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Why the Caged Bird Sings

music_AnHorseUFOs, gender confusion and a canary from hell—An Horse’s Kate Cooper tells all
My phone conversation with guitarist/vocalist Kate Cooper is off to one hell of a start. Rocking a likeable Aussie accent, she’s just informed me, “We’re driving through the desert, and there are UFOs everywhere.”

This, of course, raises an important question—“Huh?” Cooper clarifies: she and Damon Cox, the other half of her Sleater-Kinney/Tegan and Sara-influenced indie-rock band An Horse, have just driven past Gila, Arizona’s quaintly decorated Best Western Space Age Lodge.

Cooper’s lighthearted banter comes as a bit of a pleasant surprise, given the sometimes gut-wrenching nature of the material on An Horse’s latest album, Walls: various songs address topics ranging from relationship turmoil to the removal of a brain tumor. The pair, who have opened for such acts as Death Cab for Cutie, Silversun Pickups, Cage the Elephant and the aforementioned Tegan and Sara, will play many of these new tunes live at The Crepe Place on Friday.

Part of the angst captured on Walls can probably be attributed to the misdeeds of a sinister canary named Peter, who attempted to sabotage the album during the early stages of its creation. “Peter,” it seems, was actually something of a misnomer: Cooper’s girlfriend had bought the bird thinking it was a boy—a misconception that Peter soon dispelled by laying eggs.

But there was more bothersome evidence of the canary’s true gender: rather than singing mellifluously as males of the species do, she made an irritating, high-pitched tweet. When she began singing along to Cooper’s guitar while the vocalist was recording the demos for Walls, Peter’s shenanigans went from merely annoying to flat-out maddening. “She started to make my life hell,” Cooper recalls, adding that she soon renamed the bird Uncle Pete after an evil character on the TV show Damages.

The duo submitted their new demos—canary tweets and all—to producer Howard Redekopp, who compiled a list of 18 songs for potential inclusion on Walls. As it happens, Cooper felt that five of the songs Howard had picked were “rubbish.” “But that’s the beauty of having a producer: you want them to have fresh ears and hear what you can’t hear,” she says.

One supposed “rubbish” song that made the cut, was the album’s title track. Cooper explains that the song “Walls” was born at least in part from the frustration of dealing with bureaucracy while traveling. “A lot of the time during the writing, and even after the record was written, I felt like I was banging my head against the wall,” she says. “Sometimes I just feel like I’ve literally banged my head against the wall for hours, and I’m bleeding. Obviously it’s dramatic, but that’s where it comes from.”

Another source of ongoing frustration for Cooper is the insistence of journalists on asking about the origin of her band’s unusual name. When I assure her I won’t be subjecting her to that question, she expresses sincere gratitude. “I feel like other bands don’t get asked [that question] as much,” she laments. “Like, what the fuck is Death Cab for Cutie? That’s a crazy name! But I’ve never read the explanation behind it, you know? But I swear, every second interview, it’s like, ‘Where did you get the name?’ And I’m like, ‘You know what? Google it.’ But I never say that.”

For those dying to know where the name comes from, it all started with a grammatical dispute Cooper once had with … well, hell, you know what? Google it.


An Horse plays at 9 p.m. Friday, June 10 at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Done Beginner and Grizzel Toe open. Tickets are $9/adv, $11/door. For more information, call 429- 6994.

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