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Cozmic Theo – Musician and Artist

Cozmic Theo is a musician and visual artist who recently traded the warmth and sun of Hawaii for the seemingly endless winters of Ithaca. We visited Theo in his space at Howl Studios to talk about his roots, his band, and the crossroads where art and music meet.

Tucked behind the Ithaca Antiques Mall sits a rather nondescript building, it’s plain white walls belying the colorful creations that are housed inside. This is Howl Studios, a gathering place for artists and musicians to practice, produce and commune. The place is busy like a hive – bodies in and out of doors, up and down hallways, carrying art pieces, supplies and instruments. The corridors become makeshift art galleries and impromptu concert halls, full of sound and color. There is a feeling of refreshing temporariness here, like you could visit again in a day and have a dozen new experiences.

“Cozmic” Theo, a relatively recent Ithaca transplant, rents space on the second floor at Howl. When Theo isn’t at home or slinging drinks at his day job at Corks & More, this is his creation space. Like a microcosm for Howl itself, Theo’s studio is a collection of eclectic influences and output. His artistic works in a variety of media adorn one wall, on another, the cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, among other favorite albums. On the floor is a stack of CDs – the audiobook version of Keith Richard’s autobiography, “Life.” 

Theo is fresh off a gig with his band (also called Cozmic) at the Nines the previous night, and he’s still full of rockstar energy. He sits open and wide as though in guitar-wielding power stance. “I’m into the showmanship, performance, entertainment thing,” he later explains. “I’m into Little Richard, Prince, the Jimmies – both Page and Hendrix. I also like to bring that Mick Jagger kick into it, like I’m a bad boy, I can get a little risky, but at the bottom of me it’s just pure love.” 

Talking to Theo, you get that sense. He has an effortless, go-with-the-flow brand of positive energy that’s infectious. Even moving from the balmy islands of Hawai’i to frozen Ithaca hasn’t dampened his spirit. Asked if he misses the endless summers, he aphorizes: “The cycle helps you set a tempo… but you find a way to create seasons in your life, some way or another. If it’s not happening outside, it’s happening inside.”

Making of the band

As the name “Cozmic” implies, destiny seems to have Theo’s back. When he first arrived in Ithaca, he was awaiting the birth of his now-10-month-old daughter.

Soon after arriving, he had a chance meeting with another ukelele player named Trevor (Thorpe, of local reggae band Big UpState) at an open mic. Between the shared instrument and a mutual connection to Hawai’i, the two became fast friends. Theo ended up getting the other’s demo but not his last name or contact information. As birth preparations ramped up, Theo lost contact with Trevor, but found the music on that demo to be an instrumental stress relief during that busy time.

Once Theo found his way back to Ithaca’s music scene, he sought out Trevor, who connected him with Howl Studios. “Since then I’ve developed relationships with all these other people [at Howl],” Theo says, “And it’s been continuously intertwining with other relationships… so now I’m locked in.”

Now, Theo’s entire band is made up of fellow Howl denizens.

When Theo picked up the guitar

Theo first picked up a guitar in middle school. For him, it was a way to connect with his peers that he had been lacking. “Music was a language we all spoke,” he recalls. His first teacher played for the rock band at his church.

The man had started to offer free lessons to all interested. Enthusiasm was high early on, with 20 or 30 students eagerly learning.

As the weeks wore on, the numbers dwindled, to 10, to 5, to 3, until finally it was just Theo, learning one on one. It’s a lesson he’s carried ahead in life: “A lot of times it’s just sticking out all the other quitters until you’re the only person standing. Then you’re the life of the party, cause everyone else is asleep!” 

In addition to being the frontman of Cozmic, Theo is also a visual artist with a penchant for experimenting with light, layers and dimensions as well as more traditional styles. His latest big project, an event he’s calling “Forthcoming” promises to combine both audio and visual elements, drew a healthy crowd at 220 Cherry St.

A self-proclaimed gypsy, Cozmic Theo has spent much of his life in motion. Still, he seems right at home in Ithaca. He hosted a porch at 2014’s Porchfest, he’s becoming a known face at Ithaca’s favorite music venues, and with Forthcoming, he’s on to hosting his own unique events.

Now, armed with a reason to set down roots in the form of his daughter and a bustling font of positive energy, Theo is poised to make himself a fixture in the community for years to come.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.