Ben Cooper on music, ghosts, & exploration

Today, I have artist extraordinaire Ben Cooper on my site. He has music coming out his pores. Want proof? He’s musician/songwriter/composer for Radical Face, Electronic President, Iron Orchestra, Mother’s Basement, AND Patients. But simply being in five bands does not an artist make. No, this man is it. Whatever IT means to you, he is.

If I could describe his music in one word: childlike. If I could describe his music in two words: soul mending. If I could describe his music in three words: raw talent explosion.

I want his music playing the moment I die, it gives me such peace. It’s both ethereal and gritty, authentic and breathtaking. Good dancing music, too. Especially if you’re on an old abandoned bridge in the moonlight with your lover.

But don’t take my word for it. Just watch this video.

Now put your grubby paws together and welcome the one and only Ben Cooper!

Ellie Ann: Hi Ben. Let’s start with a game (just like they always do at Summer Camp) to get us relaxed (or really uncomfortable, depending on whether you like games or not).

I’ll show you an image and you say the first things that come to your head:

Ben Cooper: “I regret nothing.”

Ben Cooper: “Despite my appearance, I am not joking.”

Ben Cooper: “This would be a nice place to sit and write.”

Ben Cooper: “I’m glad they have a fire extinguisher in case a fire breaks out.”

Ellie Ann:

Now lets start with a few easy questions:

What instrument do you play?

Have long have you played said instrument?

What are your favorite instruments to work with?

Ben Cooper: I play a number of instruments, with varying degrees of success. Guitar is my main instrument, then bass, pianos/keyboards, drums/percussion, banjo, accordion, and everything after that I really just make noise with.

I’ve been playing guitar for 17 years now. As for favorites, I never tire of the sound of acoustic guitars, pianos, strings and voices. There are lots of others I enjoy, but I imagine those 4 will always be staples.

Ellie Ann: I hear you don’t use real drums like rockstars do. What kind of percussion do you use?

Ben Cooper: I tend to use whatever is around. Anything you can hit is percussion, so I just use my surroundings. I sometimes use drum sets, but that’s more when I feel the song really calls for it than a default.

Ellie Ann: I can’t say this about many music artists, but I literally can’t pick a favorite of your songs, too many good ones to choose from. Do you have a strong connection to one or two of them, or are they like your children in that you don’t have a favorite?

Ben Cooper: Thank you. I take that as a high compliment. And it’s definitely the latter. Anything that makes it to a record I put about the same amount of effort into. So no real favorites.

Ellie Ann: In your album THE FAMILY TREE, you write about a family called the Northcotes, living in the 1800’s. You write their story in fierce and beautiful ballads, so detailed and emotion I feel connected to them. The music forms a strong atmosphere as well. It is what some people call a “concept record.” I find this awesome, and tip my hat to you as a storyteller. This is not a question. Just a statement of fact: THE FAMILY TREE is a tall glass of fantastic with awesomesauce on top.

Ellie Ann: Speaking of families, tell me about yours. In one word.

Ben Cooper: Big.

Ellie Ann: Okay, that wasn’t fair. You may use more than one word. You work really closely with your family. Tell me about them, and what that’s like.

Ben Cooper: I’m one of 10 children, and I’m really close with most of my family. We’re all friends at this point, despite being related. None of us are very much alike, but we’ve never been an argumentative bunch.

I think growing up around so many different people was a huge help. I’ve never had trouble accepting differences in people. I expect them, and enjoy and appreciate them. I don’t know if I’d feel this way had there not been 12 of us crammed into a 3 bedroom house.

I currently work with my older sister – she helps me with all the shipping and the web store –  and two of my brothers. Micah does all my code/web based work, which is convenient, seeing as we live together, and Emeral is a musician. We have a project called Iron Orchestra and play on each other’s recordings when needed. He’s the guy I call when I’ve written something on piano that I can’t actually play.

Ellie Ann: One of your brothers is named Emerald. Your name is Ben. Is that short for Beryl? Be honest.

Ben Cooper: Hahaha. Nope. Short for Benjamin. Nothing fancy. And it’s just Emeral, without the D.

