Rutgers University is known for its football programs + extensive food options (editor's note: honeygrow is now one of them!), but the music being made on campus is what caught our attention. Cold Weather Company is a trio of Rutgers alums who connected in 2011 over music + nature, striving to convey their appreciation for the outdoors through their harmonic vocals, soothing piano + rhythmic guitar melodies. We were fortunate enough to sit in on a pop-up practice session at Hidden Grounds Coffee + afterwards we chatted with the band about what inspires their music, how their journey got started + where they hope it'll take them.
hg: tell us a bit about your musical backgrounds + how you met to form Cold Weather Company.
cwc: it all started back in 2011 at Passion Puddle on the bleak + un-aesthetically pleasing Cook/Douglass campus (just kidding)...
Jeff (a freshman) was practicing for an open mic night with a friend on a bench when Brian (a senior) walked by, carrying the same guitar case that Jeff had, wearing the same kind of shoes, as well as a T-shirt for Chad Stokes, a musician they both really liked. They knew it was a unique moment and exchanged info to keep in touch.
In 2012, Steve performed at an open mic on campus for the first time. This was the same event where Brian + Jeff would play solo sets as well. After Steve performed, Jeff introduced himself and suggested the two jam sometime, however due to the classic ‘let’s say we should hang out and then not actually hang out’ it took another year before they met up to play.
As for musical backgrounds, Steve was classically trained on piano up until college, but didn’t write his own music until college. Brian had guitar lessons for a couple years before beginning to practice on his own. He started writing music in high school, though nothing decent was written until halfway through his time at Rutgers. Jeff taught himself how to play guitar at the age of 14 by YouTube videos + tabs. He plays a right-handed guitar upside-down because it was the only available one to learn on at the time, and for some reason he is only left-handed when it comes to holding a guitar, golf club, or hockey stick (he is right-handed otherwise).
In the fall of 2013, we began practicing together on campus. One night, a friend asked us to participate in a benefit show for their organization, Circle K. The event was on November 15, 2013 and it was actually well received (probably more than it should have been), so that night we decided we needed an official band name. After two weeks of sending texts back + forth, trying to come up with a name that reflected us, we landed on Cold Weather Company. Our music relates to nature, we formed in the fall when it was getting colder, and the three of us playing together became the ‘company’ that helped some of us through the seasonal depression of the ‘cold weather’ of winter.
hg: who are some musical influences for Cold Weather Company? Why?
steve: we formed as three solo musicians with some similar musical influences, but also a lot of different styles as well. We lucked out being able to combine these styles as we progressed.
Brian is especially influenced by folky bands and singer/songwriters like Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, and Radical Face. Jeff is influenced by Dave Matthews Band, Chadwick Stokes, Radiohead, The Tallest Man On Earth, Grateful Dead, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, The Decemberists, and Eddie Vedder. I (Steve) am influenced by classical music, but also by piano-led bands like Coldplay and Keane, as well as a lot of indie rock + indie folk. Lately a lot of instrumental/indie-electronic like Ólafur Arnalds, Explosions In The Sky, and Jack Garratt.
So between all of those bands and genres, you can say we're is a mix of indie folk, jam band/experimental, and indie rock with a generous handful of other little things thrown in!
hg: where do each of you draw inspiration from in the writing process?
brian: I think…
"…I’m inspired most by nature and our relationship with it."
There’s so much wonder + fascination in the great outdoors—nature is something we both love and fear; it’s a haven + a hazard. Pretty much every song I write is based on a moment in my life or a lesson I’ve learned. Typically, I deal with my issues and keep myself sane by exploring any + all natural landscapes I can find. This explains why most of my songs take a moment from my life and abstract it by placing it in a natural scene. I like to think of songs as a sort of musical photograph of a time in my life. Writing is also a very cathartic process for me, and I find that I’m able to see things from a different perspective when I’m trying to turn emotions and memories into lyrics.
jeff: like Brian, I also draw inspiration from nature and the colder seasons. However, I tend to be most creative after watching musicians who I idolize. For example, before beginning to write the song “Fall Low” from our first album, I attended a Béla Fleck concert in New Brunswick. I went home right afterwards extremely inspired + sat down to write a song. Another song, “Head Spins,” which will be on our next album, I began writing after watching live Dave Matthews Band videos from the nineties one night. Both these songs are unrelated to Béla Fleck and Dave Matthews meaning-wise, but seeing such incredible people be able to do what they love for a living inspires me to attempt to follow in their footsteps. My lyrics tend to be a lot of stream of consciousness and are usually a mixture of thoughts and issues that are nagging at me internally.
steve: I always say that I never thought I’d be in an alternative folk band because I play piano and not acoustic guitar. I definitely love the genre and it makes up a huge portion of my listening, but when I first started writing my own music around 2010/2011, I had just discovered indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club. I knew since I couldn’t play guitar, I’d try to write similar, upbeat synth-y kind of songs with MIDI on GarageBand (before I finally got Logic Pro). Lyrically, like Brian and Jeff, I’m inspired by personal experiences (which I didn’t really have any worth writing a song about until my sophomore year of college). There’s definitely a lot of nature in there too, but it’s tougher for me to get immersed in nature with a big ol’ piano (it’s not as accessible in the middle of the woods, but if I did have a piano in the woods, man oh man).
hg: you recorded the final three tracks for your first full-length album “Somewhere New” in the Catskills. Why did you choose to record these particular tracks (and in turn finish up the album) in the Catskills?
steve: we do nearly all of our recording in one of our bedrooms, which, while very convenient, gets boring after awhile. We wanted some excitement so we rented a cabin for a weekend + set up there to be a bit more secluded. We didn’t have WiFi, which is so rare these days, and there were so few distractions that we were bound to be productive. We chose those songs to record there because, simply put, they were the last songs we needed to record. It also added a whole new part to our story and how it links with the title of the album—we knew we wanted to go record somewhere with a little more character than a bedroom.
