Having returned home from a Virginia and Maryland tour with Strawberry Moon, Richmond-based dream pop act Cupid McCoy is bringing the love to a local audience at The National this Friday, August 25.
McCoy is an artist to watch, as evidenced by <3 Major Crush <3, the debut full-length album released earlier this year. The record, accompanied by a hand-painted cassette and digital look book, is a truly well-rounded work of art that channels youthful longing in electric guitar picking and sugar-sweet synths.
Advance tickets for Friday’s show–featuring headliners Bonne Chére and openers Comfort and Alfred. alongside McCoy–are available from the performers. In the meantime, Cupid McCoy was available for an interview on their artistic past, present, and future.
Ruckle: How did the tour go?
McCoy: The tour went really well! Charlottesville was awesome right off the bat, both Katie [of Strawberry Moon] and I are from there. Of course, this was before the events that transpired this weekend, and we were there on Wednesday. And honestly, like a block away from where the attack happened, which is wild, but that wasn’t in the air at the time. But the show did go really well. A lot of friends that I haven’t seen in a while and high school pals all showed up. So it was really nice to see that side of things, and Sorority Boy was awesome, the band we played with.
R: How did you first become a musician?
M: Well, I’ve been a musician for almost all my life. When I moved to Virginia as a wee bébé, I remember going to the local farmer’s market and seeing a violinist that was busking there next to, like, a pie stand and a fruit stand. And I just fell in love with the idea of musical performance and being able to make other people laugh and smile and dance just through your own musicality. So I joined the orchestra in school and kept playing, and playing.
R: What did you play?
M: I was playing the violin at the time, and raced the ranks of first violin, and of the two sections. Like, ultra competitive, of course everyone’s playing the same concertos and violin pieces, and so it created this illusion of technical mastery. But honestly it was quite an experience […] I kept practicing because of this intense competition, rose up to the elite symphony in high school, went and played in these concert halls in medieval churches in Italy as one of their big excursions, which was awesome, the music program was just completely amazing and very inspirational, and it was brought up by this violinist or cellist who turned composer, and it just was a really good school system. Through this orchestra, music became not only a portal to these seemingly impossible lands, but really a beautiful and ancient melody that carried me through day to day life, not only listening to it but being able to play it, and as a way of joining friends. Because I met so many people just through the symphony or through groups busking on the Downtown Mall. That’s actually how I was able to pay for that trip to Italy, was going down to the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville and playing every weekend. Down in front of the Paramount, whenever they had a big symphony thing, or some musical-related thing. There’d usually be a bunch of old-timey symphony-goers, and I’d schmooze up to them and would play classical music, and that always went really well.
But all of that did kind of change, or my musicianship did develop when I actually got to Richmond, and I gradually fell into the house show scene and started going to more of these DIY scene shows. And I was just amazed at the talent of people my own age, and music and musicianship took on a more personal tone. There’s something innately different between performing a Brahms symphony or a Wieniawsky violin concerto amidst 40 other talented musicians, and then really sitting down and trying to hear a whole new melody and something wholly original in your head and rushing to write down those words and write down that melody so you can develop it into a song. I mean, one really lends itself to the other, but they are so different and it’s really Richmond that showed me this and gave me the tools to start developing music of my own. And music became ineffably more personal and intimate, as the stories I was telling were innately self-contained but also part of a larger narrative. And this all developed even moreso when I went and studied abroad in France. That’s really where Cupid McCoy, or proto-Cupid McCoy emerged.
R: That was my next question–where does the Cupid McCoy name and brand and music come from?
M: Well, as I mentioned, my life did somewhat revolve around this violin and my identity as a violinist, not so much a musician, but as strictly a violinist. So when I went to France and had to leave my violin behind–it couldn’t come on the plane, and I couldn’t bring it as a checked luggage item–I knew that a lack of music would definitely make me wilt. So I bought a cheap guitar on the French equivalent of Craigslist called Leboncoin, and started writing songs in a whole new way, based around a different stringed instrument. Of course I was terrible at the very beginning, and had to learn the rudimentary scales and chord progressions, and started playing, like, Conor Oberst songs, Bright Eyes, and country western songs, a lot of Brandi Carlile as well. I listened to a whole lot of her back in the day.
