The harmonic New Brunswick-based acoustic trio Cold Weather Company have amassed a sizeable online and live following releasing three albums completely DIY. PHOTO BY ADELE SAKEY
For six years, the harmonic New Brunswick-based acoustic trio Cold Weather Company have methodically and impressively grown a large following on social media and music streams and at live shows east of the Mississippi River.
It was on the banks of the Ol’ Raritan as students at Rutgers University that the three vocalists – Steve Shimchick, who also plays keyboards, and Brian Curry and Jeff Petescia, who also play acoustic guitars – banded together in 2013. Since then, they strategically have released and marketed several singles and videos and embarked on tours in support of three well-conceptualized and designed LPs, all DIY without a manager, agent, label or publicist.
With their latest collection, “Find Light,” released at the beginning of the year as Makin Waves Record of the Week, the trio expose their darkest experiences and share the ways in which they keep on keepin’ on. Unlike the first two releases, 2015’s “Somewhere New” and 2016’s “A Folded Letter,” the 16-song collection expands upon the trio with several special guests, including members of Hub City peers Cook Thugless.
Ever creative, CWC recently released a new single, “Rainfall,” a piano improv by Shimchick that he is crafting into a fan-generated video. Coming up, the trio will play July 18 at Bell Works in Holmdel, July 20 at the West Orange Farmer’s Market, July 23 at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park with Handsome Cru and Centennials, and Aug. 16 at Mercury Lounge in New York City with Bandits on the Run, Stereo League and Evan Petruzzi.
And ever-professional, these three young men have approached their music with as much hard work as fun and as much passionate business sense and as compassion for fellow humans and the fragile, threatened nature that surrounds and sustains us.
Enjoy the following interview with three members of Cold Weather Company.
Tell the story how you guys met and how that evolved into Cold Weather Company.
Steve: We met while students at Rutgers–New Brunswick! Brian and Jeff met first in 2011 through a chance encounter on a park bench at Passion Puddle on Cook/Douglass, where they both had their guitars, same guitar case, and even the same type of shoes. They exchanged info and, a year later, met me at a monthly open mic on College Ave. Fast forward to 2013, and we started playing together in our dorms on campus, where a friend of mine asked if we were a ‘band.’ Upon my hesitant ‘yes,’ we were invited to play our first show in the College Ave. Student Center, and the rest is history.
What was the New Brunswick music scene like when you first started compared to today? Have there been many changes?
Steve: It’s pretty safe to say we wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for the New Brunswick/Rutgers music scene. As mentioned above, our first solo performances in town were on campus, and our first band show was in a campus building. The Rutgers University Musician’s Guild, the basement scene, and organizations like RUPA, were extremely supportive and allowed us a variety of opportunities to play and build a local following.
When we started, there were only a few off-campus venues in the area that hosted live music. Jeff and I graduated in 2015. Brian was a few years before, but we stayed in the area. Since then, the basement scene has still been a great piece of NB, and I’d say more venues offer opportunities for local musicians. Regardless, the music scene, as a whole, has stayed welcoming and inclusive throughout the opening and closing of different venues.
Are there a lack of venues in New Brunswick? If so, what do you think should be done about that?
Steve: There may be a lack of traditional venues that support shows with audience members that are under 21, but there have certainly always been options for musicians in town. As mentioned, we’ve seen a rise of more local restaurants and shops hosting open mics and opportunities. The DIY scene has always been a part of the NB culture, allowing plenty of local and touring artists opportunities. With the opening of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center coming up, it’ll be interesting to see how it caters to artists throughout the city as well.
To keep the community’s momentum going year after year, it’s definitely important to have supportive locals and business owners who want to be a part of it. That’s where Hidden Grounds came in, for example, and continues to make such an impact today across all of their locations. Shout out to their new store, Simply Chai, opening in Hoboken.
Caroline Romanelli of Embrace DIY also deserves a shout out for her hard work booking shows. They’re always a lot of fun to go to/play at and a perfect reminder of what makes the community special.
Celebrating nature and the environment are very important to you as a band and individually. What would you say to voters about the past three years to influence their choice for president?
Brian: Considering the only candidate in the race who actively opposes any form of responsible environmental policy is the sitting president, I’d say literally anyone other than that guy is a better choice.
I like that your name has three words, which harkens back to a wonderful time in music history with bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Grand Funk Railroad. How did you come up the name Cold Weather Company and how does its meaning relate to the band?
Steve: Thank you! Glad you like that element. The flow the words gave definitely helped our choice. After our first show back in 2013, we spent a few weeks going back and forth trying to find something that represented us. Eventually, we landed on ‘Cold Weather Company.’ We formed in November, so the play between the coming winter and our use of nature imagery throughout our lyrics worked well.
We also became ‘company’ for each other during the colder months through playing and writing together. These days, the fact that listeners reach out to say our music has been company for them through particular seasons or emotions cements the choice in our heads as the right one. Plus, our band is built on this idea of three distinct styles coming together, so a word for each of us was a nice extra feature.
