Experimental duo Cousin Mouth takes the path less traveled

Jan 2, 2019 at 1:00 am
Cousin Mouth.
Cousin Mouth. Noah Elliott Morrison

The members of Cousin Mouth don't make what you'd traditionally interpret as "soul music," says producer and beat-maker Lexi, but he and singer-songwriter Alex Burns are "definitely drawing from something bigger than us" to make "music that comes from the soul."

Burns grew up in Boston and studied fine arts and writing in San Francisco. He moved to Detroit in 2014 and started meeting folks around the scene, like Paramita Sound co-owner Anna Atanassova; when he mentioned to her that he was working on some music, she suggested he link up with Lexi, who was born and raised here. The debut album that would result a few years later was released on Paramita Sound Records.

As Burns began melding his lyrics to Lexi's beats, they discovered that while they may have been perfect strangers, they shared a conviction for creating music that was "honest, original" and "visceral," Burns says. Whether its words and melody for Burns, or beats for Lexi, they both appreciate the power of using both creative outlets to "gather all this present energy and focus it," says Lexi.

Cousin Mouth joined the community of artists and producers at Assemble Sound in Corktown in late 2015. Throughout that next winter, they worked with producer Eddie Logix to flesh out the songs that would make up their debut album, Medusa, a fever-dream of dulcet-toned neo-soul, clattering experimental electronica, melodic ambient sweeps, and spacey R&B suites.

Whereas Burns offers a range of influences — citing James Blake, Joni Mitchell, D'Angelo, and Todd Rundgren as sonic and stylistic touchstones — the duo wound up being just as inspired by the coterie of creatives bustling around Assemble Sound, many of whom wound up organically weaving their way onto the record as collaborating cameos.

Their creative process attained a healthy sort of pliancy, with neither bringing a fully formed song or vision to the table, but instead opting to share a spark and then fuse with the other's input to find its full potential. They say they let themselves be open not only to each other, but also to the guidance and input of Logix and several other contributors at Assemble. That's a big reason the debut album feels as vibrant, effervescent, or even as daring as it does.

"A lot of the shows we've done this year have propelled us toward different song ideas and structures," Lexi says, as they look ahead to 2019. "The first album was more loop-based, but I think this next one we're working on will be more open for interpretation, as far as how we go about making a song. It's all about coming together with ideas that aren't necessarily finished products, and then taking our time with it, taking it apart, and putting it together."

It always comes back, says Burns, to expressing something, but is cathartic when put to melody. "I don't want you to be able to look away," Burns says, qualifying the urgency and intensity of a Cousin Mouth song.

"It's translating the human experience," Lexi adds, "and coming into an instinctual understanding of the human soul."

From our 2019 Bands to Watch issue.