Share it Please
Ben Cooper became a renaissance man after being raised as a boy in Jacksonville, Florida. As a writer, artist, and musician, Cooper uses various mediums to express himself. Recently, Cooper reunited with fellow musician, Alex Kane and created the duo named Electric President. Their goal was to use electronic instruments without creating an overtly electronic sound. Their debut album, 'S/T' is unique collection of poignant yet enigmatic pop tunes. If John Hughes (director of The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, etc.) were making a teen flick today, one of the songs from 'S/T' would probably be on the soundtrack. Released by Morr Music, 'S/T' uses emotional guitar melodies and light rhythms to create music that is noticeable, but not shocking.
Ben Cooper will be one of those artists that you will hear about in the following years. If this article is the first time you heard about him, will you remember it?
T.JONES: 'What goes on?'
BEN COOPER: 'Not much. Just finished watching some more of 'Lost'. Good show.'
T.JONES: 'Electric President just released a new album, 'S/T', Tell us about the album.'
BEN COOPER: 'Well, it's the first record me and Alex have done under an official name. We've worked together off and on since around 2000, but finally gave the project a title. We recorded it at home, in Alex's bedroom and in my tool shed. It took about 8 months. It was also the first time we've ever used computers so much in the process. That's the basic overview of the record.'
T.JONES: 'What is your favorite song on 'S/T'?'
BEN COOPER: 'I don't have one. I'm much more into the idea of a complete record, where no one song is necessarily more important, so I don't really pay much attention to any particular song once the record is done.'
T.JONES: 'Why did you choose the name Electric President?'
BEN COOPER: 'I was at a Christmas party, a couple years ago, having a conversation with a couple friends who I hadn't seen in a while. One of them said something along the lines of 'eclectic resident', but I thought he said electric president. We thought the name was kind of funny. We joked that one of us should use it for a band name. So, I did.'
T.JONES: 'Which song on 'S/T' took the longest to complete? Why?'
BEN COOPER: 'I think 'Some Crap About The Future' took the longest and saw the most changes. It was a pain in the ass to record for a number of reasons. The drums were all pitch shifted. The guitars weren't sitting right at first. The drones kept getting too thick and noisy and then, proved to be the toughest to mix too. And, it originally had more sections, but it was already getting out of hand, so it was cut back to something more manageable.'
T.JONES: 'For 'S/T', you wanted to integrate computers into the process without having the LP to be an electronic record. Why? How did you accomplish this?'
BEN COOPER: 'Well, after listening to some records from The Books, I was really pumped to try some editing. So, I suggested to Alex that we use a bunch of computers on the record. He was into it too, so we got started. All the songs started like normal ones. I'd lay out some chords and get my vocals together. Then, Alex would add some bass guitar to everything. Then we'd start using computers to mess everything up. Splice parts out, mute and un-mute entire sections, record sections separately and edit them together, stuff like that. The drums were mostly random sounds we collected and made, knocking on walls, dropping bags, zippers, tools, scraping Styrofoam, cracking our knuckles, dropping rocks in a bucket, et cetera. I sequenced them all in Reason.'
T.JONES: 'The song, 'Good Morning Hypocrite' is one of my favorites. What inspired this song?'
BEN COOPER: 'It was the first song we did for the record. I can't say exactly what inspired it, other than that it was the start of the whole project. It was the guinea pig, in a lot of ways, and it provided some idea of what direction the record would go in.'
T.JONES: 'The 'S/T' album was recorded in a tool shed and a bedroom?'
BEN COOPER: 'Yeah. We don't have a recording space or anything. So, we just work wherever. Alex's bedroom is more convenient, so it was used for about 80% of this record. But whenever I record at home, I work in the tool shed. It's the only space I've got for playing music.'
T.JONES: 'How do you feel you have evolved as an artist?'
BEN COOPER: 'I don't know. It's a hard thing to gauge. I mean, it happens slowly. So, sometimes you almost don't even notice until you listen back to what you were making and writing a few years before. I think I'm happier with the more recent stuff, and more confident in it, but that could be a state of mind as much as actual improvement. But I've definitely gotten a lot better at production and recording. We're using the same crappy gear we've always used. I haven't bought any new recording gear for a couple years, but everything sounds a lot more together now.'
