Cleveland legends Cobra Verde’s first originals disc in five years — “Haven’t Slept All Year” is all over the map in sound and style. It opens with a badass riff (“World Can’t Have Her”), then detours into classic pop (“Wildweed”), glittery post-punk (“Riot in the Foodcourt”), wounded sing-a-longs (“Home in the Highrise,” “Together Alone”), woozy blues (“Wasted Again”) and raging, glorious rock. It’s been drawing great press notices since it’s release late last year and continues to do so as evidenced by the sampling of the most recent press breaks given below.
Cobra Verde’s tunes on Haven’t Slept All Year realize the debauchery implied by the album’s title. Year’s leering glitter -glam, youth-riot synthpop echoes the greats: David Bowie, the New York Dolls, New Order, Big Star and Judas Priest among many others. Album opener “World Can’t Have Her” is a crunchy garage rock explosion, while the classic rock “Riot In The Foodcourt” features gang-vocal choruses and the immortal howl, “I’m in love with strippers on drugs.” The seedy jazz club number “Wasted Again” is just as blunt; as a grimy muted trumpet wails in the background, a boisterous chorus exclaims, “Wasted Again” and I like it!/ Wasted again, and I want you!” Glamorous decay and excessive partying has never sounded sexier, dirtier or more fun. Annie Zaleski/Alternative Press February
Cobra Verde’s rock ‘n’ roll manifesto is perhaps best summed up on “Wasted Again” — a garage-rock howler that clocks in halfway through their sixth LP. “Dance floor’s been drinking/ I know you’ve heard that before/ Drinking songs are so typical/ But I drink to you anyway, ” shouts singer John Petkovic, half-mocking the hard-rocking lifestyle he’s lived in a dozen indie bands, half-embracing it. But even with tongues in cheeks, Petkovic and company wouldn’t quite be able to pull off a full disc of tinny riffs and mock bravado without mind-meltingly catchy hooks or a stunningly original outlook on rock.
Luckily, on Haven’t Slept all year, Cobra Verde dishes out non-rockers that pack surprisingly more punch than their more traditional anthems. From the sunshiny pop tune “Wildweed,” which invokes the Jayhawks, to the old school Wilco-esque “Free Ride’ to the Flaming Lips-inspired “Cant’ Believe,” Cobra Verde go a long way in proving they’ve more musicianship and songwriting chops than a simple band of low-fi hangers-on. K. Phegley/Performing Songwriter December
After a five year hiatus, Cobra Verde has returned with their latest effort “Haven’t Slept All Year,” and threw a Rock-n-Roll Circus to release it. We caught up with lead singer/guitarist, John Petkovic to talk about the album, release party, their 5 years in between albums, the success that they have found with their cover album “Copycat Killers,” and more.
1. It took you five years between studio albums to get your new one, “Haven’t Slept All Year” out there to people. What did you do in the time between albums that ultimately made this a stronger release than it would have been?
There were a ton of detours, musically and personally. I don’t know if it made “Haven’t Slept All Year” a ‘stronger’ release, but it informed and formed the disc on every level. The funny thing is the follow-up our last all-originals disc, “Easy Listening,” could’ve come out a year later. We did really well with “Easy Listening,” which came out in 2003 — and we were excited to start on another one. People seemed to really like the record and seeing us play the songs live. Anyway, when we went into the studio to record the follow-up, in 2004, we were comparing things to “Easy Listening.” I was worried we’d end up doing the same record and end up rebelling against it; I just hate the idea of repeating yourself. We do music because we enjoy it, and I wouldn’t have found that enjoyable. So started messing around with a bunch of covers — everything from Hawkwind’s “Urban Guerilla” to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” to Pink’s “Get the Party Started” — to try out some different recording techniques and ideas. We never thought we’d release the thing, but going to release the thing, but we dug some of the ideas when we finished it.
2. For longtime fans, what similarities and what differences will they find between “Haven’t Slept All Year” and your past releases?
It’s funny, but every record is pretty different. At least we want them to be different. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do the same thing twice. After all, you don’t really have THAT many opportunities to release an album, so why not make each one distinct? With this one, we all took turns adding different things and throwing out ideas. Live, Mark plays drums. But in the studio, he did just about everything, from engineering the disc to playing piano, guitar, keyboards. It’s to the point where we can listen to the final disc and not remember who did what. Humans are creatures of habit. Sometimes you have to force yourself to try new things. In our case, it’s easy, because we don’t really have any defined roles, so the discs take on the personalities of everyone.
3. This album offers a diverse sound and combining of your influences making no two songs really sound the same. Was this a conscious effort by the band or did it just happen this way in the recording process?
Everyone in the band is really diverse in their tastes, but there’s also a lot of overlap — which is the best of both worlds. I don’t think one of us has ever made a suggestion and we all look at the person as if they’re speaking a foreign language. Well, one time our bass player Ed wanted to overdub him “playing” the ladder in the studio. We had no idea what he meant by that, “So, uh, what are you going to play it with?” As for no two songs sounding alike, I’ve always thought that an album, like a movie or book, should have a shifting, evolving quality. Imagine if the third chapter was exactly the same as the seventh? Or the third scene in a movie was the same as the last one? I guess that does happen in action movies, but we’d rather be inaction heroes anyway.
