by: Thomas D. Mooney
Right now, Ross Cooper is traveling down the highway from Ruidoso, New Mexico. He’s been over there on an isolated songwriting session. A cleanse of the mind and palate. It was Monday afternoon when I gave him a call. He was pulled over at a gas station in Roswell on the trek over.
“Right now, I don’t have a publishing deal. So every song that I’m writing back in Nashville, if I think it’s good, I’m sending out,” said Cooper in the first few minutes of our conversation. “I don’t need to be thinking like that. I need to just write some good songs and kind of say, ‘Fuck it.'”
The Lubbock born singer-songwriter has been in Nashville the last few years. “It’s funny, man,” says Cooper. “You get far away from home and you don’t realize just how much home influences your songs. Maybe it’s the way you talk or phrase things, but it’s kind of eye opening.”
“You become really proud of where you’re from.”
Cooper will be playing tonight (Friday, Sept 04) at The Blue Light opening for fellow West Texas songwriter Red Shahan.
New Slang: When you’re over there, how many songs are you wanting to come back with? Ideally.
Ross Cooper: I want to come back with–I don’t care how many I write–but I want to come back with two that I’m really proud of. I’ll be there four days. Basically, I have no agenda while there. Waking up, having coffee. The most I’m planning to do outside of write, will be to maybe hike or fish some. It’s just trying to get into that headspace. I know once I’m able to, ideas and songs will start pouring out. I already have, what I think, are good ideas. So the plan is to come back with two or three that I really, really like. I mean, I might come back empty-handed. That’s just part of it.
NS: When you go out on one of these little songwriting sessions, do you try and record yourself or do you just stick to pen and paper?
RC: I was going to bring my little audio box and laptop, but honestly, I have my phone. I put everything on voice memos. I really do. I actually hardly write anything down. Some songs, I have to see it on paper though. I’ve been working on internal rhymes and meter so that can be easier when you see it on paper. Some of the simple songs though, if I feel good about them, I’ll sing them back through and just have that audio recording. I figured I’d wait until I got back to Nashville before I did any kind of good work tape recording or anything like that.
NS: What are you most excited about right now that you’re doing?
RC: I think I’ve settled into a spot and style that I really like. That’s obviously not saying that I don’t want to grow or anything like that. But I think when I look back at some of my earlier songs, I think I was trying to be super poetic at times. I go now, “What the hell was I talking about [Laughs].” I’ve tried to clean it up. I still like songs where the language is poetic. Love songs like that. But I really want to be relatable too. There’s a couple of songs I’ve done lately that are really real and simple.
The plan right now is to get back in the studio by the first of next year. So I’m trying to make sure everything is ready by the end of this year. I want to have the producer in mind. I just want everything to be set so I can hit 2016. Hopefully from there, kind of shop it around and build a team off of it.
I think this is the most excited I’ve been in a while. I think I’ve been able to look at and understand the whole process better. I think I’ve learned a lot. It’s easier and harder when you know there needs to be some kind of plan. It’s one thing to put out a record. But the other stuff after, if you don’t have that end goal, it can go to waste.
NS: Yeah. You can make a record, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to reach people.
RC: Exactly. Probably now it’s harder than ever. Nobody is buying CDs now. This time around, I’ll probably get maybe 500 of them. The bulk of that will probably be used for promo. I don’t necessarily want a closet full of CDs that won’t sell. It’s a weird time–you know.
NS: Yeah. Lately I’ve been trying to find old–when I say old, I mean late ’90s and early ’00s–CDs from bands from around here and it seems like everything is in one of two categories. Either they’re on Amazon for a penny and you’re essentially paying just for the shipping because there are hundreds out there or they’re wanting 50 or more dollars because they’re so scarce. Polar opposites.
RC: Yeah. I still love CDs. I love books. I love having that physical copy. I looking through liner notes and knowing who played on it. I like the experience of having a CD. It’s still exciting when you buy a really great CD.
NS: Yeah. You’re able to see what was important to them at the time of making that album when you’re able to read the liner notes. It’s own little time capsule in a way. The songs are obviously the most important part, but that’s a second.
RC: Yeah. You know, I didn’t grow up with a record player. My parents had a record collection from when they were younger. Luckily, they held on to them so I was able to scoop them up later. But I didn’t grow up on vinyl. I think something that’s kind of lost on us these days is when you bought a new record, it was an event. You sat an hour aside and listened to the record. Now you skip within the first 15 seconds of a song if you think you don’t like it. The amount of music you have access to at any given moment is both awesome and daunting. There’s just so much music out there.
NS: Yeah. When you were going somewhere. Traveling somewhere, you grabbed a stack of CDs–or a case, whatever–and that’s what you had. Now you have essentially everything you could ever imagine wanting on your phone. It is awesome, but like you said, it’s made things that should be special, very general.
RC: Yeah. I remember my parents always had ZZ Top’s Greatest Hits, The Mavericks’ What A Crying Shame, and the Top Gun Soundtrack. My dad wore out that album [Laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. So “Ringling Road.” The music video was just released. Obviously, you co-wrote that song. Has anything changed with the release and push of that song? Has it given you any notoriety? People come up to you?
RC: Yes and no. I think a lot of times I’m too ignorant to notice. I’ve noticed that people really do love that song. It reaches past Texas for sure. I had a meeting a couple of weeks ago and put that song on a link. I was showing these songs that I’d been doing lately, and when it came to that, they knew it. It’s cool. When we wrote that song, it was one of the first times–I don’t think I’d ever been in the position where it was “OK, I have this idea for this song. I want to write this song about blank.” That’s kind of what Will told me. He said he wanted me to be a part of it because I’d had a couple of circus songs before. I told him about my buddy Randall [Clay] and how he used to be a roustabout.
It was all these little things that just worked themselves out. We went in and got on the same page and just knocked it out. It was like an hour. I think we all walked out loving the song. It’s always nice when you do what you initially set out to do. It could have been a train wreck [Laughs]. It could have been three or four hours of messing around on it and never feeling right about it. I remember listening back the first time. Randall and I sing harmony on it. That was the first time I got to hear it really. I kind of waited around until it was basically the final mix to actually hear it. It was just a holy crap moment. The production was just perfect. Half the songs I’ve written with Randall, they’ve had that spooky, kind of weird vibe.
And the video is just top-notch. I find myself trying not to post too much about it on social media. I don’t want to burn people out with it [Laughs].
NS: Yeah. When talking with Will about it, I know he mentioned that he never thought of it being a single or anything. I guess they have though. Even if it wasn’t I thought it should be played on radio and pushed. I think that it could change Texas radio. It’s not your typical radio single. I’m not saying you’ll see other songs like this on the radio over the next few years when it comes to content, but I certainly think it’s saying it’s alright to push songs that don’t fit within the box that only has heartbreak ballads, party anthems, and I love you tunes. I think it’ll influence other bands to take a chance on songs that don’t fit that radio single norm.
RS: For sure. What can be really cool about Texas radio–I think it’s stating the obvious to say this–but I think Texas music fans aren’t your common, run of the mill, listen only to the radio on the way to work, fans. People who love Texas music, they really love Texas music. They’re listening to more than just the radio. I think when you have a song that people are a fan of that isn’t the norm, it can dictate if it’s actually played. People see it at a show or hear it on the album and they’ll request it. I think the fan power is relevant. The listeners are actually fans and not just commuters to work.