Young Guv’s Ben Cook briefly sums up the year he and his band spent in Taos, New Mexico, writing, hiking, cooking and experiencing the paranormal.
“There’s just a lot of weird shit out there,” he says.
Cook, the nucleus of the power-pop band, along with most of his live touring outfit and co-writers and producers, did what pretty much every other band did in the spring of 2020 – called off the tour. They were in El Paso, Texas, and rather than return to their homes in New York, they decided to experience true isolation somewhere new. The idea of Taos, New Mexico, an artsy, hippie-and-artist-friendly paradise a little over two-and-a-half hours northeast of Albuquerque, seemed like as good a spot as any to hunker down and figure out their next move.
Originally, it seemed like more of an inconvenience than a vacation. Cook and co. planned to livestream as much as they could (WiFi permitting), and turned to GoFundMe to cover the costs of people getting back to their homes after canceled shows.
But then it became more than just covid isolation and struggling to keep up with what they felt a band “should be” doing in lockdown. Over the next year (yes, a year), the crew formed their own little purposeful community amongst themselves, living in a structure called an “Earthship,” which was made of tires and bottles and other detritus. They lived next to a giant pyramid, they met strange local characters, and they put together the many songs that would comprise the third and fourth Young Guv albums. Guv III is due March 11 on Run for Cover Records.
It’s not a huge departure from the first two Guv albums – jangly power pop reminiscent of Elvis Costello, Teenage Fanclub and what have you. To the band, what separates this album the most from previous outings was the desert influence, finding inspiration in the ‘60s counterculture energy that surrounded Taos both through its history and its current residents, and the ways their environment seeped into every piece of their art and lives.
“You can kind of feel the hangover of the late ‘60s and people migrating from California towards communes and stuff in Taos and the surrounding areas,” Tony Price, who helped write and produce the album, says. “You definitely brush shoulders with that. Not just people – you can feel it in certain buildings [and] houses. The Earthship we were in was definitely a product of that generation’s mindset. We obviously have an affinity for music and movies from that era, and you could feel that.”
Those ghosts of hippies’ past might not have been purely metaphorical. Like Cook said, there was plenty of weird shit that the band experienced, like hearing footsteps from their tent during a camping trip leading up to someone throwing water on their tent, people from the town they hadn’t met yet appearing in dreams, strange sex ceremonies that only lasted about 15 minutes, and floating orbs flying over the pyramids on the property.
Taos also didn’t want to let them leave.
The week they were supposed to depart, temperatures dropped to below freezing temperatures, and the area was hit by a blizzard, only for the snow to melt on the day they were supposed to finally ship off. That meant their cars were well and truly stuck in the mud.
“It was like Taos was sucking us into the land and we couldn’t leave,” Price says. “That’s what it felt like.”
Once the Taos experience was over, though, Young Guv’s plan was to spend a few months in Los Angeles to finish the album – after all, Taos was an unplanned, year-long detour – with the rest of the band, who flew down from their Canadian homes.
What they realized was that their creative output was pretty reflective of their surroundings. Whatever ghosts influenced them in Taos followed them to L.A., only this time they wanted them to rent convertibles and live the more cliche Hollywood lifestyle. They also influenced them to return to a more traditional rock sound than the heady vibes they had played with in Taos.
As Cook puts it, the “weird ‘60s counterculture” spirits of Taos followed them to Los Angeles and influenced both the creative output and the way they behaved.
“Tony had bought a Mark 4 Lincoln out there, and I randomly got this 1991 butterscotch convertible Le Baron as soon as I got to L.A. on some weird rental hook up,” he says. “[I] just sort of got into this character and didn’t get out of it.”
“It was shocking, the New Mexico to L.A.. transfer because, you know, going on hikes every day and being out in this beautiful land of nature to being in a sprawling shopping mall of a place, and going to fucking Erewhon for a smoothie instead of cooking yourself dinner,” says guitarist Noah Kohll. “It was just really strange being this dirty hippie in Taos to going to be an LA hipster or whatever. It was just another strange juxtaposition that, at least for me, I had to succumb to in some way.”
With the album finished, Cook once again sought isolation, this time in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he took Spanish classes and spent time in a boxing gym. When he left, returning again to the touring lifestyle they’d left behind, the whole band got sick (not COVID).
“Everything went wrong when I left Mexico,” Cook says.
Maybe they were cursed. Maybe spirits latched on in Taos, followed them to Los Angeles, Oaxaca, Canada, New York, everywhere they go on tour and at home.
Whether or not they’ll seek that isolation and otherworldly influence for future albums is unclear, but one thing Cook is certain of is that Taos is calling them back.
“I’m glad we have these artifacts of art that we can look back on the time in Taos,” he says. “But that being said, I think we’ll still be processing what went down there for many, many years. And maybe only a Taos reunion will one day bring some answers that we need.”