Upon meeting Matthew, Mark, and Michael Cook — three smart, stylish, and somewhat serious-minded brothers who make up the Los Angeles band The Ceremonies — it’s clear that these aren’t just any ordinary young people. Their biggest influences are ’80s post-punk pioneers Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths, and The Cure.
The oldest, 21-year-old Matthew, who is The Ceremonies’ musical architect and lyricist, cites the romantic poets William Blake and William Wordsworth, and British futurist writer Aldous Huxley as major inspirations. A lover of conceptual art and experimental film, Matthew attends art school, as does Michael, 19, who is also an abstract painter. Rounding out the highly artistic trio is Michael’s twin brother Mark, who pursues creative writing and painting with his brothers while also working toward a business degree. The images that The Ceremonies’ have made public are stark black and whites of their creative lives, whether it’s a shot of them playing guitars in the studio, Michael drawing a self-portrait, or all three of them composing a painting to illustrate the concept behind their debut single “Land of Gathering.” Drawn to the full sensory experience (it’s hard to think of Depeche Mode or Joy Division without conjuring up Anton Corbijn’s iconic portraits), The Ceremonies are in full control of their visual statement as well as their musical one.
“We cross-breed the rock band feeling with a multi-media theatrical element when we perform,” says Matthew, citing the Talking Heads’ David Byrne in Stop Making Sense as inspiration. “Our shows aren’t just concerts, but something much more special — where people can go not only to watch our performance but also to have an impactful experience.” “That’s why we call ourselves The Ceremonies,” explains Mark. “We’ve created a sense of communion through music,” adds Matthew. “Ceremonies can be both positive or negative. Ceremonies are held for someone’s funeral or wedding; they are all-encompassing gatherings about engaging with emotion.”
The exuberant “Land of Gathering” is all soaring harmonies, airy synths, and bright horns set to an insistently chugging backbeat. It’s a blend of cinematic, melodic pop lushness, ’80s New Wave nostalgia, and cutting-edge alternative rock aesthetics, reflecting the band members’ love for such classic pop tunesmiths as Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys, and The Righteous Brothers, as well as current tastemakers Arcade Fire. But the Cooks, working with producer Danny Garibay, are clever and talented enough to transcend their influences and create something entirely their own.
Matthew, Mark, and Michael grew up in the Toluca Lake section of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Matthew was the artistic dreamer who played in bands, while Michael and Mark spent most of their youth on the baseball field. “I remember being the black sheep of Little League,” Matthew says. “I’d be singing to myself and daydreaming in the outfield.” “Yeah, I remember looking back at you and being so frustrated,” Mark says with a laugh. When Matthew was a teenager, he discovered a dark, swirling cover of The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” by Echo and the Bunnymen, which he found an intriguing contrast to the original. He eventually turned his brothers on to his favorite music and the three formed The Ceremonies while Michael and Mark were still in high school, where they performed in an a cappella group and in musicals.
“It’s hard to find the right people to be in a band with,” Matthew says, “and I’ve realized that making music with my brothers is really special.” While Matthew writes the songs and plays all the instruments on the band’s recordings, all three band members play various instruments live and sing lead vocals. “There’s definitely a quality each of us has in our voices that allows us to intertwine and come together,” Mark says. “Our vibratos are pretty much the same pace, which is difficult to find when you’re singing with other people,” notes Michael.
The brothers met Danny Garibay through a mutual friend and bonded over their shared musical taste. Matthew and Garibay began to retool the demos Matthew had created, injecting rhythmic urgency and other production flourishes into the sound. Garibay brought the music to Troy Carter, who also manages Lady Gaga and John Legend. Carter asked for a meeting. Now The Ceremonies are signed to Carter’s company Atom Factory and are working on their debut album, which they describe as “very conceptual.” “The songs are about maintaining the perspective of a child in the adult world,” Matthew says. ”We’re really interested in the idea of keeping imagination alive. ‘Land of Gathering’ is a metaphor for a place you can go in your mind to preserve childhood wonderment. If we can inspire other people to hold onto that appreciation for things that go unnoticed, it would be huge for us.”