A/S/L: An online chat with Ben Cook
by Josiah Hughes
January 23, 2013
A/S/L features Gchat interviews with musicians. Get it? The internet.
He’s done extra work for the Jonas Brothers. He’s ghostwritten songs for Hedley and Simple Plan. Some people think he’s related to Rachel Leigh Cook, while others just think he’s a really pretty lesbian. He fronted one of the most important Canadian hardcore bands ever, and now plays third (!) guitar in Fucked Up. I’m talking, of course, about Ben Cook, the pint-sized musical luminary who’s always got his hand in some sort of new adventure.
Lately, he’s been making depraved synth-pop with Yacht Club in between writing sessions for the new Fucked Up LP. I nabbed him on Gchat right after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford lost his office and No Warning’s Ill Blood celebrated its 10th anniversary to talk hardcore, perverts, and why he’ll record bands that are willing to work in his apartment.
Josiah: Hey man! It says you’re offline, is this working?
Ben: Yeah, I just stay invisible so people don’t talk to me. Hahaha
Josiah: Hahahaha word. Alright let’s do dis shit, I don’t usually prepare anything. Just chat.
What are you up to today?
Ben: Sounds good to me. Well, I’m a little hungover to be honest, had a bit of a Rob Ford is gone party last night… good times. I’ll be going to a Yacht Club practice later. Not much else, thankfully.
Josiah: Oh yeah that Rob Ford stuff is a huge deal on the internet today.
Ben: Yeah, it’s awesome. Not sure if he’ll get back in, maybe he will but at this point the most intelligent people in this city would say that yesterday was a reason to celebrate.
Josiah: Also, if I’m not mistaken, was yesterday also the ten-year anniversary of Ill Blood?
Ben: Yes. And Micheal Jackson’s Dangerous. It was a big day yesterday in my world. lol.
Josiah: ahahahah. How do you feel about that album and that time of your life now? That must be crazy to look back on.
Ben: It was a great time. I try not to look back on it and ponder the past too much as when I see other people doing that it always comes off as a little sad. When people remind me of a certain gig or night back then, it’s always a laugh. It’s funny that a hardcore record about hating hardcore is now somewhat of a hardcore classic now. I listen to No Warning maybe once every four years or something. We were sick. A few people got Ill Blood tattoos yesterday. Not just band members either. That time was important for a lot of people I guess that are my age. Thinking back to the times when you were a young buck hardcore kid and now that it’s all hipsterfied… people who actually were involved back then really pride themselves on it. Which is silly. Haha.
Josiah: Hahahah totally.
Ben: Now they are all grown up and pretend they were listening to cool music back then, but it was all Promise Ring and they were all listening to garbage. The more time passes the more you can stretch the truth though. hahaha
Josiah: It’s such a different world… and it’s weird that it still exists. I went to a Comeback Kid show for a laugh the other week and saw some present-day Bridge 9 bands, and none of it has changed.
Ben: Yeah, I can imagine. I’m pretty out of the loop with it all.
Josiah: I’m interested in the fact that both you and Wes Eisold came out of that same scene and have made such vastly different and more interesting music… it seems like a very narrow-minded world when you’re in it, do you eventually need to pick one or the other? Mosh parts or songwriting?
Ben: Nah, I think most people know that it’s a stale small little world and to strictly be caught up in one thing like that and do nothing else would drive one a little crazy. I met a lot of very open-minded and interesting people through hardcore so it’s no surprise people go on to do other things.
Josiah: That makes sense. So let’s talk about what you are doing now. You’ve said that Yacht Club is now your main project?
Ben: Yeah, FU is my bread and butter obviously and that remains quite active, but when I’m not traveling with them I am toying with this pop project now. Matt [DeLong] came home from L.A. last year, and we’d been kicking around the idea for a while. We dropped four songs a few months ago that were all kinda ’80s vibey pop stuff, but the project is meant to explore the whole genre kind of. I want to reference everything from top 40 to yacht rock to even douchy, perverted, session-guy soft rock. There’s something really creepy about the whole thing. Lol. I’m also secretly working on a Young Guv LP with Mark Fosco and some other cats.
Josiah: Hahahahha “something really creepy.” Amazing.
Ben: I’m obsessed with perverted session musicians right now. Like dudes in the background who played on records but no one knows who they are… those are the true crazy people. And also extremely talented. We are going to drop a full, live session-played YC EP later in 2013, not rely so much on electronic stuff. It’s evolving into something pretty cool. Luckily I know some really dope professional musicians.
Josiah: That’s awesome! I imagine you’ve come across some pretty gnarly session pervs in your life?
Ben: Yeah, I kind of just stick with the ones that I know… some of my best friends. Psychos. Working with session players is very different than say a Fucked Up session where there’s like four to five people trying to wrestle the creativity. Cool results either way.
Josiah: Oh yeah that makes sense. Do you take much of a creative role in Fucked Up?
