Cola: Ex-Ought Members Discuss Their New Band - Rolling Stone
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‘Brutal Whimsy’ and the Cost of Living: Cola Are Here To Dance You Through Dystopia

Former Ought members tell how they regrouped for a new kind of Canadian art-rock deliverance


Cola: Evan Cartwright, Tim Darcy, Ben Stidworthy (from left).

Ok Pederson*

Rock fiends everywhere mourned last fall when the Montreal art-punk quartet Ought announced they were calling it quits. The news abruptly ended one of the past decade’s most adventurous indie runs, with the righteous fury of gems like 2014’s More Than Any Other Day and 2015’s Sun Coming Down.

Enter Cola — a band for right now, rising from the ashes of Ought, specializing in guitar-driven tales of modern life and high-tech alienation. As singer/guitarist Tim Darcy says, with one of his nervous laughs, “Yeah, there’s definitely some dystopia in there.”

Darcy and Ought bassist Ben Stidworthy formed Cola with U.S. Girls drummer Evan Cartwright, who had played on a solo tour by Darcy. The trio’s excellent debut album, Deep in View, out May 20 on Fire Talk Records, is one of the year’s most thrilling rock statements so far, full of seductively twisted guitar grooves like the singles “Blank Curtain” and “So Excited.” Darcy offers a witty but sharp critique of the times we live in, with images of dread, paranoia, and “bespoke sneakers.”

They wrote these songs in the most early-2020s way possible — sending each other long-distance demos, from separate cities, and trying to fill in the communication gaps the best they could. “After Ought, Tim and I were lying low for a while, figuring out our next steps, writing music independently,” Stidworthy says. “Tim was living in Toronto and I was living in Montreal. Then at some point in the fall of 2019, we got on the phone and decided we wanted to write together. Tim showed me a demo for ‘So Excited,’ and I was really interested in the sound he had come up with.”

But just as Cola was beginning to mesh, a real-life global disaster got in the way. “When Covid started, we had this system where we just sent each other a demo once a week, every Friday night,” Stidworthy continues. This was a new experience for them: “Ought had historically and exclusively written music with all four of us in a room jamming, which has its advantages and disadvantages. We had actually tried writing remotely once or twice — and completely failed. But for some reason, this really works for us, and here we are.”

Once a month or so, the three musicians would meet to continue their work in person in Toronto or Montreal. Soon they had a set of songs full of nimble post-punk grooves and jagged guitar blurts, often in eerie open tunings. Darcy takes on topics like consumerist malaise, the loneliness of compulsive scrolling, and the constant threat of war. As he sings in his sardonic deadpan voice, “Peace will come/Peace will come out in the wash.” “Degree” and “At Pace” are moody but irresistible pop nuggets that could pass for early New Order or the Cure jamming with Guy Debord, as Darcy asks timely questions like “Brutal whimsy — is there anything beyond it?”

Even the band name is a double-edged comment on our times: Cola isn’t just a fizzy soft drink, it also stands for Cost of Living Adjustment, a chilly financial phrase more often found in human resources departments and federal benefit programs. “We were doing these marathon Zoom calls, the three of us, trying to come up with a band name,” Darcy admits. “We stumbled across this one. There’s this lyric on the record about soda, but it feels like there is some symbiotic relationship between a Cost of Living Adjustment and some of the political overtones in the record.”

Ought fans will find plenty to love, but as far as Cola are concerned, this is a whole new band. “At no point did we conceive of this as the post-Ought project,” Darcy says. “It wasn’t how we were thinking about it in a narrative sense, and it also wasn’t what we were interested in. The band breaking up was sad because it was a beautiful time and a great project, but what Ben and I were tip-toeing into when we started writing together again was these new creative challenges. Evan was there from the very first practice, so his feel really contributed to the sound-world that we were able to get. Obviously it’s a very sparse sound-world, but with things like the chord progressions or the open tunings, it felt like new territory for us creatively.”

The album title, Deep in View, comes from a book by Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts. “It’s vaguely a punk rock album,” Darcy says. “But it’s more from a songwriter perspective. There is a lot of personal-experience narrative stuff, but something that I often push toward when I’m finessing lyrics, is, ‘How could I potentially expand this personal idea into something that’s a little bit more…I hate using the word “universal”…but just a slightly bigger and more multifaceted idea?'”

If anything is universal these days, it’s the sensation of things falling apart. You can hear that all over Cola’s music, with its fast-paced three-way flow of ideas. In the fantastic finale, “Landers,” Darcy narrates a day in the life over piano and distorted percussion, in a wry, David Byrne-style quaver of a voice, with a shout-out to “soda, a beverage bound by laws older than man to poison most ordinary life on earth.”

The dystopian vibe reflects on the state of the world in an era that was hugely isolating for many people who would normally have found refuge in going to see rock shows. “Being in lockdown became a structural thing that affected how we made the record,” Darcy says. “And then obviously because of that, it affected the way that the songs sound and the lyrical perspective. There’s definitely this sense of coming up against a barrier. That, combined with a general appraisal of the political climate of the past couple of years.”

Cola are finally touring this summer, after playing their first live show last November in Brooklyn. “It was honestly kind of emotional,” Darcy says. “It was the longest I had gone without going to a show, let alone playing a show, since I was 16.”

Yet the overall impact of Cola is cathartic, even uplifting, despite how the tunes go into dark places emotionally. “I do think there is a more melancholic tone to some of these songs, compared to Ought songs,” Darcy says. “Even in those moments, I always want to be like, there’s a way out in the emotion, or at the very least, the presentation of that quote-unquote ‘negative’ emotion. It’s not really just a negative emotion — just a human emotion.”

In This Article: Canada, Cola, Ought


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