An Interview with Mickey Cooper

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From his humble beginnings rewriting songs from the radio as a youngster, and touring with bands during his late teens – there was never any doubt that Mickey Cooper was destined for a career in the music industry. Now, set to release his debut solo album, Hit The Ceiling; I spoke with Mickey about songwriting, recording and Randy’s Apartment.

So, tell the people a little bit about yourself to start with.

I left school when I was 16 to play guitar in a rock band, crazily toured up and down the coast, [and] drove around playing gigs of varying success for a lot of years. That’s kind of how I grew up playing in bands – music’s been the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. And the solo thing came about, because I was in New York last year for a few months and living in this apartment. [I] just had just a microphone and a little recording space and had all these songs that I wanted to get down and it turned into an album.

You started off taking songs from the radio and reworking the lyrics. So why and how does one rewrite lyrics to songs?

I don’t know. They were really my first baby steps into songwriting. I used to hear songs on commercial radio, record songs off the radio onto tape, and then listen back to it, and make the songs my own – change the words and then record my version of them. That was when I was 5 or 6. Then I’d write out the lyrics and show them to my parents.

I remember rewriting a Matchbox 20 song, Push. It goes, I want to push you around, I think I just rewrote it to make it a little less violent … a bit nicer. When I was a kid, the house was full of music. Mainly Crowded House, actually, I had such a strong affinity with [their music] because it’s like church music to me, the hymns I grew up with.

You’ve been touring with indie-rock bands – but this is your own solo thing. Why’d you decide to go solo and not record the album as a band?

The band that I was in for a lot of years was called Cellar Door. We finished up a couple of years ago just because we’re all best mates and we felt like the band was taking over our friendship a little bit. We wanted to hang out as friends again. I’ve never stopped playing with the drummer from that band – he’s one of my really good friends, Dave. He owns Catch Release Records, which is little indie label in Melbourne, so I’m releasing the album through him. So I feel like I’m still in the band, even though I’m not.

But as I said, the solo thing really just came about because I found myself in New York with a bunch of songs that I just wanted to record. Because, they all came at kind of a shitty time in my life, I just wanted to get them out onto record and have them as a document. When I looked up, there was ten songs that I was like, “I’d love to put this out. I don’t want them to sit here” and I’m proud of it. It’s one of the best things I’ve done. I just wanted to get it into a few ears.

So, let’s talk Randy’s Apartment, the first single. What’s the song about?

I was staying in this apartment in Brooklyn for ten days, and after that went over to Manhattan and stayed there for a few months. So, Randy’s Apartment was this tiny, fourth floor apartment. The whole time we were there it was pushing 40 degrees outside in an New York heatwave – and it was just a little hotbox.

I’m an insomniac at the best of times, but I just wasn’t sleeping [and] just couldn’t adjust at the time difference, basically was going a little bit insane. [I] just wanted to get a lot of that out, because one night I just couldn’t sleep and I just decided to get up, and sat at Randy’s desk and start playing his guitar. I’ve never met him, by the way, funny enough, I should probably write him an email saying that I wrote this song about his apartment, but I haven’t (laughs). Then started writing everything that was going through my head – that was the song. It’s probably the quickest song I’ve ever written. I hear a lot of people say, songs fell out of them and came from somewhere, and I always sort of think, that never happens to me, because I really tend to craft the songs I write and labour over them, but this one was very much one that just fell out of nowhere song.

Is the single a good indication of what the rest of the album will be like?

It’s actually really funny because that song is one of the songs that I wrote really quickly, literally didn’t think about it much and probably really showcases a it more of a pop-ier side of my writing, and the rest of the songs are probably a little bit darker, a little more melancholic.

Is the album, Hit The Ceiling finished yet?

Yeah, finished it in New York, probably over a month to finish recording. Then I went to the studio in Brooklyn, which is owned by a guy called Bryce Goggin. He’s worked with some of my favourite bands, so that was a really cool experience. He mixed the album over a couple of days. It’s all finished and ready to go.

What was the recording process like?

I recorded it all literally all myself in this tiny little apartment in Manhattan. I recorded it next to a super loud fridge that was buzzing, domestic disputes next door, people stomping up the stairs outside, and then sirens going. There were all these funny little noises which made their way onto the record, which I love. It has such a sense of place to me, so in a sense, it wasn’t really any different to recording at home because I was doing it all myself.

But then, when I took the track into the studio to get it mixed, that really was a cool experience because I got to work with someone who I really respected. I was joking to my friends before I left, that I wanted to have this recording and hear an American accent say, “play that again man” through the headphones. That’s what I wanted (laughs) and I got that! I did a couple of drum takes in the studio, and a couple of keyboard things. It was a really good process.

You had the single launch party in March – how did it go and what was the response like?

Yeah, it was really good. It was at Some Velvet Morning, which is probably my favourite bar in Melbourne – it’s just a small little room, and had a bunch of friends come down and some people that I hopefully won over on the night. I just felt there’s was no pretension in that room –  free entry, great food and drinks, and people just go there to watch music. I wish there were a couple more places like that – I mean, there are more – but I wish there were even more.

How would you best describe your live shows?

I find that if it’s an especially crowded or chatty room, the more that you can kind of commit to dynamics the more inclined you are to get people’s attention. I think people really relate to a lot space in songs too [and] I think a lot of it is about set list shaping. I try to be as dynamic as I can, really honest and raw. It’s just myself and a guitar. A lot of people, like my friends, who know what the songs are about, I find that a little bit hard sometimes [and] can get a little emotional, but I mean that’s kind of, not what I’m going for, but I definitely don’t want to water down anything that the songs are about. When I’m up there singing, it’s all pretty real. I hope that comes across.

There’s definitely a place for music that don’t have a great emotional content or isn’t necessarily very deep – just feel good music – but in some way, I’ve never been able to write something that doesn’t, in some way, have any weight, you know? Weight’s not the word maybe, maybe intent.

Who do you think you’d be good as an opener for?

In an Australian sense, I love Paul Dempsey. I just think he’s one of the most thoughtful songwriters – gets that dynamic thing that I was talking about. You go and watch him, solo with a guitar, and it feels like you’re’ watching a band – you get that same thrill and rush in those big cathartic moments. You get that same hair standing up vibe, beautiful moments. He’s a one of the songwriters I really respect and I love the thought he gives with cord changes. If I had the chance to work with someone like him – I’d jump at it.

I [also] love Dan Kelly. He’s an amazing, talented songwriter and a bit wild, I guess experimental, playful. I do have that side to me. Then, someone on an international level, would be Sharon Bennett. She just writes the most ridiculously, beautiful songs.

Do you have any other tour dates coming up?

I’m going to release [the record] in the middle or towards the end of May, and then after that, there’ll be a tour and I’m gonna try and get to as many places as I can. I’m working on some dates right now.

Where can people find out more about you if they’re interested?

The usual places – Facebook, SoundCloud, search Mickey Cooper on any of those platforms and I’ll just come up.


Watch Randy’s Apartment:

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