The Blue Light Chronicles: Johnny Cooper
Johnny Cooper was kind enough to sit down with us prior to his show at Blue Light on August 13th to talk about everything from the release of his newest CD “Live at the Pub II” that was just released August 2nd, to the best pranks he’s seen while on the road, which includes tons of saran wrap and a detailed knowledge of automobiles.
Here is the interview, in its entirety, from that day.
99.5 The Bear: You came with your first CD “Live at the Pub” in 2005 when you were 16. What was it like getting started so young?
Johnny Cooper: To be quite honest with you we had like 15 songs, and most of them were covers. I think we had a few songs. I had no clue what I was doing I was kind of at the mercy of who was behind the recording board that night. It was kind of one of those things were we just hoped everything went good, but even then just being 16 I was definitely nervous at that point in time because I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
99.5 The Bear: What sparked your interest in music?
Johnny Cooper: I come from a family where my dad played piano in a band growing up, all the way up until I think he was 25 or so, and my mom was a dance teacher/choreographer had her own dance school when we lived in Arizona so I’ve always been around music or musicians or dancers and I think eventually it was supposed to happen. What really sparked my interest was I wanted to play drums, so I made a bet with my dad that if I got all straight A’s in junior high they would buy me a drum kit. I ended up getting all straight A’s in all except for one in Math, I got like and 89 or something so he wouldn’t buy me the drum kit but my mom, being the sucker that she is, went and bought me the drum kit anyways. I started playing the drums when I was 15 and that’s what I wanted to do. The guy who was teaching me drum lessons heard me sing one day and he asked if I wanted to come open for a band called the Great Divide. I said ‘Well I don’t really know how to play the guitar’ he said ‘ do you think you could learn eight or nine or ten songs or something like that?’ I asked him ‘How long do I have?’ he said ‘You have two weeks before the show’. So my dad and I sat down and he actually showed me how to play the guitar by him playing the piano, he showed me how to pick out notes and everything. That’s where it really all kind of started I played that first gig and after that I was hooked.
99.5 The Bear: You mentioned your parents getting you started just now, would you say they’re your main musical influence?
Johnny Cooper: Oh, definitely. It started at a young age just being around music all the time. They never pushed me towards it because I did everything every teenager ever did I wanted to play football and basketball and stuff like that, and I did all that stuff. Right around my freshman year of high school is when I really started to bog down and practice a lot, come home and practice, and decided I really wanted to play music.
99.5 The Bear: Your sounds kind of evolved since your first CD; do you feel your sound resembles that of anyone else out there right now or do you feel it’s more unique?
Johnny Cooper: That’s kind of what we’ve been going for in the past. We had a new record that just came out ‘Live at the Pub II’ and then our last studio album was ‘Follow’ and those two albums we tried to do something slightly different because we didn’t want to sound like anyone else and we wanted or own unique sound. I think a lot of that just came from growing up, I’m going to be 23 this year, and the difference between the 16 year old me to the 22 year old me now, there was just a lot of evolving and a lot of searching out for different music. You know there’s already a Cross Canadian Ragweed, a Randy Rogers, a Jason Boland and Stoney LaRue and I want to be that guy, were I’m not trying to resemble or do what somebody else has already done, I want to kind of set my own path of what nobodies done yet.
99.5 The Bear: You mentioned two of your previous CD’s a moment ago, and you have had a couple of top 10 hits on the Texas Music Charts from ‘Ignition’ and ‘Follow’. Do you think your new release ‘Hot Mess’ might land you that top spot on the chart?
Johnny Cooper: We’ve had pretty good success with the radio, which I’ve been blown away by, and that comes down to the fans calling in. Our new single ‘Hot Mess’ is already up in the 20’s and I would have been glad if it even made it to the 30’s to be quite honest with you. It has gone past my expectations so far, and I’m just ready to put out the next one. It comes back down to one thing it’s the people that call in, it has nothing to do with me. It has to deal with if the radio people and if they like they song, which helps a bunch, and it also comes down to the fans if people are calling and requesting it you can’t tell them no.
99.5 The Bear: Talking about ‘Hot Mess’ what was the motivation behind that song?
Johnny Cooper: I wanted something that was more catchy, more of a sing-a-long, type of song. A lot of other stuff is real lyrically driven songs and I wanted something that was a little bit simpler in a way. First we had a chorus and a bridge and we were trying to write versus for it, and finally my bass player and I looked at each other and said ‘Man I think we have a song here’ if we just play the chorus and the bridge and I think if we just repeat it and even though its kind of repetitive for how short the song is it will be kind of cool. The whole point of it was to try and get it stuck in people’s brains as fast as possible. That’s kind of where it came from.
99.5 The Bear: Do you enjoy playing in towns like Lubbock that has a strong college influence?
Johnny Cooper: I like it all. What’s cool about coming here is you get a different kind of listener than if you go somewhere else that’s more of a sit down venue. Then we’ll play these all ages show where we’ll have kids ranging from the age of five to ten and your early teens, and that’s cool too. Playing to each different type of person and age group all has its own beneficial thing. When we know were coming to Lubbock we know its going to be crazy and kind of like one big party, and we’ll play some other places we know that are more of a dinner listening crowd. You kind of range your shows to acclimate to each different setting, and that’s what makes it fun, it makes it a challenge for us no matter where we go.
