The sound of a cold can of beer cracking open is heard on the other end of the line. It’s afternoon but Jay Rutherford and Aaron “Mort” Mortenson have just woken up after a late night playing with their band Los Colognes and unwinding is a must. They jokingly describe the venue as a “big tourist hang” in their home base of Nashville, a good “in-town paycheck” where they can “get really stoned and play a lot of weird stuff and it turns out ok.”
It may seem odd and even a bit uncool for a band who has just released their second album of original material, aptly titled Dos, to pick up random gigs at tourist bars in Nashville where they’ve undoubtedly heard the deafening screams for “Freebird” and “Wagon Wheel” one too many times. But within minutes of listening to Dos it becomes immediately clear that Los Colognes are not striving to be the hippest band around with high fashion and electro synth-pop beats to satiate the masses. Simply put, Los Colognes play a hybrid version of the kind of guitar-driven “band rock” that was big in the late 70s and 80s. The influences on Dos are strikingly upfront as the group channels the likes J.J. Cale, Dire Straits, and late 80s Grateful Dead.
As the architects and primary songwriters in Los Colognes, Jay Rutherford, who plays guitar and sings, and Mort, who drums and sings, aren’t trying to veil their influences under the guise of being “fresh” and “different.” Coming across a band who is so honest about their music is refreshing, and it’s only natural that musical influences form the basis of our conversation. Jay and Mort describe growing up and playing in “crappy punk bands or church bands”, and upon discovering acts like J.J. Cale and Dire Straits, there was a newfound clarity in how to be a band.
“We were like, this kind of fits, let’s roll with this. And you can play it when you’re older and not feel stupid. It only gets better if you can play this kind of music when you’re older,” says Mort, adding that playing band rock “just fit comfortable like a good pair of jeans.”
Themes of the open road and traveling, as well as the band’s breezy instrumentation, make songs like “Backseat Driver”, “Drive Me Mad”, and “One Direction” sound like they could have been written by J.J. Cale or Bob Dylan in the 80s, and this is something the band is acutely aware of.
“We feel like we can embody the influences in a way that isn’t a big horrible rip-off, and within those constructs we can be aware of what we’re doing,” says Jay, who is quick to point out that influences aren’t everything, rather a platform for the band’s own style. “We can have order in place for our vision, but then we can have this let-go and let our instincts take over.”
He references the neo-folkie trend as being an example of what happens when musicians aren’t “meta-aware” of their influences. “There’s a lot of collective subconscious urges coming out of the whole folk thing that people aren’t aware of or in control of. For me, it seems less contrived to earnestly go after 80s [Grateful] Dead than to just claim that, you know, ‘I’m a folk troubadour, I’ve got my acoustic guitar and there’s a mandolin around, and maybe somebody playing a banjo.’ It’s like no, that’s on a fuckin’ cell phone commercial! That literally came out because punk emo kids saw O Brother Where Art Thou and didn’t realize that all of them at the same time just decided to pick up strummy acoustic guitars.”
Late 80s Grateful Dead – especially in the Brent Mydland-esque keyboard on songs like the arena-ready album opener “Baby You Can’t Have Both” – seems to play as big a role in the Los Colognes sound as Cale, Dire Straits, and Dylan.
“The Dead’s like Dylan, when you first discover Dylan it’s like Blonde On Blonde or Freewheelin’, but there are so many shades of Dylan. Like now we’re into 80s Dylan. The Dead’s the same way; you’re 22 and you hear “Ripple” and you’re like ooooo, this is great. But there are so many different shades, like “Shakedown Street” late 70s Dead, Brent Mydland 80s Dead,” says Jay.
Despite their love of the more laid back, jam-oriented groups, Los Colognes are far from a “jam band” or just some group rehashing the past. After all, it’s ultimately about writing quality tunes.
“We’re not just some jam classic rock band. We write songs and we want them to connect on a universal level. A good song is a good song, so I think continuing to seek out good songs from the cosmos will make our sound work,” says Jay.
Even in a music industry dominated by hipster synth-pop, button-pushing DJs, and rap with little substance at all, Jay and Mort believe people still want to hear guitars and a well-oiled rock band, and the fact that they reference the Dead, Cale, and Dire Straits only works in their favor. Like anything, it’s a matter of discovery.
“I don’t think people are too cool for the influences we have, I just don’t think they know them. They don’t realize that this shit was the coolest shit around for years and years. If you recognize that everything is cyclical, than it just becomes totally ok to do what we’re doing, in our minds,” says Jay.
Finishing up his beer, Mort sums up Los Colognes in simpler terms, of which plenty of us can agree. “The world needs 80s band rock! The world needs guitar solos again!”