Alyssa Coco photo credit to: Will Cornfield
Roses and Revolutions had an epic 2019, surviving their first headlining tour with aplomb and charting out their next stage of songwriting. The impact of the music industry shutting down in 2020 was sudden for them and quite a contrast with the momentum they’d been building, but their natural reaction was to dive into “diary entry” style songwriting and recording. Without a specific schedule to work towards, they were free to explore. The result has been an upcoming EP, Midnight Monsters, due in early autumn 2021, with singles, “End of the World” and “Coffee,” featuring collaborator Lostboycrow, out now. Before that lands, we’ll also see the EP Coffee Grounds released on July 9th which gathers multiple distinctive variants of the song “Coffee” and also their forthcoming second single.
The song “Coffee,” its variants, and the songs on Midnight Monsters are all very expressive, boldly reflecting on the experiences of 2020 and 2021 in very moving ways. Though the songs were often “anxiety-driven” for Alyssa Coco and Matt Merritt, the confessional reflections on the nighttime world they often found themselves caught in are not at all harsh or dissonant. They are, in fact, inviting in the way that only an open doorway on a dark night can be. It’s not surprising that a number of their songs have found their way onto TV shows and streaming, most recently “Still Standing” on the CW show Charmed, so you should probably keep your eye on these new songs and where they might end up. Alyssa Coco joined us to talk about creating these musical entries and, of course, how she likes her coffee.
Americana Highways: I know that you’ve been working on new stuff throughout 2020 and 2021 so it must be exciting to have not one, but two releases coming up.
Alyssa Coco: Totally. We spent so much time throughout quarantine. Even before quarantine, we had just gotten off our first headline run and we felt really motivated, so started writing. Then, being at home with nothing to do but create, there was a lot more writing time. For people to hear what our mindset was like a year ago is really validating and I can’t wait to share that.
AH: I think it’s great that you’ve found a way to talk about your experiences, because I do see a lot of reflection of our times on these EPs. Did you get to play songs from your previous EP Under The Spell live, yet?
AC: A couple of them. Under the Spell was released in April 2020, a month after the pandemic was declared. We did a couple of our singles live, including “Dancing In a Daydream” and “I Don’t Have Feelings Anymore,” but the other ones? Not yet. We have so much new music, it’s going to be fun to choose our setlists.
AH: You’ll just have to play double-length concerts for us.
AC: I mean, yeah! I’m ready for it! I’m ready to sing my heart out.
AH: I know you did a “Sessions” show in March. Did you prerecord in a studio setting? How did you handle it?
AC: Sessions is really fun and they are very organized. It was completely live. We had our little home set up and had it go through an OBS system so that the sound quality was better than an IG live, for example. I had my iPad so I could see the comments coming through and could interact with fans. It was like a concert, but a little quiet on our end. It’s such a weird world. But that was really fun.
AH: How did you choose your setlist for that?
AC: We like to throw in a couple of covers, so we picked a couple of those. We did a couple of songs from Under the Spell. We played “The Pines,” which was one of our first songs we ever put out. Also, we let the comments section determine things. Even if we weren’t completely prepared, we still tried! It makes people feel more involved with the show experience.
AH: That’s amazing! That’s very open of you. Without live shows for so long, did you feel you had to rehearse a lot before the show?
AC: We did, but from March through July early in the pandemic, me and Matt were doing Instagram live shows as a duo twice a week. We made a pajama and wine night a thing. I realized that I needed new pajamas. We were pretty prepared to play again because of that.
AH: I know that writing the songs for Midnight Monsters was different than previous writing, in a sense, because you didn’t have a touring, production, or promotion schedule locked in for the future. Did you approach it as happening to write one song, then another, or did you plan to write a new collection of material?
AC: That’s a really interesting question because that helped craft this whole EP, not having this schedule. It was the opportunity to just be free with creativity. We wrote thirty plus songs and went back and forth with our A&R. We’d just put things in a drop box and say, “Here you are. Listen!” And she’d come back with detailed notes about each one. That was what made it so fun. There wasn’t that much pressure to write, since our EP had just come out in April 2020. That was really nice and I loved writing in that way. Sometimes I write really well under pressure, but sometimes I feel the creativity suffers.
AH: It sounds like you also didn’t have to wonder, “Does this song go with that other song?” in the way you might when trying to create an album.
AC: Exactly. In the end, they all did go really well together. They were very cohesive because they were written in the same few months, with the same soundscapes and influences of what we were listening to at that time.
AH: There is a remarkable feeling of continuity on Midnight Monsters. I hear a lot of resonance among the songs. It’s not a stretch to say that they are all from the same world, sonically and lyrically. It makes a good argument for not waiting to talk about these experiences and not assuming that’s it’s somehow too soon.
AC: I think everyone is sick of talking about the pandemic or quarantine, but I think it has been a significant part of all of our lives, so why not document it? I look at this EP as kind of like a series of journal entries. These songs were written late at night, with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about what was going to happen. I think we all went through that. We were all off our schedules. Matt and I were staying up until four in the morning and sleeping until two in the afternoon. It was terrible! [Laughs] That’s where Midnight Monsters came from.
AH: It occurs to me that Midnight Monsters could refer to you and Matt as much as to other demons! Running around town in the middle of the night.
AC: Totally. [Laughs]
AH: I heard that there’s a relationship between two songs on the EP, “Feeling Like Myself” and “When The Moment’s Gone.” Did one of those songs come before the other?