And of course since I just moved there I didn’t really know anyone yet, and as everyone else speaks French, and I’m still learning, I only had a couple of pals there. I really was in this sense of complete isolation, to an extent. But it did lend itself to contemplation, and I was able to reflect on a lot of these past mistakes or goals for the future, and I was able to do this all through song. And yeah, I’m not going to say it was like therapy, because that’s so sterile of a word. But it was just the best way for me to get out all these thoughts that I’d been pondering over the last couple years. I’ll say it again, Richmond is a great, great place to gain inspiration, but it’s also, there’s so much coming at you all the time, it’s like this constant onslaught or this torrent. And so to be able to escape to somewhere else and reflect on everything that’s been happening, I think it was really necessary. And that’s really where it came to be. I just was able to spend more time and actually figure out what being a musician meant to me. And Cupid McCoy emerged as a result.
R: Was there any specific inspiration behind the name?
M: So, my mother’s maiden name is McCoy, but also it’s the side of the family that we left behind when we moved to Virginia, because we’re from Texas. And I’d always see her longing to be with her Texas relatives. It was always the side of the family that I never really knew, like I never knew my grandmother, and my grandfather, he’s like a woodworker–when I was a kid he’d always send us these beautifully intricate wooden tree ornaments for Christmas that he’d crafted and they were beautiful. So it was wild to have this kind of carpenter artist grandfather that I never really knew. In a way it was a way for me to rekindle this other side of my family that I left behind when moving to Virginia. And the Cupid side is kind of cutesy, kind of silly, definitely reminiscent of this pseudonym that you can pick up through musicianship. I mean, of course
Frankie Cosmos has that, as great of a name as Greta Kline is, which, I think it’s a great name! But Frankie Cosmos does have this kind of elusive mystery to it. Actually the last show I saw in the United States before I packed up and left was Frankie Cosmos and Girlpool up at Comet Ping Pong, that pizza bar in DC. It’s wild now that there was also another politically motivated attack there too, strange now that all these places that influenced me as a musician are political hot spots. But yeah, that’s kind of where the name came from. Cupid of course, alluding to desire, and what you want to happen. But another fun thing, along with McCoy being my mother’s last name, it also has that root meaning of like, the real thing. And you look up McCoy, and the definition is something like real and concrete. Taking that, Cupid McCoy really just translates to the desire to be sincere and real, or to be the real thing. So it was longing to make it, or at least to make it real to myself, not like make it in the fame sense. But just to make it real, to actually mean something to me, and make something that I felt to be real through music.
R: How did that ethos come through on this latest project, <3 Major Crush <3 ?
M: Before I went abroad, I had another smaller side-project that was me playing violin with a loop pedal, very much inspired by Karen O’s Crush Songs and Kishi Bashi’s first two albums. That’s a lot of what I was listening to and it was still very very lo-fi, you can find it online, called s.spence. Not worth listening to, very silly stuff, I hadn’t really developed anything yet. So I think contemplating back on that, that’s what I had as a reference point when I was going into living in France. So I wanted to make something in contrast, something that was much better articulated. Something that I really thought out, moreso, and spent time on every part of the melody and every backing track. I was listening to a lot of James Blake, and Bjork, and that whole ethereal, orchestral sound, accompanied with the music was what I was longing for. A lot of living abroad there was coming up with these ideas and creating this vision on my head, so I was writing this down furiously and bottling it up, and creating little sample tracks on my phone with the audio recording app.
So then when I finally got back to the states and actually had audio recording equipment, I spent so much time trying to build on these parts of ideas and so it gradually came together and I didn’t want to have another rushed project. I was longing for something that was much more intentional and enveloping and complete of a sound. My first EP, which I later renamed Bourg-de-Visa after the town I lived in in France, which is on Bandcamp and everything, it’s still incomplete. And so then <3 Major Crush <3 was my longing to actually send these more contemplated tracks away to a producer and after I wrote them all I sent them off to my friend Taylor Noll who’s in a Richmond band Napster. Very very skilled audio mixer. But I definitely didn’t plan that out as best as I could have, and we actually ended up spending a couple nights right before I was supposed to release the album over at his place re-recording vocals and making sure everything was in tip-top shape. We were definitely working on it up until that 24 hours before the actual release date. So there’s already a lot of progress that I know I can make on the next project, and I was envisioning a million better ways the process could have gone. If anything, I know the next project is going to be so much better.
R: Do you know what the next project is?
M: So, while writing a lot of the songs I kept getting all these new ideas for melodies and songs. I’m going to build on this idea even further, and I have quite a few little tracks that I’m working on. I really do want to sit down and figure out moreso what Cupid McCoy, not so much has meant to me so far, but what I want out of it. And how the performance aspect and the contemplative aspect of pondering over these songs, and singing them over and over again, like what that really means, and how–like, these songs aren’t just static melodies, I really do intend to revisit some of these old lyrics and change them in so many different ways now. I don’t think a song has to be one static element, but something that can continue to develop.
