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Jose Docen walks into the WERS studios with a quiet swagger. His beard is overgrown and frayed out. There’s an eager intent in his eyes. Wearing a ratty, torn black hoodie, work boots, jeans, a thermal shirt and a scarf, Docen looks like he’s been working outdoors – like he’s been building something with his hands for the last three months. Docen’s album Coohkooh Bird is his first EP. An amalgamation of six songs Docen has been writing since he first learned to play the guitar thirteen years ago, Coohkooh Bird is a new chapter for Docen. Something of a journeyman, Docen was born in Patterson, New Jersey. But when he was four years, Docen’s parents split up and his mother wanted to get away. So she up and moved Jose, his two brothers, and their adopted sister to Alaska.“She said she wanted to get away. Obviously she really meant it.” On his walk to the studio, Jose was gracious to a fan who recognized him – something he said has never happened to him before. Docen showed up an hour before he was supposed to go up. So he sits in the studio and played his guitar to himself the whole time.
Docen’s first song, “Horrors”, creeps out of his guitar like some minor, melancholy call to doomed comrades to stand fast in the face of their trials. Docen’s airy but emphatic call rings out in the studio – “we won’t surrender, we won’t surrender.” His quiet and polite demeanor is contrasted by the growl in his voice. The song, Docen’s vocals, and his lyricism are reminiscent Marcus Mumford combined with Wyclef Jean. Docen’s explanation of the song reveals an element of social commentary – “It’s hard to say what that song is about because it’s about a lot. I think the biggest thing its about is the simple but heavy fact that we are always fighting. Honestly, there is always fighting going on. The song is kind of a call for a breather – everyone just take a breather.”
The next song Docen played was called “Waters”. The piece is dark and based around a slow rhythmic phrase Docen creates using his guitar as a percussive instrument in between his strumming. It’s hard to imagine wanting to groove to a song in this kind of minor key, but the song has an irresistible, head-bobbing quality to it.
The last song Docen plays is the album’s eponymous track “CoohKooh Bird”. The tune is in a minor key but it bounces out of his guitar followed swiftly by a gruff but airy vocal phrase. The key is minor but, unlike his previous two songs, there are almost no muted chords. He rings out every chord filling the studio. The growl in his voice culminating in a clipped, airy tail-off breath at the end of each vocal phrase. Giving the song almost a sense of desperation. This is clearly Docen’s most rehearsed piece and he’s made it his own.
When he’s not playing music, Jose can be found working at the Medieval Manor – a theatre restaurant that plays a Medieval themed, bawdy interactive musical comedy where patrons are entertained with song and slapstick performed by a King, Minstrel, Jester, Oaf and several Wenches. Imagine New England’s response to Medieval Times. In 2000, while attending Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, a theatre professor recommended to Jose that he come and audition for the performance staff at the Medieval Manor. He got a job as the Jester. One day while he was working there, the man who played the Minstrel was practicing guitar scales for their show that night and Jose expressed an interest to the man. So he bought a guitar and the Minstrel began to teach the Jester how to play. Thirteen years later, Jose, still the Jester at the Medieval Manor, releases his first album.
When I asked him what’s next, Jose responded, “I gotta work on this [Coohkooh Bird] more. Gotta get more people to hear it. But I’m eager to keep creating. I’m excited for the next step. I’m ready for it.”