T.JONES: 'How is Electric President different from Radical Face?'
BEN COOPER: 'There's more collaboration in Electric President. I still write the skeletons for the songs and often have an arrangement in mind, but we do more of the writing in the same room. If I bring something from home, I leave everything pretty naked to see what happens when we work together. Sometimes, Alex will do something on bass or a synth that changes the direction of the song, which is fun. As for the Radical Face stuff, I work alone on that project. I sometimes have people play instruments on some songs, and occasionally I'll get input on a section or two, usually from my little brother. But, it's mostly just me holed up in the tool shed.'
T.JONES: 'How did you meet Alex Cane and eventually form both groups?'
BEN COOPER: 'I met Alex in 2000 in a band called Helicopter Project. The group lost their lead singer/song writer and asked if I wanted to step in. I hadn't been in a band in a few years. It sounded like fun, so I said sure. We played together for maybe a year. Then, we split up because two members left for college. But, me and Alex stayed in touch after that. Eventually, we started recording together again. We've worked together, off and on, ever since.'
T.JONES: 'What is going on with Radical Face?'
BEN COOPER: 'I'm currently recording a record under that name. I've been writing the songs for it for about a year and a half. I've been tracking since October. I hope to be done within the next couple of months. I'm looking forward to a break, but I'm really proud of it. It's turning out how I hoped it would, which doesn't always happen. And if all goes as planned, it should come out on Morr this August.'
T.JONES: 'What other music projects are you in?'
BEN COOPER: 'I have a project with my brother, who plays piano, called 'Iron Orchestra'. It consists of instrumental songs in a modern classical vein. We've been writing for the project for a while now. I hope to have some recordings finished by the end of the year. But, we're still working out how to get the string sections performed and tracked. We are trying to find a good piano to record on. I've also been working with a bunch of friends in a noisy/trashy project called 'Biowulf'. We plan on tracking a record and doing some small bursts of touring this summer. It's all talk at this point, but I think it'll happen. Other than that, I've been doing production for Astronautalis for the past few years, and there's a bunch of one-off projects that only happen every blue moon. Headache and Pearl Harbor, Unkle Stiltskin, et cetera.'
T.JONES: 'Do you think success and credibility are mutually exclusive?'
BEN COOPER: 'It all depends on who you ask. A lot of people have a different take on that, and their own idea of what groups should or shouldn't do. A lot of people get pissed when other people suddenly know who their favorite band is. Why? I don't know. Personally, I don't really care. I either like the music or I don't whether it's successful, popular, obscure, cutting-edge, et cetera. It doesn't matter very much. I'm not very social about what I like, so that might have something to do with it.'
T.JONES: 'What do you think of the term trip-hop?'
BEN COOPER: 'I've never known exactly what it applies to, or where it came from. So I don't have much of an opinion on it. I like some musicians that get that tag, though.'
T.JONES: 'Describe the overall recording process.'
BEN COOPER: 'Depends on which record we're talking about. It changes each time. For 'S/T', we tracked all the basics for each song pretty fast. One or two 10-hour-days were enough to get everything laid down in all but a few cases. But the drum sequencing, synth modeling, editing and rearranging sometimes went on for a month after that. It got kind of meticulous at times, but it was fun to take what was there and destroy it, or chop it into something new.'
T.JONES: 'How did you get involved with Morr Music?'
BEN COOPER: 'Friends passing the music along. I gave some CDs to Astronautalis, who gave a copy to Styrofoam, who told Thomas Morr about it. Morr then check out my website and liked some of the material and asked if I wanted to put a record out on his label. I said yes, and then we negotiated everything for a while and came to an agreement we could both accept. And here we are.'
T.JONES: 'What song are you most proud of?'
BEN COOPER: 'No particular one. I pay a lot of attention to each song during the writing and recording, but now that everything's done, it's just a record. No one song stands out anymore.'