hg: the artwork featured for your singles + albums consists of breathtaking views of nature, and your t-shirt design is centered around trees. Do you, as a band, feel a strong connection with the outdoors? How does nature help shape your music?
brian: we definitely feel a strong connection with nature. We all have varying degrees of fascination and appreciation for the great outdoors, and I’m glad to hear that it comes through. We tend to write with imagery in our heads, often trying to make our music “take” the listener on some sort of journey or adventure. More times than not, that setting tends to be somewhere outdoors.
hg: tell us about the “Cold Weather Coat Drive” you held for the release of the record. Is it important for the band to give back to the community in more ways than just music? Any additional charitable efforts on the horizon?
steve: being able to give back to the community and help others through our music + the band is one the most important things to us. The first show we played was a charity event, and we feel it’s more rewarding to be able to work towards positive change through our music. I had volunteered with Elijah’s Promise, a New Brunswick soup kitchen and shelter, before. Since we were all familiar with the help they provide the community, we knew we wanted to work with them. We released our first album in January, and with ‘cold weather’ in our name, we thought giving an album to anyone who donated a coat to Elijah’s Promise would be a good way to do it. We received close to 30 coats. We’d love to run another coat drive with the release of the new album + ideally double that amount!
hg: where is the furthest away from home you’ve toured to? Any “dream” cities you’d like to play one day?
cwc: the furthest trip so far was to Illinois in March of 2015. We went to record a Daytrotter session which was released in September of 2015. (You can even hear it here if you’re a Daytrotter member)
steve: I don’t have a dream ‘city’ but I have always wanted to go to Australia, if only for the quokkas! I also played at an open mic in a random pub in Glasgow, Scotland when I was visiting last summer, so it would be nice to return with the band.
brian: for no particular reason, I’ve always wanted to play in London and Paris. Not at the same time, because that would be tough, but yeah.
jeff: it would be amazing to return to New Zealand, where I was lucky enough to study abroad during college, and be able to play for the friends I have in the city of Auckland. I would also love to play anywhere in Europe.
hg: you mostly perform in/around Rutgers campus (including our friends, Hidden Grounds Coffee). How has Rutgers impacted your lives? Do you each share an amount of RU pride?
cwc: being able to be a part of the Rutgers music scene since we were starting out has been instrumental (pun intended) to our growth both as individual musicians and as a band. Between the monthly Artist’s Collective coffeehouse (where we met), the Rutgers Musician’s Guild (a group that puts together events throughout the semester), and going to dozens of basement shows as performers + fans, we’ve befriended musicians from a very diverse, but extremely inclusive, scene.
While we’ve all graduated (Jeff and Steve in 2015, Brian in 2012), we still live nearby, and are pretty nostalgic about our time as students.
"We owe a lot to the Rutgers and New Brunswick communities…"
…for being so welcoming. As we mentioned, our first show was in the College Ave Student Center on November 15, 2013—just down the road from The Yard and honeygrow's Rutgers location! Through over 80 shows in this area alone, we’ve played on each of the five RU campuses, for events sponsored by the Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA), both student radio stations (WRSU and The Core), Rutgers Day, and the Zimmerli Art Museum, among others. You may even see a sticker or two of ours here and there around campus (no clue how they got there though…)
We definitely will never forget Hidden Grounds. At least 11 of our New Brunswick shows were held there (at the first location.) After a few Hidden Grounds performances, and the fact that it was all ages and so local to campus, we decided it would be a really great spot for our album release. We invited a few of our favorite local musicians to join us for the show and we really just had an incredible show of support from our friends + other Rutgers students. Hidden Grounds is one of our favorite places to have an official show at (or just swing by for an impromptu practice session) because of how intimate, cozy, and welcoming it is.
“Somewhere New” album release, January 22, 2015
hg: who are some notable acts you’ve played alongside?
cwc: Jamestown Revival and Tor Miller are probably the most notable, and while those shows have been a lot of fun, we’d be remiss not to mention all of the local bands we’ve played with (especially in the New Brunswick and Asbury Park music scenes) as notable as well. There’s such a strong friendship amongst these bands, and it really makes every aspect of the shows (from conception to promotion to performing) that much more enjoyable.
hg: we’re loving your new single, “Wide-Eyed”—when can we expect a new album?
cwc: thank you! “Wide-Eyed” was an exciting one for us because of how it came together. We have a 30 minute long recording from September of 2014 of us just playing around and stumbling on the main riff. We kind of left it at that, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 when one night we brought it out + something just clicked—we finished the structure of the song that night! Then we decided to rent another cabin and recorded it over the weekend. We still can’t believe the support it has received. Especially through Spotify and Soundcloud, as well as YouTube channels Wave Of Good Noise, M O S T L Y Strings, and alexrainbirdMusic.
We’ve been working hard on the album and are excited to announce it will be released on December 14th (in honor of our first song being released on December 14, 2013)! We’re extremely proud of it because of how much more collaborative it has been than the first album. This new album, titled A Folded Letter, has more songs that we started from scratch all-together, which allowed us to be more creative with complementary vocal + instrumental parts. We'll be having a pre-release show at the new Hidden Grounds Coffee location on December 10th, and a post-release show at the Court Tavern on December 15th!
hg: any favorite foods to fuel your practices?
cwc: Well, we were eating Pad Thai pretty frequently for awhile, we even planned to find the best Pad Thai during our travels (there’s a place in Ithaca, NY that’s not too shabby). Then one of our friends found a pretty big bug when we ordered from a place near us, so now Pad Thai is on hold until further notice.
Though now that we’re so close to a honeygrow, stir-fry may just take its place!