In a coffee shop, Curtis Cooper and I drank tea and talked.
And when I say talked, I mean we really talked about everything. Curtis let me in on his life in less than an hour, and maybe that's why I wanted to talk to him in the first place. After seeing him play back in March, I was hell-bent on finding this guy.
So, I did, and we met in this coffee shop and we talked and I recorded it, transcribed it and now it's here for you to read. Curtis let me in on growing up, on college, music, feminism, racism, and Philly - and heck, if you're interested in that stuff, especially from Curtis Cooper (all around really cool human being) then maybe this interview will be really good for you!
So, let’s get started with you telling me about yourself, about how you got started in music. I started playing guitar when I was four, my Dad made me, it was kind of an every day thing, and then I got into piano, cello, and choir – but I didn’t really stick with any of that too well until I was 13 and I got back into guitar and I went to Paul Green School of Rock…ultimately I didn’t like doing that as I got older because they make you do these tribute shows make your family come and stuff, which was good back then because it got me into classic rock bands, the people that stuck with me like The Ramones, The Clash, Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Nirvana. Nirvana was the first big one, and I got back into guitar hard, and ya’ know Nirvana was the first band I found myself, the first band I said, “this was made for me.” I knew every fuckin’ song.
Where are you from? I’m from South Philly originally, moved up to North West when I was 10 and I went to High School at Central, which is a really good school.
How did you get where you are now? I’ve always played guitar, but I’ve never really played in bands. I don’t know why. I played in some in high school, one was called “The Stretch Marks,” and the other was called “Don’t Get Caught.” The songs didn’t have any meaning, ya know, we just liked to get really drunk, and honestly I did that through college until like, really, a year ago when I thought I should stop playing punk music, and play music I want to play that makes me happy.
What is the Curtis Cooper Project? I had always had these songs I had written that I just didn’t know what to do with, and that’s when I started the Curtis Cooper project – I hit up Scott Stitzer (Drummer in Mumblr) saying “dude I want to make a record, I don’t know what it’s gonna sound like, I know all the parts,” so, I went over there and recorded it, and it got more traction then I thought it would…so, I started to play you know my songs. I feel like I just started doing this, way more recently than I should have – but, through all of that I got my guitar chops up pretty good, so.
Where are you at now? I’m living in this venue in West Philly called All Night Diner, and it is literally just like the best place I’ve ever lived. There’s 8 people living there and everyone plays music. I come home there’s a band in the basement, someone’s always playing guitar near me, so all we do is play music now – and it’s amazing. I’m kickstarting into music for the first time, and it’s amazing, and I lucked out being in Philly because you can get anywhere you want, it’s so easy to tour from here. This city is so strong, too. There’s great bands in North Philly, South Philly, Fishtown, West Philly – like, anywhere you go there’s a scene. I feel like everything’s just falling into place, and I’m kind of opening my eyes for the first time and wanting to be involved more. It’s not about just being angry anymore, it’s about being proud of what I write.
So, you write all of your stuff? Yeah, I do write everything. The rhythm of the melody is incredibly important, the harmonies is also something I think a lot about, and that’s more important than the words to me. I write the lyrics, too. I write those last, but I’m working on that. I have a general idea, but sometimes I tip toe about it, or sometimes I’m direct about it, but the rhythm is still the most important thing to me.
What about Philly inspires you so much, since we’re talking about Philly, does it inspire you at all? I’ve toured a lot, I’ve been on a travel kick, I’ve traveled around the world like this past year, ya know the Philippines, Mexico, Amsterdam, Morocco, England – you know I’ve just been traveling, up and down the East Coast and the West Coast, and I keep my eye out thinking like “ya know, where would I move, if I had to move” and for a while it was Ashville, and Portland, or Seattle, but the more I traveled the more I realized I need to be in an east coast city, and like Philly is the perfect mix between New York and Baltimore where you have the grid, or Boston where you can get out and the architecture is beautiful and we have so many beautiful things, and you have the grit where people are still real, and you have the yuppies to keep the city clean – I feel like we have everything, the clean and the shit, everything you need here. Of course, all the colleges too, I mean that’s why we have a scene – we would be nothing without Temple, Drexel, UPenn, Uarts this is why we have a music scene.
