RADICAL FACE – Interview

Dass Ben Cooper eine musikalische Karriere einschlagen würde, war wohl schon relativ früh klar, zumindest beschäftigte sich der US-Amerikaner seit seinem sechzehnten Lebensjahr damit alleine oder mit befreundeten Künstlern in wechselnden Projekten Songs zu produzieren. 2003 gründete er so zusammen mit Alex Kane das Duo Radical Face Versus Phalex Sledgehammer, das drei Jahre später unter dem neuen Namen Electric President beim Berliner Morr Music Label das selbstbetitelte Debütalbum veröffentlichte. Nur ein Jahr später erschien dann auch Coopers Soloalbum ‘Ghost‘ bei Morr Music – unter dem Namen Radical Face. Mittlerweile hat der umtriebige Songwriter ein zweites Album, ‘Family Tree – The Roots‘, unter diesem Namen veröffentlicht und sich dafür die Bürde einer Konzeptalben-Trilogie auferlegt. Um welches Konzept es sich handelt, wie er dazu kam und überhaupt sehr viel zu seiner Person und seinem musikalischen Schaffen kann man jetzt hier lesen – Radical Face im Bedroomdisco Interview!

1.) Band facts

Name: Radical Face
Band members: Ben Cooper
Founding year: 2002
Residence: Jacksonville, FL
Current album: Family Tree – The Roots

2.) Questionnaire:

How did you start making music – had you been forced to play an instrument somehow or was it in your own interest? What was the occasion?
It was my own interest. I was the first in my family to really play music. When I started really getting into collecting records, around 12 or so, I soon after wanted to make my own music. I tend to do that with nearly everything I enjoy. So I mowed lawns and saved up for a guitar, and it all went from there.

In which situation did you come up with the name “Radical Face”, why did you choose it and what meaning has it for you?
I got the name from a damaged flyer. The top right corner was torn off, so it just featured a woman’s smiling face with the words “Radical Face” above it. I thought it was funny, because I couldn’t figure out what it was trying to advertise. Then I saw a completed one, and it read “Radical Face Lifts”. It was an advert for plastic surgery.

I just like misinformation and the humor in it. There’s no special meaning.

What musical influences do you have?
Oh, all kinds. I like a lot of classical music and movie scores. Yann Tiersen, Saint Saens, Rachel’s and James Horner have all been big ones lately. Lyricists like Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen have definitely had a big impact. And bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Polvo, The Flaming Lips, The Halo Benders, My Bloody Valentine, Neil Young, just to list a few, have all been influences.

But I could really ramble on here. I like a lot of music.

How do you normally work on songs? What are the steps/processes, what are the usual problems of finishing a song?
I change it all the time. Almost as a rule. Sometimes I start with words, sometimes with guitar or piano, sometimes with a melody that just pops into my head, or a rhythm I like the feel of. I try to avoid using the same process to often. I like to always feel a little uneasy about what I’m attempting, and to not know exactly how it’s gonna turn out. I pay more attention that way.

As for problems, lyrics are always the slowest part for me. If I wrote words faster, I could probably make albums in half the time.

How did you come up with the concept behind “The Family Tree: The Roots”, which was the trigger that grew your interest in writing about a fictional family living in the 19th century?
I really just wanted to write on the topic of family. It’s a big one for me. I’m one of 10 kids, and family has always had a strong impact on my life in some way. But I don’t like writing about myself directly. I use a lot of personal experiences in the writing, but I prefer to remove the details. I’d rather talk about the event than the people involved. I feel like I can be more honest that way.

So I decided to invent a family, one cobbled together from reading up on history, looking over genealogy charts and tracing the roots of my own family. I originally was gonna keep it at 5 or 6 characters, but as I kept writing the family expanded way beyond what I’d initially planned. And I chose the time period based on what was the most interesting to me, and what I most wanted to research.

How did you do research on the theme or did you more imagine how it would have been to be living in this time?
I pulled from books and genealogy mostly, along with a handful of documentaries. Then I used that information as a setting to put the invents and people into. I like reading up on history, so it was fun for me. I would’ve enjoyed doing it even if it wasn’t for a record.

Why did you then also decide to only use instruments of this time period? What difficulties did you meet because of this decision?
Well, this project is spanning three records. Since I was already developing a time line, I thought it would be interesting to tie the production to the concept as well. So this first record has the simplest production, in that I didn’t use a lot of effects, or full drum sets, or very much beyond just playing the few selected instruments. I tried to really focus on getting the mood across with just the songwriting and no tricks in post. This was definitely a challenge. Some songs were rewritten two or three times before they felt finished. But I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot from this record, and I accomplished some things I wasn’t aware I was capable of.

That being said, I’m glad the next record will have less limitations. Hahaha. I’ve missed using distortion and drum sets.

Could you tell about about the production process of “Family Tree: Roots”? How long did it take, where did it happen, what were the difficulties, how did you prepare for it? What was the best, what the worst moment? Most told anecdote?
It took about 15 months to record, and I tracked all of it in the tool shed behind my mother’s house. It’s where I record everything.

The biggest difficulties were on the songwriting side. The version of Pound of Flesh on the album was version three, and Always Gold was version four. Some songs just come out stubbornly.

