THE story of Cosmo’s Midnight begins in the front room of a rundown terrace house in Petersham in Sydney’s inner-west.
Twins Cosmo and Patrick Liney would waste a lot of time here as teenagers, drawing, reading comics, and being force fed records by their parents. There was Brian Eno, Todd Rundgren, Bowie, Wings, and heaps of disco like Donna Summer.
But Cosmo remembers two LPs in particular getting thrashed: a record by jazz guitar great Jim Hall; and Switched-On Bach, a collection of Bach songs performed on the Minimoog that went top 10 on the Billboard charts in 1968.
“They’d play the same bloody records on repeat all the time,” jokes Cosmo down the phone from (another house) in Petersham. “Me and Pat weren’t very switched on musically growing up. It was Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jack Johnson. They probably played us all this stuff in the hope that one day we’d get it.”
"We wanted some history in the album art. It’s supposed to be a bit of background to us. I don’t think people necessarily know that it’s our old house in Petersham."
Those years in the front room were pretty formative for the twins, sowing the seeds for an almost unconscious musical understanding that has come to fruition on the debut Cosmo’s Midnight, What Comes Next.
A grabbag of styles and influences, the album features cameos from Winston Surfshirt, whose distinctive falsetto is all over ‘Get To Know’; rising Compton rap star Boogie on ‘Where You Been’; and Swedish pop singer Tove Styrke on ‘Talk To Me’, a track where those childhood disco influences really come to the fore. Even the Minimoog makes an appearance in this funked-up milieux, says Cosmo.
“The music you get exposed to at a young age just ingrains itself in your conscious. My parents often say when I show them my music, ‘Oh that sounds so similar to what we played you downstairs back in the end’, or ‘That bassline is so Nile Rodgers.’ So it did begin in that front room,” he explains.
It’s fitting then that the cover of What Comes Next pays homage to that front room. It’s a painting by London-based artist Charlotte Mei, who was given a selection of childhood photos of the Liney brothers and their dog Koa.
Charlotte – who has worked with brands such as Hermés and Rimowa, and across a range of mediums including ceramics and illustration – reimagined that childhood memory using acrylic and emulsion paints.
She also created the artwork for the album’s singles, which follows an imagined protagonist through three distinct styles. “The mood of each artwork is a response to each specific track,” she says from her studio in Brixton, South London.
This is the story behind the cover of What Comes Next by Cosmo’s Midnight, told in separate interviews with Cosmo and Charlotte.
Cosmo: We got in contact with Charlotte about a year-and-half ago. A friend of ours from London was good friends with her…
Charlotte: My friend Calum [Bowen] knows the boys and heard they were looking for an artist to work on their new campaign. We chatted about inspirations and ideas, and our references matched up perfectly. We knew it was gonna work from the word go.
Cosmo: We hit her up and sent her some old photos of us – me and Pat chilling in the front room of our old house that we grew up in. We said we’d like to have that as the artwork because this whole album is about the progression from children to adulthood. You know, “What comes next?” Thinking of this as the album as a launchpad for us…
Charlotte: Each element had a loose brief, but the boys and their management were all really open to my ideas, listened to me loads, and trusted me enough to let me do my own thing. It was great, and I really feel like you get the best from someone if they can work within a relationship where they can create in a free and spirited way.
Cosmo: Matisse was one of the main references. She does Studio Ghibli-style stuff as well. So we wanted a mishmash between that, and I guess what you’d call fauvist art styles, which is what she does. It’s popping up here and there, but few people can execute it as well as her. It’s almost child-like, but when most people try and do it it actually looks like a child did it, but if she does it it’s great. It’s a fine line … it’s very hard to do.
Charlotte: I would say my ‘style’ is pretty diverse and changeable because my approach to each project varies based on the content or meaning. I let the process lead the outcome rather than shooting for a specific look.
Cosmo: Her artwork in general captures a childlike innocence or joy, so we knew that she’d be able to pull it off. We just wanted to give her the vibe for her to work with. We sent her five old photos of us … so she could put together a little vignette of us sitting in that front room.
