Life is strange and tends to move at its own unforgiving pace. It’s difficult, in the moment, to recognize when the first few steps down a new path are being taken, especially when the strides can take decades to reach their ultimate destination. The relationships you make along the way may see players shift in and out over the years, only to have them suddenly solidify and take on a new significance. Such is the case with the Fort Worth psych-rock outfit The Cush. A friendship that began nearly 20 years ago has led to the band’s recent signing with Mad Bunny Records, the new label by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Ben Harper.
“There’s just something about the random people you meet in life while doing what you love,” said bassist/singer Gabby Douglas, hinting at some of the serendipity that culminated in the signing.
Almost two decades ago, at a rooftop party in Brooklyn, Douglas and her husband/bandmate Burette Douglas, met a PR rep named Elizabeth Freund. The couple and Freund hit it off, becoming friends. They stayed in touch over the years, with the Douglases sending Freund whatever musical products The Cush was creating at any given time. Fast-forward to January of last year, and The Cush had a new album in the can, not really knowing what they were going to do with it. Knowing that Freund was entering as a business partner in Harper’s new label venture, they sent her the new record. Then one day shortly after, they received an almost unthinkable phone call.
“I got a phone call from [Freund] one day that said, ‘Ben Harper went down The Cush wormhole, and he loves your music and he wants to talk to you guys,’ ” Gabby said.
The Douglases had been fans of Harper’s for years, and they said to hear something like that was pretty bizarre.
“It almost feels unreal,” Burette said of the experience. “You have people all the time say that they’re going to listen to your music. You might think, ‘Oh, well. That’s a nice thought,’ but you don’t really think anything of it, but when we got that message back that said, ‘He loves, loves, loves your band and wants to work with you,’ it’s like, ‘What?!’ ”
Mad Bunny is set to release The Cush’s upcoming Riders in the Stardust Gold, the quartet’s sixth release, on April 23. Recorded and mixed locally at Empire Sound Studio and Eagle Audio over a year ago, the record entranced Harper so much that he’s decided to release it basically as is, with one notable exception. The label really saw the song “Haters” as the first single. Though it was originally written and sung by Burette, Harper wondered what the track would sound like if Gabby sang it instead.
The couple have always shared songwriting and singing duties, but each mostly took the lead only on their own songs.
“We had never really considered it,” Burette said. “Most of the time, we just sing the songs we write, but I was like, ‘Dude, we’ll try anything. We’re open to ideas.’ We tried it, and it was amazing. I really think it’s better. It’s a good song, and I like the old version fine, but I think it’s presented as it should be now.”
Burette wrote “Haters” about the effect of society’s pervasive division and negativity and how it can be alienating, how it can make you seek someone to hide away from it all with. In this respect, it’s in part a love song to Gabby, a sentiment that took special significance with her as she developed her take on the track.
“It was very special and humbling,” Gabby said of re-recording the song meant to be, at least partially, about her. “I was nervous [about it], but I’m very fortunate. I have a lot of very supportive people who knew I could do it behind me. It was just so special. I just wanted to do it justice.”
“Haters” was released last week with an accompanying video shot by Austin director Justin Wilson. In the video, the band solemnly strums amid the barren landscape surrounding the old Ellis Pecan Co. building. The craggy rocky terrain and the cloud-filled sky expertly evoke the song’s haunting cowboy ballad feel.
Sadly, the pandemic has put a pause on touring for Riders, but The Cush have plans for another music video as well as the release of a live set recorded from their rehearsal space ready to go to help support the album.
Though the development with Mad Bunny has been in the works since last summer, the Douglases are still in awe about it.
“In some ways, I’m surprised this is the album that got anyone’s attention,” Burette said. “In some ways, it’s our least accessible album. We’ve been doing this a long time, and I don’t want to say you get jaded, but at some point, the magic kind of gets taken out of it. But you just keep doing it because you can’t stop doing it. This whole thing is just still kind of surreal.”
Ed. note: This post has been updated from the original to reflect the correction relationship between Freund and Harper.