Note: Emeral, I am extra sorry for reading your name wrong so many times. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. p.s. cool name

Ellie Ann: As I writer, I’m trained to not wait for inspiration. I should put words on the paper every day whether I feel like it or not, and inspiration will come. Is songwriting the same way? Some days it’s work, but other days you feel it gush out your soul?

Ben Cooper: I play music everyday, but I don’t write music everyday. I can’t force songwriting. I have the ideas or I don’t. But I definitely have days where it all just pours out.

I think the speed record for me is I went from an idea for a song to a finished recording in about 5 hours. Granted, it was a simple track, but for whatever reason I knew exactly what it was going to be. Those moments are always pretty special. They don’t happen often.

Ellie Ann: What’s your favorite game?

Ben Cooper: If you mean video games, then it would be hard for me to pick. I’ve always played competitive games as a hobby. I still travel to tournaments for fighting games, actually. But some favorites would be: Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike, Counter Strike, Warcraft 3, Unreal Tournament ’99, Team Fortress 2. For non-competitive: Final Fantasy 3, Super Metroid, Tetris Attack, Super Mario World … actually, I’ll just stop talking. I could ramble on. I like video games a lot.

Ellie Ann: Word on the street is that you record in a shed.

Ben Cooper: Yep. It’s behind my mom’s house. It’s where I’ve made all my records. It was once a wooden one-car garage. These days it’s half recording studio, half laundry room/tool shed.

Ellie Ann: In your debut album, GHOST, there is a bird that sings with you. Did you ever recompense the bird? Why isn’t she still singing with you today? Did you two split ways in a friendly manner? Also, are you still playing on that creaky chair you feature in “Along The Road”?

Ben Cooper: The bird is gone. There was a nest there for a little while, but after about a month I didn’t hear her anymore. That chair is gone as well. I threw it away after finishing that song. It mostly drove me crazy. I gave it a moment of spotlight, then laid it to rest.

Ellie Ann: In GHOST, you write about abandoned houses and ghosts. Do you actually know any ghosts, or are you just writing from hearsay?

Ben Cooper: I use the word very loosely, so it’s not really either. Just some crap I make up, so I can have a roundabout way of talking about things both fascinating to me and personal.

Ellie Ann: I hear you like soundtracks. Who are some of your favorite composers, and what are some of your favorite scores?

Ben Cooper: I love them. I think I listen to more instrumental music than anything else.

Some composers I really like on the classical end are Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, Brahms, Saint Seans, Stravinsky, Beethoven. For scores, some favorites are “Amelie” (Yann Tiersen), “The Piano” (Michael Nyman), “Birth” (Alexandre Desplat), “The Land Before Time” (James Horner). I also really like modern folks like Max Richter, Rachel’s, and Johann Johannsson.

There are more, but again, I could just ramble on.

Ellie Ann: hypothetical question. I am corporate record mogul Mr. Walton L. Monstanto, and I come to you with a proposal: I’ll pay you a half-million dollars per year to write songs for Katy Perry, but I own all of your intellectual property and you have no say in how the songs turn out. Also, you can’t come out with any records of your own for the next 7 years. But come on! Money!

What do you say?

Ben Cooper: No deal. The only reason I’d want the money is to continue making music. If I had to give up making the stuff I care about, and the ability to explore and release my own work, I’d rather just do something else entirely.

Ellie Ann: You open your heart in your music, your creation connects to people’s souls. Your reviews say things like, “everything he touches turns to gold.” “greatest album I’ve ever heard.” “this album brought me to tears.” “the layers are stunning.” “wildly brilliant.” “his music speaks to you.” “he gets to you.”(these are just a few of the hundreds of reviews like this).

You connect with people through music. Is it a gift? An art? Tell me about these invisible wires you create through sound.

Ben Cooper: It’s all a bit of a mystery to me. Because if I’m totally honest here, I’m selfish about this stuff. I really just make what matters to me the most at the time. I don’t consider the listener when I’m making a record. I’ve never made music with an audience in mind, and I don’t fret over the reception. Because I’m going to make all this stuff regardless. Not because I hold some delusion that it’s important or matters very much, but because I’m happier when I’m making it than when I’m not. This is not to say it isn’t exciting to hear that people are getting something from the music, but that isn’t the reason I make it.

