Cole Zollinger: Making Progress
Cole Zollinger is a 22 year old musician, communications student, and “begrudging employee” based in Ashland, OR. He plays bass guitar for the band Slow Corpse and has been starting to work on his first solo album on the side. He is currently finishing his studies at Southern Oregon University.
I first met Cole last year when we were both working at SOU's Ecology Center, hearing his musical prowess initially when he brought a guitar along on a work retreat up near the Illinois River. I remember him telling me over a year ago that he had joined this small weird band called Slow Corpse, and he soon invited me into the strange world of Ashland's budding little house show scene. I recently sat down with Cole over coffee to talk music and life in the Rogue Valley.
Photo by Teague Wasserman (@teawasserman)
How did you join Slow Corpse?
It was Fall term of my senior year, and I was kinda re-inventing my life and deciding what I was gonna do, planning for graduation. One day, Kyle and Mitchell and Cesar come into my living room, and each one pokes their head in the door and are like, “Cole, do you wanna play bass for Slow Corpse?” and the next one will come in like, “Hey Cole, how are you doing? Wanna play bass for Slow Corpse?” They didn’t plan it that way, but they asked me three times in a row.
So you were bugged into joining?
Yeah, a little, but I’m very stoked that I’m in that band, even though we’re kinda going through a slump right now.
We haven’t practiced in months.
Have you performed at all?
We’ve performed a couple times!
You’ve got a big show lined up in Boise, I hear?
Yeah, we’re playing Treefort with Mac DeMarco and The Growlers and a bunch of other great acts. Have you heard about our tour?
I have not heard about your tour!
We’re playing the festival in Idaho on Saturday night I think at the end of March, and then we’re going from there to Missoula, Montana, and from there to Seattle, then down to Portland, and back to Ashland, and we’re also playing a show in Bend. It’ll be the first tour we’ve ever been on! Dash is not driving his own car for the first time ever, so hopefully we can make him eat a cheeseburger or something. I might bring my motorcycle so I can avoid being stuck in the cigarette smoke in Kyle’s car.
Playing a big festival with headliners like that must be a big a big deal for you guys! From what I’ve noticed about the scene here in Ashland, everybody’s really into Mac DeMarco.
Everyone’s really into Mac DeMarco.
Do you think he’s one of the bigger influences on the music that you guys make?
This has been an ongoing debate within Slow Corpse for like six months now. I get a lot of shit for this, but I’m just gonna say it… I don’t like Mac DeMarco that much. I don’t think he’s very interesting, I don’t like his style, and I think his music is kinda boring. Yeah, I do think he influences us a lot. There are aspects of the things that he does that I think are really cool; I really like the song (Ode To) Viceroy, which we play at like every show.
You don’t hate it?
No, I like it! It’s just way too much hype for a guy who just plays like four-chord, boring-ass music with interesting guitar tones.
How do you think you as a musician are trying to be something new or different than what other folks are doing?
As a communications student, I think I’m learning more about what expression is and what music really “should” be. I think that if you wanna write good music, you have to have something good to say, then you have to put that into a song. I think a lot of people try to come up with music out of nowhere [that’s] meaningless to them, and then [it’s] meaningless to everyone else. I try to infuse all my music with a ton of emotion… Authenticity.
Are the songs you’ve written more stories or experiences in your personal life?
Yeah, they’re little snapshots of my life.
What’s your favorite song that you’ve written?
Oh, I don’t know; that’s up to you to decide when my record comes out!
When is your record coming out?
Uhh… No comment.
But it’s in the future?
It’s coming out not in the past or the present… So the future, yes. I recorded [three songs], and I showed them to some people, and everyone was like, “That’s great! Keep going!” I was full of optimism and was like, “You know what? What the hell? I’m graduating soon, I’m not that busy, I’ll make an album!” So I started recording like five more songs and trying to mix and master and arrange everything, and it’s so much work.
Photo by Teague Wasserman (@teawasserman)
Tell me about how your life has changed since you’ve been in Slow Corpse?
I feel like my answer to that question would be different every month since I’ve joined the band. As of now, it’s pretty much the same as it would have been otherwise. We have some cool tour plans lined up, but––I don’t know if you know this––we’re gonna have to get a new drummer soon, because Sean is moving to Eugene to go to a big-boy school and study music composition for real. We’re focusing on that… We haven’t hung out or practiced in a long time, so as of now, I’m really just thinking about my own music and getting out of here, but things are great; I love being in the band! When I first joined, it really put a strain on my relationship with Teague, because we used to spend every second of every day together. Being in a band cut out like half of our time together, because I was always practicing with them… But now that we don’t practice anymore it’s back to normal.
How long have you been with Teague?
Two and a half years––it’s going great!
I’ve been checking out a lot of her photography recently. Did she get you into it?
She has been taking pictures since like middle school. She teaches photography every summer at an art camp, and she knows way more about it than I ever will. Generally, she sticks to photography, and I’ve been teaching her how to play music a little. She’s been teaching me how to take pictures, but I don’t really have good enough eyesight to be able to take good ones.
You live with a whole group of people, don’t you?
I live with Josh from the Jubies (The Juniper Berries); we also used to work at Shop ‘n Kart together, which was really dope to go straight from work to the same house show and then party at the same house afterward. [It] was really funny.
It seems like your whole group of friends all live in the same few houses.
