Hailing from Southern California’s beautiful San Fernando Valley, Cosmic Joke play fast and aggressive hardcore that marries SoCal skate punk with the tried and true DC hardcore sound. Serving fast riffs and scathingly on point lyrics, the band pulls no punches while also keeping in mind that hardcore can be fun as well as emotionally charged and aggressive. Anyone who has seen the band play one of their frenetic live sets can see exactly how much fun Cosmic Joke are having and it’s infectious. Vocalist Mac Miller mused, “After my last band broke up, I truly thought I was done making…music…Now that I’m back to it, it’s all I want to do.”
The very first release on Bo Lueders and Colin Young’s newly minted HardLore Records (a companion label to the popular HardLore Podcast) in collaboration with Triple B, Cosmic Joke’s recently released self-titled LP brings you nine blistering tracks of heavy, punk influenced hardcore melodies paired with socially conscious and thought provoking lyrics, the SFV’s answer to the question, “What if Bad Religion came out of DC?”
As he prepared for their record release show and a southwest tour run with Destiny Bond, Mac Miller took the time to answer a few questions about the band, their sound and inspiration, and how Cosmic Joke is finding its place in a hardcore scene that has “more space for everyone than ever before.”
Nikki: To start with, who is in the band, where are you from, and how did you all come together to form Cosmic Joke?
Mac: Hey, my name’s Mac, I sing in Cosmic Joke. We’re mostly from the San Fernando Valley. My brother, Morgan, plays guitar and yells at you. Niki Vahle plays drums, Vince Amador and Evan Rowe play guitar, and Jake Goldstein plays bass. We’ve all played in various bands that played together over the years and eventually it just made sense to come together and sneak Offspring-adjacent riffs into hardcore punk songs.
While you recently released your first LP on HardLore Records/Triple B, Cosmic Joke has been around for a minute, first coming together to write music as early as 2017 and releasing your initial demo in July of 2021. What happened between writing the first music in 2017 and releasing your first LP in 2024? Did you always intend to take things slowly or was it simply a matter of other things getting in the way?
Three of us (Morgan, Niki, and I) played in our first band together for years, which broke up in 2015. After a couple years off we started writing a few songs strictly for fun. The crumbs of those songs were forgotten and didn’t get touched again until mid-pandemic at which time we finished 2 more songs which all became the demo (which was self-recorded). We still had no intention of doing much of anything until we got asked by our friend Jimmy who puts on Tied Down Detroit to play last June. We decided to take it a little more seriously and ended up playing a lot of shows in 2023, writing more songs and recording with Taylor Young at the Pit. The combined sessions became the A and B side of our LP (we figured all the songs were new to most people).
Given that almost a decade has passed since you originally conceptualized Cosmic Joke and today, do you feel like the band you became deviated much from your original concept? Or have you landed exactly on the mark?
We truly didn’t conceptualize doing this as a “band” until 2021 – but the basic germ of an idea for the demo songs initially was to marry the sounds of Brian Baker’s bands, or to answer the hypothetical [question],“What if Bad Religion came out of DC?” Unintentionally that has more or less stayed the basis of our sound while spicing it up on either side with both poppier (Buzzcocks, the Marked Men, etc.) and harder (Negative Approach, Ceremony, etc.) influences.
Cosmic Joke plays fast, aggressive music that makes keen social and political commentary in the vein of Dag Nasty and Bad Religion, almost marrying a DC Dischord sound with the SoCal skate punk style. At a time when hardcore is definitely experiencing a metalcore moment, has it been hard selling your “sound” to new audiences?
We’re not terribly concerned with selling it to anyone – however, I do recognize we’re not necessarily what the average hardcore kid is looking for in 2024. I think what is so cool about hardcore as of late is that there is more space for everyone than ever before. Some of the best shows we’ve played have been with heavier bands and the crowd with harder tastes has been really kind to us. I think most people don’t have a one-dimensional taste and we’ve been lucky to see that first-hand.
One track off the new LP, “Howard Beale,” makes reference to the 1974 movie Network, which is a somewhat prophetical commentary on the state of America and its news media. What about the 1974 film inspired your lyrics? Is it important to you that Cosmic Joke lyrically comments on the social and political issues swirling around us?
I first saw Network not long before the pandemic, and it instantly became a favorite movie of mine. I still can’t believe a movie that is now about 50 years old not only predicted what would come of the news media, but is possibly more relevant now than when it was produced. I actually looked less to the political tilt of the movie for inspiration and more at the portrayal of mental health and how it’s responded to or perceived. There is such a fine line between brilliance and insanity, as well as the perspective of who you surround yourself with that dictates how the populace sees you.
The first single off the new LP is Kamikaze, an aggressive track with an addictive hook that speaks about both personal and national doubts for the future and our place in it. What inspired the track and what made you choose to release this as the first single?
Every day we get more and more bad news about our future as a species and it is all by our own hand. There are just too many people in the way and we’re all more concerned about ourselves than we [are] about the general “us.” This song is a satirical look at how, hypothetically speaking, the most progressive thing you can do is take yourself out of the equation. I feel I have to say: OF COURSE we don’t actually advocate for self harm. This whole song is about surviving and using your time positively while you’re around. As far as releasing it goes, it just felt like the right song to put forward to represent us to anyone hearing us for the first time. We’ve been playing it live for almost a year and people would always ask us about it after the shows.
