Cute don’t cut it 

Two Year Touqe rounds out their sound

As core members of local band Two Year Touqe, husband and wife team Paul and Sarah Copoc are used to acclimating. In the four years since the band’s inception, Two Year Touqe has gone through 10 band members and evolved from a style built solely on Paul’s songwriting to a more collaborative operation. The changes culminate on Touqe’s forthcoming In the Elephant Garden, which will be released at a show with Melt Banana and The Mathematicians Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Badlander.

The album is the band’s fourth and acts as a kind of documentation of their short history. Current members—including drummer Joe Nickell, bassist Alex Wilson and Craig Domes on various percussion and winds—play on half the songs, while the other half showcase previous bassist Bryan Hickey and longtime drummer Eric Wimmer. The album also stars the quirky collection of instruments for which Two Year Touqe is known: toy bells, melodica, recorder and shakers, among the usual suspects of bass, drums and guitar.

But where the lineage ends is with comparisons to their previous album, The Midi West. That 2005 effort was popular enough in the local music scene to spur promoter Niki Payton to form CDB Records just so she could formally release it, but the Copocs now see it as a relic of a sound they’re ready to leave behind.

“We were always getting, ‘Oh, you guys are so cute,’” Paul says with an exasperated roll of the eyes. “So I went through this angry stage where I wanted to write pissed off songs. You know, fuck that, we’re not cute! I’m not in this to be cute.”

He smiles.

“Looking back on it I see why people say we were cute. We had these cute little kid instruments and we were these innocent-type people.”

In truth, Paul says, some of those Midi West songs were rather serious.

“They were about subjects like all my friends being junkies and growing up in this town where there was nothing to do,” he says.

“Breakdown,” for instance, is a song off Midi West re-recorded in a more fleshed out version for In the Elephant Garden, and it chronicles Paul’s life growing up among a pervasive drug scene in the small town of Brantford, Ontario. 

Still, Two Year Touqe didn’t peel away from the “cute” label by turning out a somber recording. The new “Sea Unicorns” is hardly a dirge and “Team Wimmer” is just as sugary sweet as tracks from earlier years. The difference may be that unlike Midi West, in which all instrumentals were written by Paul and molded in the form of his favorite influences (Beat Happening and The Danielson Family), the new album is a result of songwriting democracy. And, Paul says, they didn’t try to sound like any other band. 

“Some of the coolest songs were written because [other band members] would have better ideas than me,” Paul says. “Like [“Irvine the Divine”], I had it written a certain way. Eric and Bryan start doing this ‘chicka-chicka’ dance thing. I was like, ‘That sucks!’ and I started mocking them by doing a dance riff on guitar and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, that sounds really good.’”  The band recorded it that way, and it changed Paul’s view on writing. 

“I started getting more comfortable letting loose and not holding myself back,” he says.

Touqe’s acclimation doesn’t just happen within band boundaries. With the two core members married, Sarah and Paul’s personal lives inevitably have an immediate impact on the band. Whereas the first year was kid-free, the past three have produced the births of the couple’s two kids, Milo and Stella. Babysitters can’t always be found, which means that Sarah often stays home and misses band practice. (“It’s been happening a lot lately,” Sarah says.) Paul—as the guitar player he has to be at practice—says that it definitely puts a strain on their relationship and the band’s momentum. A look into next year hints at more changes on the horizon: The Copocs plan on moving to Ontario in August.

“The health care system is a little more up our alley for the kids,” says Paul.  “And the Canadian government is amazing about giving artist and musician grants.”

Sarah adds: “We love Missoula and it’s gonna break our hearts to leave. But we’ll just always be poor here.”

The band’s upcoming Northwest tour will likely be the last for Two Year Touqe in its current form. For the Copocs it’s exciting because they’re opening for one of their favorite acts, New York’s The Mathematicians, and they’ve lined up a nanny to come along and take care of the kids on the road. Beyond this tour, they plan on recording one more EP with their bandmates before packing up for good. And after that?

“We’re gonna take the band with us,” Sarah says. “Not the people, but Two Year Touqe itself. It’s always just been us anyway.”

And despite the challenges, Paul says he’s not ready to let go of the band either.
“Sometimes I’m like: Why are we even doing this? Why is it taking two years to release an album?” He shakes his head. “But it’s something that we’ve adapted to just like adapting to life with kids in general. I mean, we’ve prevailed.”

Two Year Touqe plays a CD-release show at the Badlander with Melt Banana and The Mathematicians Saturday, Oct. 20, at 9 PM.
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