A Chat with Dan Cooper (03.09.2020)

Veteran of the underground DJ scene, Dan Cooper is here to hit you with his bedroom pop album Toynbee Tiles. Poetic, witty and just a little out of the left-field, the album is a fun ride from start to finish. Containing its own message that you just need to discover, each track will keep you entertained. We sat down with Dan Cooper to talk about the new album, his musical background, future plans, music and much more!

OSR: After being part of various bands over the years, what made you choose to start releasing music as a solo artist under your own name?

Cooper: The using my own name thing just comes from having a notorious history of crap band names. Puppy Bucket and Brown Torpedo probably being the worst ones that got the furthest on a local scale. I just didn’t want to risk coming up with another shit one so I thought I’d just go with my own name. Can’t really think too much about it. It’s a bit annoying because there are a couple of other Dan Coopers floating around on Spotify and other places, but whenever I do a poetry gig it’s billed as Dan Cooper and it’s my DJ name too, so it kind of all ties in. There is a Dan B. Cooper who hi-jacked a plane and was never found so that’s cool to Google about and some French comics and an old computer game called Dan Cooper too so I’m amongst good company.

Music-wise, within the bands and collab projects I’ve been a part of in the past, I’ve never really stopped tinkering on my own stuff. I’m really impatient so sometimes it doesn’t work for me to check with the others if somethings ok or wait for them to get around to doing their bits, but I’m the burden really and it’s not fair on them. Some people might not want a 20 minutes long field recording of a kebab shop on their EP. On the other hand, as it’s solo stuff I don’t have to work too hard and try and impress or feel inwardly competitive, so if it’s cack it’s all on me.

OSR: Over the years, your sound has shifted from comedy rap to experimental to bedroom pop. Was this an active shift or did it happen organically?

Cooper: The ‘shift’ probably happened ‘cos I’m getting old and no one has ever wanted any of the pies I’ve stuck my fingers in. I’ve always loved ambient and weird and experimental stuff, I got into Orb and KLF when I was relatively young and loved the more droney and echoey cut-up sample stuff. Concepts taken to the extreme or becoming ridiculous or even extremely ridiculously mundane I’d find amusing. Bonging clocks and sheep baa-ing on Pink Floyd or Mike Oldfield type stuff. The kind of thing where you didn’t really know if it was meant to be funny or not. An old pal got me into that stuff and then the day before Kurt Cobain killed himself I cassette copied Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ off another school friend, after that decided music was what I wanted to be into and started religiously reading the NME every week.

I’ve always loved rap too, so before that, as a kid, I’d learnt all the words to the ‘Ghostbusters 2 Rap’ by Run DMC and ’T.U.R.T.L.E.P.O.W.E.R.’ by Partners in Kryme and the other kids would get me to ‘perform’ it to them in the playground. Also loved novelty songs, just remember having songs like ‘My Old Mans A Dustman’ and ‘Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West’ being sung around the house by my mum and elder siblings, Oh God and Jasper Carrot’s ‘Funky Moped’, that was just my family’s sense of humour. I don’t think I’ve ever really lost that mesh of funny, weird, and rappy or wordy content in my own music. Even in attempts at being serious, like the Party Levitation harsh noise stuff, I still think the humour is there. Can’t shake it. I’d record a gong drone for 40 minutes then the dog would bark at a bird in the garden and I’d think it was funny so leave it on the recording.

I’d say it’s been semi-organic, however, I did get lost in ‘experimental’ and free improvisation for a few years and all forms of writing and structure went completely out the window and wanted nothing to do with me ever again. I traded one nonsense for another. I went from being obsessed with Aaron Dilloway and Wolf Eyes to R Kelly and T-Pain.

OSR: Is there a backstory or theme to your new album Toynbee Tile?

Cooper: Toynbee Tile wouldn’t have been made without the COVID pandemic lockdown. I had far more grandiose ideas for what I was going to do next and then thought “stop it, stop taking yourself so seriously, it’s depressing, just put something small out, no one is going to listen to it anyway”. So instead of what was going to be like this big, confessional, Personal Journals type thing, I just wanted to make some short snappy tunes and I think they’ve ended up being some of the best I’ve released.

The whole process was done extremely fast as I didn’t know how long we’d all be quarantined for and to be honest, I wanted to get it out in time for Bandcamp Friday (once a month Bandcamp waive their fees so the artist gets all the revenue). Toynbee Tile was actually my second lockdown project, with Sonically Distancing coming a couple of weeks before. I just thought the time was a gift, I had no work, so boom, music.

Toynbee Tiles are these mysterious plaques carrying odd messages that have been found tarmacked into the road around various towns and cities in America. No one knows who or why they pop up. There is a great documentary on Netflix ‘Resurrect Dead – The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles’ which I recommend if this sounds interesting to you.

I loved the idea of someone putting a message out there that made little or no sense to anyone but themselves, and going to great effort to do so, never knowing if anyone would ever even see it.