I wish I had a more noble or thoughtful answer than that, but I don’t. Not if I’m being honest.

Ellie Ann: Tell me about what’s on your horizon. What are your hopes? Dreams?

Ben Cooper: Well, I’m about to release a record I made with a friend of mine called “Clone”, and I’m working on the next record in the Family Tree set. I’ve also been working on some music videos for the various projects, and starting post for a movie I shot with some friends.

As for my hopes and dreams, I just want to continue making things as long as I can. I never really know where I’m going with them, so I always just hope I have enough time to find out. Beyond that, I really don’t know.

Follow @RadicalFace

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Check out their website and merchandise.

And as a parting gift, here is the music video for Pound of Flesh.

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19 Comments

  1. Great interview and beautiful music. I’ll definitely be checking out more.

    Question for Ben. In the video of Doorways, why does the girl have her face covered? This music inspires such a feeling of freedom and possibility so it seems having her veiled is such a contradiction.

    Love the music!

    Reply
    • EllieAnn

       /  May 29, 2012

      That veil is interesting, isn’t it? I really liked the older boy’s white gauzy cape. It looked like a jellyfish, my favorite animal. ;)

      Reply
  2. Great post, great songs… And an introduction to an artist. Thanks, Ellie Ann. (And great to “meet you”, Ben.)

    I think my favorite part was “who do you write for”… because clearly that is why the songs work. You’re writing them honestly.

    Reply
    • EllieAnn

       /  May 29, 2012

      I think every artist needs to answer that question, don’t you think? And the answers sure do vary greatly!

      Reply
  3. Ben, thanks so much for doing the interview with Ellie. How wonderful that I get to learn about you and your music! Love the samples here; going to check out your other stuff. Thanks, too, for the reminder of how important it is to create what you are called to create, and not worry about its reception, because you’d be creating it, anyway, whether or not there was someone on the receiving end. Personally, that’s a great reminder for me!

    Fab interview, Ellie! :D

    Reply
    • EllieAnn

       /  May 29, 2012

      CREATION is a wonderful thing, the “success” is the experience, not necessarily the recipient’s reactions. It was a good reminder for me, too, K.B.! =)

      Reply
  4. Great music AND a nod to the competitive world of ostrich racing? I love it. I love it so much :)

    Reply
    • EllieAnn

       /  May 29, 2012

      Ostrich racing pictures are fantastic. They are what the internet was made for.

      Reply
  5. How interesting! How did you guys meet? Ben is very good at your picture game. LOL. That’s cool how he varies the percussion around in songs. I’ve found some bands that also don’t use drums, one for example uses a tap dancer for their percussion. Tilly and the Wall; they’re pretty awesome.

    Thanks for the introduction, Ellie Ann! Fun interview!

    Reply
    • EllieAnn

       /  May 29, 2012

      We met through Ben’s “contact me” page of his website, LoL. I hope it’s the start to a long and happy friendship.
      I’m gonna go check out Tilly and the Wall! They sound pretty awesome.

      Reply
  6. Loved the interview and the music. Thanks for the introduction Ellie!

    Reply
  7. That IT clown made me LAUGH! Great interview. Thanks for sharing Ben with us, Ellie Ann. Seems like an artist through and through.

    Reply
  8. Karen McFarland

     /  May 29, 2012

    Great interview Ellie Ann, great music and great introduction to Ben! Thank you! :)

    Reply
  9. Whoa, great interview, Ellie Ann! I must have Ben’s music ~ it’s perfect for writing, so evocative and mystical. Ben is a totally cool guy. I hope he keeps making music forever!

    Reply
  10. Radical face is great! A friend showed me this band only a few weeks ago-you are very lucky to have interviewed ben cooper and you did a fantastic job of it.

    Reply
  1. The Silver Sickle as Multi Media « Ellie Ann

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