And I’d have to say recording is the worst in Summer. Since I can’t have any fans on while recording, I’m usually stripped down to just my underwear, dripping sweat, and trying to get a take before something interrupts it. The shed is near a busy road, so sometimes I’m just about to finish a difficult guitar part and a bus will drive by, ruining the take. I think those moments, with me yelling at the traffic as though they can hear me, are some of the most frustrating. And probably the most humorous simultaneously. I’m sure I look like an idiot.

At which point did you know that the record was finished?
When I have nothing more to add, and I will defend what is there. When those two things are in place, I consider it done.

“Family Portrait” is one of our favorite songs – can you tell us what it is about, how it was done and if there is a story behind it?
Well, it’s the earliest song in the time line. The brother and sister in that story are at the top of the tree, and everything spreads from them. So it explains their history, the eventual downfall of their family, and ends with them having to now take care of themselves.

The brother, William, doesn’t handle this as well. He’s hot-headed and angry as a result, and the songs with him and his line reflect that more (Black Eyes is a song about him later in his life). Victoria, the sister, is the one who really steps up and takes care of things. She educates herself, but eventually is seen as a witch-like figure because of it. The songs about her and her offspring are a little more “fey”, and there’s something odd about her descendants. “Severus and Stone” is about the death of one of her twin sons. “The Dead Waltz” is about her daughter who, whenever she sleep walks, can walk on water.

I could ramble on for a long time here. I have a lot of notes on all this. But I’ll stop there and spare you the lengthy explanations.

In what situations do you write songs/lyrics/which situations inspire you to write songs?
I often write outside. I live near the beach, and spend some afternoons just sitting on the shore with a notebook and a couple apples. I also write a lot in the shed, or on a stool outside of it, in the middle of the night. Those are the most common times and places, I’d say.

But songs and ideas have a way of showing up when I’m not expecting them as well. Sometimes I’ll be at dinner, for example, and something will just start playing in my head. I’ll have to excuse myself, go somewhere quiet and sing a melody or phrasing into my phone or my hand recorder before I lose it.

‘Family Tree: Roots’ is said to be the first record of a trilogy of albums that explores the life of a fictional family in the 19th century – how far are you in producing the other two records, what can you tell about them and how are they different to the others, so that they needed to be separated in three records?
I’m in the middle of album two currently, but I’ve demo’d most of the songs for the upcoming records, so I have a pretty good idea of how the next two are going to sound.

For a general idea of how they’ll fit together: the production gets more modern as the time line continues. I’ll be making some of the percussion out of metal on record two to go along with the industrial age, using electric guitars and effects again, and little quirks like that. Also, some melodies will mutate from record to record. For example, on The Roots I have a song about a girl named Abigail. On album two, I have a song about her granddaughter, and some of those same chords and melodies I used in Victoria’s song will return, but on different instruments and in a different time signature. There are ties between all the albums like that.

Did you have doubts about how a record that is focused on a time period in the past, could be out of the interest of a society which is often focused on technical devices, about progress and is always imagining the future?
I try to never worry about how things will be received. I just chase whatever I’m excited about and make it to the best of my ability. If people like it when I’m done, that’s certainly a nice thing to hear. But I’m okay with it even when people don’t. There’s no pleasing everyone, no matter what you decide to do. So I figure I might as well make something I’m happy with, and then let the rest fall where it will.

What do you like about working on a concept-album? Which difficulties do you see?
It helps keep me focused, and gives me a topic to really explore with some depth. The are pros and cons to everything, and using a concept will limit you in certain regards. But I often like the limitations. It goes a long way in the final result feeling coherent to me. When I record without a larger aim, I rarely get any music that seems to form something larger than the individual parts. It also helps me know when I’m finished, because there’s a more specific goal in mind.

What are your next plans?
I’m recording the second album in the set right now, and I’m gonna do some more shows early next year. I also have a side project called “Clone” that I’d like to release early next year, between me and a friend of mine who plays under Rickolus. We’re done with the album. There’s just a lot of presentation work to do before we release it. I also wanna shoot a couple more music videos.

What are you doing if your not making music?
I enjoy strength training, so I lift weights a few nights a week. I read a lot. I like to watch movies when I have the time. I really enjoy just sitting and talking with family and friends, and eating good food. I like playing video games sometimes. And during Summer, I swim and go to the beach a lot.

What did you learn in 2011 up to know?
I learned a lot this year. I spent a lot of it figuring out how to self-release an album, and build my own little label. I’ve had to get better at time management, and how to organize a project beyond just the writing and recording. It’s been a lot to take in, but I learn best when I just dive into a project and learn as I go.

Your Top 3 records of 2011 up to know? Why?
This one is hard to answer, as I’m really just now starting to hear new music again. I was so busy with getting my release together that I was just listening to old favorites. So I don’t have a solid list yet. I won’t know for a couple months. It’s great to be hearing new music again, though.

How would your ‘Bedroomdisco’ look like?
Mine would likely be full of old junk I find at second hand shops, and some old lamps. It’d probably be pretty boring.

Who did fill out this questionnaire?
Ben Cooper. But I’m the only person in the group, so I guess that happens by default.



Bedroomdisco-Gründer, Redaktions-Chef, Hans in allen Gassen, Golden Leaves Festival Booker, Sammler, Fanboy, Exil-Darmstädter Wahl-Hamburger & happy kid, stuck with the heart of a sad punk - spreading love for great music since '08!

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