4. Which one song from “Haven’t Slept All Year” stands out as your personal favorite and why?
I really like “Home in the Highrise.” It has that evolving flow that we’re always trying to capture as a band, as a whole. I’m not saying it’s “the perfect song,’ but the perfect song to me should have moments of tension, unity, introspection and outward expression. Some parts are the details. The chorus is the over-arching expression. I hate to read into what we’re doing that way and it’s not like we mapped things out that way. But somehow it seemed to happen that way — because we all made suggestions and took it in our own directions. Most of my favorite things are by accident and I’m happy with how it came together, accidentally
5. You did release an album of cover songs in 2005 called “Copycat Killers.” You never intended to release the album but ultimately chose to put it out. What prompted you to make that decision?
Yeah, you’re right. When we finished it, we saw it as a fun experiment and a set-up for the next disc. We ended up playing some of the songs live and people seemed to like it. When they’d hear that we’d covered the songs in the studio, they’d ask for us to burn discs of the recordings — so we figured why not release it.
6. This album, much to your surprise, led you to an appearance on “The OC.” How did being on the show as it was hitting amongst the mainstream benefit you the most as far as attracted new fans?
We lot of TV shows want to use the songs, like “Rescue Me” or “The OC.” Then “The OC” asked us to go on the show and play a version of Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” The scene involved a birthday party for one of the characters, which happened to be a big Journey fan. Except that his friend liked Foreigner, so he “hires Cobra Verde” to play Foreigner covers. It was still pretty cheesy, but a lot of fun doing the show. We thought the people on the show would see us as a bunch of goofballs. Well, maybe they did, but they were really nice. Everyone was really nice. They kept feeding us so much food — I thought we were in an all-you-can-eat buffet. By the time we started taping, we were stuffed on tacos, swordfish, you name it. The worst thing about it was they had this junk food buffet and I ate so many gummy bears that I had a tummy ache when we had to “go onstage.” I found a new respect for actors — you gotta perform even when you’re full of gummies. The response to the show was pretty funny. Some people thought we were being ironic — cause they could never imagine us playing a song like that, not to mention wearing zebra-striped shirts and long trench coats. Some hipsters thought the whole thing was cheesy. But I was surprised how many hipsters told us that they always loved that song. We were surprised by the response from “mainstream” people. We were even asked to play a prom after that. Frank got some modeling jobs out of it. Mark had a bunch of girls offer to wash his car. The whole thing was pretty funny.
7. Your pasts included stints with Guided By Voices, an un-named project with Dinosaur Jr, etc… What has these other outlets offered to you that you have been able to bring into the sound of Cobra Verde?
You learn things with everything you do, but it’s hard to pinpoint what that is. Sometimes, I’ll do something that reminded me of something I did in another band. But sometimes I feel like I’m reacting against that other thing, too. It’s like, “I did that with those guys, so I want to do something different.” I recently talked with Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices about some of the stuff we’d worked on. I don’t know if, for instance, Guided by Voices had any impact on Cobra Verde. In some ways, I think we learn from the things we didn’t do than the things we did. You wish you would’ve done something differently, or done something else, and you then apply it to another band.
8. You haven’t just focused on playing music, but have also continued to dive forward into your education. How important do you think it is to have an education of the music business and something to fall back on in the times we live in now?
I’ve never really seen me doing other things as something to fall back on — at least not consciously. I always wonder how people can do one thing in their life. Maybe it’s because I like to try all sorts of things. For instance, I was recently asked to come up with some names for dog treats. Long story. Anyway, I thought it was a lot of fun, maybe because I never imagined doing something like that. I also do a lot of writing on different subjects for a newspaper and I find that I’m most interested in writing about things I haven’t written about before. I know we’re creatures of habit, but it’s great when curiosity takes you down some detour. That’s also been the attitude we try to apply to Cobra Verde.
9. You recently released your album with a party in Cleveland that didn’t just include your music, but rather was a Rock-N-Roll Circus. What was that experience like for people that weren’t on hand and why did you decide to release the album in this way?
Most bands play the same show, the same set over and over again. We always have fun doing ridiculous things. And a circus seemed to be the best way to do it. We had all sorts of performers play, like a banjo-playing drag queen. We had bales of hay and scarecrows on the stage, along with glitter streamers, burlesque performers, comedians and jugglers. Uh, I don’t know if made any sense, but it seemed like a good idea. At the time at least.
10. What advice can you offer someone that is looking to break into the music industry?
Man, I’m not good at giving advice. But I guess I’d say, ‘Don’t look at it as an industry, but rather as music.’ In the end, people that are drawn to music will always have that, even if they aren’t involved in the “industry.” People that are drawn to some other aspect of it will end up disappointed, because there are so many people attracted to things for other reasons — money, power, popularity, avenging being picked on in high school, whatever. As for playing music, we’ve always loved just sitting there in a studio working on things — even if no one outside will ever hear it.
Jeffrey Kurtis/GuestListMagazine.com 1/10/09