The day New York duo Reliant Tom released its first album, lead singer Claire Cuny’s father passed away. While promoting that record, the duo went to work on a second, darker LP. The product, Play and Rewind was released earlier this year, chronicling Cuny’s process in wrapping her head around her father’s sudden death. And as that record reached its release date, the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on New York state. The duo played a show the night before New York City shut down, to what instrumentalist Monte Weber described as an “apocalyptic” atmosphere. Since then, the two have been live streaming old material and writing new songs. They sat down with mxdwn to talk about resilience, grief, and their “vibey” new music.
mxdwn: You guys released an album probably about six months ago now. But what was that process like? Because you’re recording it and releasing it when everyone’s kind of at home and the world’s in a crazy place?
Claire Cuny: Totally. I mean, it’s crazy because, you make the whole album and then it’s a long time before it’s actually out. So it was all done. We had written, recorded. And then it happened to come out during COVID. And it was a weird time, right? Because we were like, I don’t know if we should be releasing music right now. But it was already in motion. And that plan had been made, like months ago. But we’re are glad that we put it out. I think people wanted music and the arts.
Monte Weber: I, we wound up playing our album release show like the the night before New York City shut down. So that had a very, strange sort of feeling in the air, because it felt like the last night that everyone could sort of go out. So it was very apocalyptic in that sense. And just, just bad timing, obviously, to have worked this hard for a year on this album. And it’s all ready and it takes months and months to get the PR and they get the whole release schedule. So you have to set things so far back in advance. But we went into, doing live stream shows for a little bit and feeling like that was the only way to proceed.
mxdwn: How did those go? What did you guys think?
MW: Yeah, so I get really into like, the tech side of stuff, that’s just sort of where my mind goes. So I took it to start learning a bunch about OBS and, and then we took clips from the music videos that Claire makes and edits so I could project those on the screen and do a split screen thing. So we could get really good quality, I felt it was fun, but the audience interaction is just totally different.
CC: Monty is a tech wizard, a lot of the comments we got were like, ‘the sound is so great, the video quality is so great’ because he spent a lot of time fixing that. But overall, I was really bummed because a huge part of my life is dance. And for the show, I have two dancers, we wear black dresses, we have black umbrellas, the entire show is also a dance piece. And that just wasn’t going to be possible during COVID in our apartment. So for me, I felt it was important for us to do some live streams just to get our music out there. But I’m just kind of heartbroken because we had this really big vision for the show that really can’t be done through a live stream, especially when it’s from your apartment. But I got over that and we’re going to we’re gonna do that show the right way down the line when it’s safe.
mxdwn: So I watched a bunch of different live streams and I saw Phoebe Bridgers do one where she was doing a ‘world tour.’ And she goes to like different rooms in a house to perform different songs. Did you guys have any sort of favorites or inspiration?
CC: To be honest, I didn’t really watch that many live streams because I we had already been cooped up for so long, that I really just didn’t want to be in front of a screen longer than I had to. I also teach ballet on zoom. I love Phoebe Bridgers! I’m sure she did an amazing job right? Yeah, I kind of avoided the live streams for a while
MW: So my friend, Jules is a drummer. And he has this project. He does crazy live stuff with his drums on where his whole kit is basically set up and his whole entire acoustic drum kit is pretty much like this crazy controller for live visuals for lighting, for sound clip triggering. He’s also a great drummer. And he’s an OBS wizard. So he helped me with some of that stuff as well. He actually played on our last album planner lines on four songs. He self-recorded the drums in his home studio too.
mxdwn: That’s cool! So going back to Play and Rewind. Claire, I read that it’s about your father, right?
CC: Yeah, I mean, the entire album is about my dad passing away. And it was definitely written during the beginning stages of starting to move through that loss. If you’ve ever lost someone you just loved so deeply, you know that it’s never over — you’re always going to have that. But it becomes more manageable as time progresses. This album, I think, is intense because it was definitely the beginning stages of dealing with that. I really wasn’t okay, for a long time, wasn’t myself for a long time. But writing about it with Monte was so cathartic, because I’m talking about it with my partner in a language that we both have been working on. through music for a while.
It was really intense. I had a traumatic experience. It’s so strange. I almost was feeling we were weirdly cursed in a way because my dad passed away the day that we released our first album, like he actually flew to come and see us play a show on that day of our first album. We couldn’t have predicted it. He just had a heart attack out of nowhere. And it was a total shock. That was just all I could think about. The idea of Play and Rewind was me playing and rewinding over and over, like just going over what happened. Like, could I have done anything? Trying to make sense of it just like a crazy person. It consumed my entire mind, so it was all I could write about. So we ended up making this album about losing someone that you love.
mxdwn: I was reading your guys’ press materials, and there’s a bit where it says musical influences and you’ve got like 30 bands listed there. So apparently, there’s a lot of stuff going on. But if you had to highlight maybe a few artists that you were listening to, or maybe inspired you, who would you say was on that list?
