MAT COTHRAN is in a conversation with himself. Sure, he and I are talking to each other during a phone interview, me in a cool basement on a warm June day in Portland, him walking in a park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But I feel like I'm wandering in on a conversation already in progress. Yet I don't mind eavesdropping, because past, present, and future Cothrans all have a lot to discuss.
Cothran is the common thread between Elvis Depressedly, Coma Cinema, and all his other projects, and he's gained recognition for his decade-long body of work, built on mounds of tapes, records, and online recordings of hushed, minimal bedroom pop. Sometimes the divide between the different monikers seems like a formality; Cothran once told Shuffle magazine that his different projects are just names for "all the people I am." In speaking to me, he maintains that Elvis Depressedly is a band, and that co-writer, singer, and all-around co-conspirator Delaney Mills has so much control that Cothran "just records it."
"As we're talking now, I sort of disagree with myself from the past," Cothran says. "You're changing all the time, your values and your beliefs change so drastically as you progress, and I feel like a lot of people don't want to accept that... but I think it's good." The constant state of flux appeals to the musician. "Life would be boring if we stuck to the same thing over and over."
His proclamations of drastic reinvention belie his music's glacial evolution. New Alhambra, the latest album from Elvis Depressedly, is a gentle refinement of the band's sound. Mills and Cothran arrange hazy keyboards and quasi-ambient soundscapes into a pop format. Cothran's voice generally rides on top of the proceedings, but any sort of guiding force must be attributed to the invisible hand of band dynamics. If Cothran-from-the-past thought he was Elvis Depressedly, New Alhambra does its best to dispel the notion.
"I try not to cling to anything anymore," he says. "You kind of realize how transitory all life is. People die, people are born... They get jobs and they fulfill the aspect of life that they're trying to fulfill."
Now in his late 20s, Cothran confesses he longs for a lifestyle and schedule that keeps him at home more than six months a year. Somewhere out there, future Cothran will get to "stay at home, kind of a loner, just [him] and Delaney." But the realities of life get in the way, and besides, part of Cothran feels the "kind people" that have given so much to Elvis Depressedly "deserve us to come visit." He says, "As long as people care, I'll keep doing it."
And as long as Mills and Cothran keep making music, more refracted Cochrans will enter the fold. "No more sad songs," sings Cothran on "N.M.S.S.," the second track on New Alhambra—a quasi-statement of intent, written to grapple with Elvis Depressedly's reputation of writing, well, depressing songs. His past and present selves merge, and for a second, reconcile. Reflection is Cothran's new method of finding inner peace, and it's ironically useful in his mirror world of reflected selves.
"I'm content," he says. "And sometimes, happy."