R: On Bandcamp, there are a couple of tracks at least where the lyrics you have written are subtly different from the way they are in the recording. I mean that as an interesting window into the process, you know?
M: It definitely is, like, the words I write one day, I may–I did end up changing them, and it really depends on what I’m alluding to. Words of course are imperfect allusions to sentiments, and I think sentiments really carry a song so much more than the words that make them up. It’s really this imperfect balance of trying to find the right way to describe how you’re feeling when you think about these memories or these desires. And so it can change from one to the other, and one moment of passion in a song may give way to newfound feelings or sentiments based on the same memories. Something I read once, probably in some psychology magazine or science magazine, is that every time you remember something, you don’t remember the initial event, you really just remember the last time you remembered that event. Which is a really funny way to think about it, but it’s almost sad that through these iterations you’re losing some of the originality of the moment. So maybe I’m trying to combat that by not putting it strictly into concrete words, but alluding to whatever happened so that the next time you try to allude to it you’re still getting at the original idea and not just the last time you remembered it.
R: If you had to pick one track from this, that you would say is the one either that’s most representative, or the one you’re most proud of, which one would it be?
M: [laughs] That’s a fun question. I really do enjoy playing “Cherry Tree,” as it’s not, like–it’s actually the only song that I have on the album that’s not explicitly what you’d call a love song. And it’s moreso about, universally a lot of us run into times of turmoil, and stress, for one reason or the other, and need some place to get away. Wherever it may be, either like a literal place or like a state of mind, maybe just like a warm cup of coffee and a favorite bookstore, or maybe just a song you really like, and a piece of toast with butter and jam. But for this brief séjour on this goat farm, I found literal solace under this cherry tree where I was escaping from this literal torment of flies that were incessant, and would land on you. And as I’m saying this there are these big, big horseflies that are sitting in front of me, like, inside of my house on these windows. I think they’re attracted to these black curtains, that I really despise. They’re really daunting, and they shade the room in this somber tone, and I’m dying to get rid of them.
But anyway, these flies would land on me all the time, and whereas one’s torment might not always be so literal, sometimes we’re always trying to get away from something, just as a brief reprieve. […] I think it’s something that a lot of folks can get behind, but also is innately personal to me as well. It’s not just this lesson or not just this relatable tune that I think a lot of folks can get behind, but it’s really personal to me, because I can listen to this when I’m worried about my interpersonal relationships, or how me and some friends are doing, or like a rough time between me and my loving partner. But I know that it will get better, and sometimes you just need a moment to sit down and think it over. Whereas a lot of these songs are about a moment in time, a summer romance, or a spring fling, for instance, it’s nice to look back on how you were feeling at the time, even though you don’t feel that way anymore. I think this is the most sustaining song. I can’t help but smile when I sing it. Probably that’s the most fun.
R: More on the love songs: right after “Cherry Tree” is the cover of “Puppy Love” that you do. Why did you pick that, and how did you interpret it for the album?
M: I first got a record player in high school. This was kind of as vinyl was becoming more consumer friendly, and something you could actually get into, and one of the first records I bought from a Goodwill was Remember Diana, the record by Paul Anka. And it was a lot of his original hits, including “Diana” and this really terrible sequel to the song, which I didn’t know was a thing you could do. It’s so bad. [laughs] The first song is really good, but on the A-side was “Diana,” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and “Puppy Love, ” and “Eso Beso,” just a whole lot of sweet Paul Anka songs, and I still listen to this record now. But back in high school I would sit in my room and sing along to a lot of these songs and I thought it was so lovely how sweet and sincere Paul Anka was, and these really simple sentiments, and just adorably innocent songs.
But it also blew me away that he wrote almost all of his actual hits, in a time where a lot of these folks were just doing covers of other artists. And he also wrote so many songs for other artists, like he wrote “My Way,” you know, Frank Sinatra, one of his big hits. And he wrote this at such a young age too, and so I always thought that was so inspirational, and it was definitely a young inspiration for me, silly as that may sound. When I was looking back, and seeing a reflection on the fact that a lot of these love songs that I write, you can see parallels in my inspiration from Paul Anka. It seemed fitting that I might do a cover. I’ve always played his songs, and I’ve always loved playing them, and you can almost see yourself in some of these songs, and think back on a high school romance or even a current romance in its early phases. Like, “Puppy Love,” that’s so sweet, and I wrote it when I was starting to see my current partner, and it was kind of fun to see, we fall head over heels in a very “Puppy Love”-esque way. So [laughs] it seemed right.