CC: Well, for me, I know what’s so great about Reliant Tom is Monte and I have such different musical tastes. So I’ll say mine, but then yours are very different. But for me like I just love Nirvana. I think it’s because it’s so the opposite of my life growing up. Like I grew up, I went to a Catholic private school, I did classical ballet. I had no life! I was just either at school or rehearsing ballet. All of that culturally, all of that stuff is really interesting for women. And Nirvana was a band that I could listen to, and feel really powerful. So I’ve always really loved Kurt Cobain’s heartbreaking lyrics, the distorted guitar, the anger, the power and I’ve always wanted to have some of that so I think some of the darker songs have that for sure.
MW: Yeah, I’m trying to remember what I was listening to when we were making that because I go through different phases. I haven’t been listening to Radiohead a lot recently, but I definitely think that was really big. Especially our song ‘Goodbye Silver Moon.’ There’s a baseline in one of the songs that was very, very influenced from a Radiohead song. And then I also think we were influenced by film or TV music, and I think we were watching Westworld.
mxdwn: Oh, yeah. Music for that is incredible, isn’t it?
MW: Yeah. And ’11-2′ the piano idea there was inspired by some of the arrangements that that composer did. There was a ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ one that is absolutely gorgeous. I remember watching the show and thinking, hang on, I recognize that melody. It’s interesting to take like grungy chords and then play on piano like works.
mxdwn: Yeah, it was very clever. So to highlight a few tracks, I wanted to ask about the title track. And that one kind of has almost, it’s a cliché, but like, dream pop kind of vibe. Was that what you were going for?
CC: I think so. I mean, this album goes from like, that song kind of sounds like dream pop or bedroom pop. It’s very sweet. I’m singing in like a higher register that’s a little bit weaker for my voice. So it’s a little bit more vulnerable. It’s not as full and loud. It’s much softer than ‘The Sky is Falling.’ This album, I think, goes through a lot of different musical styles. But I really liked that we started in that place. That’s a little bit sweeter. Almost you’re like a child again. You know, when you’ve lost your one of your parents and you just feel like you still need them.
mxdwn: Monte, I suppose I should ask you about this because you’re a bit of an instrumentalist and tech nerd. When some of the tracks I mean, ’11-2,’ has got kind of like a trip-hop kind of thing going on. Was that something that you were into?
MW: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I love trip-hop on that. But I think that beat actually comes from being more inspired by Thundercat. It’s kind of it’s kind of similar to the beat from ‘Them Changes.’ Yeah, so that’s where that came from. But yeah, we love Portishead and
Massive Attack and stuff.
mxdwn: Fantastic. And then you just released a music video not too long ago for ‘The Beach’ right? Why that song?
CC: Monte’s parents go to Cape Cod, like every year because they play Brazilian music for this festival. And so we ended up tagging along and it just happened to be that there was this beautiful beach and nobody was there. And so Monty just got some images of me improvising. And then I cut it together later, and it just worked for that song. So it was just like, we ended up having that free location. That worked really well for that particular song.
mxdwn: And Monte was that just a spur of the moment idea for you then?
MW: Sort of. I mean, yeah because I didn’t even think. I had forgotten to bring like this steady cam, too.
CC: He’s just holding it on his iPhone.
MW: It was very spur of the moment. I think we only went out at one time for like, three hours or something.
mxdwn: That’s very COVID DIY, though! I think that’s quite appropriate, given the moment.
CC: Yeah, totally.
mxdwn: So the world was less on shutdown. And now more on shut down again. So what have you guys been up to? I know Claire you said you’re doing some dance stuff you’re teaching ballet over Zoom. But, musically, are new songs? Is there a new album coming up? What’s going on?
CC: Oh yeah, we’ve got a lot of new songs that we’re working on, we’re really excited about them, for sure.
mxdwn: And could you maybe give a bit of a casual hint as to what direction this might be going in? Are you keeping your cards close to your chest?
MW: It’s funny, we were talking about this earlier, about like how, you know, it’s always hard to describe. I was going to say, it’s very different from everything we’ve released so far, very different. It’s more fun. And it’s just so fun for us to perform, whenever we are rehearsing. And yeah, I just feel like people like COVID has been so hard on people. And I really need something that makes me feel good. So I think our goal was to make songs that like, feel really good, whether it’s the beat or the lyrics or whatever. I think that’s what we’re going for. Mostly,
CC: Yeah, like, I think the songs are a little bit more vibey. And like, you can, you can bop around to them, you can jump up and down. It’s like, they’re more fun. I think.
mxdwn: So final question for me, then, what’s the what’s the long term goal for you guys? Are you just thinking album by album, track by track? Like, where do you hope this goes?
CC: Well, I don’t know. So Monte and I are together, we’re partners. And for me, I just feel so lucky that I’m making music with the person that I love. And I don’t see us ever not doing that. It’s just like a huge part of our life and relationship. And I just get so much joy out of it. So I’m just going to keep doing it.
MW: Yeah, I think it’s like a matter of to what degree do we do it, given, as we age, and go through different, like, milestones in life or whatever. We’ll do this for as long as we can, and, you know, go for it as hard as we can. And be amazing to be able to, you know, make more money off of this — have that actually be a real thing. But yeah, I think we do kind of think about it in terms of album to album, release to release. And it’s so tied, tied into our life and our relationship, so it’s, it’s all one big messy, amazing thing.
All Photos By Corey Hayes