The son of music industry royalty and a bit of a swish on the London social scene, The Big Pink singer Milo Cordell is a confident chap. But his voice becomes shaky, the roguish twinkle fading, as conversation turns to the tragedy that has defined his recent life: the suicide of his brother Tarka, a struggling rock star and infamous ladies' man.
On April 28, 2008, the very day The Big Pink completed their debut album, Tarka stepped into his bedroom, closed the door and hanged himself. Notorious for having dated Kate Moss as she rebounded from her relationship with Johnny Depp and stepping out with Liv Tyler when she was 16 and he was 21, the rakish Tarka is believed to have taken his own life for the most horribly ironic reason imaginable: he'd had his heart broken and couldn't get over it.
In the end, this "toxic bachelor" -- socialite hack Toby Young's unnecessarily withering description -- with the razor-blade cheekbones and movie-star pout just wanted to be loved. When this seemed not on the agenda, he ended it all.
Three thousand miles away in the Electric Lady studios in New York's West Village, Milo was -- to risk understatement -- devastated. He and half-brother Tarka had been close, bonding over their shared desire to make it in the music business, where their father Denny had left an indelible imprint as producer of Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale and an early champion of The Cranberries.
Too distracted building his reputation as being a lady killer to properly knuckle down, Tarka's music career never achieved lift-off. However it was finally happening for Milo with The Big Pink, a shoe-gazy hook up with (equally well connected) guitarist Robbie Furze. And now, at what should have been his moment of triumph, his older brother had taken his own life.
He flew home for the funeral, then spent 36 months on tour, anaesthetising the pain with a grinding work regime. Music, he believes, is the only thing that kept him sane. "I threw myself into the job," says Milo. "Got deep, deep into it -- and tried to put it all behind me. It was only when I stopped touring ... it was only then that it really hit home and I had time to think about."
Meanwhile, The Big Pink -- named incongruously after a record by Canadian roots rockers The Band -- were becoming well known. Their single Dominos became a hit after featuring on a mobile phone ad, they performed before a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley as support for Muse and their LP A Brief History of Love was placed highly in 2009's album-of-the-year round-ups.
Having honed a successful formula, Cordell and Furze -- who met at a posh shindig in a country house and once pretended to be a gay couple to drum up media interest -- could have easily knocked out a facsimile and basked in the praise.
For their second LP, Future This, however, they were determined to surprise people. Speaking to an online journalist in September, Cordell let slip the forthcoming LP would be heavily influenced by hip-hop. He'd mangled his words somewhat -- what he was trying to say was that the project would hopefully be as eclectic as Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Once the quote got out there, he couldn't retrieve it.
"I said a lot in that interview. The hip-hop thing was what was picked up on. Obviously we haven't done a hip-hop record. On the other hand, it is rooted in beats and samples. So we approached it as if we were doing a hip-hop record. It is very rooted in the here and now. I don't actually think genres and definitions matter the way they used to. Those of us who have grown up with Spotify and iTunes and the internet -- for us, it's not about the rockers and the ravers any more. You can listen to Sonic Youth and TLC and The xx and be influenced by them all."
Warming to the topic, he embarks on a strange riff about the ever-shrinking size of mobile phones and where it will eventually lead. "I am convinced," he says, "that in my lifetime we will have devices in our brains that will let us listen to music in our brains. We'll walk around all day with these private soundtracks in our heads."
Milo addresses his brother's death on Future This's final track, a keening lament entitled 77. If you know the context, it's difficult to listen to without welling up.
"You were my hero, my brother and my good friend," Milo sings. "Now I've been bleeding, three and a half years." It is possibly the best song The Big Pink have written, a fact that doesn't make it any easier to sit through.
How horribly poignant it must have been to watch his career take off at the exact moment his brother felt he couldn't go on. "That's a very Big Pink sort of thing," he says. "That bittersweet sensibility. With us, it's always one step forward, two steps back. Within every love song we write, there's tragedy. That's how we do things."
In writing about Tarka, Milo has put the tragedy into the public domain. Is this something he thought carefully about? "It kind of presented itself. You write something and then think 'ah shit -- so THAT's what it means'. You don't necessarily realise at the time. The first record was about the break-up of long-term relationships. Apart from the last track, I would like to think the new one has a more universal theme. It's about life."
Cordell is an amiable sort and comes across as very decent. He does, however, exhibit a tetchy side when it is put to him that, as the son of society millionaires, for him music is essentially a lark. It's a familiar charge. The UK media has reveled in painting Cordell as part of a London set that includes Florence + the Machine, Daisy Lowe, Little Boots and Lily Allen (photographed in tears at Tarka's funeral).
"It was irritating," he says. "Of course it's annoying if people talk about anything apart from your music. It doesn't happen in any other media. You never see that on TV or radio. People only seem to talk about it in certain circles of the press. You get the sense they already know what they are going to write about you. You're there to fill in the blanks."
Although Cordell grew up in the UK, he spent his summers in Carlow, where his father, in proper record company kazillionaire fashion, had purchased a rural pile. He has fond memories of his Irish sojourns, even if his lasting impression is of how bleak the country felt.
"I remember everything being black and white. I'd come over from London where I was into skateboarding and stuff like that. In Carlow, nobody had a skateboard. But I loved it there. London was really intense, this huge cityscape. Spending time in Ireland, it was all about jumping around in the woods, going out in the countryside, fishing and hunting, setting fire to stuff. Me and my mates would go around on our bikes and hang out and smoke. It was the most wonderful, carefree time."
Future This is released today
Day & Night