Triangle musical duo Daniel Cook and Autumn Brand have swapped country rock for a back-to-the-dance-club vibe.
by David Menconi
When we last heard from Daniel Cook and Autumn Brand, it was with their former band New Reveille. They were playing the sort of amped-up country-rock you could imagine hearing in a big arena, opening for Eric Church or Tim McGraw.
Fast forward a couple of years, and they’re on to a whole new thing. Cook and Brand’s latest music is more like something you’d hear in a dance club circa 1980, segued between New Order and Modern English. Chilly and atmospheric, it’s well-crafted synth-pop that’s heavy on vintage sonic textures — which is why they’re calling the new band The One Eighties. The pivot from twang has its roots in a cross-country road trip that Cook and Brand took during the depths of the pandemic shutdown in 2020.
“Autumn and I had been writing what we thought was going to be the next New Reveille album, but then things fell apart with the pandemic, and it was just the two of us,” Cook says. “The more we wrote, the more the music started to sound different.
It took about a year of writing and experimenting to figure out our new thing, and we decided on that name because it was such a change. That’s pretty much our personality types, anyway. We’re always changing our minds about everything.”
Garner native Cook started out playing in rock bands before falling under the spell of Doc Watson while working on a documentary about the folk-music icon for UNC-TV, which got him playing banjo. That led him to country-rock with New Reveille.
Meanwhile, Brand had moved to the Triangle from her native Seattle 13 years ago to be closer to her mother (who had moved here earlier). She played in a series of bands before joining New Reveille as violinist and singer in time for the group’s 2018 album The Keep. But when the pandemic shut down the entire music industry, the group dissolved little by little until it was just Brand and Cook.
“All we knew was that we wanted to continue making music,” says Brand of their pandemic road trip. “That was the reason to go across the country — Who knows, maybe we’ll find our sound! — which seems silly, but that’s what happened in the car, talking for God-knows-how-many hours. Driving through the Southwest, it looked like another planet. Especially with every city locked down.”
In those long conversations, they sketched out their new group’s sonic blueprint: synthesized pop with orchestral sounds and a cinematic, end-of-the-world feel. The One Eighties began as a studio project where Brand and Cook recorded before playing live. (That’s a reversal of the usual order of things in the music business, where typically musicians perform their work before recording it.)
Enlisting help from both local and national musicians, many of whom were available at bargain prices due to the pandemic shutdown, Cook and Brand made their debut album on the cheap. The couple did the bulk of recording in their home studio in Cary, then turned to crowdfunding to cover the expense of independently releasing the record, raising almost $1,000 more than their $5,500 goal in a Kickstarter campaign.
The resulting album, Minefields, is a sharp effort with well-drawn hooks and arrangements spotlighting Brand’s dusky voice. They did such a fine job that engineer Steve Fallone (who handled the album’s post-recording mastering with Greg Calbi) couldn’t believe it was a home recording.
“A lot of indie projects can sound very subpar, but I was very impressed,” says Fallone, a Grammy-winning engineer whose credits include Kacey Musgraves, The National and Father John Misty. “Great songs and writing and vocals, very tight and very talented musicians. I could tell they had a thing going on.”
The overall atmosphere of Minefields is heavy to the point of doomy, which Brand attributes to her having grown up in rainy Seattle. “Minor-key songs touching on beautiful sad parts, that’s kind of my thing,” she says with a laugh.
“A lot of it is brooding and kind of a bummer, but that’s what seems to come out,” says Cook. “We were writing the truth, it was a dark time of things falling apart.”
They’ll spend this fall and the early part of 2024 hitting the road to play live with a touring band to take Minefields into the world. Even though it hasn’t been out long, they’re already working on material for the next album — which may or may not be a lighter affair than this one.
“Where you’re at in emotions and life can be ahead of where your music is, as you process and heal and figure things out,” says Cook. “Then you move on.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.