On Thursday, December 8th, WXVU and CAT Music hosted the first Philly Underground Music Festival at Villanova University. The first to take the stage was local Philly artist Curtis Cooper. Before he rocked the stage, he and I sat down for a Q & A where we talked about his writing process, his music styling, some of his upcoming work, and some other fun things you may not know about him.
Q: Tell me about your songwriting process.
C: It’s all about the chord progression. I try to make it sound really simple and poppy, but I try and make it not just the same chord progression every time. A really common chord progression would be C to A minor over and over again; so I’ll try to make C to A minor, C to A minor, then C to E seventh, then back to the C to A minor. At least one of the four chords should be different. I always do the chord progressions first, and I do the lyrics last. The progressions and the melody, that’s what I go off of, then I based the drums off of the guitar part, and then the bass I think of last.
Q: So you used to play in a punk band, how did you get involved with that?
C: I grew up in the punk scene, I was going to house shows when I was like 14, like The Halfway House in West Philly. Punk, that was the big scene in West Philly at the time, and you’d see these huge bands. I’ve always been into all kinds of music, but I always liked the punk show aspect when I was younger, but since then I’ve grown out of it, I just don’t have the energy to take it on. Like, we went on tour and at this show in North PA and these people were setting off fireworks, because punk shows are just kinda crazy. And this was around two Julys ago, and one of them almost blew my hand off with this firecracker, and that was when I decided that I should probably stop doing this. That’s when I started doing my solo stuff. I had always done acoustic stuff, but I had never thought of doing a project with it, and I’m glad it’s going so much better than the punk stuff.
Q: Your style is very hard to pin down to a specific genre, specifically in Laughing In Line, so tell us more about it.
C: I wrote the songs acoustically, the new record I wrote on electric guitar, and the one after that is gonna be acoustic, so I‘m kinda switching back and forth. I already have the third record almost done, but I haven’t put the second one out yet. It’s kinda like folk, but really fast, so that’s the style, that’s how I like to play acoustic guitar.
And as far as the song writing I was always into Bowie, Elliott Smith, John Lennon, and Fiona Apple, just people who had really weird ideas and interesting chord progressions. Like I can’t listen to someone who’s just a really good lyricist. There’s exceptions, like I love Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan is really great too, but there’s a lot of folk artists who just play the same three chords, and they’ll have five verses over those chords, which is another appreciation of music, it’s just not my appreciation.
And [my style]’s a little ADD, like “Today LA” is super ADD. And I got in the studio, and I had all the ideas in my head, but I’m working with Scott Stitzer, from Mumblr, who produces me and Stolen Studios, and it is just great working working with him and Nick Barnes. Scott’s pretty crazy, and Nick’s really chill, and I just go back and forth between those two things. So Scott put in some crazy s***, and we’d go all in, but then Nick knows how to chill it back out, and it was really just a pleasure working with them. The record wouldn’t be the same at all without those two.
Q: You mentioned that you have a few new projects in the works, could tell us more about those?
C: Yeah the second one is almost done, the skeleton is there, the bass guitar and the drums are done, the vocals are mostly done, it’s basically just mixing. And it’s not gonna be too similar to Laughing in Line. This record’s gonna be more aggressive, like it’ll be more of a mixture of what I was doing with punk and what I did with Laughing in Line. It’s gonna be a lot heavier too, I was going through some serious mental s***, so the record is honestly so depressing. I had maybe eight people die this year, three of them killed themselves. And this isn’t really news to anyone, like I’ve been very open about it. And I’ve been going to a lot of therapy, but I’ve always had problems with thinking about killing myself since I was a kid. There’s always been this thing in my head with that, and this year was just really rough on that. So the whole record is about stuff like that: someone ODed so I wrote a song about that, someone drinking themselves to death and talking about that. So it’s a very depressing record. But I have the record after that already done, and it’s a lot more normal, like acoustic. And I’m gonna put that one out as close as I can to the second record so people don’t think I’ve lost my mind. It’s gonna be really weird.
Curtis and I then finished up the interview with some more rapid fire fun light-hearted questions:
Q: Other than music, what is your favorite thing to do?
C: I mean all I do is playing music, I live in a show house, so there are shows there everyday, but other than that traveling is my favorite thing. I’m a gardener so I don’t work in the winter, so I’m going to the Philippines this winter, and I’m going on tour down south for a twelve day tour, so traveling is definitely my favorite thing to do.
Q: Favorite pizza topping?
C: Pepperoni, but if I’m feeling crazy I just started trying pineapple.
Q: Favorite TV show?
C: All time: “Parks and Rec”, “The Office”, and “30 Rock”, but right now I’ve been watching “Luke Cage”. It’s coming at a really important time, having a positive black character in the media, especially a bullet proof black man in the media.
Q: Favorite sport?
C: I love football
Q: Favorite artist?
C: Elliott Smith
Overall it was really fun sitting down with Curtis before the Philly Underground Music Festival and getting to know a little more about him, his music, and what he has coming up in the future. If you want to listen to Curtis’s album, Laughing in Line, you can find it on Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/artist/3sjGZdDIcqhbbMqvACAw6t) as well as SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/curtis-cooper-737050395), or if you’d like to download it you can find it on Bandcamp (https://curtiscooper.bandcamp.com/). You can also follow Curtis on Instagram @curt_coop to stay updated on his work and his upcoming projects.