Ben Cooper, also known as Radical Face, is best known for playing in the band Electric President, as well as his solo music. He is also a member of various other projects, such as Iron Orchestra, Mother’s Basement, and Patients. He is from, and currently lives in, Jacksonville, Florida.
Hey Ben, I appreciate you talking to me. First off, let me say that your music is amazing. How long have you been at it?
Thank you. And I’ve been playing music since early high school. Almost 15 years now. But I didn’t set out to really write songs and record them until 8 or 9 years ago. Everything previous was mostly just playing in bands for fun, or occasionally making tapes on 4-tracks with friends.
So you do solo work (under the name Radical Face) and also play with a band (Electric President). Do you prefer one over the other? What are some differences in the creative processes of each?
I like both for different reasons. The nice thing about working alone is that you don’t have to compromise. You can get exactly what you’re going for, or as close as you’re able to within your abilities at the time. But the nice thing about collaborating is it can push you to do things you normally wouldn’t. It’s less predictable, and sometimes more fun because of it. Collaborations feel more carefree to me.
As for process, I separate them pretty early. If I’m writing a song and I already have a strong feeling about how it should end up, I save that for a solo project. There’s no need to collaborate if you already know what you’re shooting for. But other times I’m working on something, and it seems like it’d be more interesting if someone else was involved to shake things up, or mutate it into something new. Or maybe there’s just not as clear a picture of what it should be in the end, and it’d be more fun to explore that with someone else. Those songs I take to Alex [Kane, of Electric President] and just see what happens when we both start working on it.
A lot of people may recognize your song “Welcome Home, Son” from the Nikon Coolpix commercial. How did that opportunity come about?
I’m not entirely sure. From my perspective, I just get an e-mail from someone with interest in the track. I see what it’s about, and then decide yes or no. But I rarely know how it gets to that point. I guess it was either pitched by someone, or a person working on the campaign just liked the song. Hard to say. Worked out well, though. A lot more people are aware of the music now. I’m certainly not complaining.
What have you been up to lately, musically?
I’m about to release my next Radical Face record. It’s been finished for a while now. It’s the first record in a 3 part series called “The Family Tree.” I’m self-releasing it this time, so it’ll be available in September through my website.
Beyond getting that prepped, I’ve already started recording the second album in the set. I hope to be done next spring. But I take a long time to finish records, so it’s hard to say. I’m also getting together a show for some small tours in fall, which will be the first time I’ve gone out for any length of time in almost 5 years. I don’t play a lot of shows.
I love “Doorways” from your new EP “Touch the Sky.” Your songs are really emotionally striking. Are there any particular songs that are close to your heart?
I’m not good about relating to specific songs when I’m done recording an album. I always see them as complete records, with all the songs making a larger picture. I have songs that are more personal than others, sure, but even those just kinda fall into the whole. So I guess I just don’t think in terms of singles or standouts. I’m often that way as a listener as well, though, so maybe it’s just the way I take in music.
I realize that’s a crappy answer. Sorry about that.
I noticed this with “Ghosts” especially, but a lot of your albums seem to tell stories. Would you call them concept albums? Where do you come up with your material?
Yeah, I love storytelling. Both in art, and just in general. These new records are even more directly driven by storytelling than anything I’ve done previously, so I guess I’m going even further down that road.
I do consider them concept records. I need some kind of driving force to keep me organized and focused, so I do it with concepts. Pretty much every record I’ve done in the past 6 years has had one – just some are more dominant and others are more vague. Most often I come up with the concept before the material. Once I find an idea I’d want to write a lot on, and it seems exciting, I’ll start writing for it. The writing sometimes goes on for years. I started working on material for these Family Tree records in 2007, and I’m still adding to it even now. I tend to let these things stew for a really long time before I have a finished product.
In addition to music, you also do other forms of art, such as illustrations, right? What would you consider your favorite medium?
Yeah, I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a kid. But these days I more work on visuals when I have a specific reason to., like designing shirts or records covers, or something of the sort. It’s not something I do for recreation as much.
I actually wanted to be a writer before getting into music. After high school I quit my jobs, lived on my mom’s couch and wrote every day for over a year. I took part in online writer’s workshops, joined various fiction groups, eventually became an assistant editor for a workshop. I amassed two books in that time, then one day, out of the blue, my hard drive crashed. I hadn’t backed any of my work up. Like that, most of what I’d worked on for over a year was gone. The books were garbage, but it was still quite a blow.
Not knowing what else to do with myself, I started making music again. I’d been in bands a lot during high school, but it turned out to really work for me the 2nd time around. I focused more on recording and less on shows and bands and found myself enjoying it a lot more. These days music is definitely my favorite medium, but one day I want to focus on writing again. I have a lot of stories I want to tell.
What do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not playing shows or recording?
I got into strength training about 3 years ago. So I lift weights 3 nights a week for about 2 hours. It started as a way to overcome my sleeping problems and correct the issues with my lower back from an old skateboarding injury, but I’ve come to really enjoy it. Somewhat to my surprise. I also love reading, and go through a book every week or two. I like to play Street Fighter when I have the time. It’s something I’ve played since I was a kid, and I still go to tournaments and compete when I can. I go to the beach a lot these days, too. I like swimming in the ocean.
It seems like there’s a pretty good music scene in Jacksonville. I’m a fan of rickoLus, who’s a friend of yours isn’t he? Are there any other artists from your area that you can recommend?
I actually know very little about the music scene here. I don’t ever play in town, and I rarely go out anymore. But I like a lot of what my friends make.
I’ve known Rick/Rickolus since I was 5 years old. So yeah. One of my oldest friends. We actually just finished a record together about two months ago called “Clone”, which will come out early next year. Another friend of mine, Jeremiah Johnson, makes really cool stuff under a project called “Wudun.” I’m also friends with Owen Holmes of “Gospel Music”, and Jack Ringca who now plays as “Jackie Stranger.” I don’t think he has any recordings done yet, though.
So yeah, I guess there’s a good amount of stuff here, but it doesn’t feel like a music scene. These are just people I’ve been friends with for a long time now.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m releasing a free Radical Face EP in August. Then the new full-length record in September. Also working on some music videos, and then some touring in fall. Clone will be released early next year. So a whole bunch of new stuff, I guess.
Anything you’d like to add?
I think that’s it. Thanks for having me.
Ben’s music (from various projects), as well as news, can be found at his website www.radicalface.com.
He can also be found on facebook at facebook.com/RadicalFace and