Many of us have spent pandemic isolation diving into books, movies and music; for Denton, Texas musician Dominik Kozacek, a survey of anime and manga classics inspired their latest batch of songs, while stir-craziness led to the formation of Famish, a loose group of tight-knit friends who left lockdown to help bring their vision to life.
“I had just been stuck in quarantine for so long that I was like, desperate for an excuse to hang out,” Kozacek says. They scheduled some recording dates at their friend Nathan Clark’s home studio, and brought along their roommate, Carter Lacy, who plays guitar. “Any time anyone had like a sniffle, cough, or anything, we’d be like, hold up – nobody come to the studio today. Normally when I go to the studio it’s with a whole band, so there’d be like five or six people. That isn’t really feasible right now – I don’t think that’s really a good idea – so we ended up just recording with me and Carter.”
Kozacek made sure Lacy didn’t hear the songs before they went in to record, so that his parts would have an improvisational feel, mirroring the off-the-cuff way Kozacek usually writes. “When I write songs it’s kind of just the first thing that comes to my head in terms of the melody and some of the lyrics and stuff. I kind of wanted that same thing with him, so he recorded pretty much the first ideas that he came up with,” they say. “That was the whole writing process for the keys and guitar, and I think that made it seem more raw, less overdone. Everything else, like all the percussion and everything, Nathan wanted to put stuff on top, so he recorded that in post.”
The songs they ended up recording had been largely written during the fall, each one a subtle ode to a different anime or manga series, though the dreamy acoustic vibe belies their subject matter. “I would finish a series, and I would have a riff already in mind, pick up my guitar and just start playing. Then I would come up with melodies and on the spot, improvise lyrics, and alter parts of the lines,” Kozacek says, in the interest of keeping things vague. The six tracks comprise Famished, the band’s debut EP, which is slated for release January 7th via Lonely Ghost Records and premiering today on Audiofemme.
The first single and EP opener, “Beck,” references manga (later adapted into a 26-episode anime series) in which a young boy meets a guitarist after rescuing his dog; the two form a band and name it after his canine companion (Beck, of course) and the story focuses on the relationships of the band members as they struggle toward recognition. You’d be hard-pressed to find these plot points in Famish’s song, but there’s an interesting parallel there; Kozacek has a long history playing in various bands in and around Denton, spanning genres from reggae to pop punk to shoegaze, who would play house shows for local crowds of fellow high-schoolers.
That’s where Miette Esteb comes in. Friends with Kozacek since middle school, she joined Famish as bassist after the EP was recorded, even though she’s still familiarizing herself with the instrument. “I played piano from a young age, but I didn’t get into the guitar and making music with my friends until pretty recently,” Esteb says. “I can’t just improvise on the bass, so [Dominik] pulled out their keyboard; I would play something on that and then they’d help me figure out where it was on the bass.”
“Miette lowkey inspired all the beginning stuff. The first-ever Denton house show that I went to, Miette was the one that knew about it and she was the one that got me involved in the scene,” Kozacek recalls.
Back then, Esteb says, “I don’t think we understood what a house show was yet.” She assumed the show would be at a pizza place, since the cover photo for the Facebook event page was a picture of pizza. “We show up and it’s someone’s house, and everyone was really mad at me ’cause they were hungry.”
“No pizza at all,” confirms Kozacek. Esteb adds, “I don’t think they even had frozen pizza.”
Though slices were sparse, Kozacek was encouraged to bring that DIY ethos to their hometown, nearby Flower Mound. “We would throw house shows in our parents’ garages and a ton of people would show up. In high school it’s so much easier to bring a crowd cause all the kids don’t have anything to do.”
Now finding themselves a little more grown up, but unfortunately with little to do thanks to COVID-19, Famish arrives without the “melodrama” of the high school emo scene that nurtured Kozacek’s previous work. “My whole musical career, basically, has been me writing stuff about being emotional or melodramatic,” they admit. “So one of the things about Famish is that I wanted to write something that was less situational and less serious – just write music for the stories, and not having to bare your soul.”
To them, the songs were written instead as a way to process that what-do-I-do-now feeling you have when you finish a book or binge-watch a series, but Esteb points out that Kozacek’s emotions are still there, just filtered through a convenient lens. “Hearing these songs, I definitely can tell they use not only the emotions from the show, but their own emotions, what they’re feeling, and their art as well, through the anime,” she says. But both agree that the inherent vagueness in the lyrics allows listeners to project their own meaning onto the songs.
As Famish evolves, Kozacek hopes that it will feature a rotating cast of musicians open to collaboration, bringing them one step closer to removing ego from the project entirely. “Another thing that I’m exploring with this kind of music is the concept of death of the author,” they say. “I wanted to try creating something that was less about me. Once someone hears it, it’s theirs.”
Follow Famish on Instagram for ongoing updates.