It may take a little time to adjust to Cousins. The band's leader, Eddie Taylor, used to front the crunchy garage rock duo The Loners, and he howled about teenage woes. But in Cousins, Taylor sings melodically on songs he sometimes calls pretty. At 52, it seems, he's finally grown out of punk rock.
A band of area veterans add harmonies and rather lush arrangements. The four members that round out the second iteration of the Cousins lineup—Jeff Clarke, Greg Rice, Mike Tutt and Greg Clayton—have all been longtime admirers of Taylor's work, both with The Loners and his first foray in the Raleigh area, Big Joe. But they were surprised to learn that they'd be playing mature pop-rock, not primitive blasts.
"I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect," Clayton admits. "After the first practice, I said, 'Man, these guys are fucking good!' and was thinking maybe I wasn't the drummer for them."
But Taylor sensed chemistry, and that's only grown in the year or so that this version of the band has been together. During standing Tuesday night practices, they build out Taylor's song sketches, which they're currently putting to tape for an EP to be released in early 2014.
Eddie Taylor, 52, first played in Louisville, Ky., hardcore bands. Later, in Nashville, he developed an appreciation for Texas singer-songwriters such as Doug Sahm, Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver to counter his heavier enthusiasms. After a stint in Arizona, his band BIG JOE moved to Raleigh during the city's late '90s alt-country heyday, months after a successful S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest appearance. "I was trying to make a hybrid of Skynyrd and Dinosaur Jr.," Taylor explains.
The gritty garage blasts of THE LONERS followed. "It was a tongue-in-cheek thing where I'm in my 40s singing '60s teen-angst type songs," Taylor says. "It was ironic for these older guys to be playing like they were 14."
Cousins is a far more adult outlet. Taylor started writing songs again when county funding for his therapy sessions dried up following his divorce four years ago. "I was starting to become myself again after a really bad spot," he says, "and when they yanked that, I had to turn somewhere else."
In the '90s, Greg Clayton, 44, rode a brief wave of success with alt-rock trio LUSTRE, which released an album on A&M and opened for the likes of Oasis, The Band and The Cure. He's sometimes pounded the skins for the abrasive, bloody ANTISEEN, led by his brother, Jeff. He now owns Raleigh's Aardvark Screenprinting and is the artist behind the ubiquitous Red Yak emblem—a primitive drawing that can be found on bumper stickers, purses and toddler clothes. His drumming connects with his simple artistic style, he thinks. "[Red Yak] is almost like a cave painting, a very minimal way to look at art," he explains. "I'm not saying that's how my drumming is, but I don't do rototoms or China Boys or double kicks."
In addition to running his own land surveying firm, Mike Tutt, 44, also plays guitar, sings, and writes songs for Raleigh quartet CUSTOM 10, whose booze-fueled bar rock has a pronounced twang. A Durham native, Tutt has primarily played bass, with groups such as FESTUS, EL DEALER, MIND OVER MATTER and, alongside members of Two Dollar Pistols and 6 String Drag, THE REVELATORS.
Cousins is a chance to pick up some free music lessons. "Eddie is a way better singer than I could ever hope to be," Tutt says, "so I'm kind of learning from him while I'm playing with him. You get better as a musician by playing with better players."
Since moving to the Triangle more than two decades ago, Alabama native Jeff Clarke, 36, has worked the edges of indie rock. His résumé includes guitar stints with the elegant pop of WORK CLOTHES and HUNDRED AIR, the desolate Americana of CUB COUNTRY, and on tour with PORTASTATIC. A longtime bartender, Clarke reconnected with Taylor, who was working a shift as Kings' doorman.
"I spent a lot of time when I was younger absorbing all those Gram Parsons, Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, Backsliders and Whiskeytown records," he says. "Cub Country swam in those [Americana] waters, and I really wanted to play that style of music again."
Cousins are the sole musical focus for Clarke, whose attention has shifted to opening the new Person Street Neighborhood Bar in Raleigh. After a broken arm put that plan and the band on momentary hiatus, he intends to open the pub in January.
Rice, 33, hails from Pamlico County in eastern North Carolina, but he moved to Raleigh to attend N.C. State. He's played piano and organ in a number of Raleigh rock bands since. In all his bands, Taylor has never played with a keyboardist, but he called Rice nine months ago to say he was changing the shape of Cousins. Rice held a more demanding role in the rollicking Raleigh outfit THE CARTRIDGE FAMILY—he sang, wrote and played alongside Taylor's Big Joe bandmate Joe Rechel.
But now, he likes "not being in charge," given his commitments to family and his day job as an electrical engineer. He's in two other bands, too: rowdy rockers TERRY ANDERSON'S OLYMPIC ASS-KICKIN TEAM and the resurrected alt-country legends THE BACKSLIDERS.