Charlotte: I have always loved drawing, it is one of the earliest things I remember doing. At college I was studying history, English and law, and I was planning to go into politics, social policy specifically. But I took an art foundation class instead of having a gap year because in the UK its free for 18 year olds to take. I just loved being able to devote time to creating. In the end I went on to study Illustration in London at the Camberwell College of Art.
Cosmo: We looked for photos that had a certain essence about them, and we settled on one of me and Pat and we were sitting in the front room. It had a nice red couch at the time, all these nice carpets. All the colours already work with Charlotte’s style. It had the kind of chromatic feel Charlotte puts into her work. We sent her a few different angles of us because she kinda does collage a bit. She takes one person from one photo and then the best angle of another person from another one, and maybe the background from another one. It was really a collage of the four photos that we sent her that ended up being the album artwork.
Charlotte: My output right now is characterised by dynamic shapes and bold colour combinations. Colour is super important to me and I think thoughtful colour combinations can feel very emotional.
Cosmo: What she puts into the image has more energy than the actual photos we gave her. It has a certain aura or sense about it we feel like no one but her could really do.
Charlotte: I painted it while away in Japan exhibiting, so I was working from a kotatsu (heated table with built in duvet) in a tiny Tokyo apartment, doing late night trips to the family-mart down the road to scan the paintings.
Cosmo: It’s just the simplicity of the shapes and the nice colours. It’s easy to absorb, it’s not complex. I don’t know how to explain really how it works, it just works. I have an art major at university and I can’t really explain it. No words really come to mind except, “Yeah, it’s just the vibe”. [Laughs]
Charlotte: I used the different angles to compose something which felt true to the spirit of the boys, who have a playful sweetness to them. The backdrop is a very homely (and cutely-’90s looking!) living space, with colourful cushions, paintings, and their beloved dog Koa.
Cosmo: We had her [Koa] for like 10 years. She was great and we wanted her immortalised in the artwork … There’s also a painting my dad did that Charlotte put into the artwork. It’s the one to the left with the little creature – a donkey, or a dog, or something like that … My dad was very excited about it all. He’s a big fan of Charlotte’s now too.
Charlotte: Everything was there for me. I didn’t have to over embellish at all.
Cosmo: We wanted some history in the album art. It’s supposed to be a bit of background to us. I don’t think people necessarily know that it’s our old house in Petersham. It’s an old terrace house. Pretty normal, pretty standard. It was a bit rundown but where you grow up is where you grow up, so you can’t really look at it in a bad light … That was the front room of our house where we listened to music, we’d be sitting on the carpet and our parents would put on Brian Eno and Todd Rundgren and Donna Summer, disco, and all this stuff. Slowly, over time, that sorta worked its way into our consciousness – and that became our music in our way. We just wanted to have a bit of an homage to where it all began.
Charlotte: [The album is] such a fun and multi-layered body of work which has both emotional depth and a playfulness. It was such a pleasure to have it as an accompaniment and inspiration while working on visual responses.
Cosmo: Record art is one of the main things an artist can be remembered by. If you think of The Velvet Underground, the Andy Warhol banana – you can’t even separately the two anymore. They exist together … We wanted to have that with our artwork – something you mentally attach to the music and vice versa.
Charlotte: [Cover art] is super important for first impressions. I love David Rudnick’s artwork for Oneohtrix Point Never, and Hassan Rahim’s work for Jacques Greene.
Cosmo: There’s so many. Revolver by The Beatles. Ram [by Paul McCartney] is another great one. I just love how you can unpack them and they have more artwork inside. There’s another great Todd Rundgren one [A Wizard, a True Star]. It’s just so wacky, it’s got all these hexagonal images and a face on it.
Charlotte: For me it’s all about mood, and creating an atmosphere which complements the tracks and builds a little hype. You are likely to see the artwork before you’ve even heard the sound.