Checking In with Ariel Pink and CMON

The friends and would-be tourmates hopped on the phone for a chat.

Josh da Costa is one half of the New York-based duo CMON, and a friend and collaborator of Ariel Pink’s — the two were set to tour together this spring before the COVID-19 outbreak. With the release of CMON’s debut album Confusing Mix of Nations (out today via Mexican Summer), they got on the phone to talk about how they’ve been holding up. 
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Ariel Pink: This is the weirdest thing ever, man. I don’t even understand how it happened. How are you holding up?

Josh da Costa: Pretty well. I’m a little shook because my parents are in Amsterdam, and we all kind of agree that my dad had it.

Ariel: Really?

Josh: Yeah. Both of my parents are 67, so it’s been super weird because it’s been over a week, and I was trying to get a good sense of how severe it was. He was just kind of sick with the flu, but he seems like he’s out of the woods and he’s feeling pretty good. He seems pretty normal, but I was really spooked because what we seem to know about this whole thing is that the first week is like the foreplay, so to speak.

Ariel: Right, it’s a fake-out — you get better and then you get worse, you get better and then you get worse again. 

Josh: Right, it’s a totally psych-out. But I think he’s cool. This whole experience has been an insane trip, because my anxieties about myself, my family, and the world at large are usually one at a time, but this week all of my anxieties have been compounded that the same time. 

Ariel: I usually have that anxiety all the time. We’re not going to go into it, but I feel like I’ve had coronavirus for the past year and a half. Not literally, but I feel like I’ve been under quarantine and unreachable and panicking, and denied access to life in a weird way. It almost feels like everybody’s just catching on. 

Josh: Yeah, you’re validated, vindicated or something. 

Ariel: “What took you guys so long? Finally joining the party here.” It hurts when nobody sees your pain. I know it sounds like it’s not a big deal and I put up kind of a good front about it, but it’s something that I’ve grappled with on a daily basis now for about a year and a half. I have severe PTSD from it. I was just a very crazy thing. I don’t think I’ve made that point enough. Of course I’m scared about the world ending too.

Josh: Have you ever felt this way at any other point in your life? 

Ariel: No. Never. I’ve already been to a therapist about it and everything, but I feel like talking about it just doesn’t do anything. It’s like speaking to a wall. There’s no catharsis in it. I feel like it’s better if I just shut up about it, because it seems to bum everybody out. 

Of course I knew as a high school kid that the world sucked, and all that kind of stuff. But somewhere along the line, I started to get a little hope, weirdly enough. I must have let that get carried away, because I didn’t think things would actually cave for me and I’d go back to my teenage self, where I was pretty misanthropic about everything — which is where I am right now. 

Josh: I always kind of envisioned you as this sort of teenage misanthrope death rocker. 

Ariel: Oh, yeah! And I guess I am ‘til the end, man. Ride or die!

Josh: [Laughs.] I guess it’s relevant, and irrelevant, but I have this home studio set up — I have a place where I work on music separate from home, but my home zone is usually where I can make stuff really late a night and space out and not be so focused. Usually the kind of stuff I work on here is way moodier and darker and kind of reminds me of stuff I liked when I was really young. It’s whatever my musical trajectory was from, like, Nine Inch Nails to My Bloody Valentine. And all records I have here, I throw in the mix too, so I end up with weird sample-based, darker, moodier stuff. Now that I’m home all the time, I feel like I kind of have carte blanche to go down that downward spiral. It’s definitely a cool time to get back into some of the stuff I always thought was a little too dark for its own good. Now it’s just the dimension I’m in. 

Ariel: You also have to stay quiet too — you can be belting out glorious, [sings]. 

Josh: Yeah, I feel more of a frail-bodied darkness. Like whispering in a cave. That’s a musical thing, but personally, I don’t know. I feel like what you’re talking about, I can trace back to when shit really hit the fan, so to speak. In our sort of shared world, I remember distinctly a little over a year and a half ago, our friend Sam dying.

Ariel: That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Josh: A vortex kind of opened up around then. 

Ariel: It was very, very brutal. That and [other events] were very, very tough on me. Having to tour at the time was especially brutal, just too much for me. 

Josh: I feel like that might have done some irreparable damage to your psyche, that tour. 

Ariel: It literally was. I don’t think it’s really clear to people what’s going on with me, but I think people underestimate what went down with me. It’s not as bad for me as it was back then, but I wake up every day and… I mean, I’m grateful to be alive but… I can’t say that I’m grateful to be alive. [Laughs.] But, I mean, I’m grateful. I’m very contemplative, I suppose, these days. 

Josh: I’m sure you’ll have even more time now.

Ariel: Yeah. It would be nice to have somebody to do that with. I mean, I have friends visiting and stuff like that, so it’s all good. 

New York’s response to this whole thing has been ridiculous. It makes sense, knowing everything else about New York, but I can’t understand it. I think California’s response has been better, but kind of surprising too. I think everybody should be taking it much more seriously. 

Josh: Yeah, I think it’s going to be really weird in, like, a week’s time. It’s freaky now that people are almost going to have to manifest the carnage, because otherwise they’re going to feel like this was false. You know?

Ariel: The odd thing that I think people don’t really understand is that, the government’s view since time immemorial is that people are stupid. I’m not pro-tyranny or anything like that, but people are sure that this is some plot to take away our civil liberties and stuff like that. It’s kind of funny, and kind of not funny, but best case scenario, we don’t extend the problem. In which case, everybody will be inclined to say, “See, this was a total false flag event, this was put in place to limit us.” If social distancing were to work, we wouldn’t have the terrible news that we’re about to have. So the impulse to go out and defy it would be so much greater. But seeing the reality of it is going to have a different kind of effect on us. I am sort of waiting with bated breath to see what that means. 

Josh: I think people in a weird way need to see what the result is going to be in order to take it seriously. But with that said, I almost kind of feel like people are testing it.

Ariel: It’s a natural impulse. I think everybody is still [thinking] it doesn’t feel real yet — “It’s not me, it’s not my family,” that kind of thing. Even my parents aren’t taking it as seriously as I would have thought or hoped they would. But at the same time, older people might not take it as seriously because they literally have a death wish, you know? 

Josh: They’re ready to die?

Ariel: I think so. 

Josh: Ironically, it seems like my dad had it — not confirmed, but — they’re the ones who are the most grounded about it. Like, “It’s fine, we’re going to be fine.” I guess it’s kind of reassuring. Hopefully they’ve got it out of their system or something. It’s just such a weird role reversal to have to tell you’re parents to stay home. 

(Photo Credit: left, Kathryn Vetter Miller; right, Olivier Amsellem)

CMON is Josh da Costa and Jamen Whitelock, a duo that met in New York where they created the band Regal Degal in 2009. Now based in Los Angeles, they’ve continued their musical partnership recording and performing as CMON. The debut album Confusing Mix Of Nations sprang from time spent combing through old demos and retooling them into spaced-out dance music featuring twangy guitar riffs, analog drum machines, and lush synth textures. Uninhibited by the limitations of a typical rock band, CMON embraces technology to construct a hybrid sound inspired by the past, present, and future. CMON’s music is built for heady crate-diggers and cutting-edge partygoers, perfect for both headphones and the club.

(Photo Credit: Kathryn Vetter Miller)