The singer-songwriter explains how Brooklyn’s indie rock scene feels like its own little town in a giant city.
Taryn Randall goes by the moniker COTE, which means “to pass by” in Old English, a name that reflects the life transitions and changes that inform her songwriting. Her musical journey began in LA, where she attended college and played in a band that didn’t stay together for very long. Then, six years ago, she moved to New York, where she fell in with the Brooklyn indie rock scene and established her place as a solo musician in the city.
These days, the talented singer-songwriter uses her delicate vocals and gracefully strummed guitar to transport listeners somewhere quiet and safe. Today, Randall is self-releasing her debut, self-titled album, which has been in the works for the last couple of years. It includes some of the singles she’s already released, such as the soothingly touching “London”, the charming music video for which features her singing the song in a bodega. Randall also says the recording process of the album was a therapeutic one, with a number songs, including as “Cruel” and “Golden Hour,” dealing with the whirlwind of confusing emotions that take over following a break-up.
Randal chatted with AdHoc about juggling a day job, music, and life; finding inspiration from singer-songwriters from the past; and how Brooklyn’s DIY scene still feels like a small, creative and welcoming community. Catch COTE celebrate the release of her stunning debut album at Union Pool on November 28.
What’s it like working day job while building a music career? Do you ever get discouraged?
Taryn Randall: For me, it’s been actually pretty good! I work freelance so I have a lot of control over my schedule, which, for these purposes, is great. I think that if I was working full-time hours with my job, it would be a lot more difficult to set aside time for writing music and it would get pretty frustrating. I’m sort of a realist about it: It feels like this is the stage that I’m in and I’m kind of content with [not being a full-time musician]. You gotta do what you gotta do. Especially with the way music pays these days, it’s really hard to make a living out of it unless you’re fully on the road, and that just hasn’t made sense for me a this point. So, I’m just gonna keep focusing on making the music, then figure out the aspect of having a full career in music at a later time.
How does New York, as a creative environment, compare to LA?
My only experience of doing music in LA was being in a band in college, but we didn’t really push for it that much and it didn’t last that long, [although] we did get a few TV spots. But I don’t feel like I really stepped that much into the LA scene at all.
In New York, it was just sort of a different thing. I met a producer, who was a friend, and we started talking about working together, and then it all unfolded very organically. So we started producing my album, one song at a time. He had been in the music scene for a while out here, so I just got a foothold in the scene from knowing him and the community he brought along with [him].
New York is definitely more inspiring. I love this city, but I never lived in LA properly enough to say anything about it. Everyone [in New York] has been super supportive and, aside from that, it’s a pretty small world, especially the Brooklyn indie rock scene. Whenever I go to a show, I’m guaranteed to see someone I know from that general world because everyone is working together. It feels like a weird little community within this giant city. It’s a very creative and kind community and I feel like everyone [in New York] just wants to help each other out.
Some magazines have called your music “synth electro folk.” Do you agree with that description, or are you trying to go for something else?
Oh, that’s interesting. I guess there is a lot of synth in there, so I can see how that would be a description. It’s funny, because whenever anyone who hasn’t heard my music yet finds out that I’m a musician, they’re like, “Oh, what kind of music do you make?” and I have no clue how to answer that. [Laughs] I’m like, ‘I don’t know… I guess it’s sort of in the, like, rock… synth… folk world? Like, all of those things—I could see how they play into it. But so much music nowadays is so hard to categorize, right?
I’ve definitely taken influences from all sorts of places. Mostly, I listen to a lot of older, classic rock: Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Springsteen, all those kinds of people. But also, from the songwriter point of view, I like Joni Mitchell and Jenny Lewis. I also listen to a lot of jazz and a ton of show tunes. I don’t listen to a ton of current music. I’m just sort of a creature of habit, you know? What I grew up to is what I listen to now. There’s just so much, and it’s a little overwhelming for me, so I just stick with what I know.
Why do you think older bands and older compositions appeal to you more than current music?
I think the main reason is that it’s just easy—because I know it, it’s something that I can put on and sing along to. I really like the intentionality of lyrics in older music; it feels like they were really thought through. Not to say that it doesn’t exist today; it definitely does. [But] I haven’t taken a firm stance in being against current or new music; it’s more like I don’t really know where to seek it out. If people tell me to check out this band, then I do and I’ll love it.
You have a lot of go-to songs. Do you also have go-to books as well?
For sure. A book that I can go back to, that I first read a year ago and I love, is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s a very comforting, sweet book. Another one that I’ve read a few times is My Antonia, a Willa Cather book. I like stories that are simple in plot and storyline but that can be really descriptive and beautiful. In both of those books, it’s not like much really even happens, but they’re such nice stories that delve into the human experience wherever you’re at. I find that to be a really nice, calming, quiet place to enter into.
Is that a something you try to create with your music as well?
Yeah, I like things that can sort of transport you. It’s really important to me to offer a wider soundscape in my music, which is why in a lot of the tracks I want there to be a lot of different instruments and for there to be chord changes that are a little bit of a surprise—elements that take you somewhere else. I feel like when I’m listening to music, even a song that I’ve heard a thousand times, it always kind of taps into a certain emotion or memory for me. That’s just how my brain categorizes things. A lot of my songs are written to specific moments in my life, so I want the instrumentals in my music to kind of translate that as well.
What are you thoughts on the listening habits of kids these days? Do you think the right artists are getting the attention?
That’s a good question… I think that the way that Spotify have their playlists and different mixes, and “Discover Weekly”—all of that caters pretty well to me. I found so many different songs and artists through that specifically, and maybe I’m not great at delving into the whole catalogue of those artists, but it’s a great way to find individual songs. In that case, yes, [streaming music] allows for a broader scope and a way to reach your audience. In the past, if you didn’t hear it on the radio, then it was pretty unlikely that you were gonna hear it at all.
At the same time, there is now also a huge influx because pretty much anyone can get a decent recording system and do it at home. And so there is just so much music out there. I don’t have a solution [laughs]; it feels like a weird Catch 22, because it’s great to have the opportunity for so much new music, but it can get very over-saturated.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am always writing. I’m starting to work on whatever 2.0 is of this project, and I’m not entirely sure how it’s all gonna pan out, but I definitely have a few songs that are ready and a few that are in the works. In an ideal world, it would be great to spend this next year writing and recording and then sort of start to get things out. We’ll see what happens!
And it’s interesting, because my last album was so focused on moving from this relationship that I had gotten out of and what that looked like for me personally in terms of feeling, processing, and change. There was so much of that, and I’m just very much not in that place anymore. And so that’s actually been kind of a challenge, because I think I got really used to writing songs directed at that, and that’s just not my reality anymore. Now, I’m trying to see what I do wanna write about when I’m not writing about a breakup. It’s been an interesting challenge for me, opening up a whole different world for me in a lot of ways.