Radical Face is the freshest Folk-Electric music we’ve heard yet. Not only is the sound incredible, but also the story behind songwriter, Ben Cooper’s music is too. Radical Face is Ben Cooper’s creation. His band just released the last album of The Family Tree Trilogy – a three album masterpiece depicting Cooper’s thoughts and inspirations. The Family Tree Trilogy is one of the most complex music pieces we’ve seen in a long time. We, at Chicago Music, were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Cooper about The Trilogy, while he was in Chicago this week. Check it out:
Who is Radical Face?
My name is Ben Cooper. I’m a 34 year old fat guy who lives in Florida.
You just released the final part of the Family Tree Trilogy, a project that has been going on for over five years. How does it feel to be done with such an immense project?
It actually took 8 years! I started writing for it in 2008. And as of now, I’m largely just relieved I finished. I didn’t think it would take me so long. But I am never particularly proud of anything I do until well after the fact. I wondered if wrapping up such a big project would be different, but nope. Same as always.
The first installation of the trilogy was The Family Tree: The Roots, then came The Family Tree: The Branches, and finally The Family Tree: The Leaves. Since the release of The Roots in 2011, how would you say your sound developed? Who are the biggest influences on your music?
Well, there was an overarching goal with the development of these records that I set out with from the start. The first album was the most limited, and I wrote everything on 4 instruments: piano, guitar, a floor Tom, and voices, and all the songs were based on verbal story telling. Then the Branches brought in electric guitars and industrial sounds, and all the lyrics were written as letters and diary entries. And the Leaves introduces samples and effects and soundscapes, as we’re in the era of film and photography. So the hope was that it would feel more and more modern as the albums went.
And my influences are all over the place. I get a lot of ideas from books, film scores and classical music. I love lyricists like Tom Waits and Joanna Newsom. And I like story telling, and trying to turn ugly things in my life into something pretty.
I know you had the trilogy planned out from the beginning, but how specific was that planning?
It was pretty specific. Each album had a window for at least two tracks that I had not already planned, but I demoed tons of ideas at the outset and built the records out of those demos. Only the last album changed somewhat drastically from the plan. But that was mostly because of problems within my own family.
When you started The Roots, was the trilogy a basic concept that evolved as you created it or did you know exactly where it was going?
The chords, basic melodies and subject matter were about 75 percent there from the start. So I knew the overall arch of the whole project when I began. But about 8 songs popped up along the way, unexpectedly.
Did you ever expect this project, and your music as a whole, to become so successful?
No, not at all. It’s still surprising to me. I am pretty nerdy and detail driven with everything. I record in my house, and I’m far from an amazing singer or performer. I really just get by on honesty, I think. Or that’s what I’ve gathered from feedback I’ve collected over the years. But I really don’t know. I just try to be as direct and honest and chase whatever I am genuinely excited about. The rest is all happenstance.
I know that you wrote two books when you were 19, and they got lost due to a hard drive crash, which is why you became a musician. Where do you think you’d be today if you still had those books?
I really have no idea. I doubt the books were very good — I was 19, after all — so I’d probably be in about the same spot.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to writing books, or are you going to continue telling your stories through music?
I will write a book again one day. I’m not sure when. But I will keep making music as well. So both!
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I plan on making more music, but I will likely work with short form for a while, and more rapid releases. That’s what sounds fun to me now. Equal and opposite reaction, probably.
Is there anything specific you’re looking forward to doing when you’re in Chicago?
Eating. I like food more than most things, and I’ve only been to Chicago once for 9 hours. But I have friends who live there now, and they rave about the food. So I will stuff my face when I’m not at the venue.
Radical Face just spent two wonderful nights in Chicago. If you missed them don’t worry, they’ll be back! In the meantime, you can listen to Ben Cooper’s sweet voice tell you stories for hours. Just download The Family Tree Trilogy, and get ready for story time!