When Is A Song Really Done? An Interview with Cooper Crain

When Is A Song Really Done? An Interview with Cooper Crain

Having already covered plenty of ground in the field of psychedelic, jam-oriented music with his bands Warhammer 48k, CAVE, and Bitchin Bajas, Cooper Crain had nowhere to go but up with Bitchitronics, Bitchin' Bajas' newest LP on Drag City. Where previous Crain-related releases are often built on propulsive, hypnotic grooves, Bitchitronics forsakes the motorik beat in a tranquil effort to promote ascendance. Crain notes below that it's important for him and the band to make music that's relaxing and comforting-- and few albums fit that description as well as the consciousness-focused Bitchitronics. We talked to him about the album and spirituality in general and yet another new project-- CAVE's forthcoming Threace, out in October.

Ad Hoc: Bitchitronics has definitely got a different feel than your previous work-- even Krausened, which only came out a few months ago. How did your intentions differ?
CC: The Krausened EP was written on a European tour Dan [Quinlivan] and I did in 2012. We came back and recorded immediately, and that was the outcome. Bitchitronics is the first record that Rob Frye is on as a member of the group (he was featured on the track "Jelly" from the LP/DVD Vibraquatic), so we had been playing as a three-piece a bit and experimenting with that. Bitchitronics is more of what we were trying to get out of three people playing together live. It's very conceptual in a recording sense and how it was made, which gives it a different feel.

Ad Hoc: Could you elaborate on the over-arching concept?
CC: Bitchitronics was recorded using tape delay and looping techniques to incorporate them as players along with capturing what was happening. We played off of them sometimes without control over what was happening during the recording. Other times we had full control, and it was just a matter of setting the levels and speeds until we felt it sounded good and could play on its own. I can't remember everything we did-- some of it was just spur of the moment ideas. But overall we brought all those machines to Fennville [Michigan, where the album was recorded] with a purpose to use them like we did, so that was the concept behind making the recordings.

Ad Hoc: Forgive me if I sound ignorant-- I don’t know a ton about synths and organs-- but I’ve seen you live, and your set-up looks intricate. How much does instrumentation, and even specific gear, dictate your production process? What about now that you’ve added woodwinds? Is there a difference in this regard between writing for Bajas and for CAVE?
CC: Dan and I have made a lot of music with our Crumar DS-2 and AceTone organs.  We haven't used that many other keyboards-- just here and there on recordings. I sometimes bring out a Yamaha SY-1 to create other sounds if a show needs it. But usually we try to keep to what we know and expand on that instrument as much as we can. I'd like to think we've been doing a good job of it so far. Adding woodwinds was something we'd been talking about for a while-- a sound I was hearing, but it was missing. Rob Frye is a great addition not only for what he plays and how he plays it, but he is also a kindred spirit. For writing, it varies on who is involved and the environment, etc. We all write from a riff or a jam, so that's similar within the two groups, but they are different in many ways.

Ad Hoc: There’s a definite move towards Eastern devotional sounds on this record, a seeming move away from the previous krautrock influence. Where does this come from?
CC: I've been listening to spiritual jazz and world music for years, so if it's finally coming out in my music-- well, I guess that's why. Alice Coltrane has been big for this record. She is an influence not so much in our sound but our spirit. Doesn't everyone want to find a pure state of consciousness? It's a concept for music that I've been making for years with Bitchin Bajas. I did a split 12" for Bathetic that was all about that musically.

Ad Hoc: What role does spirituality play in your writing and playing processes?
CC: Making music that is relaxing and comforting to us is important. If that falls into a spiritual category, then that is fine with us. We all have questions and inner thoughts about what is what-- if music is the answer, then that's special.

Ad Hoc: What's the difference in your intentions between CAVE and Bitchin Bajas?
CC: With Bitchin Bajas we want to keep coming up with concepts to challenge ourselves in different areas of musical composition. We don't have to just be one type of band-- we can make records that are all over the place. As long as it's us making the music and we're happy with it, then why not?  Both groups tend to use repetition a lot, which helps build tension, and if you can do that well it helps you find variations on a simple part, riff, or idea to expand the music. CAVE has been going for a longer time. We've tried to keep a certain range of ideas flowing, making it all groove-heavy for the most part-- but with Bitchin Bajas we can take it wherever we want to go. Only time will tell.

Ad Hoc: Is your approach to live performance and writing for the records roughly the same, then?
CC: Depends on what we're playing. If we are doing something more on the loose sided then yes, we'll probably start from a riff or have a beginning in mind. If we're playing music that has been composed and we more or less do the same thing each time, then we'll attempt to play it as is. Recordings help us finalize our music for a specific format, as live performances tend to have more variation here and there. I mean, when is a song really done?

Ad Hoc: Do you think it’s possible to achieve a similar transcendence with shorter, more form-driven music? Would you ever want to make anything like a pop song? Do you listen to any conventional pop music?
CC: I listen to lots of pop music-- all types of music really. It's what I can't recreate that I listen to the most. I'm not a pop song writer, but i do feel short songs can get you there.

Ad Hoc: What’s the upshot-- or at least the impetus-- behind an all-instrumental project like Bitchin Bajas, as opposed to CAVE (or Warhammer 48k), which sometimes incorporate vocals?
CC: CAVE has tried to use vocals as another instrument for the most part-- we never try to make them a leading element. I love vocalists who know what they're doing. I'm not one of them, though. I have a lot of respect for vocals and lyrics when used correctly. Both CAVE and Bitchin Bajas try to focus on the music more. With Bitchin Bajas it just seems unnecessary for us to use vocals, although I wouldn't be surprised if some chanting popped up on a record soon. The new CAVE record is actually all instrumental.

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