Michael Green Interviews... James Cooper
Originally posted on April 10th 2019 here is a Q & A with singer-songwriter James Cooper. He talked about his experience in music.
Where did it all start getting into music?
I was quite young getting started. I was about seven when I started to learn the trumpet, later in childhood the piano and in my early teens the drums. The theory I learned at the time stood me in good stead, though I no longer play trumpet or piano. I keep thinking I'll give the piano another go though. In my late teens I was the drummer in a band, though sadly the band never really took off. In my early twenties I got into the Rolling Stones and started collecting their albums. Hearing Dead Flowers from Sticky Fingers made me want to buy an acoustic guitar. I started learning the basic chords and some songs though progress was slow at the time. I found it frustrating and didn't really practice as often as I should. I only practiced about once a week, apart from that my guitar remained in the corner of a room which I deeply regret. I had another spell playing drums, which I enjoyed and kept me involved with music. Then about five or six years ago I decided I was going to give the guitar a proper go. I practiced most days, learning plenty of songs, all covers at the time. It was at this time, I started going to open mic nights to give me something to work towards. I was performing at an open mic most weeks, usually learning at least one new song each performance to keep myself interested and to keep progressing. After a couple of years I started having inspiration for my own material. Since then, I've been learning to jam with others playing electric guitar and have started learning the bass. I want to learn lots of different instruments and styles to become a more rounded musician. My biggest achievement came at the end of 2018 when I completed my first album 'Cynicism and Sincerity', which I'm promoting at the moment. I feel I've come a long way since going to my first open mic night, sitting nervously waiting to be called up!
Here is a live performance of 'The Procrastinator's Lament'
Who are you influences?
I think any musician can be influenced by any piece of music they have ever heard, even if they've only heard it once. But my favourite artists are The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Squeeze, The Jam, The Clash, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and many others. Listening to the Stones made me realise the importance of looking at who influenced your heroes, which is why I started listening to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Buddy Holly, Hank Williams and many other artists who influenced the musicians of the sixties.
As far as lyrics are concerned, my biggest influence is Chris Difford of Squeeze. I love the way he tells stories and puts humour and warmth into them. He puts such descriptiveness into his lyrics and uses words that most lyricists wouldn't dream of putting into a song. 'No more nights nappies smelling' is a classic Chris Difford line. Who would have thought that nappies would make it into a song, but it works.
As for guitar playing, my favourite is Keith Richards. He can put real grit and dirt into tracks like Midnight Rambler and All Down The Line, but then such warmth and tenderness into You Got The Silver and Make No Mistake. I just love his style.
Here is a live performance of 'The Musings of a Bitter and Twisted Man'
Where do you get your inspiration and what is your process for writing songs?
Inspiration can come from anything. But usually I need a musical hook to start me off. This can be a melody, a lyric, a chord progression, anything really. I'll give you an example. There's a song on my album called The Procrastinator's Lament. It started because I was reading a book by Mark Steele who was writing about his time living in a new town (I can't remember its name) and was surrounded by people with all sorts of dreams and plans but never getting around to them. He said the motto of the town could have been 'I haven't actually got around to it yet'. As soon as I read that line I put a melody to it. From this I was able to develop the rest of the melody and write three verses about people making plans and buying all the gear they needed, but never actually putting their plans into practice. It's quite a melancholy song and relatable to a lot of people, including myself!
I don't force myself to write or even finish a song. I've tried this before and the result sounded quite contrived. I'd rather let time take it's course. The last couple of songs I wrote took several weeks, sometimes just adding a single line at a time and I'm more satisfied with the finished product this way.
Do you feel it is important to listen to current music as well as music from the past?
I think it's important to listen to as much music as you can. A great song is a great song, regardless of which era or genre it is from. Quite often, inspiration can come from a place you don't expect. Though as previously stated, always find out who inspired your heroes and listen to them.
Is it important to watch live music?
Definitely, especially if you want to perform live yourself. I like to see how an artist approaches a song performed live and if it differs from a recording. For me, a recording is about making a definitive version of a song. Whereas a live performance is about gaining a reaction from the audience.
I also like to see how artists interact with the audience between songs, something I have found difficult in the past.
Any tips for other musicians?
Just keep going. Sometimes you're on a roll, learning lots of new songs and techniques and having plenty of inspiration for your own material, make the most of these times. Other times you can feel like you're stuck in a rut, these times require real dedication and most importantly, patience. The good times will return, just give it time. Don't make the mistake I made of leaving your guitar in the corner of a room.
Always be open to new idea's. Whether it's listening to a new band or performing with different people, learning a new technique or even another instrument, just keep an open mind and it can take you places you never imagined.
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