Salt, Pepper, Ketchup, You Already Know
I met John Cozz in the first weeks of doing N.J. Racket. He was playing at SOLO(s) Project House in Newark, opening for The Randy Haze Trio. I was taken aback by his set initially. He had kind of a crazy look, which matched his crazy sound. His voice was straining as he screamed songs about transporting heroin and potholes on 21 and going to college and his grandmother swimming in the Passaic River. He sure as fuck took us all on a ride with that set, and I for one didn’t have enough bread crumbs to find my way back home. I caught him after the show and told him about the site. He quickly started digging into his backpack and pulled out a copy of his first album, Fall into Place or Pieces, in a cracked CD case packed with self-made art and a stack of stickers that read “John Cozz is a no brain little prick, Stacy!” (That’s a Fast Times at Ridgemont High reference, if anyone missed it.)
John had already started working on his second album, Salt, Pepper, Ketchup, when he began writing for the site. He’s provided us with some great posts already, offering the unique and introspective point of view of an artist offering his commentary on the scene he’s striving to be a part of. What had initially interested me in John was the passion and tenacity with which he approached his music. He told me way back when that he had never really considered himself a musician; he had never given writing and performing music much thought. But one day he began writing Fall into Place or Pieces and recording by himself in his bedroom, and to be honest, moments in the album sounded like it, but the reason I still listen to that album months later is because of how raw and painfully personal every song is from the top to bottom. You can learn how to play guitar, you can study music theory, but John Cozz’s ability to inject such a big part of himself in such an honestly vulnerable way into even simple songs is truly innate.
We had been in touch discussing his work on the new album for a few weeks. He was still writing new songs, rewriting old songs, playing a lot of shows. Max Rauch began working on recording and mixing songs for Salt, Pepper, Ketchup, and brought a level to experience to John Cozz’s music which had been missing previously. Everything that I had always found so engaging in Fall into Pieces had been amplified in S,P,K.
Musically, John Cozz has grown in leaps and bounds since his debut release, while managing to not sacrifice what had made him so unique. The lyrics still cut like a knife, he still brings all the infectious energy and enthusiasm of his D.I.Y. attitude. I hesitate to say the music is more refined. I don’t think a John Cozz song will ever be “polished,” and I hope it’s not. The music still has that kind of crust to it, but is more structured and sounds less sporadic; the overall sound quality is far better, which allows you to focus on what he does well, which is tell deeply meaningful and insightful stories in everyday settings and occurrences, which John’s seeming lack of ego allows him to so honestly digest and convey in his songs.
In his own naturally original style, John has continued to expand the overall experience of the album by including with each physical copy, a comic strip by Jon Prokopowitz which tells “The Legend of Taylor Ham.” If you haven’t caught on yet, most of what John Cozz does is pretty far out of the box, so I’m not going to even try to explain the synopsis other than to say its weird and hilarious and hypnotically illustrated, something you really need to behold for yourself for it to make sense (or have any chance of making sense).
John embodies so much of what is special in this scene. In his music he’s talked about feeling out of place, feeling unhappy with school, feeling stagnant (in a way I think is too common among Jersey’s 20-somethings), but he’s found his home in this scene and in his music. He hasn’t formally studied music, he doesn’t have a naturally great voice, but he still manages to excel in his songwriting and performing. Nothing along the way to S,P,K came easy, but John attacked it with a rare love and tenacity that’s only possessed by those who know that nothing’s guaranteed, who have had to work their asses off. He has worked his ass off, and did a great job.