Published May 16, 2014Halifax's Cousins were always a songwriting vehicle for singer-guitarist Aaron Mangle, but for the band's latest, the just released The Halls of Wickwire, he dug deep into his personal life for inspiration.
"I'm always writing, but I'm more often writing melodies and rhythms than lyrics," Mangle tells Exclaim! "I write poetry to music."
Previously, that poetry had sprung from his personal experiences, but the words were non-specific enough that, "you could mould the song to whatever you want."
But after the 2012 death of his maternal grandmother, who suffered from dementia, Mangle wanted to explore the changes she experienced during her illness, especially when it came to communicating with her family.
"She was really confused, but she also started expressing herself in a way that we hadn't heard before," he says. "I was learning things about her spirit, or creativity, because she was more candid. I had the ambition to use the experience of [my grandmother] trying to find a voice in the experience she was going through."
The song "Phone," for example, uses direct quotes from phone calls Mangle's sister had with her. His sister would ask questions like, "What are you doing?" to which their grandmother would reply, "I'm talking to you on the phone. That's what I'm doing."
Mangle explains, "She didn't know how to answer that question."
Mangle and his sister — who writes regularly — are close. He turned to her and her work for lyrical inspiration and "to get my confidence up. I didn't want to write anything that was trite," he says. "Talking with my sister about it and reading what she was writing became a really rich experience for me to explore my relationship with my grandmother."
A fan of murder mystery novels, Mangle's grandmother was convinced that the people in her care home, Wickwire Place, were mixed up in the novel she was reading. She asked Mangle's sister to write a book about the home and call it The Halls of Wickwire, inspiring the album's title. Their mother wrote the title in calligraphy on the album's cover as a memorial to her mother.
While Mangle remains unsure if he was able to achieve his stated goal, his sister is "very happy" with the record. She plans to publish a graphic novel based on her own conversations with their grandmother. Mangle says his parents appreciate his creation, "but they're not as interested in accessing the music itself. They appreciate the intent."
The Halls of Wickwire is out now on Hand Drawn Dracula/Ba Da Bing Records. You can stream it here and see the band's upcoming tour schedule here.
Below, you'll also find a new episode of Exclaim! TV where Cousins talk more about the influence of Mangle's grandmother and The Halls of Wickwire.