You have released three albums that have told many colorful stories set to a lot of organic music and fabulous harmonies. Which one of those stories best tells the tale of the band and why?
Steve: ’Mount Desert Island’ off our latest album would probably be the best choice. In October of 2017, we visited Maine for a weeklong residency with the Barn Arts Collective located on Mount Desert Island. Shortly after arriving, we started playing around with a melody that became the main riff in the song. Considering we went to Maine specifically to work on new music, and this idea came to us quickly, we split the song up allowing for each of us to sing lead across distinct sections, but having everything come together at the end.
Each song of ours is a new opportunity to bring our different ideas together, and so lyrically, MDI also allowed us to speak individually to where we were emotionally when we arrived for the residency. A week was the longest time we took just to write and explore, so it was important to memorialize where we were when we got to such a beautiful place, because we left with so many new ideas.
Has the songwriting process for each album been similar or different?
Brian: I think it’s been similar because it’s different (laughs). We never really have a tried-and-true process for songwriting. Every song kind of finds its own way of being written. Sometimes one of us will come to the others with a riff or a melody; other times, we’ll all land on something at the same time during practice. Lyrics are normally written and performed by the person who feels most connected to the song.
Comment on the story behind the ‘Find Light’ song cycle of ‘Clover,’ ‘Do No Harm,’ ‘The Things You Saw’ and ‘Atlas.’
Steve: We joke about my trilogy from our first album, where three-quarters of the songs I sing lead were essentially inspired by the same situation. I didn’t really expect to do something like that again, but when ‘Clover’ was being written in early 2017, everything else just kind of followed naturally. ‘Clover’ is essentially about wanting to retain luck, hope, and optimism in a relationship that’s clearly not meant to be. It was written during the relationship, when those feelings were the strongest.
Then, things fell apart, and ‘Do No Harm’ came together. It’s one of our moodiest songs and really gave me an outlet to work through the final pieces of the relationship while showing that the optimism that ‘Clover’ had didn’t carry over. I also love strings, so it let us have some fun and really let them shine. Shout out to Nicole Scorsone on violin and Kevin Lucero on cello.
‘The Things You Saw’ and ‘Atlas’ started coming together during our time in Mount Desert Island. At that point, one of the biggest things I tried to do in Maine was let any weight from that ‘Clover’ and ‘Do No Harm’-era fall away, and so ‘The Things You Saw’ recognizes how small issues can be when you’re able to remove yourself and view them differently. ‘Atlas’ focuses on the importance of the new people you interact with, how they’ve shaped you, and how valuable their experiences are.
One of the wonderful things about music is that it can take a harrowing personal experience and translate it into meaningful and uplifting art. Comment on how ‘Reclamation’ does that.
Brian: ‘Reclamation’ definitely transformed some pretty terrible moments into memories I can find pride in -- events to grow from. Through the writing process, I was able to work through those memories, analyze them, and see what I learned from them. Writing has always been therapeutic for me -- it allows me a new perspective on my own thoughts and experiences. In this case, I was able to find empowerment where I felt defeat, and, to just throw that metaphor out there again, to find light where I thought none could be.
‘Find Light’ has more special guests than either of your previous albums. I particularly like the New Orleans-spiced jam ‘n’ groove that Cook Thugless added to ‘Pocket.’ Comment on your connection to that band?
Jeff: Thanks! Yeah, when we were writing that song, we instantly knew it had room for some awesome horns, bass, and percussion. I actually grew up with Brian (Cook Thugless sax player) and Jim (guitarist/producer) and have worked on music projects/been in bands with them for a long time. We go back to the elementary school days together in Sparta. I was also a founding member of Thugless when it started in our apartment on the Cook campus our sophomore year, after we met and became friends with the other guys the previous year. I’m on most of the songs on the first album, ‘Space,’ and one of the songs on the second album, ‘Time.’ The Thugless guys will forever be close buds, and it’s exciting to continue to collaborate with them. You can expect to see more of that in the future.
Another thing you have in common with Thugless, among other acts, is that you methodically release singles and videos in the build up to an album. That approach has gained you nearly 53,000 monthly Spotify listeners and 3,200 YouTube subscribers. Those kinds of numbers are very difficult for a band to obtain and maintain themselves without a great deal of tedious hard work that typically is not as enjoyably creative and cathartic as the music. Do you enjoy that management aspect of the band, and if so, why?
Steve: Outside of us meeting and realizing we could work well together musically, we also learned early on that our non-music specialties could really benefit us. I’ve run our social media, Brian has handled things like graphic design and photography, and Jeff has managed finances. Thanks to us all having specific roles, we’ve been able to keep things organized and efficient. I think we all feel there are pieces we enjoy, and they certainly allow us to use skills we learned while pursuing our degrees, but you’re right about there being more tedious parts. That said, dealing with the tedious parts has been rewarding, and knowing that our work has contributed to more than just music, but an established brand, has been a huge motivator.
