Elvis Depressedly's Mat Cothran sits on his knees in the center of the stage. His head, dripping with sweat, rests in the palms of his hands, which slide over his closed eyes and grip his hair. An orange microphone cord wraps in circles around Cothran's neck, as though it could almost strangle him. Looking uncomfortably like he's wearing a noose, Cothran stands up and sings, his voice traveling into the microphone and through the cord wrapped tight around his throat: "No more sad songs/No pain, no separation."

Before the show, Cothran sits on a stoop outside of PhilaMOCA and discusses how music has always been a relief - the outlet that saves him when the metaphorical microphone cord keeps circling tighter and tighter. "Since the beginning of my life, I always used music to cope, and I probably always will," he says. "It's good to try to give that same feeling back to other people."

Cothran started writing songs for his solo project Coma Cinema in high school, exploring themes of death and sadness amidst a backdrop of cartoonish normalcy. Later, Cothran started Elvis Depressedly, a lo-fi, glam rock-inspired bedroom pop group. Drawing inspiration from David Bowie's Aladdin Sane, Elvis Depressedly initially functioned as a project for Cothran to explore his alter ego Mickey - the Asheville, North Carolina-based group's first full-length album is called mickey's dead, and Cothran previously recorded songs like 'kill me mickey' and 'mickey, yr a fuck up' on the 2011 EP goner. Named after his grandfather, Mickey is character through which Cothran can address and examine his own fears and anxieties.




"We're human beings, so the best way to speak an idea is to speak to or through a human being, I feel like," Cothran says.

After mickey's dead, Elvis Depressedly expanded into a four-piece band, shifting the focus away from Mickey and towards a broader examination of how to experience everyday life in the presence of underlying struggle. But despite their name and gloomy lyrics, Elvis Depressedly isn't a band of tortured artist archetypes - they just want to create music that's as emotionally honest and accessible as possible. "We do this because we love it," says keyboardist Delaney Mills. "If I didn't care about the music and its healing, beneficial qualities, then I definitely would not be doing this, because it's hard."

Before the show, Cothran and Mills enthusiastically catch up with friends from local Philadelphia and Brooklyn-based bands - on stage, Cothran says, "I'm happy tour is ending because I like being home, but I'm sad because Mitski and Eskimeaux are so cool. Let's all get a big house together."

As someone who openly discusses his battles with anxiety, Cothran works to establish emotional connections with people through his music. "This morning, I had one of the worst panic attacks of my life," Cothran says. "It was awful." But despite feeling mentally drained, Cothran still followed through with the demands of a typical day on tour, traveling across state borders, performing a video session with the Philadelphia-based Out Of Town Films, and of course, performing a sold-out show.




"One of the things I like most about our new album is that most of the songs are warm and comforting in some way," says Mills, smoking an American Spirit cigarette. David Byrne's book How Music Works sits in her lap. "So rather than involving ourselves too much with the lower, darker aspects of mental illness, we try to make something that works through those problems, rather than focuses on them and broods on them."

The band's commitment to transparency doesn't end with their musical style - as far as the business side of music goes, Elvis Depressedly tries to produce their work with as little interference from labels as possible. Up until the 2015 LP New Alhambra, the band worked with DIY labels like BD$M Recordings and Orchid Tapes, a label that also works with Coma Cinema, Cothran's solo project.

"We waited so long to be on a bigger label because we kept getting offers that were just shady," Cothran remembers - he noticed that sometimes, even when labels were independently operated, they still revoked certain creative and financial liberties from the musicians they signed. Elvis Depressedly ended up signing with Run For Cover Records, since the label works to keep bands involved in all aspects of their artistry. "As an artist, all you have is your art. So if someone takes that away from you, you're just a shell that is part of a marketing machine. You're not an artist anymore."




Especially in light of their goal to make music with a genuine message, the band finds it important to interact with their fans. "We're not weird about talking to anyone, like if anyone comes up and talks to us at shows, we'll want to engage with them," Mills says. "We start to realize that all the people who truly fuck with what we do are very open, honest, very real people." At the end of Mitski's set, several teens asked members of Elvis Depressedly to take pictures with them, and they gladly obliged, despite their exhaustion.

After playing songs from New Alhambra, Cothran stops for a minute. Looking down at the guitar pedals, he says, "This is an old one... I might not even know it." It's an uncommon decision to play something so old that it only exists on Bandcamp and dates back to when Elvis Depressedly was still a solo effort, but Cothran proves why it's necessary, delivering a performance with unprecedented, poignant emotion. He begins to play 'mickey yr a fuck up', a heartbreaking song in which Cothran confronts his fears candidly and sincerely through his alter ego. He sings: "Mickey, you're a fuck up/Heaven has a voice/I know that you're not like/all the boys." Melancholy yet relaxing, Cothran's voice is packed with the immediacy and pain of someone who suffered from a panic attack just hours prior, directly experiencing the struggle that he writes about. By the time Cothran sings #I know you're afraid of/the secrets in your head," it's clear that he isn't just going through the motions of yet another show on a lengthy tour - he is so connected to his music that it's impossible not to notice the song's power and urgency.

"Some people find our music dark," Cothran says. "But for me, there's a joy in vocalizing a problem so that you can work through it."

When Cothran got on stage last week in Philadelphia, it became noticeable that he doesn't just perform music because it's fun - for Elvis Depressedly, artistic expression is a necessity.


Elvis Depressedly's new album, New Alhambra, is out now (and it's excellent).