Going by the moniker Almanac Mountain, Chris Cote creates music that is beautiful, weird and romantic -- all at the same time. Championed by Gold Flake Paint, who describe his work as a “swooning antiquated delight”, he’s now gearing up for the release of his new collection Cryptoseismology next month and kindly agreed to this interview to chat dream shows, the impact of Pink Floyd and his musical legacy.
PW: Please introduce yourself.
Chris Cote: Hi my name is Chris Cote, I'm a composer and a songwriter, and I release pop albums under the name Almanac Mountain.
PW: How would you sum your music up in three words?
CC: Visual, chromatic, thoughtful.
PW: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a performer? Was there a concert you attended or album you listened to that inspired you?
CC: I never cared too much about performing. It was writing that I cared most about. A few different things converged at the same time in my life -- somewhere around the 10th grade -- when I discovered classical music, Pink Floyd, and my high school chorus teacher's electronic music room. Those three things lit a creative fire beneath me.
PW: Which bands and artists influenced you growing up, and how have those influences changed over the years?
CC: My earliest influences were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and, a few years later, Queen, as well as composers like Mahler and Debussy. Those artists don't necessarily influence me anymore, but they're definitely in my creative DNA.
PW: Is there a band or artist you might say you're similar to, or do you make a conscious effort to just be yourself?
CC: I do try to sound like myself, but I think, if there's any reason I succeed at that, it's because I've absorbed a ridiculous amount of music and understand the mechanics of it all enough to let this mish-mash of styles mingle with my own creative impulses. I like to say that I'm not original, I'm resourceful.
PW: Tell me about your new single "Harborside". Is there a story behind it?
CC: “Harborside” came out of the anxiety and sense of marginalization a lot of people who choose a non-traditional way of life feel sometimes when surrounded by so many people gravitating toward social conformity and toward safely assuming their roles within a monetary, child-rearing, debt, and class-structured society. It's about finding the courage and grace to not be that. I make use of island sounds and instrumentation to evoke the sense of peace and calm one can find when they let go of societal and cultural expectations.
PW: The track is taken from your new collection Cryptoseismology, which is due out next month. What can you tell me about it?
CC: Musically, it is a shift back toward composing music at the piano and composing in a more symphonic way. The type of music you make is very affected by the instrument you play, and, for years, I wrote only at the piano. Then, for about 10 years, most of my writing was done with a guitar in hand. For me, Cryptoseismology really embraces that shift back to piano-based writing. Thematically, it was borne out of isolation and disconnection, both mentally and physically. Most of it was written in the heart of the winter of 2015, which was memorably brutal. It was a tough time to be alone, and this feeling of seclusion influenced the themes on the album, whether it's the ways we communicate electronically that disconnects us or in the way classist society isolates us.
PW: Do you have a favorite track on the collection, and, if so, which is it and why?
CC: I honestly don't have a favorite, they're all so different to me.
PW: Who or what most inspires your song-writing?
CC: I think nature has historically been my biggest musical inspiration.
PW: In your opinion, which is the greatest song ever written and why?
CC: I think “Nacht Und Traume” by Franz Schubert is the most sublime song ever written. It's this perfect meeting point of everything that came before it and everything that came after it, distilled into this incredibly simple, impeccable tune, like a tiny, static pool in a stream where the water comes to pause before rushing on again. And the lyrics -- a simple ode to night, sleep, and dreams, and wishing for them to return, have a beautifully ambiguous association with death, and the dark but sweet music seems to underpin that feeling.
PW: What are your upcoming performance plans?
CC: I've put together a band for the CD release show on October 20 in Portsmouth, NH. It's made up of some people who have played with me in the past and some who haven't. I've also been working on arrangements of the songs for voice and solo piano, so I can play some solo shows.
PW: If you could share a stage with three other bands or artists (who can be living or dead), who would you choose, and where would you play?
CC: Jeff Lynne, Neil Hannon, a.ka. The Divine Comedy and Talk Talk. We would all play together on stage at Tanglewood.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media, and to what extent has it impacted your career? Would you agree that artists today need to be socially interactive with their fans?
CC: I'm pretty bad at it. I have to force myself to go on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. and post stuff. I guess, to some degree, it has helped me reach a wider audience, though not always for the things I want. I once wrote a song that made fun of Jimmy Buffett; it went semi-viral on MySpace -- yeah, that long ago -- and quickly was wrongly the victim of a takedown notice from Buffett's representatives, which was bullshit because the music and words were original. I don't know that artists NEED to be socially interactive with their fans. I think the most important interaction is what you communicate to your fans through your art. I'm not comfortable with breaking that arrangement and then being all "Hey guys, what's up! Just here chilling with my coffee! Come see my show!"
PW: Whose career would you most like to emulate and why?
CC: Probably Neil Hannon's because he had enough early mainstream success, despite an already offbeat discography, that allowed him to then go and continue to make more of the kind of idiosyncratic, large scale music he does, which I so love.
PW: Finally, where would you like to see yourself ten years from now, and what would you like your musical legacy to be?
CC: I'd like to have a bigger studio, but I'd still like to be having the kinds of opportunities to express myself creatively that I enjoy now.