Given those numbers, as well as that of your social media engagement, have record labels, agents and managers expressed interest in the band, and do you have an interest in them or do you prefer to remain DIY and why?
Steve: We’ve received inquiries over the years from different music services, but after working on something completely in-house for so long, we really focus on finding the perfect fit. Each opportunity we’re a part of is because it felt natural and like it was meant to happen when it did. So, if we feel a genuine connection moving forward in any element of our band, that door is certainly open!
What is it about creating and touring together at an independent level that keeps the resulting challenges and obstacles worth continuing to overcome?
Brian: It’s funny -- we’ve been a band for just about six years now, which is ridiculous to think about, and while it hasn’t always been easy, and we’ve had our share of highs and lows, I don’t think there has ever been a moment where any of us truly considered giving it up. This band represents our shared dream -- it’s a body of work we’ve put our lives into, and we’re equally committed to seeing it through.
As far as what makes it worth it, for me, it’s the idea of turning something you love most in life into a career. While we had high hopes in the beginning, I don’t know if any of us could have seen ourselves six years and three albums later. We still have so many songs to write.
Steve: I’d also add that the messages we’ve received over the years from listeners have been incredible motivators for us. To Brian’s point about thinking about six years and three albums, we also never thought about just the general support, kindness and openness that listeners have shown in person and online. The feeling of hearing that songs we wrote to express certain, often personal moments had a positive impact on someone else is something we can never really put fully into words.
You’re still touring in support of ‘Find Light.’ What has been the most significant gig for the band this year and why?
Steve: We’ve had a lot of significant moments so far, but our album release show at Mercury Lounge in January was the first time playing live with six other musicians, and to our largest NYC crowd, so we’ll never forget that. It definitely kicked off our next level as a band, and we’ve since performed with different arrangements and plan to continue to expand our live performances.
What is yet to come for the band during the remainder of 2019?
Jeff: We have some really exciting things coming up including a new single due out in August. Additionally, we are in the process of writing another batch of songs, so you can expect an EP out in the fall, plus some bonus tracks.
What is ‘Rainfall’ and the fan video project for it?
Steve: This was a lot of fun for me, as I really had no idea what to expect. I have hours of piano improv but I’ve never really shared it with anyone; sometimes not even Brian and Jeff (nothing personal, guys!) This time around, I was planning on hosting a piano improv livestream on Instagram one rainy evening. Before I got started, I recorded a few minutes to test my video/set-up, then I ended up sharing the result on Instagram. It was well received, so I thought to share it on Spotify. Then I wanted to take it a step further.
Since most people are around rain pretty frequently, I asked our audience to send in videos from wherever they are in the world when it rains and received submissions from all over the place. I left submissions open for a while, so I’m in the process of finalizing the video for YouTube now. Looking forward to sharing it!
Have you started writing songs yet for album four? If so, how are they taking shape, and if not, when and how will that process begin?
Jeff: We are thinking of putting out an EP this time around, five to six songs potentially with maybe some bonus tracks or singles, but that’s all still TBD. We have begun writing, and we’re really excited about what we’re working on. I’d like to think ‘Find Light’ is our best work yet, and these new tunes may just top it.
Are there any side projects on which the three of you also are working? If so, what and what’s up with them?
Brian: I have some solo music that I’m working on, though a snail’s pace is a little too fast to compare my progress to. I’ve been focusing a lot on improving my photography and videography ability, so that should make for some interesting CWC content.
Jeff: I’d like to eventually put out another solo album and have the songs ready for it, but for the foreseeable future all my time is devoted to CWC.
Steve: I also have a variety of projects I’d like to work on. It’s always been a dream to record piano/string instrumentals for instance, so ‘Rainfall’ may have been the gateway to that. But, as Jeff said, CWC is the priority.
Are any of your day jobs as rewarding for any of you as the music and why?
Brian: I definitely find my day job rewarding, but pursuing music is a whole different story. I think it’s fairly common for people to find that their field of study/career path doesn’t necessarily align with that good ol’ fashioned childhood dream. This probably sounds strange, but sometimes it’s almost like I want to reach back in time and high-five my high school self for having the courage to chase music.
Jeff: My day job is rewarding in a different way, and I’m lucky to have it and work with people who support CWC so much. Life is a balance -- music is my passion and ultimate goal, but you have to work for it (sometimes literally with a day job). Plus, my day job is also a career in itself that I’m also passionate about.
Steve: My day job has been an important step forward career-wise, and I’m also lucky to be surrounded by supportive people, many I’ve known for years. Plus, there are things I’ve been able to learn from the job and the people that will absolutely benefit me in the years to come.
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
Steve: As our social media guy, I’d be remiss to not mention that you can follow along with what we’re up to on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and more! You can also listen to our music on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and Bandcamp.
You can also check out our upcoming shows on coldweathercompany.com. Feel free to send us a message there or on any social platform, we’d love to hear from you! Thanks!
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.