Now Hear This: Cousteau

WHO: Cousteau

MEMBERS: Liam McKahey, vocals; Davey Ray Moor, vocals, piano, guitar, horn; Robin Brown, guitar, vocals; Joe Peet, bass, violin, vocals; Craig Vear, drums, flute, percussion

FORMED: Mid-1998 in London

WHAT'S IN A NAME?: Yes, the quintet is named after famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

COMPARISONS: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Leonard Cohen, the Walker Brothers, Bryan Ferry, ABC

DID YA KNOW?: Moor and Vear live on houseboats docked along the Thames.


How would you define Cousteau's music?

Moor: It's nestled somewhere between Sly & the Family Stone and Leonard Cohen; somewhere in the center of that is a kind of chemical blend of grooves and music and atmosphere. I was making a living doing various bits of soundtrack work and had retired myself as a wannabe pop star. I got back to the kind of music I always loved and enjoyed, and I realized there was a hole in my record collection for something like this in between all the various things I like to listen to. So I set about making music for my own pleasure; for the first time in my life I was doing it just because I wanted to hear my own music. And as soon as I did, I realized that amongst my close friends in London I had the makings of a great band. Liam defines the character of the band so much.

How did you find him?

Moor: Liam was the last piece to fall into place, really. He was going out with his girlfriend, who's now his wife and the mother of his new child, and she's an old friend of mine from Sydney. I went to a dinner party of theirs and pulled out my guitar and started banging away; Liam started singing along, and I heard this incredible voice coming out of this man and decided then and there I must do whatever I could to get him in my band. I got him on board originally as a kind of harmony singer, in Art Garfunkel fashion, but then realized he had kind of a very extraordinary voice and all this kind of charisma and the sheer and utter kind of force to fill this music with the right kind of gravity and authority. Then and there Cousteau was born.

Cousteau, as in …

Moor: Yes, as in Jacques. It's a direct reference to the man. Searching for a band name is a traumatic experience, worse than naming a child. And with this music we were doing, the name was a touchy kind of subject. It had to be just kind of perfect. I came up with Cousteau, and the moment I said it was suddenly like some aroma had been released in the room of romance and adventure and mystery and kind of a turmoil and beauty, and all the other images that come to mind with the sea and the ocean. Those were the implications of the man's name to us when we were kids in the '70s, watching the show and thinking, "Blimey, when I grow up, that's what I want to do is man Jacques Cousteau's crew." It's a great life; he's a great environmentalist, and he always seemed to be having a good time, floating around the deep with these creatures at night eating good food, wine, women — it seemed like a good life to me.

Was it tough finding somebody who wanted to actually put this music out on record?

Moor: Oh, yeah — you can't over-exaggerate the kind of indifference we inspired in the music business in general. I mean, there's nothing in Cousteau's music that has any relevance to pop music — or chart music, at least. But Bob Geldof, of all people — Sir Bob — had a guest spot here on an afternoon [radio] shift in London, and for some reason he picked up on this little demo CD we had before we had a record deal. He played "You My Lunar Queen," this very sparse, atmospheric, nothing-there kind of song amidst this otherwise very banging, thrashing, young, hip radio station, which I think is a bit of a coup. And that got everything started for us. I have endless good things to say about the man.