INTERVIEW: Flora Cash finds deeper calling in ‘somebody else’

Flora Cash

Flora Cash photographed at BottleRock Napa Valley at the Napa Valley Expo on May 24, 2019. Photos: Norm deVeyra.

NAPA — Cole Randall and Shpresa Lleshaj, the married couple who perform as Flora Cash, didn’t realize that “You’re Somebody Else” would go on hold meaning for so many groups of people, yet the first hint came when a Mexican telecom company asked them to donate it for a public service announcement about protecting yourself online. It wasn’t necessarily what the duo had in mind for the song, but the new message had legs.

Judah & the Lion
Flora Cash

8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19
The Fox Theater, Oakland
Tickets: $35.

“In my family, I have young kids in my life, and we’re living in a really weird time where things happen on the internet and all this kind of stuff,” said Randall, a Minneapolis native, of his cousins. “We both thought it was a really good opportunity to raise awareness for kids. … Essentially it ended up playing like it was almost a music video, which was kind of interesting; a music video that’s obviously meant to make you think. You’re not supposed to be super comfortable watching it. We thought the idea was cool.”

After the use of the song in the PSA, it began to spread and pick up meaning for others, whether it was a rallying cry for the LGBT community, those facing drug abuse, self-image issues, those with mental health conditions and more. By the time Flora Cash was making an official video for “You’re Somebody Else” last fall, Randall and Lleshaj, who grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, understood the significance.

“It’s not that it means so many things in a generic sense; it means so many very specific things to people,” Randall said. “It was serious for us, but it was serious in a different way. … By the time we released that video, there were so many interpretations that we were, like, ‘We need a video that explores that.’”

Having followed up its hit with more hard-hitting material, Flora Cash is now finishing new material that the duo hopes to release this fall. Randall and Lleshaj believe one of the songs may touch listeners as strongly as “You’re Somebody Else.”

“The title is called ‘Missing Home,’” Randall revealed. “It’s existed for a long time. It’s a song that every time we play it for each other and for other people that just instantly hits some kind of spot, and it really means a lot to us. I think that it might even make it onto this next album.”

Also under consideration is one of the most personal songs the duo has written about their own relationship, which has never been played publicly.

Flora Cash

Flora Cash photographed at BottleRock Napa Valley at the Napa Valley Expo on May 24, 2019.

It didn’t take long for Randall and Lleshaj to start making music together after meeting each other online in 2012. Lleshaj, who was writing atmospheric electronic music, discovered her future husband’s Soundcloud page, pouring over each of his folky songs and offering her feedback. The two were soon talking on Skype and Facebook every day for months. Eventually she visited him in Minnesota in 2013, where the two wrote their first songs together. They were married later that year.

“It just gradually grew, and we realized, ‘Oh my gosh, we have so much in common, and it’s not just the music thing,’” Lleshaj said.

“As we were talking about our life experiences and the things we’ve been through, we just realized that … maybe the reason we connected on a musical level was because we shared so much personally,” Randall added.

Flora Cash acknowledges that how the two met is ironic considering their hit song and how it was first used, but said they did their due diligence—Googling each other.

“People get catfished. We get that,” Lleshaj said. “We were really fast to talk on the phone and then we Skyped, and then not only with each other, but we Skyped with each other’s mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, siblings, everything, [Randall’s] aunt. And we did that really fast.”

The music soon followed, with several EPs and two albums in 2016 and 2017. Randall had moved to Sweden, and the first album, Can Summer Love Last Forever?, was released on a Swedish label and was promptly nominated for a couple of regional awards. The album contained “For Someone,” an airy tune the two wrote to encapsulate their relationship at the time. The following Nothing Lasts Forever (And It’s Fine) contained “You’re Somebody Else.”

Flora Cash

Flora Cash performs at BottleRock Napa Valley at the Napa Valley Expo on May 24, 2019.

The couple wrote the song while housesitting for Lleshaj’s sister in Stockholm. To them, the lyrics were a way to address that the two were not where they wanted to be. The song would go on to chart in the top 10 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs and Adult Alternative Songs charts and in the top 15 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart.

Flora Cash then signed with RCA Records, which added the song to spring 2019 EP Press—removing it from digital versions of the 2017 album. To the duo, Press is a continuation of the conversation started on the previous record. The themes of uncertainty, anxiety and searching for acceptance are carried on even as the direction changes slightly, Randall said.

“The things we write about is our lives and our experience,” he said. “We don’t write music to appeal to a certain audience. We don’t write music because we think it’s going to sound good, that it’s going to sell, or this or that. Everything that we’ve ever done is an honest expression of what we experience. There’s aspects of it that sound different, but that’s because our lives changed between releases, so then we just wrote about what was honest, and we rolled with it.”

Press also included another emotional heartbreaker in “They Own This Town,” which the two outwardly wrote about being held down by the power players of the music industry. But the keys-driven ballad could just as easily be about taking down another goliath, like the NRA. The video portrays a man in a ski mask standing over a bathtub of fish with a rifle and ends with a child’s voice declaring, “You who hold the children dear, look after us, the little ones.”

To Flora Cash, each listener’s perspective song meaning is just as valid as its own.

“There’s a lot of things that influence where the writing comes from,” Randall said. “There’s a whole lot of things that were happening in the world at the time. On a personal level, there was the aspect that sometimes it kind of feels like you’re banging your head against a wall, and that there are forces that are trying to keep you at that place.”

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