Lifting the lid on C.O.F.F.I.N

By Sofia Carter

Meet Australia’s most powerful and daring four-piece rock and roll band, C.O.F.F.I.N.

A band with intoxicating head-banging music that will break your neck. Their live shows are full of hardcore wild energy that can feed a crowd and unleash their rowdy side that treats everyone with mad respect.

They have drawn inspiration from Aussie pubs, skate, surf, and punk culture.

Formed on the Northern Beaches of Sydney in 2005, C.O.F.F.I.N has undergone a handful of line-up changes (mainly bass players) but lead vocalist/drummer Ben Portnoy, guitarists Abijah Rado, Arthur Flanders, Aaron Moss, and some-time member Lawrence Adams have retained their strong passion for the music they create and the psychotic shows that give you FOMO.

Having toured around the world with big musicians such as Amyl and the Sniffers, Rose Tattoo, T.S.O.L., Celibate Rifles, Dead Kennedys, Cosmic Psychos, Frenzal Rhomb, Hard-Ons, and Misfits, C.O.F.F.I.N have kept their reputation of authentic Australian punk music with lyrics that will be talked about after the performance.

C.O.F.F.I.N dropped a new refreshing single Cut You Off in April.

There has never been a better time to interview Ben Portnoy about C.O.F.F.I.N’s history, music, and crazy stories.

Ben: G’day, you are speaking with Ben Portnoy, the drummer and singer from C.O.F.F.I.N.

Sofia: Tell me about how you met each other, and what was the inspiration to create the rock band?

Ben: Basically, we all met at school and through skateboarding. There was kind of a collection of misfits and mischief makers from around the Northern Beaches that made up our crew. We felt a little estranged from the more common surf and team sport culture around us and therefore gravitated toward each other. Bonding over the different types of music, art, and trouble we were discovering more and more. Me, Abijah, and Arty were all into heavier styles of music and happened to all be trying to learn instruments as well. I began learning drums in Year 3 when the school asked if anyone wanted to join the school band. To my irritation, I found that what the school band had in mind for drummers (triangle and mallets on a single drum) was not what I was after. So, when I discovered that these new friends of mine were also having a go at making noise, it just felt completely necessary that we form a band and try to figure it out. Forming a band is what gave me the drive to practice, to be better, and to want to continue. It was essential to my sustaining as a musician.

The crowd goes wild at a C.O.F.F.I.N gig. Photo: C.O.F.F.I.N/Instagram

Sofia: What are some of C.O.F.F.I.N‘s biggest musical influences and how have they influenced C.O.F.F.I.N‘s music?

Ben: We take inspiration from a huge range of genres. Everything from Cuban music to black metal, to bebop. But our foundational motivations probably lay within the classic hard rock and proto-punk realm. AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones, and The Stooges. And a lot of seminal blues artists too like Muddy Waters, Lightin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, etc. I think what a lot of these bands taught us is that you can be weird, and that weird is good. And very notably that your aim should be to convey feeling and emotion in your music. That production, look, set-up, etc. is not nearly as important.

Sofia: What has been your most memorable performance to date and why?

Ben: I’d say our most memorable gig would be at KingFest #10. This is a completely tripped-out psychedelic music/skate camp-out fest that spans over a weekend in November just outside Austin, Texas, in a place called Spicewood. It’s held on a ranch that is owned by Doug King – the property next to him is owned by Willie Nelson! Doug was one of the original X-Games skatepark builders and has filled his countryside property with snake runs, pools, and vert ramps. Once a year he hosts KingFest and it’s nuts. Tonnes of mushrooms and everything else. The stage was set up outside, and fireworks were going off in the pit for the whole show. It was one of the most bizarre pits we’ve seen, but everyone was super friendly and smiling. We saw truck tires getting rolled through the crowd and had crew diving off speakers and running around with friends on their shoulders. The level of freedom and fun really stood out to us there, and it just felt like a massive celebration of the things we love in life.

C.O.F.F.I.N celebrating their grand connection with Glasgow. Photo: C.O.F.F.I.N/Instagram

Sofia: What has been the biggest challenge C.O.F.F.I.N has faced during the music production and how did C.O.F.F.I.N overcome it?

Ben: For us, the biggest challenge in the studio is capturing how we sound live. It’s not uncommon, and it’s taken us until now with our new album to be able to get close. Several components have contributed to this challenge. The budget is a massive one – not being able to get the right space, equipment, or time. Having years of experience behind us now has given us the knowledge of what we want and what to look out for that can get in the way of that. For this album that is about to come out, we pretty much recorded everything live, as if we were playing together in the studio. That way the performances are more natural. But being in a small space we couldn’t have everything amplified while recording the drums or else there would be too much spill into all the mics…And we didn’t have enough mics to mic up the whole band anyway. So, what we did was record the signal from the guitars into Pro-Tools and then afterward “re-amped” those tracks. This technique was new to us and was quite phenomenal. Basically, you dial in the settings you want on your amp and then play the recorded signal back through the amp that has your desired sound. It’s kind of ghost-like the whole process, but really worked for us in the circumstances.

Sofia: Do you have new music that you have been working on? What’s it called? When will it be released? What challenges you the most while writing and recording it?

Ben: We do currently have a new album fully finished. It’s going to be put out by Goner Records in the USA, Damaged in Australia, and Bad Vibrations in the UK/EUROPE. I can’t tell you the name of the album yet … (hasn’t been announced officially). But the first single was released last week and is called Cut You Off. A big challenge in getting new music together for us is having the time. Currently, we all still have jobs outside of the band, and we gig and tour a lot. So, this doesn’t leave a huge amount of time for just jamming and writing. You really need to set focused blocks aside for that or else we found you can’t really delve deep enough into the zone required to write new stuff that is solid.

Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers keeps Ben Portnoy on a tight leash. Photo: C.O.F.F.I.N/Instagram

Sofia: Describe to me what your new single “Cut You Off” is about.

Ben: Cut You Off looks at the struggle to reach those you love as they rest in the ropes of a gritty paw. It’s a non-romantic love song for a friend who’s deeply missed or disappearing. The forlorn anguish of witnessing that friend being cut off from their support network, cut off from their truth, from themselves – and knowing there is only one way to set them free.

Sofia: Where would you love to tour next and why?

Ben: I’d really like to tour more of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. We’ve done a lot of the UK and the western side and central Europe, but I think we’ve had a great time with those crowds and culture. I love Mexico as a country to travel to, so I would love to take our music there, and while at it try to include some of South America. These are places that don’t get a lot of international touring acts from our genre, and I think the effort to get there is worth it!

Sofia: What advice would you give to upcoming bands in the rock scene?

Ben: Take direction from what makes you feel something in your music, as opposed to what you think is the right way to do something based on other groups or the scene around you. Keep it diverse in all areas, because that keeps things interesting and evolving. Search for inspiration from other styles of music and other areas of art, painting, films, and nature. And don’t give up the hustle. A quote from Motorhead’s Lemmy that I like to remember is “Motorhead were never really that great when we started, we just didn’t die like the others …”.

Featured image: Ben Portnoy (second right) with Arthur Flanders, Aaron Moss and Abijah Rado. Photo: C.O.F.F.I.N/Instagram

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