T.JONES: 'When creating a song, do you have a set theme or pre-written lyrics? Do you write the music first? Or, does everything come together simultaneously?'
BEN COOPER: 'All of the above. Some songs start as words, some start as music, more common. Sometimes there's a theme to all the lyrics, like on 'S/T', all the songs except one took place in some kind of made-up future, but sometimes not. It changes each time.'
T.JONES: 'Favorite sampler?'
BEN COOPER: 'I've never owned one, so I don't know.'
T.JONES: 'Favorite keyboard?'
BEN COOPER: 'I will always have a soft spot for the Casio SK-1. But I mostly use a midi-controller and soft synths these days.'
T.JONES: 'Favorite guitar?'
BEN COOPER: 'If I had the money, I'd get a Gibson J-45. I really like the sound and feel of those. I also like my little yard sale guitars too. So it's hard to say. Electric guitars are a whole new ballgame.'
T.JONES: 'What do you think about the cover for the album?'
BEN COOPER: 'I thought the cover was great. It was not at all what I had intended for it, but that's exactly why I liked it. It was really cool to see someone else's presentation. I like Jan's style. It's very charming.'
T.JONES: 'What is your opinion on downloading music from the Internet?'
BEN COOPER: 'I'm not against it. There are always cases where people take it to a ridiculous level, but that happens with anything.'
T.JONES: 'What inspired the song, 'Snow On Dead Neighbors'?'
BEN COOPER: 'I take a lot of walks late at night. Usually around 3 a.m. or so. Everything looks very different around then. There aren't a lot of lights, few cars, very little movement. I like the way it looks and feels. That's what sparked the lyrics for that one. But to be more specific: the song takes place about a hundred years the in the future. The main characters are a teenage boy and a girl robot. He thinks is his sister. They're on the run from the organization that was holding his sister captive. On the way, they stumble upon this neighborhood encased in snow and ice. It looks much how a lot of neighborhoods do now, only without any people. They're just wandering through it, looking in all the windows. It all sounds pretty silly when written out like that, but that's how much of the record was written. A lot of songs are just stories, not necessarily a personal outlook.'
T.JONES: 'Favorite Films?'
BEN COOPER: 'I could go on for a while here, so I'll just mention some of them: The Usual Suspects, Shawshank Redemption, Seven Samurai, anything Miyazaki has done, Amelie, The Lord of the Rings movies, Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Iron Giant, Seven, anything Pixar does, Return to Oz, Braveheart, Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, Shadow of the Vampire, Trainspotting, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, L.A. Confidential, American History X, Billy Elliot, Being John Malkovich. I guess that's good enough. I'm definitely leaving a lot out, but that's always the case with lists.'
T.JONES: 'What is the favorite part of your live show?'
BEN COOPER: 'Not sure yet. We haven't played much of the material live at this point. We're still trying to figure just how to do it. Most of the songs will likely be dismantled and played in a very different way.'
T.JONES: 'Where are you from? Where are you living now? What is it like?'
BEN COOPER: 'I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and I live here now. It's not a very busy place, but I like it for that. You mostly just work at your own pace. There isn't much nightlife or anything, but I don't go out very often anyway. I'd rather just watch a movie, or read, or whatever.'
T.JONES: 'What are some songs that made you fall in love?'
BEN COOPER: 'I don't know. I mean, plenty of songs have had an affect on me, but I don't know if I've ever fallen in love on account of one.'
T.JONES: 'Who are some artists who you would like to collaborate with in the future?'
BEN COOPER: 'Lots of them. But it would depend on the kind of music, and when you ask me. Some names at the moment: Joanna Newsom, The Books, Sigur Ros, Max Richter, Tom Waits, Johann Johansson, some groups on Morr.'
T.JONES: 'What are some songs that you would like to remix? How would you do it?'
BEN COOPER: 'I'm not sure. I've never remixed anything before.'
T.JONES: 'Where were you during September 11th terrorist attack? How did you deal with it?'
BEN COOPER: 'I was at home. At first, I didn't deal with it. It took a while for it to sink in.'