AC: “When The Moment’s Gone” was actually written first. “Feeling Like Myself” came about after we went on our first headline run and things felt like they were starting to work out. Everything went well, people were in the room, buying our merch, we were traveling. We felt good. Then the pandemic happened. I feel pretty lucky that the worst thing that happened to me was to have my career put on hold, but it’s all very personal. I felt like we were getting into the groove, and then the pandemic happened. That’s where “Feeling Like Myself” came from. But “When The Moment’s Gone” came a little before that and was more about anxiety. A lot of these songs are very self-reflective and anxiety-induced.
AH: I actually thought, based on the description of the EP, that it might be quite a dark collection. But when I listened to the songs, I felt, “This doesn’t sound dark. This sounds honest.” I don’t even feel like it’s “honest with a sledgehammer” and it didn’t bring me down at all.
AC: I love that. I’m really glad to hear that. Part of this EP, like for example, “Coffee,” comes from such basic ideas. It’s the simplest things in life. During the pandemic, we were living the same day over and over. That is reflected in the songs, focusing on how everyday things are important to you or make a difference in your life.
AH: Suddenly you see the underlying meaning of small things in your life. Just to mention this, I feel like “Feeling Like Myself” is still a forward-facing song that has hope and looks to the future even though it’s about life being interrupted. Whereas I feel like “When the Moment’s Gone” looks back on a specific moment in time. It’s another reason why both songs are impactful and it makes sense why one opens and one closes the EP.
AC: “Feeling Like Myself” is hopeful. Matt and I both like to consume music the way that artists put them up on Spotify, or on CDs. For us, putting “Feeling Like Myself” first on this EP created a kind of introduction sonically, but we also liked how it brought you into a certain world. It was intentional to have a hopeful tone, to tell a little bit of a story, talking about being on the road, and seeing a world of opportunity ahead.
AH: It really sets the stage and the tone. I should definitely talk to you about “Coffee” since the Coffee Grounds EP will be out in July. You’ve got this original song, with a wonderful collaboration on vocals with Lostboycrow. Then you’ve got these different versions of the song, I think four in total with the original. They are amazingly different versions! How did it come about that you created so many different versions and how did you record so many different vocal takes?
AC: Right before the pandemic started, we had just set up a little studio at home. We were just getting the hang of it and figuring out how to mix my vocals around November 2019. It was perfect timing because once we were home, we were able to record versions on our own. With “Coffee” those were versions that I recorded late at night alone, of course. Part of that is because of the noise of cars passing, and at night, nobody is driving. So at night, I’d go up there, I’d turn on my fairy lights and I get into a zone. Singing acoustically and singer/songwriter stuff just touches me anyway. Being in that acoustic world of “Coffee” with this upbeat song made it fun to take that approach and make it even more heartwarming.
AH: When you say that, I think of the “Breakfast Blend” version, which is very acoustic and very different from the commercial release. The guitar plays a big role there. How did you and Matt create that sound?
AC: Matt and I do everything 50-50. It’s such a collaborative effort, always, and he’s a co-writer on the song. In the original version, he had the Western guitars underneath. For this, I love when Matt does finger-picking acoustic style, so I asked if we could do a version that features his guitar. He just went in there, I’m not kidding you, and said, “Like this?” I heard it, and I just said, “Go!” It was that quick. He just has an ear for it. He knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted a beautiful arrangement, and he did it right away.
AH: On the “Dark Roast” version, we have a piano that’s more of a driver. I would say that the vocals are more rich, maybe even a little R&B in style. How did you decide on the approach to that one?
AC: In general, the piano is a richer and deeper instrument. When I did that one, I set the metronome’s tempo a little bit slower to give that different feel to the original. Honestly, they just go hand in hand, so I did the piano first. Then I stood up with headphones and sang it. It just came naturally. I may not have been intending that R&B feel, but I absolutely love that you said that. The intention was for each of these versions to sound just a little bit different, just like a cup of coffee. You’ll get a cup of coffee from a fast food restaurant, a Starbuck’s, or a fancy coffee place in town, and they’ll all taste different and give you different feelings.
AH: I think that’s one of the reasons coffee is so popular, aside from the fact that caffeine is wonderful: you can personalize it and have all these different choices. I thought of the “Medium Roast” version as the more Alternative sounding one. To me, it is very singer/songwriter, but less acoustic. Maybe it’s more West Coast?
AC: Oh, a West Coast blend? I like that. Maybe a little Washington or Oregon flavor? That is one of the first versions that we actually did. Later, we switched gears a little and went more into the indie Pop world for the release version. That one was more of a demo vibe, a more organic version, if you will. Let’s do the West Coast reference!
AH: How did your team up with Fuego Coffee come about?
AC: That released with the song “Coffee” on May 14th. It was such a fun experience. We’ve been huge fans of Fuego for a long time and have been fixtures at that place. We approached them about this, and they were all about it. They like to get inspired, so they listened to our music and came up with three different blends. Then they gave us samples of the different blends and asked if any of those hit us. If not, they would have gone back to square one. We ground the beans and tried them all the same day. Then we spent the next three days trying them all again. But, instantly, Matt and I had the same favorite.
AH: Can you tell us what it was about the flavor that you felt made it a good match for the song?
AC: Just as a big coffee lover, in general, I tend to lean towards the dark, bitter coffee. I prefer iced coffee over cold brew because cold brew is smooth. I like that dirt taste! I got that nice acidic feel on this one, but it also had a smoothness. That was important because Matt is the opposite, he likes the cold brew. That’s why it was the choice, we both liked it. It’s a blend of El Salvador and Columbia and the blend of the two really helps with that flavor profile, and it gives you a kick in the butt! It’s like they took both of our personalities and our tastes and said, “Let’s do it!”