Cool Life can be defined in several ways.
First, it’s a Cincinnati-area supergroup featuring the estimable talents of Cole Walsh-Davis (Honeyspiders, Cadaver Dogs), Alex Nauth (Foxy Shazam, The Skulx), Sam Duff (Loudmouth, Look Afraid), Chris Harrison (Honeyspiders, Banderas) and Kamal Hiresh (Honeyspiders, Mixtapes). It slots into the “side project” category, since everyone crowbarred time into their psychotically busy music/work/life schedules to collaborate on Cool Life’s self-titled debut album, which will be unveiled in its entirety at the band’s release show this weekend at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater.
Cool Life is also a cicada. It’s been developing underground for years and now it’s emerging from its nymph stage to enter the world for a brief moment before ceasing to exist. When the lights come up at the Woodward show, fans will have seen Cool Life’s first and most likely last public performance.
Like Banksy’s self-shredding painting, Cool Life will essentially self-destruct after presenting its brilliant and singular album and show.
“It’s like an art project,” says Nauth, Cool Life’s vocalist/trumpeter at the band’s rehearsal room in Northside. “Everybody wants the right marketing thing but there’s something to be said for spreading good art over a year and having a great show. If people pull this record out and think about this again, maybe it’ll be, ‘Remember 2018?’ or ‘Remember that video?’ This has a natural progression. We weren’t concerned about the right or wrong way to do it, it was what was right for us and for the album.”
Cool Life was conceived when Walsh-Davis devised guitar parts for a final Cadaver Dogs recording in 2014. The Louisville-based guitarist had removed himself from touring, but he submitted ideas to his bandmates before they tracked the Dogs’ final album in Cincinnati with Foxy Shazam guitarist Loren Turner. When the bulk of Walsh-Davis’ riffs weren’t utilized, he decided to create something himself out of the musical sketches.
“I started making songs, no vocals or lyrics, just demoed them in Garage Band on my computer in the basement,” Walsh-Davis says. “I tried to make stuff that sounded cool to me so the riffs didn’t go to waste. After I had a couple songs, I was thinking this would be cool to turn into a real thing and make an album that wasn’t something we’d have to tour on. I didn’t want to do that again, at least anytime soon.”
Around this time, Harrison and his brother Jeremy had transitioned from Banderas to Honeyspiders, and Nauth had introduced Hiresh to the Harrisons, who installed him as their drummer. Nauth was assemblingThe Skulx after the shuttering of Foxy Shazam, and Walsh-Davis was looking for a new band in the wake of Cadaver Dogs’ demise; he ultimately took over Honeyspiders’ bass slot to solidify the quartet, once again courtesy of Nauth’s introduction.
But Walsh-Davis continued to mull over his new material.
“I was thinking who I’d like to play with and flesh it out with,” he says. “The first thing you think of is people you’ve already played with over the years because that’s going to make it easy and fun, like a hobby/side project thing, as opposed to everybody putting all their time and energy into it and making it more of a job. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. I talked to Alex first, then it was whenever I ran into people.”
He approached Duff and Hiresh, respectively his former Look Afraid bandmate and his future Honeyspiders bandmate, at a party and played them his demoed songs. Walsh-Davis recruited Harrison at a subsequent Honeyspiders show prior to joining the band, completing the lineup for the nascent Cool Life. The album progressed as Walsh-Davis brought his work to Harrison, Duff and Hiresh and incorporated their input into the songs, particularly Hiresh’s drums, which replaced Walsh-Davis’ programmed beats.
But the major turning point in the album’s evolution was Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory. In the months prior, Nauth had concocted melodies for the songs but was still largely singing nonsense lyrics to accompany them. As his anger over the election crystallized into a more concrete form, Nauth began channeling his rage into new lyrics for the Cool Life songs.
“After the election, there were just things to talk and to write about,” Nauth says. “Anger, whatever — there were things in the air and it completed certain songs. I think it made the record better by waiting and allowing that part of life that everyone was going through to seep into these songs.”
After teasing the release throughout 2018 with videos for the singles “Waves” and “Repeater” and a listening party at Northside Yacht Club, Cool Life’s eponymous debut/swan-song is finally ready for release just before 2019 begins.
The album’s 11 tracks are amazing amalgams of their creators’ musical résumés, a visceral Indie/Hard Rock sonic blurt that fuses volume with melody, bombast with nuance and furious intensity with calm precision. While the songs were created and completed in patchwork fashion over a long period of time, the album sounds cohesive and of a whole, due in large part to the band’s efforts and the mastering skills of Mitch Wyatt (former drummer with the local band Ellison).
“It’s like we all filmed part of a movie and then someone edited it,” Hiresh says. “And then when we see the finished movie, we’re like, ‘Oh, that was my role in that? Wow!’ Alex had the whole movie and then had to go finish it (with the lyrics), which is the hardest job. It wasn’t until he finished and we heard the songs that it was a sigh of relief — ‘Oh, man, it’s good.’ ”
Ignoring standard Rock protocol, Cool Life’s songs were created in rehearsal spaces and homes and not forged, hammered and hardened in the crucible of live performances. The members had to learn the songs to play them for the album, but now they’re learning them as a band in order to present them at the release show.
“The four of us know these songs literally inside-out,” Nauth says. “We could sing or play any one of each other’s parts.”
“We still have to practice them a ton,“ Walsh-Davis clarifies. “It’s not like virtuoso playing on here... We have to consistently practice to be able to pull off the parts but we all know how the songs go.”
Nauth’s mention of “the four of us” highlights an absence within the album’s core quintet. Chris Harrison found his personal/professional schedule precluded him from the grueling rehearsal regimen necessary to perfect the live show; his place is being ably taken over by another local guitar hero, Josh Pilot (the Killtones, The Skulx, Bucko), who played guitar on the album’s “Shapeshifter” and has learned the Cool Life set in a ridiculously truncated time frame.
Pilot is just one of several guests to appear on Cool Life’s album; others include Cincy singer/songwriter Jess Lamb, Foxy Shazam vocalist Eric Nally, Louisville guitarist Anthony Keenan, Chad Nicefield (frontman for Detroit band Wilson) and Elizabeth Rasmussen, current singer/guitarist in the Columbus, Ohio Indie Rock duo King Serpent. In a recent Facebook post, Pilot, Lamb and Casino Warrior’s Miguel Richards were introduced as members of the “Cool Life live band,” but any of the other album guests may also sneak onto the stage this weekend at the Woodward and help make the show even more of a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Cool Life is ready for its introduction, peak and farewell, all in a single night. Ask any of the musicians and they’ll categorically state that if nothing more happens beyond the release of the album — on vinyl to begin, with a digital roll out later — and the Woodward show, they’ll be satisfied. And yet they are fully prepared to return to Cool Life if everyone signs up for another hitch down the line.
“If people are still talking about this a week after the show, that would be great,” Hiresh says. “If they’re still playing the album a year from now, that would be better.”
Cool Life performs Friday, Dec. 14 at Woodward Theater with Go Go Buffalo and Lemon Sky. Tickets/more show info: woodwardtheater.com.