Horsing around

Out frontwoman for indie duo talks career path, grammar-inspired band name

By Andrea Poteet

For writers, debates over grammar can lead to strained friendships, bruised egos or endless bragging rights.

For Kate Cooper, feisty frontwoman for Aussie indie duo An Horse, an argument with her sister led to her curious band name.

"My sister and I had a grammatical joke," says Cooper, who will perform with the band March 9 at Pontiac's Pike Room. "She would argue that 'an horse' was correct. Eventually she made a sweater with the name on it and I'd wear it around town and people would say 'Is that a band?' and I'd say 'no.'"

After playing several solo shows under the name, Cooper, who had formally played with trio Iron On, teamed up with colleague Damon Cox to form the band, which practiced after hours in Skinny's, the Brisbane punk record store where they both worked.

"We talked about it for about a year that we should start a band," Cooper says. "Then one day we actually snuck around at work and set up some equipment and played. It just kind of felt good, so we kept doing it."

The after-work hobby soon became a full-fledged band, pairing Cooper's melodic murmurs with Damon's drum beats for two albums, 2009's "Rearrange Beds" and last year's "Walls." It's also led to tours with Tegan & Sara, Death Cab for Cutie and Silversun Pickups.

"It feels good," says Cooper of her rise from stocking records to recording them, "but sometimes I'd rather be working at a record store."

Cooper said she was first drawn to performing during a rare childhood outing with her father, who instilled in her a deep love of rock music.

"I went to a very strict private girls' school and my parents were very strict about me going to school, and I never had a day off," Cooper says. "So, one day, my dad said I could have a half day and he'd pick me up and he took me and my sister to my first concert ever, which was the Rolling Stones. That kind of blew my mind, and I remember watching it and going, 'That's what I want to do.'"

Though the concert solidified her love of music, she attempted several career paths, including a stint at law school, before branching out to perform her own music. If it weren't for the impromptu jam that led to An Horse, she might have never known what she wanted to do professionally.

"I still think I will know when I grow up," says Cooper, 32. "I don't understand how people know that at 18, and I don't understand how people know that at 30."

Their sophomore effort was a departure for the pair, who recorded their first record in the Australian bush, and features Cooper's sweetly detached voice and confessional lyrics penned during her recent move to Montreal. Cooper was getting used to the bitter cold in a city where she barely knew anyone and her girlfriend worked long hours, so she stayed home and wrote the majority of "Walls"' songs. Its most heartfelt lyrics are present on "Brain on a Table," written about being on tour while her mother was ill back home. "I'm not scared of all that much," she croons in a barely audible whisper. "Just please wake up."

Though listening to her lyrics seems at times like accidentally stumbling onto a friend's diary, Cooper said the album is not as personal as it may seem.

"It's not that I intentionally try to make it personal," she says. "I just write the way I write and I guess it comes out that way. A lot of people assume they know what I'm talking about, and a lot of times they are way off the mark. But that's cool; I'll let them think what they want. They can come up with their own meanings and then everyone's happy."

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