99.5 The Bear: You talked about venues a moment ago, is they’re a setting you enjoy more than the other?
Johnny Cooper: I love when people are right there up in front of you no matter what. When they’re right there with you as close as they can get there’s nothing cooler than that, especially when people are singing along and stuff. Then there’s places like Billy Bob’s where we play we may have 3,000 people show up, but they have to be in their sectioned seats.
99.5 The Bear: So a place like Blue Light where it’s a couple of hundred people or a place like Texas Mardi Gras where it’s a couple of thousand people?
Johnny Cooper: They’re two totally different feelings. When you play in a place like Blue Light and the people are right there, it feels like you can be more I guess the word is intimate with people, its more of an intimate show I think. When you get to the 3,000 plus like Texas Mardi Gras and stuff where all you can see is people and there’s no way I can tell where the last person ends. At the same time, when your playing those kind of shows, that’s what’s going through my brain. How do I make the person that’s 2,000 people back feel the same way as the person that’s right up here in the front row. That’s what all the great bands do, they figure out a way to do it, so even if your way in the back you still feel like you’re right there with them. Its just a challenge, I don’t like either one more than the other, they’re both different and they’re both equally fun to play.
99.5 The Bear: What’s life like being on the road so much?
Johnny Cooper: Pretty much since I was 17 or 18 we’ve been doing two hundred to two hundred and fifty shows a year. As a musician you don’t want to be sitting at home, if your sitting at home things aren’t going well. It’s tough, there’s a lot of time when we don’t get a lot of sleep. Like today we had a seven-hour drive just to get here to Lubbock, but its just part of it. After we get off stage it doesn’t matter what happened that day, my dog could of gotten run over, we could have had two flat tires on the way here, but as soon as we get off stage and everyone’s clearing the bar it doesn’t even matter anymore. That’s what we’re here for, to be able to have the opportunity to be on stage, so once you get done with the show what ever happened that day, it’s sort of like an etch-a-sketch you just shake it and everything’s cool after you get done playing.
99.5 The Bear: Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Johnny Cooper: Oh yeah, I always have vocal warm-ups, my bass player and I, since he sings the majority of harmonies with me we have our own little vocal warm-ups, and then we all get together and get in a little pow-wow and make sure we all talk about the joke of the day or something funny that happened that day, just kind of make sure were all on the same page for about five minutes and then we hit the stage.
99.5 The Bear: You mentioned jokes a second ago, what’s one of the best pranks you’ve seen while on tour or maybe that you have pulled?
Johnny Cooper: Sean McConnell and us have this ongoing thing that’s been going on for about a year now. We’ll prank them and they’ll prank us. We saran wrapped their trailer and van one time, like I’m talking ten to twenty boxes of saran wrap, and I just remember Sean coming out there and getting right to the trailer and just dropping his guitars going ‘what the hell?’. We played about three months in a row with Sean and just switched of who headlined that night, but a couple weeks later we were at the Glass Cactus in Fort Worth and we came outside to back end our trailer, and as soon as we put our foot on the break the horn would go off. I mean every time we put our foot on the break, it would still work but the horn would go off and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. After about five minutes here comes Sean out of the bushes with a night vision camera and he got the whole thing on videotape. That’s the best so far, Sean and us, we’ve had some pretty good pranks on each other, but its not over yet we still have more to come.
99.5 The Bear: Is there somebody out there that there’s a dream scenario for you to work with?
Johnny Cooper: I really enjoy all the guys from Sean McConnell, same with Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights, there’s a chick out there named Grace Potter that’s amazing. There’s a guy named Brian Burke that I’m a huge fan of, Josh Grider as well. Some of those guys we play with quite often some of them don’t. If I had to put on my own show it would be us, Jonathan Tyler, Josh Grider, Grace Potter and Sean McConnell. That would be it for me, that would be a fun festival, because we’re all kind of in the same vain. You know we’re not exactly country, we’re not exactly rock, we’re not exactly funk or soul or pop we’re kind of just a mix of all of that, and its neat when we get to play festivals and stuff like that.
99.5 The Bear: You just released your newest CD “Live at the Pub II” August 2nd. What does the rest of 2011 have in store for you and the band?
Johnny Cooper: We’ve already started working on getting stuff together to go back in studio and do another studio album. I’m hopefully we can get at it by the first of the year, but it really kind of depends on how much budget we have and stuff like that. That was kind of the main part of this live record so we could raise money and go and do another studio record. We’ve already cut some of the stuff in a studio and have four or five different songs that are candidates to be on the full album, we’ll probably end up going back and re-cutting them. Some of them we used like ‘Hot Mess’ we ended up using that as our first single, and then we have another single coming out called ‘Moving On’ that no ones heard yet, and that will be available on iTunes once we decide to release that as our next single.