It’s the Simpson Compound. Kyle’s parents own like three or four houses now in Ashland. Kyle Simpson is the cult leader, and everyone lives on his parents’ property. Except, not me; Teague and I [and a couple others] live in a house that I found like two years ago, but it’s in the same neighborhood. It’s like between two Kyle houses. I’m pretty sure at one point the entire Juniper Berries band lived in a Kyle house.
What’s it like to be part of a community where everyone is doing something creatively different? Has it changed you as a person?
I think it’s made me realize what good art is; I never really knew. Growing up in high school, I thought I had good taste in music, but I was really just guided by like Pitchfork and whatever my friends were listening to. After seeing Mitchell or Anouk do art, it’s just amazing realizing that if you really put effort into something––doesn’t matter what your medium is––if you have something to express and you want to get the message out and you care about it, it’s gonna be really cool. Doesn’t matter if you’re writing a song or drawing a picture or whatever. I think it’s just taught me to care more and try harder. I’ve been tuning pianos lately; it’s another one of my hobbies. Did you know the used piano Craigslist market is just saturated? You can pick up an upright piano for free on Craigslist. Anywhere, any city in America, today. I guarantee it. I have one, Kyle has one… Mitchell and I have decided we’re gonna start picking them up; I’m gonna tune them, he’s gonna finish the wood on the outside, and then we’re gonna sell them for like $500.
So your own business?
There we go, so forget about Slow Corpse! But that’s what I mean about art; it’s like the same thing, you know? I didn’t know how to tune a piano a year ago, but I kinda care, and I think it’s cool, and that’s all it takes.
Do you think that people care enough about what folks like you are doing and making? Do you think people notice it outside your immediate area?
Do you like that?
No! I don’t think it’s gonna change either. I don’t think anyone is gonna care, but that’s why you have to decide to do it for you and not for anyone else.
Make art for yourself first, and think about everything else later?
Yeah. If you’re making art for someone else, then it’s not really expression. I think it shouldn’t matter. I want everyone to see my art and like it, but I can’t let that affect what I do, because I wouldn’t know what to write. To finish that nebulous thought about art and Mitchell… Something that he said when i first joined the band––I asked him, “How do you make such good music? What is your secret?” He just said, “I just make sure every little part is right; I just make sure all the little things are good, and that’s it.”
I know you’re originally from Portland; do you think that you’ve had it harder or easier being here in Ashland as opposed to someplace like Portland?
Financially, it’s been easier. Culturally, it’s a little more homogenous. I found a lot of friends. I feel like in small towns you meet people who are pretty similar to you, and then you’re stuck with them, so you put in an effort and make them get along with you, and you have to worry about maintaining those relationships, whereas in a big city there’s like a million people just like you, and you can drift around and not care too much. It’s nice to be in a more limited-size city though.
What do you think about the art and music scene in Ashland?
I honestly don’t like it that much. I think a lot of people I know personally are doing really cool things, and maybe I just don’t go out enough to really appreciate it, but I think as far as art scenes go, it’s pretty contrived. There’s a lot of old people, and not much is stirring it up.
The small music scene you guys helped kick off again seems like it’s changed how people perceive this area.
I don’t even think of our little scene as “the scene”. If you think about The Juniper Berries, Slow Corpse, PALMCO––the little acts that always play together at Walker and stuff and the touring bands that roll through––it’s a great scene. I love that, but that is by far the most fun thing I’ve found in terms of music in the Rogue Valley. Maybe it’s me not trying hard enough, I don’t know.
Do you think it’s important to pave your own way?
When it’s your only option, yeah.
Doesn’t seem like there’s another option here?
I think this is our way of trying to make something beautiful, you know?
Photo by Zach Whitworth (@zachwhitworth)
Who’s doing your (solo) album artwork?
I think it’s gonna be a blind contour drawing that I made while I was at Shop 'n Kart. I have a few options; it’s either gonna be that, or I want Teague to take the picture. Either way, it’ll hopefully be pretty sad and meek-looking… and lo-fi.
Why do you make lo-fi music? What’s the draw?
There’s no draw. I don’t have any money is the main reason. The second reason… When people go hiking or snowboarding or something and they buy a thousand dollars worth of equipment and they’re beginning, they’re wasting their money. They’re not at a point where good equipment would make their performance that much better. That’s how I feel about music. I’m not a professional, especially not when it comes to singing and songwriting, so why not see if I can make the best album I can with a zero-dollar budget and move from there? Start it at the bottom.
Do you have any solo performances lined up in the near future?
I don’t, and I don’t know if I ever will. Maybe in the distant future, but my music is… It’s music that you have to just sit and listen to, and I don’t even know if you wanna clap afterward. It’s just music you sit, listen to, and think about. I don’t know if I wanna impose that on a crowd that feels like they have to dance or something.
I feel like I’ve mentioned this to you, but I really want to see Slow Corpse unplugged––an acoustic set!
Oh yeah! We’ve done one once at La Baguette. I spilled wine all over my white shirt, but it was a good show.
I would like to see more of that!
I would too actually; I think Slow Corpse sounds better unplugged a lot of the time.
Final piece of advice you want to tell anybody?
This is something I’ve been thinking about since I joined this band… I always told myself––I was in a bunch of bands in high school, and it was great, and I loved it, then I left high school and I was in college for two or three years without being in a band, and I was super bummed out. I thought I would never be in another good band again, and I was depressed about it, but I kept practicing. While I wasn’t playing, I was practicing, and then one day opportunity came knocking and I was ready. I answered the call and joined the band. Don’t give up.
Cole covers "Hazey Jane I" by Nick Drake
via Zach Whitworth (@zachwhitworth), a 20 year old artist based in Ashland, OR.