Robbie Cooper - The Way Rock Should Be
By Ben Ohmart [04-01-2004]
You know Robbie Cooper. Not just from his days on A&M Records when he was writing and singing with the band 7 Minutes (in which he recorded with the session players Muscle Shoals, from Muscle Shoals, Alabama). But vocally, he'll remind you of Phil Collins (that way of always having a distorting source between voice and the microphone), and vocally And musically, there are definite traces of Peter Gabriel here. Which explains why he was a founding member of Over the Garden Wall, a Genesis- tribute band in Toronto which had long-term success with that progressive rock sound.
Cooper is of that rare breed that likes layering music and using electronic personalities to make every song worthy of 50 listens. And every time, you will find something new and news worthy.
His new CD is Drowning in Reality, which focuses on a grassroots rock basis and a pop feel for catchy melodies, with thick condiments of multi-rhythms and electric 'Sledgehammer'-type sounds that are often hard to grasp. You THINK there are extra mixes and non-human-made elements to the music, but finding them in the puzzle is more difficult.
A good example of this is 'Kicked Inside,' like industrial pop without all the machinery. Then there's the very surf-moving 'Solitary Man,' which has to be one of the easiest songs to remember (haven't we all heard this one on the radio before?). 'Calling on Me' sounds like REM going back to the early 70s, with strings, a horn section and a clever acoustic guitar solo on top of everything else. FM friendly? More than friendly. They should get married and share the tax break.
Part of the reason for the success of this eclectic selection is the amount of true professionals standing in line to help: Tony Levin on the Chaphman Stick (known for his studio work with Peter Gabriel and his live playing with Seal), producer Steve Burgh on guitar, bass, and keys (you know his work on Billy Joel's The Stranger), drummer Eric Parker (Joe Cocker, Faith Hill, Warren Zevon), and others.
The title Drowning in Reality is first visualized by the impressive CD cover concept: Robbie standing in front of a less-than-perfect brick wall on which is painted billowing clouds and great expanses of blue skies. It's hard to imagine that the clouds were added to this abandoned building on computer by photographer Bret McConnell, but therein begins the Reality.
So how long did it all take to shape? "The songs just kept coming," admitted Robbie. "I had the producer sort through my tunes and he picked the ones that he wanted to record. I was real surprised when Steve wanted to use my 12-track home studio recordings. Along with the live players. Because after all, I played the parts on keys and programmed the rhythms. The actual studio time was about 3 months.
"'Walk on Water' was added after we thought we were finished recording. Paul McCartney would not give me permission to use his sample in the tune 'Awake All Night,' so I had to write my own chorus. I wasn't as charmed by it as the McCartney version. I decided to add a tune that I just finished called 'Walk on Water,' one of my favorites."
Take a Listen to
"Drowning in Reality"
Calling On Me
Awake All Night
Obviously, there is more Genesis here than McCartney. The man just loves the sound. "Great arrangements, players, and great vocals. I write these 4-minute tunes that are basically pretty common when it comes to time signatures, as well as the arrangements. I can't even imagine how these guys gave birth to such unique songs that feature odd timings and great imaginary stories."
Drowning in Reality has just as much punch as that classic prog rock band. After all, there are some classy players floating through here. "The producer picked them all, though I wanted Tony Levin. I was told by Steve Burgh that the players he was hiring were the best. To me, if you can do the job, you're okay for me. I don't believe in 'the best.' Anyway, we were sitting around recording and I said, 'I would love to have Tony Levin play on this track.' Steve said that he saw him yesterday in Walmart shopping with his wife. We were recording at Nevesa Studio in Woodstock where Tony just so happens to live and, well, you can guess the rest"
Robbie admits that a lot of people know who Over the Garden Wall are, but not Robbie Cooper. Much of this is due to the fact that though the CD has been for sale at shows, it's an undiscovered master. The sort you'd find in a bigwig producer's vault someday - the kind that Needs to be played. But with the help of the internet, the music is being heard, and the feedback is more than positive.
He's currently touring in New York State and Cleveland, playing his 3 CDs-worth of original material. Okay all you fans expecting a full night of Genesis: get ready to listen to RC and hear some amazing new tunes. Phil Collins himself might be the first to admit that it's every bit as interesting and entertaining.
"I feel that it's my time, place and circumstance," says Robbie, "and I'm glad I get to do something I love: write songs & play them live."
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