interview – ben cooper

so, i’ve babbled about the fabulously talented ben cooper and two of his bands before (radical face – go HERE to read that one and electric president – go HERE for this one) here on the blog before. he’s one of those people who kind of make you a wee bit jealous, because he’s able to consistently churn out quality music under a number of musical shingles and still manage to sound creative and fresh.

which is a great thing for his listeners.

ben is currently at work on his latest LP, the roots, which is part of what he calls the family tree project for radical face. i recently had the opportunity to ask him a number of questions about his bands, creative process and what’s up next.

have you met heather: you’ve been part of a number of groups (including radical face, electric president, iron orchestra and mother’s basement). what made you choose to go that route as opposed to just one band?

ben cooper: I like a lot of different types of music, both as a listener and a writer, and it’s difficult for me to sit in one style for too many records in a row. So having different projects seemed like the best way to keep things fresh and to avoid routine. It was also a good way to collaborate with different people along the way.

hymh: each group has a very distinctive sound, which shows an impressive catalogue of styles. do you have any preferences on what kind of music you like to play the best? or is it all good?

ben: I like all of it. I really enjoy working alone and just trying to translate what I’m hearing in my head with no interference, which is more or less what the Radical Face project is. But the collaboration of the other projects is great too, in that there’s other people involved pushing the material in directions I wouldn’t expect. I end up with things I wouldn’t have done on my own as a result, and that has it’s own excitement. I also like messing with all the different kinds of production, and all the different tools involved. So there isn’t a best for me. They’re just different and interesting in their own ways.

hymh: how would you describe your creative process? where do you go to to find inspiration?

ben: Inspiration just kinda shows up. It’s never been something I could deliberately hunt down. But it shows up more often when I read a lot, or watch movies, or listen to new records or rediscover old ones. When I absorb other art, I get a lot more ideas, both for things to make, and just in general. I often make records about the ideas that, once they pop up, won’t go away until I make something out of them.

As for process, I try to change it all the time. I’m suspicious of comfort when it comes to making things. If I feel like I already know how it’ll turn out and how I’ll do it from the start, then I’m not usually giving it my all. I think I make my best stuff when I’m not entirely sure where I’m headed, or when I think they might blow up in my face. I pay the most attention then and really think about everything I’m doing. Whatever it takes to avoid autopilot, I guess. So each record has been pretty different.

hymh: what kind of music do you find yourself listening to a lot lately?

ben: For the past couple days I’ve been listening to Spiderland from Slint. I dug it back out at random, and it’s been on loop ever since. It’s one of those records I do this with every so often. I’ve also been listening to this group Balmorhea that a friend recently turned me on to, and Mozart’s Requiem.

I don’t think there’s a lot of rhyme or reason to what I’m listening to at any given time.

hymh: what are a few of your favorite songs to perform?

ben: I’m not really sure. I usually just play whatever I can with the set up I have at the time. And shows have a way of blurring together, where I don’t remember the particulars very much. Which is probably a nice thing for the times when the show isn’t good. Hahaha. But I guess I can’t really say. None particularly spring to mind.

hymh: you’ve got a new album coming out in october, under radical face (which i’m very much looking forward to!). what was the experience like creating the roots?

ben: Thanks. It’s fun to find people are interested in a new record. I can never say if it will appeal to anyone, but it’s flattering.

Anyway, the record took me about 15 months to record and mix. I’ve never made a record with such a limited tool set before, as far as instruments go, and it definitely changed the way I wrote. It’s also the first time I’ve made a record without distortion. I really like distortion, so that took a lot of restraint. Hahaha. But in general I wanted to get everything across with songwriting and keep the production side of it minimal. I didn’t mess with the sounds very much in post. It forced me to be more selective with the notes and writing (and rewriting). I learned a lot of new things over the course of this record, and I’m glad I went about it how I did. But I’m looking forward to using more sounds and instruments again on the next record in the set.

hymh: you also created your own label – bear machine records. why?

ben: I guess there are a lot of reasons. But the simplest way to put it is that the ideas I had for these records didn’t fit well with the systems a proper label has in place. I wasn’t willing to compromise the ideas to make it fit, so I figured I’d just do it myself. It’s been a lot more work than I anticipated, I’ve already kind of screwed a lot of things up and I have no idea if it will even work, but I’m alright with all of it. No matter how it all lands, I wanted to try and I’m happy I did.

hymh: do you plan on doing any touring for “the roots”?

ben: Yeah, a little bit. I’ve got a handful of shows in the US this October playing with vocals groups and choirs, maybe 2 weeks of shows in Europe early next year, and then a week in Japan. I don’t tour often, so that’s actually a lot for me.

hymh: can listeners expect anything new from any of your other bands soon?

ben: Yep. Gonna be putting out a record early next year called “Clone.” It’s a collaboration between me and Rickolus, and it’s a pretty strange record. But we’re both really excited about how it came out. Took us over 2 years to complete. I’ll have more abut that on my website pretty soon.

Me and my brother (we do Iron Orchestra together) have been working on a film score, which we’ll make available once it’s all done. It’ll be a little while on this, but it’s going really well so far.

And I figure Alex [Kane] and I will make another Electric President album at some point. He just graduated with his masters and got a new job, so it’ll likely have to wait until he’s settled in with all of that. But I feel like we should do at least one more. I just can’t say when. We never plan very far ahead with that project. We just take it as it comes.

thanks, ben!

you can get several songs that didn’t make it on the roots but were recorded at the same time for free right now from the widget below. all is well (it’s only the blood), all is well (goodbye, goodbye) and we’re on our way are a trio of lovely songs that make me think that, if these are the rejects, the roots is going to be a pretty great album, indeed.

the lyrics for we’re on our way:

show your hands if you’re leaving your coat of paint
if you’re bolted to heavy things like anchors hidden somewhere ‘neath your skin
or if your head’s just an empty box
if your heart has become spare parts
if your days are down to something you must bear

no, it seems you’re a lot like me
you dug yourself into places you never thought you would be
don’t you fret and don’t you mind
the only constant is changing
you never know what you’ll find

yeah, tomorrow I might wake up nice and clean
i might believe the things i said i didn’t mean
this might turn and wind up just the way we dreamed
and i might become the things i swore i’d always be

but we’re always on our way, we’re on our way

radical face’s new album, the roots, will be released on october 4th via bear machine records. until then, go HERE to buy music by radical face.

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