Coco Break Free From Anonymity and Expectation

Maia Friedman and Oliver Hill recall the journey from the band's anonymous formation to the release of their upcoming LP, 2.

Music Features Coco
Coco Break Free From Anonymity and Expectation

Coco was born out of pure anonymity. The project comprises Maia Friedman, Oliver Hill and Dan Molad, musicians initially known for their roles in beloved bands such as Dirty Projectors, Lucius and Pavo Pavo. Initially, the trio sought to create music in an unrestricted manner on their own terms after years of dealing with the more tedious aspects of working in the public eye. A prevailing spirit of fluidity and creative freedom fostered Coco’s songwriting and production process, coupled with an atmosphere of deep mutual respect and musical chemistry.

More than anything else, Coco arrives like a group of friends who like to be together—the traditional rigidity and formality that structure the processes of recording, writing and performance don’t exist within, and that liberation enhances the trio’s ability to experiment and fulfill their artistic desires. Coco even refer to their writing and recording process as a “retreat” or “ritual” rather than work. “It was so fun. It wasn’t for a purpose. It was really just to have fun making music together,” says Friedman. “We loved to be with one another in the studio, writing and recording and sharing ideas.”

Coco’s upcoming LP, aptly titled 2, showcases the band continuing to embrace their culture of musical experimentation driven by the close bond of the project’s members. In the early stages, the group had no expectations of official distribution. Bob Moses, the group’s manager at the time, suggested that the musicians publish the casually written songs anonymously, spurring Coco’s initial output to be namelessly unveiled to the world in 2020. The indie-pop-powered singles were immersive and ethereal, drawing the attention of an audience and critics while the band remained incognito.

“We were all just sort of busy with other projects, and also freshly emerging from bands that were dissolving and just not actually terribly interested in a lot of the public-facing aspects of what being a band entails,” Hill says. “So, it was Bob’s idea to just release stuff anonymously, and keep making things and not worry so much about what it is or whether it’s a band or not. And so there was a period of about a year where there was just the name Coco. We would get together from time to time and make music, but there was no intention of touring or making an album or doing press photos or any of that. So that was a nice little chrysalis.” Friedman continues, “It was very refreshing!”

Coco continued to write and record singles together, eventually leading to the release of their self-titled debut in 2021. “It was like, ‘Oh, this actually is an album, this is a complete thing.’ Bob actually passed away. It felt like there was just a chapter change potentially and we were really proud of it so we wanted to share it more fully and go on tour and all that. So that’s when we decided to turn up the heat a little bit.” Hill says. This chapter change entailed a sprawling North American tour supporting Kevin Morby, as well as the release of additional singles throughout 2022 and 2023. Soon after, Coco began to work on their second full-length album—gathering in Richmond and Joshua Tree to collaborate on writing and producing 2. In Richmond, engineer Adrian Olsen assisted the group, allowing Molad to focus more heavily on writing and producing rather than engineering the album himself. Nestled between the stark desert landscape and an endless sky, the band continued to work on the album in a more lucid and homegrown setting at a friend’s property in Joshua Tree.

“That was more familiar. That was more like how we made the first record. We have some friends who spend most of their time in LA but have a space there [Joshua Tree] that has a compact little recording studio with a beautiful, beautiful API board,” Hill explains. “So, we just went up there, got a bunch of groceries, kind of set aside a week and did a lot of writing. We like writing together in the studio. Sometimes there are kernels of ideas, but I think the material that we end up being most excited about often is stuff that comes together in the morning, and then we start recording it in the afternoon on any given day when we’re in one of those retreats. So we were doing a lot of that in Joshua Tree. And that space, just the climate, I find it to be very inspiring. There’s a sort of sadness to it. It’s just very beautiful, the desert.”

As with past Coco releases, the band centered itself around a strong creative fluidity, encouraging each other to perform in different roles and exist in spaces they are less familiar with. Friedman says, “That sort of something has always been the case within Coco, definitely with the first record to each kind of switching what instruments we’re playing, who’s singing lead on which song. Danny is primarily a drummer, but he is a great guitar player and a great bass player. So you know, he switches between the roles and Oliver can play virtually any instrument very prolifically. So that was easy. That was easy for all of her to do too. And I always try to get one song that I get to drum on on the record and it’s usually like the most simple, straightforward.”

“I’m not a drummer by any means but it’s just such a fun muscle to exercise. So it’s mostly just we’re working on a song and we figure out like, ‘Okay, who wants to play bass? Who wants to play drums? What’s the instrumentation? Keys, guitar? Who feels called to what instrument for this particular song?’” she continues. The free-flowing style of their songwriting retreats allowed Coco to craft a new album of warm and seamless tracks, imbuing elements of humor and grace into their poignant introspection. Hazy harmonies float above the pastel-coated instrumentals, wandering and twisting into unexpected passages of vivid sound. Coco effortlessly builds off of the foundation their debut laid, refining its lush blend of melodic pop with aspects of bossa nova and electronic music.

As the release of 2 quickly approaches, the band is also readying themselves for an upcoming tour. “I’m looking forward to it’s just so nice to share music with people,” Friedman says. “There are always some people in the audience that know the songs and like to sing along and it’s just a very wonderful feeling. We feel really lucky when that happens.” With the release of two full-length albums under their belt, Coco has fully shed the veil of anonymity that initially allowed them to create without expectation. 2 represents a subtle yet impactful transition as the band continues to share their ritual of songwriting and maintain the spirit of creativity that has driven the band from its start while further breaking into public view. The emotional catharsis and devotion to the craft are palpable when you listen to 2, feeling as if you are witnessing the retreat in real time. No longer phased by the limiting effect of expectation, Coco continues to create for themselves and each other rather than for an audience.

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