I also later learnt that there is such a thing in the medical world as the ‘Toynbee Phenomenon’, which describes pressure changes in the middle ear that results in a ‘full’ feeling in the ears. As a tinnitus sufferer I have this all the time, so that’s a crazy coincidence.

OSR: What was the creative process for the album?

Cooper: For the first time in decades I actually attempted to use some different software on this one, mainly due to the fact I had leant my girlfriend the laptop I usually make music on so she could homeschool her kids while the schools were closed. Up until now, I’ve done everything in Sound Forge which is just a wave editing program and a very silly and time-consuming way to make music, but I thought if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and it does force you to commit and think about production very seriously, but without that and unable to obtain the right version I was used to, I resorted to using Adobe Audition (as it comes with the Creative Cloud subscription I have as my other job as a freelance graphic designer) on my Mac at my ‘work desk’. It was great to have a whole load of different effects and to be able to make changes after I’d added another layer/sound etc. Most of the instrumentals start life on apps on my phone, then were exported into Audition. I bought a little USB mixer thing so I could put the mic straight into the mac. Again, thank God for lockdown otherwise I don’t know if I’d ever had bothered and it’s better for my back to be sat at my desk.

The songs came quickly, although one song on there ‘This Country’ was an older one that I had just floating about, but it felt right to put it here. The song ‘This Is Linda’ literally came to me in a dream. I woke up, did the beats in the bath, sat at my desk and finished it by lunchtime. That sort of thing has only happened to me once or twice before in my life and the songs they produce have always stuck around.

OSR: Do any of the tracks have any special meaning for you?

Cooper: I love ‘Fool’. I think that could be one of my favourite jams I’ve ever done. Now when I listen to it, it just reminds me of that very specific period of isolation in lockdown. I sadly had to say goodbye to my dog during lockdown and it was only just after the album was finished he started getting ill. Another blessing of lockdown, that I got that extra time to spend with him. I love the feeling of the song. I have no idea really how it comes across to other people.

‘Butt Pics’ was funny as it was made as a sort of horny joke song for my girlfriend and apparently her ex stalks me online and when he heard it was absolutely furious. I don’t know how you can be angry at a song where the repeated refrain is “PICTURES OF YOUR BOTTOM!” but each to their own, y’know.

’This Country’ will always be special to me as it was the first song I recorded when I moved into the house I live in now. That move signified a huge change in my life and mental wellbeing.

OSR: What was the biggest challenge you faced recording and producing Toynbee Tile?

Cooper: Probably just the learning new software really. It all flowed relatively easily. I did get into a bad habit of ordering lots of nice beer to the house though, so perhaps also staying sober long enough for the whole thing to not sound like complete wibble was a bit of a challenge. I’m lucky I got to make it before the dog died, if I was halfway through or anything when that happened it would have been game over or turned into some kind of goth odyssey.

Dan Cooper

OSR: Having played a range of live gigs, what is the most memorable?

Cooper: Oh man, so many. I’m so lucky to have been relatively active without ever threatening to go above radar. I’ve never played a gig and gone “This is it lads, we’ve made it”. It’s mostly been local or regional gigs, being the sore thumb on the bill or just getting wasted and having fun. Puppy Bucket & Donny Choonara had a few gigs in London when we were in our early 20s and we just went mental. I remember weeing on to the glass roof of a restaurant from a fire escape, eating a roast dinner sat next to a wizard.

The best gigs I’ve played are when the promoter ‘got us’ and put us on the bill with similar acts. Like in Brown Torpedo we played with Sly & The Family Drone, DJ Scotch Egg, so the punters were expecting the weird. Our minds were blown when we first played Newcastle, the audience were just so attentive and encouraging, all that energy gets fed back while you’re playing, we’ve had some great shows up North. I miss the BT gigs.

OSR: What is the one emotion you would like people to feel when listening to your music?

Cooper: Wistfulness leading to awe leading to arousal.

OSR: Which do you prefer, being an electronic pop artist or a DJ?

Cooper: If I could only do one, I’d pick DJing, because you get paid far more money playing other peoples music than you do performing your own. I seriously love DJing. I love it when it connects, it’s indescribably elating. I’ll unashamedly admit I’m proud I’ve gone from the annoying bugger who hung around the CD Player at the house party to doing the local indie dive bar disco and you can have a beer while you do it. Best job in the world.

OSR: What can we expect from you in the next 12 months?

Cooper: Ideally I’d like to get another project, be it EP or album, done before the end of the year, but I’m not sure it will happen. The Corona pandemic has changed so much, I don’t know when paid DJ work will start up again so soon I’ll be shelf stacking or something. I really want to play some gigs, sing the new songs out. Absolutely itching just to get back behind the mic and of course, the decks. It’s madness to try and predict what will happen in the next 12 months, but I have a little glimmer of hope. I mean, whenever the gigs, clubs and raves do start up properly again there’s going to be one hell of a party. Even if it is a party at the end of the world it’s still a party.

Thanks to Dan Cooper for chatting with us! You can find more about him on his Facebook, Twitter and Spotify.

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