Do Fun Stuff with Ben Cooper of Radical Face

Several months ago, Ryan asked me to participate in the promotion of Do Fun Stuff, a record he put together with a group of talented and generous musicians to benefit his son, LB who had recently been diagnosed with Smith-Magenis Syndrome. I was asked to interview Ben Cooper of Radical Face, who I have featured here before, and of whom I am a major fan.

I am both honored to be involved in Ryan's outreach and thrilled with the results of the album which we've been full throttle rocking (at Casa GGC) all week.

Ryan, you are an example to all human beings of how social networking can be used tastefully and genuinely for good. Your heart is my hero.

...And without further ado... a few words with Ben Cooper of Radical Face! Applause!

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GGC: Hello, Ben! First: I think you're swell. Your Song "Welcome Home" makes me weepy and nostalgic and euphoric and celebratory and high, then low, then high, then low again. Bravo. And no, this isn't a question. Second: I'm in love with "Missing Teeth" - the song you wrote for the "Do Fun Stuff" record. I've been listening to it on a loop since Ryan sent it to me and much like "Welcome Home" it makes me sad and happy and all sorts of introspective - thinking about my own childhood, my kids, the magic of youth and change. (Your mention of power lines made my five-year-old son's day. He had a power-line themed birthday party. Power lines are his number one.) Third, and finally: a question: "Missing Teeth" is about growing up. What is your fondest childhood memory?

Radical Face: I had a pretty interesting childhood. It'd be hard to separate a single favorite moment. So I'll just go with the first one that popped into my head…

When we were kids, my little brothers and I built a water slide off our tree-fort in the backyard. It was a good 12 feet high. We made it by running scraps of plywood from the highest platform down to the ground, then nailing a plastic tarp down the length of it, finally putting a hose at the top. We nabbed the dish soap from the kitchen, greased up, then slid away. It was pretty steep, and there wasn't anything at the bottom – just grass, some roots, and a puddle. But being so covered in soap we just slid across the grass for a good ten or fifteen feet before stopping. We loved it. Despite getting nicked by the nails if you went to far to either side.

When mom came outside and saw how rickety and dangerous this contraption was (it was held up by stacked milk crates, and we were all pretty covered in scrapes by the time she found us), she made us tear it down immediately. It was fun while it lasted.
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GGC: If you could sit down for lunch with your five-year-old self, what would you two talk about?


Seeing as 5-year-olds tend to take the reigns in conversations, I'd imagine we'd talk about Transformers and skateboards. Maybe Ghostbusters. I loved that movie as a kid, even though most of it scared me. I couldn't watch the opening scene in the library.


GGC: What songs would you dance to?


I remember liking The Talking Heads at that age. So probably “Burning Down The House.”

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GGC: Where do you draw your inspiration as a songwriter?


That's something that changes a lot. Sometimes I pull from books, or films, or records, or from places I can't put my finger on. I really just try to work on whatever I'm excited about exploring at the time, whatever it may be. I work the best when I'm excited about what I'm doing, so I really just chase that.



GGC: Your albums have themes to them which I love. (Ghost was about houses. Sleep Well (for Electric President) was about Nightmares.) Almost like the album is a song itself. What is your process writing a single song vs writing an entire album?


Writing a single song and making an album are very different for me. I like to tackle records as a whole. I strive for all the songs to work together toward a common goal or mood, and I'm more concerned about the overall album than any individual track. There are pros and cons to this, but I've prefer approaching it this way (at least up until this point). Themes definitely play into that a lot.

But individual songs present their own challenges. Namely, time. Where it's a lot of juggling to keep a whole record in mind (seems like every new decision causes two more problems), you have more time to get your point across. Sometimes stuffing it all into one song is tough. But you sure are done a hell of a lot sooner, which is nice.


GGC: How did you approach writing a children's song since it isn't normally what you do?