T.JONES: 'Death penalty ' for or against?'
BEN COOPER: 'I don't think I could give an adequate answer in the form of an interview. In part, it is because I usually keep my politics separate from my music or art. I don't want to use them as a platform; I can't help but have some views seep into the writing, but I'm not very outspoken in that way, but also because I feel politics and views should be discussed. Just putting out opinions in a place that you can't debate them or have a conversation mostly just starts fights, which isn't conducive for making a point. I definitely have a view about these things, but you'll have to corner me in person for a response.'
T.JONES: 'Abortion ' pro-choice or pro-life?'
BEN COOPER: 'Same as above.'
T.JONES: 'What was your childhood like? What kind of kid were you?'
BEN COOPER: 'I grew up in a very big family. I have nine siblings, but I've always been about the same in that I've always liked to make things. I got into drawing and painting when I was in the second grade. In middle school I started playing music and making short films with friends after school. Toward the end of high school, I got into reading and writing. But I was into a lot of physical things too. I skated until I was 19 and would probably still be skating everyday had I not hurt my back. I fell on my tailbone a few too many times, so now my back goes out. Even lifting something wrong is enough to leave me bedridden for a while, so skating is out of the question. But I miss it.'
T.JONES: 'What has been in your CD player or in your tape deck recently?'
BEN COOPER: 'Joanna Newsom, Max Richter, a mix CD of choral compositions and Chopin piano pieces, and this old Erectus Monotone album I got from a friend.'
T.JONES: 'Word association. When I say a name, you tell me the first word that pops in your head. So, if I say 'The Beatles', you may say 'Revolution' or 'Lennon'. Ok?'
T.JONES: 'Massive Attack.'
BEN COOPER: 'Dark.'
T.JONES: 'Trisomie 21.'
BEN COOPER: 'Math.'
T.JONES: 'The Stone Roses.'
BEN COOPER: 'England.'
BEN COOPER: 'Smiths.'
BEN COOPER: 'Nice.'
T.JONES: 'The Fall.'
BEN COOPER: 'Leaves. I know you meant the band, but I'm trying to stick to the 'first word that pops into my head' guideline.'
T.JONES: 'The Strokes.'
BEN COOPER: 'Guitars.'
T.JONES: 'My Bloody Valentine.'
BEN COOPER: 'Drones. '
T.JONES: 'The House Of Love.'
BEN COOPER: '80s.'
BEN COOPER: 'Unfamiliar.'
BEN COOPER: 'Hands.'
T.JONES: 'The Wolfgang Press.'
BEN COOPER: 'Mozart.'
T.JONES: 'Cocteau Twins.'
BEN COOPER: 'Pretty.'
T.JONES: 'The Dandy Warhols.'
BEN COOPER: 'Campbell's.'
T.JONES: 'Psychic T.V.'
BEN COOPER: 'Cleo.'
BEN COOPER: 'Turntable.'
T.JONES: 'New Order.'
BEN COOPER: 'Ceremony.'
T.JONES: 'Brian Eno.'
BEN COOPER: 'Apollo.'
T.JONES: 'George Bush.'
BEN COOPER: 'Ears.'
T.JONES: 'What do you think of the U.S. involvement in the Middle East?'
BEN COOPER: 'Again, this isn't the place I can adequately discuss it. For a general statement, I'm not real happy with it, but it's not a black and white topic.'
T.JONES: 'Who was the biggest influence in your life?'
BEN COOPER: 'My family, hands down. They've forever and always helped me stay centered. They're my favorite people.'
T.JONES: 'How has technology hurt music?'
BEN COOPER: 'I don't think it has. I think its changed music, but it hasn't hurt it. It could only hurt it if you wanted music to stay the same, which I don't. I'm always excited to see what else will happen with music. But I do think that people haven't learned how to adjust to all the technology just yet, both in terms of how to use it to make records, and how to market and sell them as well. Everyone's kind of flailing, convinced that downloading music and consumer-level recording gear will be the death of music. Music isn't going anywhere. In the 80's, people were saying the same thing about Midi and synthesizers, that they're killing music, and that everything worth writing has already been written, etc. Music didn't die, it just changed. I really don't think it's that big a deal now either. People just have to figure out what to do with all the options they have now, and adjust.'
