What is a skate video if not a cooler, older sibling passing on a mixtape of songs you’ve never heard before?
Like the older kid down the block lending you a cassette mix (or single, or mini disc, or CD, or Spotify playlist…) that you played until the heads wore off, leading you to dig up every recording by the mix’s whole tracklist, a skate video’s music can open up a world of musical possibilities. Their blend of aural and visual imagery creates a synesthesia that is both physical blueprint and artistic mentor, reaching beyond the world of boards and into culture at large.
Any skate video auteur knows the tunes are just as important as the tricks. In his video New Driveway, Tom Mull takes this concept and builds it into the fabric of the video, commissioning a full soundtrack from his friends Sarah Rayne and Andy Harry, collectively known as Cobra Man. With an image of a cobra eating a disco ball as a logo, Cobra Man straddles the canon of ‘80s and ‘90s rock genres that you might find in any skate video of the era—punk, alt, synth pop—and builds songs that work as seemingly individual balls-to-the-wall fun or a nostalgic whole when played together. Cobra Man is that cool older sibling you didn’t have, the skateboard video you missed out on. To top it all off, they’ve got their soundtrack released on its own, coming out Friday, September 8th on Goner Records out of Memphis, TN. I sat down with Andy and Sarah to get some insight of what it’s like to make music for skateboarding.
Tell me a little bit about your musical history.
Sarah: My brothers and I have been playing music since I was a kid. My mom and dad were ballet dancers. They taught us. I started writing for other people at a studio and have had different bands. I work in music licensing too.
Andy: I’ve been playing since I was a kid. My parents forced me to take piano lessons and I kind of hated it. All of a sudden I started to like it and from when I was 13, I started learning a new instrument each year. Guitar, drums, bass, back to piano. Towards the end of high school and into college I started getting into production, which is what I did most of college—make weird beats and shit.
How did you two meet each other?
Sarah: I met Andy professionally when he was directing a commercial and needed music for it. Then I realized he made cool music of his own.
Andy: Cobra Man was a lot of stuff coming together at once. I had wanted to have a disco band for a while. Tom and the Worble dudes were kind of heading in that direction with their phone edits and I made some stuff for him before and he asked me if I wanted to just score the new video. Sarah and I had been talking about working together and it seemed like a good opportunity for us to get together.
Sarah: Andy was already doing it and had created a really cool, unique sound. The deadline was very close and he had to write all these songs. He asked if I wanted to be part of it and it was too good to say no.
What was the process like working on a skate video?
Andy: The cool part about this is that we worked with Tom a LOT. I probably called him 10-15 times a day every day for two or three months. He would get a really rough edit going to a reference song that he liked and we would pick a couple different aspects of that and expand it. Pick a BPM and go from there. Depending on how done the parts were, we were either writing tracks that he would edit to or basically scoring an already finished product.
Sarah: A lot of his references were incredible songs. Like, hit songs. I thought, “We’re fucked, we’re never gonna match this.”
Andy: We used the songs as an influence. And we had to pay attention to each skater and how it would reflect on them, too. A lot of the stuff ended up sounding a bit too sentimental for a skate video. We have a bunch of tracks that we made halfway and then had to restart. You gotta make them look good!
Sarah: We tried to not overthink anything. Just make it fun. We let it be a little bit of a performance thing, where it lives separately from us. I’ve always wanted to make music for a skate video since I was a kid. Just a song in one skate video was a dream but the whole thing is really special.
Why the name Cobra Man?
Andy: We threw around some other names but everything sounded too serious. I think Cobra Man sets the tone. It doesn’t really mean anything. There’s two of us.
Sarah: We picked the name the way we did the music. We tried not to overthink it and if we liked it we went with it.
What’s next with it?
Andy: I want to do another album as soon as possible. We have a lot of music that didn’t make it into this one. Based on the reaction we’ve been getting online and the show itself, it’s definitely something that I want to do sooner than later. Seems like people are kind of stoked on it.
Sarah: I think we should do another album with the Mulls. I think that’d be fun.