While thousands are participating this month in NaNoWriMo, attempting to type out a 50,000 word manuscript just for the hell of it, I’m sitting here sulking over the 200 words I need to write for this intro. Luckily, I have a found a common interest between High Hope’s, Joel Cossette, formerly a member of Prom Night In Black and White, and I. Not only are we both not set out to write a novel in one month, but we’re both avid readers of an author and philosopher who’s inspired musicians for several centuries.
Despite his cheery appearance, a lust for darkness looms inside of Joel, beating under the floorboards, luring you into madness. Unphased by “eerie nature,” I took some time with Joel to discuss the science of narratology, and how literary elements have impacted him as a musician thus far.
ASHLEY JEAN: Word on the street is that your biggest literary influence is Edgar Allan Poe. It’s interesting to me that so many musicians are drawn to him more than any other literary figure on the shelf. He even has his own musical! How has this author, specifically, influenced your music stylistically, and lyrically?
JOEL: For me, Edgar Allan Poe managed to capture a darkness is his poems that just can’t be replicated. He saw life from such a dark and hopeless point of view. I would definitely say that I took that from him in the situations I write about. It’s like instead of just seeing it as “Oh, my girlfriend cheated on me,” I find a way to make it something dark and poetic, and I think that’s something my fans can really connect with.
ASHLEY JEAN: Do you think your choice in gothic literature has an impact on what you write thematically? Like, do you find yourself writing about morbid and morose songs like, killing your wife and bricking her up in the wall?
JOEL: Haha. I don’t quite write about those topics, but for me the imagery has always stuck. There is this Edgar Allan Poe short story called “The Premature Burial” that I read. It basically [about] someone who is buried that everyone thinks is dead. It was a common occurrence in the 1800’s. For some reason I immediately related what he was describing to the pressures I was feeling at home with the stress of graduating high school and all the expectations there were. Now whenever I write about home in a song I can’t get this image of being buried alive out of my head. So I would definitely say it [gothic literature] affected my imagery while writing.
ASHLEY JEAN: You’re gearing up to release a new album. Pick a quote from any author (we don’t have to stick just to Poe here) which you think reflects the overall tone of the album.
JOEL: “But why would you say that I am mad? This disease has sharpened my senses not weakened them” (Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”). My next album will be a lot about a kid who just doesn’t fit in and is struggling to find someone who understands and sees life the same way. I feel like it relates to this quote because the narrator is trying to explain and express something no one else will ever understand.
ASHLEY JEAN: Sometimes I think writing is a solitary act, but other times, I like to collaborate with other authors and write exquisite corpses. However, you’re embarking on this musical venture solo now. Do you miss working with other musicians or do you find the challenge to create alone more rewarding? Maybe even freeing?
JOEL: Lyrically, I have always written 100 percent of all the songs. But it just feels freeing in the sense that I can write my music around my lyrics instead of, say, having to work around a break down, or a part where it’s too fast to understand what you’re saying.
ASHLEY JEAN: Unfortunately, I’m gonna keep bombarding you with narratological terms until you’re about to vomit a textbook. What are some motifs, or rather, reoccurring images and symbols that you find yourself constantly embedding into your lyrics? (i.e. Some people really love to use eyes, hurricanes, etc.)
JOEL: I always find I use the imagery of a sinking ship and drowning. It just feels like I’ve been on a constant downhill and it feels like being on that boat waiting to essentially drown. I just find drowning to be the most poetic way to die – vanishing into an unknown world (the ocean) just seems so perfect.
ASHLEY JEAN: Here’s a personal confession: I used to sing poetry. So I guess for me, the words usually come first before the melody. In terms of your writing process, which usually comes first – the music or the lyrics?
JOEL: I would have to say it varies from song to song. For the most part I would have to say the order is: concept for song, music, chorus, rest of lyrics. However I always put how the lyrics sound above everything and I’ll often change the music around to suit that.
ASHLEY JEAN: What was the first book you picked up, read, and thought, “Wow, I should start reading all the time”?
JOEL: I’m going to have to say Harry Potter was definitely a life changer in fifth grade.
ASHLY JEAN: Harry Potter is the one book I hear people writing music for and about constantly. In fact, I once went to a Harry and the Potter concert. It was very interesting. Sadly, I didn’t bring my wand. If there was one book you could write music about obsessively forever (maybe a short story or poem, too), which one would it be?
JOEL: “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe is, to me, the most beautiful piece of literature in existence.
ASHLEY JEAN: Usually I’d have you chose 5 songs to make a mixtape out of, but given the circumstances, I would like you to pick 5 books, stories, or poems and make me a mixshelf. How does that sound?
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Interview by Ashley Jean
Originally published on Nov 8, 2011