A ghostly woman covered in white moves slowly, shaking. A man with long hair wails and plucks a guitar. A harmonium drones. Puppets emerge to the tunes of a flute and the beat of a drum, and a whimsical world is created that feels like a fairytale set to song, sometimes melancholy and sometimes full of life.
This is just a typical performance from the Brooklyn band Cookie Tongue, a “freaky folky family” currently in the throes of raising funds to record their latest album, Orphan Arms.
Cookie Tongue sprang from the brain of musician and visual artist Omer Gal in 2011. Upon their East Coast rebirth about a year ago, the band is now additionally comprised of Jacquelyn Marie Shannon, Chris Carlone, Brandon Perdomo, and Liza Pavlovna. Similar to Omer, all the other members also make their own art, from Butoh dance and theater to textile art and videography.
“My first band was with an ex-girlfriend in Israel. She was really into theater and fantastical worlds,” explains Omer. “When I moved to San Francisco, I moved alone, so that mixed with being in a new place created new songs. I was doing my MFA, there was a bunch of other artists there. Through jamming with them, I started writing songs that I felt were good enough to call Cookie Tongue.”
He adds that the first Cookie Tongue included yet another ex-girlfriend, who was the group’s violinist. “I can’t play music with someone who isn’t family,” he explains.
Upon his move to New York, Omer left the woman and the former iteration of the group behind yet again, but had already met his next partner in art and life.
“I met Omer at a Cookie Tongue show in San Francisco,” said Jacquelyn. “I went to a couple of shows and [it was] a super blown-away, I can’t believe this exists kind of thing. I just remember how transportive it was. I felt like I was in a book or another world.”
Jacquelyn, who initially joined the band as a Butoh dancer and now also plays an assortment of instruments, moved to New York from San Francisco around the time Omer did to study Butoh under the instructor Vangeline. There, she met Chris Carlone and Brandon Perdomo, other core members of the band.
Omer met the band’s newest member Liza on the street selling what he calls “Shithead shirts,” hand-painted t-shirts he makes bearing grotesque (yet somehow endearing) faces. These shirts are also available as rewards for donating to the band’s Kickstarter.
The uniquely fantastical nature of Cookie Tongue allows the members, especially Omer, to bring more than just interesting instruments and surreal sounds to the project. The focus is never just on music, but creating an entire world through their performances, whether this be through puppets, storytelling, dance, animation, or something else entirely.
“When I thought the music wasn’t good enough in the beginning, I added the art to it to make it feel like even though I’m not completely sure about this, I have the art, which I know is good,” Omer explains.
“We were talking about the theatrics of our shows, but how does that translate to an album? And so that’s one of the fun challenges, how we capture that theatrical experience in a soundscape,” adds Jacquelyn. “This is what we look like, this is what we feel like, and the challenge of translating that into sound. There’s a lot going on besides the music.”
Orphan Arms isn’t Cookie Tongue’s first album– that was 2014’s Biotic Rituals, a selection of songs sporting similar vibes but more indie-rock peppiness. But that was recorded with the San Francisco iteration, and they are starting fresh. Well, maybe not so fresh, per se.
“I think this album is gonna be a little more, sort of soggy dust. Gravelly, brownish, grayish texture,” Omer says when I inquire about it. “Grainy. And kind of a little bit desaturated.”
Omer and Jacquelyn explain that the “witchiness” of their surrounding community (they consider Bushwick’s Tarot Society a “home base”) has also impacted the band’s sound and image.
“I think what we’re seeing especially right now is this kind of renaissance in the idea of magic,” says Jacquelyn. “Looking for magic, looking to a fairy tale and figuring out what that means to us.”
As many bands do, they’re using Kickstarter to raise funds for their album, with a reach goal of $5,000 to record the songs and press them onto vinyl. They saw the video pitch element of crowdfunding as an opportunity to make what is essentially a short film that manifests the spirit of Cookie Tongue, feeling more like a piece of art than the familiar “here’s why you should donate” spiel.
And even that’s a bit different. Omer and Jacquelyn talk at length to me about the importance of family and community, whether in the band or beyond. Cookie Tongue’s previous iterations were more casual, Omer says, but this one truly feels like a family. He recounts seeing Devendra Banhart play a show in Tel Aviv and being affected by the band, how each member got to be in the spotlight and even the audience was invited to be a part of it.
“When I saw them walk out of the club I thought, I want a band like that,” he recalls. “I want a band that’s like a family.”
“We are really into knowing who wants to be a part of the community,” says Jacquelyn. “It’s not just donate because it’s a good thing to do, but because we want you to be part of this thing that we’re building.”
Cookie Tongue will be having a fundraiser dinner and performance at a secret location this Sunday, February 19. Find out more by contacting them through their Facebook page. Their Kickstarter concludes on February 22.