Jonathan and Michael Rosen have been making music since they were kids, but it wasn't until recently that they began creating together as Cones. Michael was only six years old when he started studying classical music and went on to study composition in college. Jonathan tells us that he was more concerned with making weird sculptures at six and didn't really begin writing music until his father gave him a guitar when he turned 15.
The duo worked together briefly as they took turns joining each other's bands while they lived in New York City and then things got serious when they were on tour as the backing band for Elanor Friedberger. Michael stumbled on Jon playing a new record on his guitar after one of the stops and when they decided to try and record the song when they got back to Los Angeles, Cones was born.
Although the two brothers have different approaches when it comes to making music, Michael focusing more on orchestration and Jon leaning more towards intuition, when they come together to create the end results are undeniable. The first song the two completed as a duo is ironically-titled "First Time," and today they are here with a fun, nostalgic video to accompany the catchy tune.
Check out the video above and keep scrolling for our conversation with Jonathan, the singer/animator of the duo.
How long have you guys been making music?
Michael and I have been making music since we were kids, but not always together. He began studying classical music when he was around six years old, and studied composition in college. He approaches music from a very orchestrational and often academic angle. He’s a wizard. My approach on the other hand, is more intuitive. When I was six I was making weird sculptures in my room while making up little songs in my head. When I turned 15 my dad got me a guitar and that’s when I officially started writing songs.
Tell us a little about "First Time."
"First Time" is actually the first Cones song that we completed. It’s an innocent little bubblegum track about a kid falling in love for the first time. Vocally and lyrically I wanted it to feel sort of naive, like a teenager writing a journal entry on the spot. I think putting that sort of innocent vocal performance on top of a solid and shimmery foundation makes for an interesting song.
This video was different from previous releases like "Echoes On," as there is a live action component to go along with the animation. What inspired that decision and is that something we can expect to see more of?
The first two Cones animations ("Echoes On" and "Back In The Brain") were fully hand-drawn. However, ‘Back In The Brain’ does feature a little sequence of rotoscoped oil projections that I filmed off of my wall. With "First Time" I wanted to take that mixed media approach one step further, and fully integrate live action footage into the animation. I studied film in school, and was shooting before I ever began animating.
I approach each Cones video with the goal of exploring a new technique, so for ‘First Time’ I tapped into my desire to get back to photography, and created the weird, ever-morphing wad of thought-bubblegum that makes up the video. Since the song is about memory, I chose super 8mm. It’s the most nostalgic format. At times the animation conflicts with the footage, which for me serves to represent how memories can become a bit warped with the passage of time. In regards to the next Cones video, I really can’t say if it will incorporate live action footage. I want to try VR! We’ll see…
What made you decide to bring your animations and music together? Or was that always the plan?
I animated a music video for a song called "Does Turquoise Work" off of Eleanor Friedberger’s last record New View. I had so much fun making that one, and was very pleased with how singular the visuals and music felt, like a two-headed serpent or something. That video was the last one I animated with pencil on paper. I switched to the Wacom Cintiq (which I highly recommend for animators) for the Toro y Moi : Live From Trona sequences that I animated. That upgrade was a creative revelation for me - I was able to work much faster and with access to infinite colors and line weights.
For Cones, I always knew I wanted the project to incorporate animation. My approach to songwriting is relatively visual, so I want the identity of the band to reflect that. When it came time to create our first video, "Echoes On", I took my approach to Eleanor’s video and applied what I had learned from the Toro y Moi project, and just started drawing. I love figuring it out as I go along—improvising with a loose structure in mind. That’s how I’ve always worked.
What role has music played in your relationship as brothers?
I guess music has made us closer as brothers. It’s hard to say because I can’t imagine what we’d be doing together if we weren’t making music. We’d definitely still be hanging out all the time, but we'd probably just play more video games together. We play a lot of FIFA. We weren’t that close growing up, but when he went away to college we started considering each other as actual people. I would also say that inversely, being brothers has absolutely influenced our music. We don’t have to be polite with one another. He lets me yell at him, and I let him boss me around. It’s efficient. The one annoying thing is that after a tour, when we've spent every second together for weeks, I can’t really escape him for the holidays. I know he’d say the same.
Who are some of your influences, or what music are you guys fans of in general?
Michael and I were raised on the Beatles, Dylan, Rolling Stones, Carol King, and other similarly obscure artists. I used to build Legos to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. All of that stuff is deeply engrained. Michael just told me to mention Burt Bacharach and David Axelrod, artists who have an orchestrational approach to pop music. The Zombies will always be a major influence for me. As for contemporary artists, I’ve been listening to the Hand Habits record quite a bit. I think she’s fantastic.
What are you guys' main goal with music and what do you want fans to take away from your songs?
Aside from the main goal of finding success in doing what we love, we basically want to keep growing and expanding our sound. Remembering how much listening to music shaped me as a kid, either through recordings or at a show, I want to recreate that experience for young people. When I’m writing or recording I often consider, would this melody or sound have reached me if I had heard it as a teenager lying on the floor with headphones on? Also, a goal of mine is to find new ways of representing the music visually through video and animation. Someday I want to have enough visual content for a whole Cones feature film.
What's next for Cones in 2018?
This coming year we will be finishing a bunch of new songs, touring, and putting out a series of new experimental animations that my brother and I score. This very moment we are up in Arroyo Grande for a few days recording four new tracks with our drummer Jorge Balbi Castellano and producer/collaborator Adam Gunther. Lots of stuff to look forward to.