Cover story: Kevin Hearn and Harland Wil­liams team up in the Cousins band

MU­SI­CIAN KEVIN HEARN, OF BARE­NAKED LADIES FAME, AND HIS COUSIN CO­ME­DIAN HARLAND WIL­LIAMS ON COM­BIN­ING FORCES FOR A MAD­CAP MU­SI­CAL AD­VEN­TURE AND JUST HOW DEEP THEIR NORTH YORK ROOTS RUN

North York Post - - Contents - by Ben Ka­plan

One of the first times Kevin Hearn ever per­formed on a stage he was backed up by his cousin co­me­dian Harland Wil­liams. This was be­fore Hearn be­came a Bare­naked Lady and Wil­liams would make Dumb & Dum­ber and

Some­thing About Mary and the two artis­tic teenagers were just some North York nerds eat­ing their corned beef at Yitz’s and en­cour­ag­ing each other to live out their dreams.

“We were a lit­tle of the black sheeps of both our fam­i­lies,” says Hearn. “We ac­tu­ally said stuff to each other back then like: ‘No mat­ter what any­one says, we can do this!’ ”

A few years younger than Wil­liams, Hearn re­mem­bers fondly go­ing to his older cousin’s house on Elfind­ale Crescent and look­ing at Wil­liams’ bizarre col­lec­tion of squir­rel skulls, Don River fish and ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of Mad mag­a­zines.

“I guess it just made sense that the first time I ever played a high school va­ri­ety night with my high school band that Harland came and played two songs with us,” Hearn says. “He was re­ally sup­port­ive back then, and he al­ways was.”

In a sense the duo’s new group, ap­pro­pri­ately and af­fec­tion­ately dubbed the Cousins, has been a work in progress for the en­tire lives of both lo­cal en­ter­tain­ers. With their first full-length record, Rat­tlesnake Love, set to be re­leased, it’s a pro­ject nei­ther cousin could have imag­ined com­ing into fruition way back when.

Hearn grew up on Ge­orge Henry Boule­vard, and Wil­liams lived a quick bike ride away, and since their moth­ers are sis­ters, they spent a lot of time at each other’s houses. Wil­liams says that Hearn was al­ways supremely tal­ented, al­ways armed with a melody and a hook.

“Kevin was al­ways play­ing in­stru­ments, and when he was a lit­tle kid, I used to hang out at his house, and he’d play and I’d start singing, and we’ve ba­si­cally been do­ing it ever since,” says Wil­liams, adding that he’s been af­ter his cousin to make this record for the past 20 years. “We re­ally just did mu­sic for our­selves — for fun — it made us laugh and gave us an artis­tic out­let, and one day, we ac­tu­ally put to­gether a song.”

One of their ear­li­est songs is “Lover’s Heart,” which sounds like a twangy Roy Or­bi­son bal­lad and gets re­vis­ited on the new disc. But the record is son­i­cally univer­sal, touch­ing ev­ery genre, from surf tunes to elec­tro to out and out hard rock. It’s not a com­edy record, per se, although the group’s whimsy is in­fec­tious, and there’s a good feel­ing be­hind ev­ery song. And son­i­cally, it’s as if the cousins — or the Cousins — cre­ated an au­ral ex­pe­ri­ence of vis­it­ing the Man­darin.

“We get our en­ergy and the most sat­is­fac­tion out of a food buf­fet, where you walk down the line and try foods from all dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” Wil­liams says. “That’s what we want: a mu­si­cal food buf­fet.”

“I think me and Kevin both are rest­less and have an ap- pe­tite for dif­fer­ent sounds, styles and flavours and didn’t want to present a tra­di­tional al­bum,” says Wil­liams, who sounds a lit­tle bit like the Killers’ Bran­don Flow­ers, or else Mor­ris­sey.

The buf­fet was stocked with ex­pe­ri­ences the cousins would have grow­ing up in Bayview and North York, en­joy­ing their ado­les­cence to­gether and de­vel­op­ing into artists. Wil­liams tells a funny story about fish­ing for gold­fish in the Don River, and Hearn has fond mem­o­ries of Fairview Mall and Haven­brook Park. In fact, af­ter high school, when the best friends were still in their late teens, they had an apart­ment to­gether in Thorn­cliffe Park, just far away enough from their moth­ers to be some­what re­bel­lious and imag­ine their lives in the arts.

“Harland had this list of goals that he made in that lit­tle apart­ment and num­ber one on the list was to ap­pear on

David Let­ter­man, and I was there with him when he got that call and when he checked it off,” says Hearn. “The next thing that hap­pened was that he moved to Los An­ge­les and I joined the Bare­naked Ladies.”

That the two men would go on and find spec­tac­u­lar in­di­vid­ual suc­cess while main­tain­ing their per­sonal re­la­tion­ship and play­ing mu­sic for fun makes this re­union feel all the more spe­cial. In these cyn­i­cal, di­vi­sive times, it’s al­most as if you can hear the joy in the room.

“Work­ing with Kev, I don’t even see it as if I’m work­ing with some­one good in their pro­fes­sion. It’s some­one I’ve been with my whole life,” Wil­liams says. “Me and Kevin have like a spir­i­tual-men­tal con­nec­tion. We’re best friends.”

The best friends are both work­ing on sep­a­rate, ex­cit­ing, in­di­vid­ual projects as they take time out to pro­mote their

Rat­tlesnake Love record, of which they’re both very proud. Wil­liams has a fully pro­duced car­toon show at Dis­ney Ju­nior, called Puppy Dog Pals, that is set to air in 150 coun­tries this spring. When we reached Hearn, he was in the stu­dio mak­ing a new al­bum with a re­freshed Bare­naked Ladies.

It seems like not too long ago they were 16, sit­ting at Yitz’s while Wil­liams pro­vided words of en­cour­age­ment to Hearn on his song­writ­ing. They swore to each other to reach for the stars, to re­main in the art world and that they would al­ways stay close.

In a sense, the Cousins is the two guys stay­ing true to their word.

“I re­mem­ber so clearly go­ing to his house, and they had these base­ment stairs, and Harland would go to the bot­tom and pre­tend a mon­ster was drag­ging him out of the frame, and I’d be so ex­cited and scream, ‘Do your show for me!’ ” says Hearn. “Harland was a big in­flu­ence on me back then — he still is to­day.” The Cousins’ f irst full-length record, Rat­tlesnake Love, will be re­leased March 17.

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