Bryan Cooper, a singer-songwriter-guitarist from Yorkshire who currently resides in Japan, is a descendant of British indie musicians from the 1990s like Coxon (of Blur), Butler (of Suede), Squire (of the Stone Roses), and Greenwood (Radiohead).
Cooper’s previous bands played numerous shows in the UK, but after moving to Japan, he was no longer involved in those projects. Cooper is eager to see where this year and beyond take him after performing his first live shows as a solo artist in 2021 and having a healthy backlog of material ready for recording.
“Performing as a solo artist felt to me like starting over. There are many more spinning plates to attend to. But it’s been a fantastic learning experience. I’ve been performing low-key live performances while developing new songs. Now that I feel completely prepared for the next stage.
His smooth vocals push through thoughtful lyrics that are prone to abrupt thematic shifts, veering from anti-establishment to personal heartbreak to the abstract and esoteric, when combined with a shrewd, creative approach to composition.
The sophomore single “Heroes Let You Down” takes a sardonic jab at the celebrity idolatry subculture. The song bounces the listener through a vibrant guitarscape as it takes them on a space hopper from its serene, ethereal intro to its chaotic climax. Check out the latest track & the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
BRYAN COOPER: Sure. I was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and spent most of my childhood wanting to be a footballer. I was never any good in music class at school, but at 16, a friend of mine persuaded me to get a cheap acoustic guitar and I soon started showing an aptitude for it. I live in Japan now, and last year I decided to give being a solo artist a go. I’d played over 100 live shows in England with bands, but my first one up there all on my own was the most nerve-wracking of the lot. But I got through unscathed and thought, “Ok, I can do this.”
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
BRYAN COOPER: Well, conventional wisdom says I’m self-taught, but I’ve learned from so many people over the years. Jamming together with my friend on my first guitar afforded me the opportunity to explore the instrument without worrying about mistakes. In fact, the mistakes were often the most fun part. It was such a great way to learn. I’ve only ever bought one guitar tuition book, “The Guitar Handbook” by Ralph Denyer. I studied that tome harder than I ever did my GCSE’s. I drew out all the scales and chords in an A4 notepad. I improvised over my favourite records, testing everything I’d learned. As I got better, I formed bands with friends, and that gave me much more than any book could.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘BRYAN COOPER’?
BRYAN COOPER: I took all the letters of my birthname, ‘Bryan Cooper’ out of a Scrabble set, threw them up in the air, and vowed to adopt as a stage name whichever anagram landed. Miraculously, they all landed back in the same order, so I stuck with that. I was a gust of wind away from being called, ‘Yo Crap Boner’.
My parents used to get me embarrassingly uncool records when I was a kid. I’m talking Kylie Minogue and Flying Pickets. But I’m so glad they did, because those simple melodies are building blocks for any nascent songwriter. The 90’s was a rich era for British indie rock guitarists: Coxon (Blur), Butler (Suede), Squire (Stone Roses), Greenwood (Radiohead)… And I loved American rock from that era too: G’n’R, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, RATM. They all inspired me, but I kinda balk at the word ‘influence’. However, they definitely went into the melting pot. Now, as I try and stretch my songwriting legs, I turn more to The Beatles and Bach.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
BRYAN COOPER: A few of my friends say I sound like Elliot Smith, whom I’ve never listened to. But I know he’s well thought of by many, so I’ll take that as a compliment. My guitar-playing is rooted in 90’s Permanent Wave indie rock, but my songwriting is developing in a way that I hope puts it in a fresh context. I know not everyone will dig my songs, but hopefully they’ll acknowledge that there’s a craft to them, that I don’t take a cookie-cutter approach. I want to get to a point where I incorporate so much modulation and modal variety in a song, that Rick Beato shapeshifts into a bouquet of purring chrysanthemums.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
No doubt that there’s room for all of the above. A lot of my lyrics are coded. Not to lock people out, quite the opposite in fact. An anti-establishment tirade can also sound like a breakup song if you’re smart about it. I find it a lot more rewarding as a songwriter to use allegories, metaphors, esoteric devices, etc. I think it’s a richer, more layered experience for the listener, too. I don’t care if someone takes away a different interpretation of a song, as long as it’s meaningful to them. Few records have meant as much to me as the eponymous Stone Roses album, even when it remained lyrically elusive to me for years. I’m looking forward to seeing how people interpret my next single, Beta Life (Out August 12th). On a surface level it’s about graduating to a higher tier of existence. But there are threads to pick at and unravel if one chooses.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfilment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
Being a D.I.Y. musician is a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it’s important to keep things fun. Making music should be fulfilling in and of itself, or it’s probably not worth doing. If I was creating art just for the R.O.I. then I’d quickly become disheartened. If something substantial and material comes along, that’s great because it means I could potentially do this full-time. In the short term any kind of passive income is a bonus. But right now, almost akin to altruism, the deed itself is the reward. The writing, the recording, the cover design, I get a buzz throughout the whole creative process and most of all sharing it with people. The social media elements and blagging to curators, I have to confess, are the least fulfilling aspects, in that selling myself has always been my weak point. However, I understand the landscape we’re in, and the opportunity for self-promotion is a privilege we didn’t used to have, not that long ago.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
I keep things fresh by not relying on one system. The genesis of my debut single, “Who Do You Serve?” was that opening riff. My last song, “Heroes Let You Down” is an amalgamation of different ideas I had that ended up fitting together. Sometimes I’ll hum a melody into my phone on the way home from work. Other times I’ll just improvise on my guitar until something appears from the ether. But I’ll never force it. If nothing materializes, so be it. One technique I have is start with a couple of chords and see how far I can pull them off course, so they end up in a completely different place by the chorus. The challenge then becomes, “How can I make this coherent in a song structure.” When it comes off, it feels like squaring the circle. I don’t have one set way of writing, and I hope I never do.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
BRYAN COOPER: My first band got signed to a major record label, but that ultimately turned into a painful experience which I wasn’t equipped to deal with at the time. However, looking back doesn’t interest me now. I try to learn from all experiences, good and bad, but then move on and live in the present as much as possible. When you look backwards, you can’t see the path ahead. Everything that’s happened to me has brought me to this exact point in my life and, in my humble opinion, it couldn’t ever have been any other way. I’m at peace with that.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far? BRYAN COOPER: This morning I was finally able to prepare my oatmeal breakfast without burning it. That was an epic rush. But just as much as I don’t linger on the past for disappointments, nostalgia doesn’t interest me either. For the time being, I’m proud of myself for giving this solo venture a go. Let’s see what happens
Photo credits: Joao Faria