by Kyle Walker
BACK in February 2017, Inverness rockers Cobalt were tuning up their guitars and setting up the drum kit for their first rehearsal together as a band.
What a difference a year makes.
The city five-piece – vocalist Craig Kelly, guitarists Dylan Deans and Kenneth Millen, bassist Rob Ironsider, and drummer Finn Connell – are tuning up for a far bigger and more terrifying prospect, as Cobalt prepare to launch their debut EP Bourbon Nightmares. And just to really turn the pressure up, they’re launching it with a headline gig at the Ironworks.
“It’s scary!” Craig exclaims when he, Kenneth and Dylan sit down to talk about it. “I’m not going to lie, that’s a big step!”
“It’s kind of like a personal challenge to ourselves as well,” Kenneth adds.
You can’t fault the band’s ambition – and Cobalt are nothing if not ambitious. Ever since their debut gig at the Tooth and Claw sold out, the group have been pushing themselves further and further. Their third ever gig saw them take part in a battle of the bands contest for a slot at last year’s NXNE festival in Aberdeen – a contest they won.
“We got accepted to that before we’d ever actually gigged,” Kenneth explains, “and that for us was a shock anyway. But then at the end of the night when we were told we’d won – I mean, we had just gone there to have a bit of craic, you know?
“The festival was so good – there were so many good bands. I love [NXNE organiser] Tom’s idea, getting what he sees as the best up-and-coming bands in the whole north east of Scotland together into one festival.
“That personally is my ideal kind of festival – I like to go see people I’ve never heard of, people I’ve never listened to, because I don’t know what to expect when I see them. And the whole idea was great, but the festival went really well – it was a ******* awesome atmosphere!”
With that sort of language, and their songs about whisky-soaked nightmares, you would hardly expect the band to end up playing to families – yet that’s just what happened when the band got their second festival slot at Jocktoberfest.
A festival known for its selection of sipping ales and family friendly vibe, are songs about hard drinking really appropriate?
Craig laughs. “We sang ONE song about hard drinking, I think SONGS is – no, yeah, we did do songs! We did kind of push it a little bit!
“It was really good fun. I’m really glad we got the opportunity to play it. Obviously, with Jocktoberfest as well it’s more of a local crowd so you get to go out and show them what you can do in your hometown.”
Kenneth interjects, “At one point there were people in kilts dancing around me, it was really surreal.
“It was like,” he scrunches his face up, confused. “‘You hear what we’re playing just now?!’”
“‘This one’s for your kids, it’s called Bourbon Nightmares – you’ll love it!’” Craig cackles.
The sound is hardly family-friendly either, to be fair – sludgy, downtuned guitars and howling vocals collide throughout their music.
And soon people outside the gigs will be able to hear what they’ve been putting together. “We’ve been working on this since the first gig,” Dylan says. “Because at that point we’d already written quite a lot of tracks from all our practice sessions and we just wanted to – after NXNE and meeting up with Tom, he let us know that he had the recording studio out at his in Aberdeen. So from then we just kept going back out and recording them as best we could.”
And with lead single Martyr out now, there’s already a flavour of what’s to come – heavy chugging riffs, a big chant-along chorus and the raspy howl of Craig tying it all together.
“It was the first song that we did that sounded like Cobalt,” Craig says. “It was the first time we kind of went, ‘That’s what we want to sound like, that’s us now, and we’ll stick with that.’
“The first time I listened to it, I was like, ‘If this is what we’re going to sound like, we need to let people know that this is it now. We’ll put this online, so people know if they come and see us live this is what to expect.”
It’s a good taster of what’s to come – especially with that headlining gig at the Ironworks on the horizon to launch it all.
“They told us the number of tickets they wanted us to sell,” Craig says, “and we were like, ‘...yeah we’ll do that! Oh God, we’ll do th-no we won’t. Yeah we will! We’ll be fine, we’ll sell that!’ And it then became this goal, where it’s like, ‘We ARE going to sell that, we’re going to make a point of selling that.’
“If someone else’s goal was for us to sell, say, 50 tickets, that’d be good, we’re a local band, but we’re going out of our way to sell more than that.
“Even if we don’t make the maximum, we’re going to go out there and prove that a local band in your home town can make fresh music without covers, without doing any mixes or mash-ups. We can go in there and be our own thing and sell more than anybody expects.
“I think with Inverness, which has such a thriving music scene, that’s really important to do.”
Of course, numbers only make up a small part of this – it’s as much about playing the city’s biggest music venue as it is merely shifting units.
Craig grins. “Kenneth’s been persistent since school that he’s doing music in some way or another. I’ve been the same – I was going to do music, and the Ironworks has always been a goal for us.
“We used to go to the shows when we were 16, and there would be local bands there. I always remember seeing Ketamine Deco there and being like, ‘That was amazing, I want to do that.’ And ever since then, they’ve kind of stopped doing local acts, so maybe we can bring this back, get some more local people playing there.
“I think regardless of how many people show up to our show, whether it be 200 or 50 or 30, we’re going to play to them like it’s the 1000, like we sold it out, because that for us is the venue that we want to play.
“Whether we’re on the big stage, small stage, 100 per cent we’re giving it everything.”
Cobalt launch new EP Bourbon Nightmares at the Ironworks on Saturday. Doors open at 7pm, tickets cost £5. For more information, go to www.cobaltband.com
Check out the separate track by track also in the website's music section