T.JONES: 'In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius writes, 'It's my belief that history is a wheel'¦. Rise up on my spokes if you like but don't complain when you're cast back down into the depths. Good time pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it's also our hope. The worst of time, like the best, are always passing away.' What other works of art, literature, songs, or whatever helped you maintain?"
BEN COOPER: 'Books in general are a life-saver for me. Whenever I'm down, I can read and it takes my mind off of things. There's not enough space in my head to feel shitty and concentrate on a story.'
T.JONES: 'What was your last dream you remember?'
BEN COOPER: 'Most of my dreams are very tense and unnerving. I'm sure there's some psychological reason behind this, but I don't know it. My last dream was no different. I dreamed that I was trying to help someone I know, but couldn't.'
T.JONES: 'What is music lacking these days?'
BEN COOPER: 'In a personal way, I wish there were more composers working now. I realize there isn't much of an avenue for it outside of film soundtracks and such, but I would like to see more instrumental pieces being written and sold like other records. But overall, I think music is doing fine. I'm finding at least 4 or 5 new artists a year that I really like, which isn't bad at all. I've changed the way I listen to music though. I try my best not to listen to music as what I would like it to be, and just listen to what it is and decide whether I enjoy it. It's really easy to get caught up in a bunch of social crap and listen to music as some sort of identity-defining thing, but I've found that there's very little attention paid to the music in those cases. It becomes the equivalent of deciding what you're going to wear, and I like music too much to let it become that. I've never been very social about what I like, but I've become even less so lately, and I've found that I'm just enjoying more art in general. It's nice.'
T.JONES: 'You also are involved in writing and art. Tell us about your other non-music creativity.'
BEN COOPER: 'Well, music is kind of the last thing I got into. I've always drawn and painted, since elementary school. For the past few years, paintings have been my only source of income. When I was just out of high school, I was determined to become a writer. For a little over a year, I did nothing but write in my spare time. But my computer, which held all of my writing, completely crashed one day and all the work I hadn't backed up was lost, which was pretty disheartening. So while I was working a bunch and saving up for a new computer, I needed something to do. So Alex and I started recording together again, and that's when all this started. I'd been playing bands since middle school, and writing songs throughout the years since, but it wasn't until borrowing a 4-track and recording on my days off that music really clicked. Playing live and being in bands has never been my favorite thing. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't enough to make me stick with it. But when the recording thing got rolling, I was suddenly writing all the time, practicing more than I ever had, and trying to understand how to make a record. Writing and recording are by far my favorite parts of music.'
T.JONES: 'What are some major misconceptions that people have of you?'
BEN COOPER: 'I don't know. Locally, I mostly hang around the same people I always have. I've known a lot of my friends since elementary school, and the rest I met in high school.'
T.JONES: 'What is next for you?'
BEN COOPER: 'Once I finish this current record and get it mastered, I'm gonna change gears and work on a book for a while. I've been mapping out this story for a long time, and would like to sit down and write it. I also hope to get some of the Iron Orchestra pieces recorded this year, and have been working on some short film scripts with a friend, that we plan on shooting soon. Then there's the Biowulf project for summer and some touring for Electric President during fall. So it's going to be a busy year, and I'm pretty sure I won't finish all of that, but I'm gonna try.'
T.JONES: 'Any final words?'
BEN COOPER: 'Thanks for this opportunity, Todd. And thanks for asking some different questions. This is definitely the most thorough interview yet.'
THANK YOU ELECTRIC PRESIDENT!!!
Interview by Todd E. Jones
NOTICE: This interview is property of Todd E. Jones and cannot be duplicated or posted without written permission.
RADICAL FACE: http://www.radicalface.com
MORR MUSIC: http://www.morrmusic.com/
'Good Morning, Hypocrite' ' Electric President
'Label My Mind: Blown'