So, this sounds dumb, but I read on your Facebook that you’re inspired by Elliot Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, do they still bring things to your own music now? Elliot Smith, yes, really. Oh my god, all the time. All I do is play Smith songs all the time. I woke up in the Philippines with Elliot Smith tattoos. He’s unbelievable, so smart, obsessed with math and theory and everything. You think he did that on accident, put his pinky on that string on accident, but no it’s all on purpose – unbelievably unique and clever. It’s all about chord progressions for me, so if you write a good progression I’m in love, and Elliot Smith is the king. He was always just fuckin’ with his brain to see how crazy he could get. My all time favorite record is From A Basement On The Hill, his last record, and the way you listen to music is like getting inside of a persons head – I feel like when I get inside his head, I’m not alone. It makes me feel like I’m fuckin’ fine, like I have a friend.
Is that what you want people to get from your music? No, I don't because it means people are just as fucked up as I am, which is odd. I mean people are listening to my record, and I'm surprised by it, I didn't think people would want to listen to it. I hope people don't like this because people are fucked up, but honestly I started the album out disguised. Like the song "4 Minutes" is happy and "Today L.A." is about the first time I left Philly. Then the third song is about depression, "Happy and Sane," is about two people in my head, half of me thinks I'm fine, but when I go to sleep it's not like that, but then you wake up and everything's fine - it doesn't make sense. There's always these little disguises, the 4th song is about suicide, the 5th and 6th song is about getting arrested, the last one is about cocaine. I just try and make them as pretty as I can, but in my head this music is sad, so if you relate to it, but I hope that it's not because everyone's depressed as shit all the time.
What are your goals now? Now since all of my friends are really making their music their business, and I'm sitting here like why aren't I making music responsible, my goals used to be like let me just tour a bunch - but now it's being more realistic about getting paid for shows, my dream would be to just be getting paid to do music, like if I won the lottery I'd just play music all the time, but I'm poor so I have to work. I am what I am, I can't change that. I don't really know what my goals are, maybe play more established venues like I've played Johnny Brenda's, playing Boot & Saddle, Bourbon & Branch. I started out playing house shows, ya know the dream, but honestly I really enjoy having a real sound, I want a sound guy who knows what he's doing. My goal now, I guess, is to not freak out - I'm working on a record now, get that out, keep expectations low, I guess? I don't have to take my life too seriously, cause I have some options, some outs, but I do have options.
So, easier questions, what's your favorite type of food? Um, I love potatoes. I cook food as much as I can, so I mix it up a lot. But, my dream meal is like a steak, potatoes, asparagus, and a bunch of bread and butter. That's the dream. I could eat that for the rest of my life.
That was my next question, could you eat that for the rest of your life? I could, if I had to eat one thing I'd eat just potatoes because you can always mix it up. I'd add sauces to it, or salt/pepper, onions. Potatoes are magic.
You played at the Bernie Support Show, have you done anything politically charged like that before? My Dad is a very weird dude, and in the 80's he was really into Native American Rights and Communism, I don't know how those are connected, but because of that back in High School I hosted benefit shows for Native American Rights - and I've been fortunate enough to have gone to the Sun Dance Festival. I've gone to The Feast Of The Dead. I had a benefit for Leonard Pelteir, and it's sad because I feel like if these were benefits for something else more people would come out. That's my go-to, but honestly, I can't find a Native American band to be on the show - that's the political thing I'm invested in, because I was fortunate to see those ceremonies, and this is a dying race of people that no one is talking about. I have this desperation about it, I wish Bernie could win, I feel like this is the first time that change is possible, you know.
I guess that's really it, unless you wanted to talk about the record you are creating? Yeah, I mean it's gonna come out at some point. Laughing In Line came out really chill, because I was staying away from aggression - but this next one, the riffs are heavier, but it's definitely what people call Punk now - grunge or fuzz. There's a lot of acoustic songs, two about being in love. All of the songs are about death, I had so many people die this year, and it all started with David Bowie, but people close to me just dropping like flies. The record is very depressing and anxious and tense, but it's closer to what I think I am as a musician. I'm working with a drummer where this album is his wheel house, and I'm working with a jazz and bass player who is the best I've ever met in my life, and I'm fortunate enough to be playing with these people. It'll be depressing, angry, grungy and love-y.
Huge thanks to Curtis for this stellar interview about potatoes, depression, and politics. We'll be adding an edited audio version of this interview when we aren't so stupid with editing audio (aka me, I'm dumb) but until then check out Laughing In Line, check out Curtis who is always playing - he's got a show this Friday, August 15th at Goldilocks w/ Branden Can't Dance and Teenage Halloween - and as always check out his social media below for more!
Curtis Cooper: Facebook // Bandcamp // Soundcloud