins and Next of Kin felt like the right name for our first full-length album.
You’ve dropped two singles already. Do you have any others coming before the album release?
Our third single dropped. It’s called “In My Blood.” These days it kind of feels like everything is up for grabs in the Wild West. Nobody really knows what the best way is to reach your audience or a new audience with your music. We’re really proud with the work we’ve done. A lot of the songs have already been used on different things as well. “Turn Your Lights On” was in trailer for a movie. We’re reaching out in any way possible. We’ll see how it goes. We’re putting out the music and waiting for the response to each song and show.
Could you tell me more about how “In My Blood” came together?
“In My Blood” was started by Dov, our third member of Distant Cousins. He brought in an idea. It’s often that there’s a germ of an idea that we kick around. It’s frustrating but you have to bust through that wall for something special to happen. It might be my favorite song of the new record. It’s about finding your true voice in family history and tradition. Our really good friend Aaron Sterling plays killer drums on that. We usually do most of everything ourselves. but on that one track, we had Aaron Sterling, a special guest.
Did you use the live scene to refine the sounds that you were bringing together for your album?
A song really starts to come alive when you share it with people. You see it from different angles and you can get a lot of information on it. Sometimes the way we work is a song needs to be written quickly. It doesn’t feel like a song is actually a song until you share it with another human being. You get that conversation between the song and other humans.
Aside from the singles you mentioned, I thought other songs like “Waking Up,” “Hope You Find It,” and “Angelina” all lent a nice mix with the sound on the album.
We obviously work with our record label and management in deciding how to present the record. It’s nice to hear from different people which songs connect to them. You didn’t pick the usual ones. I love them all in different ways but I really love “Waking Up,” as it’s a little bit different than our usual wheelhouse. The energy behind it is slightly political, which we usually veer strongly away from. It felt nice to say something that felt urgent but in a very fun way.
As you said, your work has been used in TV and film. Have you been able to have a say in that creative process or do industry reps approach you and say they want to use a particular track?
Yes, it runs the gamut on the work we’ve done with license companies. We love to write songs with the thought in our minds that people will hopefully hear them one way or another. We are writing songs that we hope people connect to as they listen to them. We’re also trying to write stuff that we love, the best stuff that we can write. Companies also ask us to write stuff for specific things that don’t go on our record.
What’s a challenge you’ve faced as a band that you’re proud of getting through and accomplishing?
Just being a musician! (laughs) We’re all fathers, too. We have kids and families. I would say that’s our biggest challenge and what we’re most proud of. Then being able to be a musician and provide for our families is what it’s all about. We love playing music and we love hanging out with each other. We’re friends! We often say that it’s an excuse for us to be able to hang out. We’re proud of that, getting to do what we love, and sharing our art projects to people. It’s not easy to be a musician and also provide for your family. At the end of the day, doing what we love to do means the world to us.