As a kid, I rarely liked songs that were intended for someone my age. I mostly ignored them. So I didn't know how to go about writing a children's song, to be honest.

In the end I opted to write about being a kid, versus specifically being for a kid. Then I just attempted to keep it upbeat and melodic, since I think we attach to those elements as much as anything as kids. Who knows if it worked or was effective, but it was enough to get the song done at least.

GGC: Besides being a musician, you're also an artist and designer. How do your creative outlets influence one another?


It's all pretty similar thinking, in my experience. The methods and techniques are different, but the principles you learn in one creative process often lend themselves to another. Just learning how to get your ideas from out of your head to the chosen medium is useful practice for any of these things, be it art, or music, or design, or prose, or whatever else.


I also think that switching mediums goes a long way toward keeping everything fresh. If I work on one thing too long, in the same way, I usually come to hate it and destroy it.

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GGC: What are you currently working on?


I've been working on a set of 3 records that all revolve around a fictional family tree I came up with (ranging from around 1800 to 1950). The set of albums is called “The Family Tree”, with a subtext for each record. The first volume (“The Roots”) is finished and will be out early next year. I'm currently tracking volume 2 (“The Branches”), which will hopefully be released next year as well. I'm trying to keep the space between the album's small.


I'm also close to finishing a record, 2 years in the making, called “Clone.” I partnered up with Rickolus for this project (he's also a contributor to this compilation). We've made a real monster of an album, and I don't know if it will be very accessible, but we're both very proud of it. I have no idea if anyone will be willing to put it out.


And

lastly, I'm booking some tours where I'll be predominantly playing in odd places (backyards, graveyards, cabins in the woods … anywhere but clubs and bars). I'll be putting some dates for those shows on my website soon. And that's about it.


GGC: Thank you muchly for this, Ben. You're the radical face-est.
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To listen to Ben's Song "Missing Teeth" and/or purchase Do Fun Stuff on Itunes (all proceeds go to prisms.org, to fund research for Smith Magenis Syndrome) go here. For more information, check out dofunstuff.com.

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Thank you to Ryan, Ben and all of you.

GGC

8 comments:

TKTC | 10:55 AM

I love this project so much. So much great music for a great cause. It filled a lot of voids all at once and I'm hoping this isn't the last time it happens. Nice interview. Plan is to tell at least three people this weekend that they are the facest(but dear God, don't slip up on the vowels).

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 11:38 AM

Totally. It's genius. Ryan inspires.

The Panic Room | 3:31 PM

Oh my. I had to come back and catch the rest, LB and Tessa had to go to a birthday party of all 6 yr old girls, and they kept trying to put makeup on LB, and carry Tessa around like a doll. Bonkers. It was bonkers.

So. I love how this turned out, Ben is such a great guy and his music is just going to do big things because it gets inside your heart and head so deeply. Thank you for spreading the word on this album here. I have worn out everyone I know talking about it, so I absolutely needed the help reaching new people.

Thank you. Now hurry and bring your family to the happiest place on earth (epcot), so we can all hang out.

LL | 12:40 AM

This is so amazing! Thank you so much GGC for highlighting it. I'm just floored by this guy and this project. So totally cool!

LL | 12:42 AM

@ the panic room.
I'll do my part is spreading the news!

kfox | 9:52 AM

I sooo love this album and this cause! It was such a treat to discover that one of my favorite bloggers was interviewing one of my favorite musicians. :)

pamela | 7:40 PM

i was just thinking the other day, "i wonder why ggc hasn't mentioned the 'do fun stuff' project". yay!!

so happy to see it here and what a great interview : )

Adventures In Babywearing | 5:49 AM

Oh my gosh- I am so thrilled you got to do this interview! I LOVE Radical Face. I had an "out of body" experience while running one day and listening to Welcome Home. Will never forget it. And I am totally hoping he plays a graveyard near me soon.

Love this- thank you!

Oh PS I'm crazy about the Do Fun Stuff album, too. Perfection.

Steph