In a hail of bullets, everything changed for Cousin Dan. Atlanta’s favorite leopard-print- and mirrored-codpiece-wearing absurdist underground electro-pop genius had been at a secluded bar all night, sending off a lady friend bound for Florida. As he sauntered to his car, a lipstick kiss on each cheek and a slight buzz washing over him, he noticed two figures emerging from the shadows.
“My gut instinct was, ‘This is no good, get the hell out of here.’” As he bolted for the door—pop-pop-pop pop-pop—gunshots rang out into the ATL night. Cousin Dan was hit, but he kept moving. “I’m talking NASCAR pit-crew speed,” he says. “I jump in, lock the door, put my key in the ignition, start the engine, reverse out the parking lot and peel off down the street. The first thing on your mind is, ‘people are trying to kill me,’ you just want to escape. One minute, you’re on your way home to watch some TV, the next minute you’re shot and bleeding.’”
Later, as paramedics strapped him to a gurney, Cousin Dan snapped a selfie and posted it to Instagram. The caption read, “Just got shot, y’all.” “I remember seeing the lights riding in the back of the ambulance and I just started laughing,” he says. “It was surreal.” A bullet went straight through him, in through his back above the hip and out his side. Luckily, there was no major damage and he was released from Grady Hospital the next morning.
When he got home, the revelation came. “I was sitting on the couch, still in my hospital gown, and the gravity of everything hit me—‘If this had been a fatal bullet, and I was dead, I’d be pretty disappointed with what I’d left behind for the world.’ I felt like I had a lot more to offer. That’s where the idea, the spirit of my new single ‘Something in the Water’ came from.”
Bathed in layers of sparkling synths and anchored by a danceable, hypnotic beat, “Something in the Water” is a disarmingly introspective carpe-diem anthem, Cousin Dan’s alluring falsetto delivering the hook with a simultaneously desperate and self-assured urgency: “I’m tired of being lazy / The time is now / Don’t wait until tomorrow.” It’s a sentiment that might come off as maudlin in the wrong hands, but with Cousin Dan it feels damn-near poignant, connecting in large part because—while Dan approaches his music with complete dedication—he never takes himself too seriously. Exhibit A: the song’s hilariously ambitious video, a clip three years in the making.
Directed by Cousin Dan amigo—and “Something in the Water” co-writer—Carl Janes, and featuring a giant matchbook, 50cc dirt-bike gangs, tribal rituals, gold idols, propane blowtorches, jetskis, cowboy hats, topless mermaids, burning pianos and a whole lot of Cousin Dan’s signature leopard print, it’s a journey into the stream-of-consciousness of a truly imaginative artist, all conjured up on a broken-shoestring budget.
“We shot it on zero dollars,” Cousin Dan says. “Maybe some money for pizza here and there, but that’s it. A lot of people lent us their time and skills to make it happen. Just to secure the piano, it took me a year of looking, and then it sat in my garage for a year just waiting to be burned. We did the whole thing bit by bit. Sometimes it would be a few months in between. When you’re trying to figure out the logistics for something like this, you just gotta go with the flow.”
Standing onstage clad in leopard-print tights, blue-jean vest and mirrored codpiece—wind in his hair, portable light-up dancefloor underfoot—Cousin Dan looks like a pop demigod created in a test tube by weird scientists. “Before I started doing Cousin Dan,” he says, “I’d go to shows, and I’d be like, ‘Man, I’m bored. No one is doing anything that’s cool to me.’ So I decided to make the show I wanted to go see.”
At the time, Scoggins had just finished art school, but he was “tired of all that bullshit,” burnt out on the pretentiousness of fine arts and the gallery scene. So he bought himself a drum machine. “I was just having a good time sitting around my apartment making beats,” he says. He became known on the Atlanta scene for his lo-fi DIY Youtube videos and live sets featuring Girl Talk-style mashups. But it wasn’t until he started singing and performing his own songs that crowds really started to respond. “As soon as I got that spark, I was like, ‘Ok, this is where it’s at.’ It felt right. So I became more of a musician and a singer.”
Scoggins is well aware of the kitschy absurdity of the alter-ego he’s created, this hyper-sexualized ‘80s-reminiscent future-spectacle, but he still sees Cousin Dan as an extension of himself. “If he wasn’t, I don’t think it would come off the way it does. Cousin Dan is totally inside of me. It’s just an exaggerated part of my personality. It’s separate, but it also feels like me. And it offers the freedom to do whatever the hell you want, which is liberating. I think that’s another reason people are so drawn to what I do.”
With his anticipated new single and video slated to drop in March, Cousin Dan has recently turned his attention toward completing his first full-length, the working title currently alternating between Ivory Sensations and Cousin Dan… Just Cuz. He’s also been road testing various live-show variations, and has been given a grant to write a space-rock opera. Energized by his brush with death, Scoggins is ready to make his mark.
“Once you hit a certain point, there’s no turning back,” he says. “I’ve been sinking my teeth into things lately, getting more in depth with my process, taking time to perfect the sounds, the beats, testing out different effects. I’ve got a clear vision now. I aspire to make a whole journey with this new record. And I’m ready to get the ‘Something in the Water’ video out into the world, too. It feels good to have set out to do something so ambitious, and to have finally pulled it off.”