Ben: As much as I can, I’m pretty opinionated so when we are writing I will contribute quite a bit now. Took a while to find my place though.
Josiah: I can imagine… so many people! Are you guys done writing the new record yet?
Ben: There’s like 40 demos or something. I think the next step is working them out in a studio. The FU LP process is an extremely long one. You can’t really comment until things are actually recorded. Mike wants to go out of town to do the record to focus somewhere with no distractions but I don’t think anyone else wants to do that. lol.
Josiah: Hahahahaha. Do you get more satisfaction creatively out of your own projects?
Ben: Yes, for sure. FU is all about weird tension and subtle competition to get to a final product. By the end of it it’s pretty awesome, but I feel a little spent on it personally. The other stuff of mine is at my own pace and a much different and preferred collaboration process. To each his own, I guess.
Josiah: I can see that. Also, I remember you saying that you don’t really like touring that much. Is that still the case?
Ben: FU’s limit now is two weeks. Most importantly and most obviously because Damian and Josh both have babies and need to get back to them. But I appreciate it too for my own sanity. I prefer being in a studio all day, but traveling and touring and showcasing your music is part of the job. I’m excited to tour and do things with my other stuff eventually. I’m very curious how I will feel about that touring.
Josiah: Yeah, no kidding. Well it seems like everyone is waiting for FU to announce a breakup, whether from those things Damian said a while ago or the stories about infighting. Obviously a band can’t go on forever… do you feel like you’re currently planning for what’s next?
Ben: I’m always planning for what’s next just to keep things exciting for myself and because that’s how I am, not because there’s any worry that FU will disappear. Which I really don’t think it will for quite a while. If it did I would have no problem getting a normal job for a minute and working out what’s next.
Josiah: When was the last time you had a normal job and what was it?
Ben: Haha… it was five years ago, and I managed a boutique-y tea company who wholesaled tea to fancy restaurants and trendy coffee shops. It was me in an apartment in a project building in the east end packing and taking orders, and then delivering them to fancy spots. I listened to music and the CBC and that was that. Could have been worse… sucked though.
Josiah: Oh yeah, listening to the CBC all day can get really old after a while. You’ve also been recording some bands right? Who have you been working with?
Ben: I just recorded a single for Rad Habits, a new power pop band from around here. The single is called “Roxy” and it’s pretty tight. Talented kids. I produced a record for Last Gang Records by a band called Modern Superstitions. Originally I just took the job as a money gig, but ended up really enjoying it. I helped with some of the writing and arrangements. I’ve been working on a record for a girl name Hannah, which is Matt and I from YC writing a bunch of soft Sade/R&B type stuff and then we work out vocal arrangements over top. I want to release her record in 2013. By the way, I’m starting a label. It’s called Bad Actors.
Josiah: Do you have a philosophy when you record other bands?
Ben: I don’t really have a philosophy when recording bands. I just make sure the recording can do the songwriting and players justice. If you have an amazing drummer, I’m going to get a proper drum sound. Normal stuff. No egos or douchery. And it also mostly has to be recorded in my apartment because it’s comfy here.
Josiah: Do you have a more legit studio setup or is it pretty DIY? Are you still interested in lo-fi stuff or are you shooting for clearer sounds?
Ben: It’s not that legit, but I make do… I rent what I need when I need it, and if I need a proper drum sound or something bigger than what I can do I go to DNA studios with Steve Chahley. He is our main man, and is like my guardian angel. I’m not that interested in lo-fi stuff, but I am still interested in cool ways of recording. Like bouncing tracks down to cassette decks and bouncing them back into the computer to get certain kinds of tape saturation. I like to experiment and whether it comes out lo-fi or hi-fi, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as it’s interesting.
Josiah: Rad. Tell me a bit more about your label.
Ben: It’s kind of an experiment for me. It’ll be kind of a vanity label and outlet for music that I make with my friends. Yacht Club, Young Guv, etc. I’m also going to be putting out things that interest me from Toronto. I don’t really have a clear plan for it… I don’t want to be a record mogul. I don’t care for industry schmoozing or finding the next hot Pitchfork act. I just want an outlet to streamline good music to people who are listening. I think my first release will be an Odonis Odonis EP, and a Yacht Club 12-inch single.
Josiah: I would imagine you come across a lot of horrible schmoozers on tour.
Ben: Surprisingly, no. It’s pretty chill and I am a little private when touring so I don’t really talk to people that much.
Josiah: That’s great! I have to deal with so many idiots in my line of work. A lot of angry ska-funk bands from the middle of nowhere getting bummed out that I’m ignoring them lately…
Ben: Ska-funk. Sounds cool. haha.
Josiah: Ahahhaha yeah. I don’t wanna keep you here all day… anything else we need to know about Ben Cook? (Other than Rachel Leigh is not your sister…)
Ben: Yes, she is. Nah… I think I’ve spilled my guts enough for one day. Haha.
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 Issue of AUX Magazine.
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