The term “cosmic joke” is a reference to the search for the meaning of life and the absurdity that we look outside ourselves for that which can only be found within us. How does such a grand philosophical concept relate to the band and to hardcore, and what made you choose the name?
If I’m being honest, it’s just a really great name [that] Morgan (my brother/our guitarist) and I have been sitting on for years and it always felt like the perfect fit for this kind of band. However, it also felt perfectly applicable to our general outlook/songwriting. I’ve always written primarily about internal conflict. In my daily life I really try to live with as much self-awareness as possible, sometimes to my detriment as I’m often playing devil’s advocate against myself. You can really only be fully in control of your own actions, emotions, etc., and it’s really important to try to only focus on the things you can affect yourself. We’re incredibly vulnerable to the fact that, at the end of the day, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Life is a game of chance, and we can only do so much to help our odds, just make the best of it. It is important to give others the same grace you’d like to see yourself get if roles were reversed.
Cosmic Joke’s self-titled LP is the very first release on Bo Lueders and Colin Young’s newly formed HardLore Records in conjunction with Triple B Records. How did you originally connect with Bo and Colin and what made you decide to release the record through HardLore and TripleB? Is there a lot of pressure being HardLore Records’s very first release?
Colin has been one of my best friends for a while now and, as we started playing more shows and writing newer material, he became our biggest cheerleader. He got us set up to record with his brother, Taylor, and the two of them started pitching our release to Sam (Triple B). Eventually Colin and Bo realized it is kind of a no-brainer to use their platform to support records they love while teaming up with Sam, who has years of experience on the matter. We got really lucky that all parties were so interested in helping us out and couldn’t be happier with the result. There hasn’t been a whole lot of pressure other than me fearing my friend would lose his ass putting money behind our record, and thankfully I think he’s not down too bad at this point! Considering we’re sonically a little to the side of what would be expected of either label we’re also thankful for all the people who’ve given us a chance.
Members of Cosmic Joke work professionally in the music industry, often attending shows and logging endless tour hours for a living. How does that affect your desire to do your own band? Is it difficult to find time for your own music when you’re so engaged in the industry professionally?
Typically, I tour six to ten months out of the year, primarily doing merch on tour for larger bands. After my last band broke up, I truly thought I was done making my own music before Cosmic Joke and I REALLY didn’t realize how much I’d missed it. Now that I’m back to it, it’s all I want to do. I wish we were all 20 year-olds again and could just grind like we used to, but now there is no pressure to MAKE this succeed so it’s all coming from the purest place. We play shows when we want to, write when we want to, and will get out as much as we can. Jake (bass) plays in Hunny, [and] Vince (guitar) plays in Dead Heat – so they’re both on the road quite a bit. Morgan works in merch as well, on the office side of things and can’t take much time off. Niki (drums) is a chef and just opened his own restaurant in LA called Little Fish, and Evan (guitar) also works gigs locally. We really do have to thread the needle with our schedules to make things happen, but we all love it so we figure it out. That also answers the age-old question of, “why do you have 3 guitarists to just play power chords?” We have a roster, so as long as most of us can play we’re able to gig. Sometimes there are 6 of us. Who cares?
The LP artwork was created by Ryan Besch, an award winning designer and illustrator who has worked with the likes of Interpol, My Morning Jacket, Theory Skateboards, Iggy Pop, and so many other heavy hitters of the music and arts world. How did you connect with Ryan and what was the inspiration behind the colorful and surreal artwork he created for you?
As I mentioned, Morgan works in merch as well, and part of his job is sourcing art for his artists, often for gig posters. He’d commissioned Ryan for some posters in the last few years. At some point Ryan responded to a video Morgan shared of the band and was like “PLEASE let me do art for you, I’M A PUNK AND I NEVER GET TO WORK IN PUNK,” and we basically said, “OK HOW ABOUT VERY LITTLE MONEY??” and Ryan got to work immediately. It’s been really great working with him as he completely gets all of our reference points, as we also understand his. It’s a really fulfilling trade off as we’re fans of each other’s work. There wasn’t a whole lot of direction other than us asking him what “COSMIC JOKE” brought to mind, paired with just letting him listen to the songs and knowing what music and art inspired us. He pulled from specific comic influences, as well as classic skate art, [Raymond] Pettibon, Dan Sites, etc. He just completely “gets it.”
With your first LP under your belt, what comes next for Cosmic Joke? Do you have any definite plans for 2024 or any road map of where you’d like to see the band go from here?
We’re going to do as much as we can! We’ve already started writing to get more music to you all ASAP. We’re lucky to be playing some cool festivals (JAG, Rapid Fest, Tied Down) and would love to play more of them. We’re absolutely looking to travel for some short regional tours and hit some new cities in 2024.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we didn’t cover or anyone you’d like to thank or shout out in print?
I think we just need to give the biggest thank yous to Colin and Taylor Young and Jimmy Edgemen. We truly wouldn’t be having this conversation if it weren’t for them pushing us to bother actually being a band. Also, I think more hardcore kids should give Propagandhi a chance. Thanks for your time!
You can order the new 7″ on Triple B Records at https://triplebrecords.net/products/cosmic-joke-s-t or from HardLore at https://closedcasketactivities.com/products/cosmic-joke-cosmic-joke and you can find them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/cosmicjokela/