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Cold Beat’s latest album, Mother, feels both completely separate from the present and totally beholden to it; sonically timeless but full of reflections on longing and isolation that now feel eerily prescient.

On a basic level, the record is about singer Hannah Lew’s experience of motherhood, written mostly while she was pregnant with her son. However, the album also acts as a perfect prism through which to see our current locked-down experience, fraught as it is with loneliness and anxiety about the world, but countered by intense hope. All of this is reflected in the new video for Double Sided Mirror, which sees Lew staring longingly out a window amid footage of swirling cherry blossom in a kind of self-isolation dream state.

Today we premiere the video for Double Sided Mirror and speak to Lew about motherhood, isolation and importing records from Japan. Find it all below.

Could you start by telling us a bit about Double Sided Mirror?
I had gone on a trip to Japan with my husband and business partner, Andrew. We were there for Sakura and caught every stage of the cycle of cherry blossoms from bud to blossom to ethereal petal rain. It was a beautiful phenomenon to behold and I appreciated how much everyone there was so into it. It was really touching to see everyone marvelling in nature. We were there buying records for our shop Contact Records. We shipped 11 boxes of LPs back via freight ship.

When we got home I realised I had gotten pregnant while we were there. Four of our LP boxes showed up a couple of months later, but seven boxes never showed up. I spent months feeling stressed about the missing boxes. Then a week before our son was born, a few boxes showed up. A few days after he was born, the remaining boxes arrived as if by a miracle. So there was a lot of longing and waiting, but then a happy ending. The song was originally written about the boxes showing up and the unknowns, but became about my son arriving as well. Our two big Japanese imports!

How involved were you in the conception of the video? I know you’re a respected video director in your own right.
Yes, I am involved with every visual aspect of Cold Beat to some extent, but this video was made by Luciano Talpini Aita. We had started pre-production before lockdown, but ended up creating it remotely. During this time all of us are missing each other so much and I can’t help but feel a parallel in my feelings of longing and not knowing when I will see loved ones again. It is very much the same feelings I was feeling in the song’s conception.

Though I usually write lyrics on my own, this song had been sitting without words for a while and in a songwriting session with Luciano and Kyle King, they helped me figure out the lyrics. So Luciano was very familiar with the subject matter. Also, since we are all in this state of self-isolation and not knowing how long it will be until we all reunite, it was easy to tap into the emotion. We used the idea of a window as sort of a portal to each other.

Cold Beat's first three albums.

The track comes from your latest album Mother, which you’ve said is about explaining the world to someone who had never been here. Where do you start with something like that?
I had a lot of anxieties about bringing someone into this world. I usually write from the front of my heart, so as different anxieties and hopes came to the surface the songs just came out.

Did you discover anything about the way you see the world that you hadn’t noticed before?
I am much more selfless now. Thinking about someone else when I make every decision has been the type of burden I can’t imagine not carrying now. It’s been a gift for me. I think I was very selfish before. I think I’ve gained a deeper empathy for every human. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter.

Motherhood is obviously a key concern of the album and it was all written and made while you were pregnant. Has your relationship with the album, or the idea of motherhood, changed in the time since then?
I always felt very adamant about making sure I maintained my musical world even amidst the crazy demands of motherhood and I’m proud to say I am doing it. So much of that is because I have a good baby who sleeps 12 hours in a row.

The album was made about personal feelings of isolation, so it’s strange that the meanings behind the songs are ringing truer than ever now. I was worried Trump was gonna get us all killed, and now he is, but not in the way I thought he would. I’d say everyone is feeling a lot of the things I was feeling during the conception of the album, which wasn’t what I expected.

It feels like motherhood or birth isn’t a particularly common subject matter in pop songs. Why do you think that is?
It’s both seismic and mundane simultaneously. The whole experience has me in such awe of every mother who has ever lived and the fact that we are all alive because a woman carried us in her body for nine months and then squeezed us out. The whole thing feels only narrowly possible, yet it has worked out so many times. Very humbling.

That being said, I think most pop music focuses on this worship of youth and individuality. Sadly the expectations for women in pop culture, even subculture, are largely held to a fairly limited standard that doesn’t include many archetypes. Men can age, have children, get fat, bald, wrinkled, whatever. People put different expectations on women, especially mothers.

Before we all went into isolation, if I was at work, or just out, people would often ask where my baby was, and I’d just be like ‘he’s with his dad!’ But no one ever thought to ask my husband where the baby was if he was out alone. I think a lot of artists who are also mothers have had to compartmentalise those roles. But I think the more versions of womanhood and motherhood the better. There are so many ways to express these roles.

"The whole experience has me in such awe of every mother. The whole thing feels only narrowly possible"

Have you come up against the idea that you have to pick between being a mother and being an artist, that you can’t somehow do both.?
Writing songs is such a big part of who I am. If I stopped nurturing that part of myself upon becoming a mother, my child wouldn’t really know me. I think an important thing I’ve always been focused on is that this baby came into our world. I have always written music as a means for emotional survival. I would be a wreck of a mother if I wasn’t nurturing my creativity. 

This is your first release with DFA. How did that come about?
I had released a Eurythmics covers EP with Dark Entries and Josh Cheon, who runs the label, seemed interested in releasing Mother. Putting music out with Dark Entries was a really great experience because Josh is so passionate about music and has such good taste. I admire him so much.

I had sent him the songs and he told me he thought a bigger label should put this record out. I thought he was letting me down easy and just didn’t want to put the record out, but actually I think he just really believed in the material and wanted to see it reach a larger audience. He sent the music to DFA and I ended up chatting with Jonathan Galkin and it seemed like a good fit.

Can you tell us a little bit about what life is like at the moment since the outbreak of this coronavirus? What’s it like where you live? What have you been doing to stay occupied?
I was feeling very anxious when all this started. All the food hoarding gives me anxiety. I had a close family friend pass away from Covid-19 and did a Shiva via Zoom. It’s all been bizarre and sad. After the first few weeks, we’ve sort of settled into a new routine which involves lots of FaceTime and Zoom. Luckily our neighbourhood here in Richmond, CA is very chill. People have been very respectful of one another and neighbours have been helping each other out a lot. I organised a PPE drop off/ pick up point on my porch. 

I’ve been gardening my face off and eating lots of healthy food from the garden every day. Chasing around a tiny man and just watching things grow. Growing vegetables has given me a lot of hope. When baby is napping or after he goes down for the night, I descend into my basement and work on music between running my shop online. [Cold Beat] have been using Zoom to write together which has actually proven to be great, because we can share a screen and all communicate ideas pretty effectively. I miss hugging and sharing drinks and smokes, dancing together, but I’m grateful we have these technological tools during this time. 

I’ve always been someone who wanted to know how to survive and have always been building those tools. Knowing how to plan, how to grow food, how to find humour when all seems lost. In a way, I feel we were made for this and we’re gonna be OK. Maybe even stronger and less focused on consumption when we re-emerge. 

Mother is out now on DFA