R: Another thing I wanted to ask you about with this project is all the kind of merch things you’ve done with it. You did custom apparel, and you did custom cassette tapes for it, and you’re also giving out stickers with tickets to the show at The National. If you could do any piece of merch–no restrictions no rules–what would you want to do?
M: Honestly, I was really inspired, I recently took a trip up to New York with my partner for her birthday, and we went to Manhattan, and while I was there I went to this really cool bookstore called Printed Matter, which is all independent artists and independently published authors. And I saw this lovely small zine that came in this felt cover, with this actual Polaroid image sewn into it […] I don’t know how many there were, probably like 10 to 20 of these exist in the world. That was so amazing to me, blew my mind, and the entire bus ride back I couldn’t help but think of the way I wanted to incorporate my 2d and physical art and my music as well, like, even this cassette project that I worked on, and the lookbook is really just one means of showing that as a public artist it’s not just music that makes Cupid McCoy, but I really do love paper and pencil, line work, and watercolor.
Another really inspiration piece of merch I saw was, there’s this band Colin Phils that plays out of Richmond, and they are so good, they formed in South Korea in Seoul, and played in China for a while, and while they were there they had–I guess they had a friend that made these ridiculously cheap USB sticks, but it’d be inside of a cork inside of a jar. So the album was this empty jar that had the music on a USB stick in the cork. And I think they called it like a nug-plug, or something, with the idea that you would store whatever herbs or spices you wanted inside this jar that also had their album on it. And of course this is like, absurd, psychedelic math rock that’s like, technically so good, they’re an awesome band, you should look into that. I’d really like to make a small little felt pouch and booklet and have the music in there. And then have, like, a story, or watercolors, something wholly original for each one, and make like a limited run, and just put so much of my heart and soul into these things. Don’t just have the music, but illustrations and stories, and put as much love as I can into each item. I don’t want to call it an item. Like, each musical pouch. [laughs] Tentatively, musical pouch. No, that’s a terrible name, but–
R: You can workshop it, you’ve got time.
M: Yeah, but that’ll be something that’s not just a CD or cassette, something that’s new. Something that just screams ‘this was made by someone that really, really cares about this and wants you to enjoy it.’ Maybe I’ll have, like, a listening experience, and […] it’ll appeal to more senses. I’ll have little cutouts, and stories to read while you listen to it, and some olfactory component.
R: Yeah, some kind of scratch-and-sniff element, maybe.
M: Yeah, like the Rugrats/Wild Thornberrys movie. Did you ever see that?
R: I never did!
M: It was 2003, or something. But I remember going to the movie theater with my cousins, back in Texas, and when you went in the theater they handed you one of those scratch and sniff cards. And like, a flashing icon would come up in the corner of the screen, and then you’d scratch it when the Wild Thornberrys went through like, a brier patch, or a mud patch, you’d scratch it and it’d smell mud or something. And you’re supposed to like, commiserate with them. But it was so flagrant in their attempts too, like, it’s been 15 years since I saw this movie, but I remember maybe an apple pie, for whatever heckin’ reason, and then you’d scratch, and it’d be like some vaguely apple-pie-smelling odor. So maybe I’ll get into that, I don’t know how to do that, but I’ll look into it.
R: It’s like learning a new instrument, right?
M: Yeah, right? I’ll learn chemical engineering for the next album.
R: So, you’ve got this show coming up at The National this week. And I said that like I had a question to ask about it, and I really don’t, but just, how cool.
M: It’s so cool, I’m so blessed, I’m amazed that Bonne Chére wanted to have me on this lineup. I got some call, on like a Friday night, at 10 pm, and it was like, ‘hey, do you want to play at The National? We’ve got to know by tomorrow.’ I was like, ‘oh my gosh, are you serious?’ But I mean, some of these things you can’t turn down, and you step into this realm, and start playing shows, I mean, this is really what you’re building up for, right? As daunting as a minimum number of ticket sales is, it’s like, ‘hey, are you sure you can sell this many tickets?’ And it’s like, ‘I don’t know, but I’m sure gonna try!’
Should be a fun show, for real for real. Alfred.’s awesome, like, A-number-one, one of my favorite artists in Richmond, so inspirational, so lyrically talented, so, like, they’ve got a vision, and everything I do is somewhat related to me seeing how skilled an artist they are and longing to have just an ounce of their creative vision. So yeah, I boost them 100%. Bonne Chére is a fun band, so, so great. My only reservation is that there’s also another amazing music fest going on that weekend. Nu Richmond Fest on the 25th and 26th. I urge everyone to show up on the 26th at least. I’ll definitely be going on the 26th, amazing acts, Ice Cream Support Group is putting it on, they’re an amazing collective based here in Richmond, and they do amazing things for the scene.