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Cooked Books interview with Ben, Joe, Cathleen and David

Their debut album The Reader, plagued with continuous delays including a fire at the pressing plant, is set for release any day now, a glittery shimmering mixture of fuzz fueled feedback with just the right amount of pop and left-right combination jaw hooks.  Let’s Pretend Records has been unleashing some of the most delightfully tweaked pop-punk, psych for years, but they have something extra special in store for you this time; this time they’re unleashing Cooked Books on the world.  Cooked Books has been around for a while and the album “a long time coming”, you can tell.  There’s no filler here, just tasty riffage from start to finish and sporting just enough of a lo-fi production job serves to make The Reader one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time!  I don’t know how I hadn’t heard Cooked Books’ totally madcap and insanely original take on the pop-psych/garage tradition before but I’m glad I remedied that, and trust me you will be too!  They might claim that the books are cooked but these guys are the real deal.  So kick back and put on some tunes while you peep this interview ‘cause it’s a doozy!  All four members of the band were able to shine some light on the band’s history and what the future has in store for them not to mention everything in between.  And while you wait for the album to drop you can check out some streaming songs here and enjoy some Cooked Books…

What’s the band’s lineup?  Is this your original lineup?

There’s David (vocals and guitar), Joe (guitar and backing vocals), Cathleen (bass and backing vocals) and Ben (drums).  This is the one and only lineup.

Are any of you in any other bands?  Have you released any material with any other bands?

Cathleen:  I'm not currently in any other bands.  I've been in a few over the years and I have some 7"s and CDs under my bed that I'm not quite sure what to do with now that those bands are long gone.

Joe:  I put out my first tape when I was fourteen, my grunge band, Angst (no shit), recorded a dozen songs on a tape player.  Throughout high school and college I put stuff out with various bands, including a short-run tape with a Carbondale band, North Americans.  Now, besides Cooked Books, I'm also in a post-punk band called LEGS.  We put out a self-titled EP on CD and cassette last year.

David:  I’m not currently in any other bands.  I had a psych project called Resting Rooster.  We produced a great deal of recorded material but only officially released one album a long time ago.  I recently found an unopened copy of it at a Goodwill store; that was kind of a career highlight for me.

Ben:  I was in a band called Snaarj for a while.  We put out two records.  Besides Cooked Books I’m currently playing drums in a band called Mike Adams At His Honest Weight and in a band called Living Well.  I just started playing guitar in a band called Wet Blankets.  All those bands have records out too.

How and when did you all meet?

Cathleen:  We all met a couple of years ago in the basement of David's house out in the woods.  He probably could have easily killed us all out there, but it worked out OK.

David:  Yeah, it would have been pretty easy.

What led to the formation of Cooked Books and when did it start?

Joe:  Well, I'm the only member who's lived in Bloomington less than ten years.  I moved here from New Mexico in 2011 after a couple years working as a newspaper reporter and playing in no bands.  I came here because I wanted to finally play some music again.  Not really knowing anybody, I posted a Craigslist ad titled “garage/psych/loud,” and met David through that.  He was also in a kind of musical drought I think, and we spent several months trying to figure out whether we could write/play together.  Eventually David convinced Cathy and Ben to drive out to the woods and play one night.  That's it.

David:  I was in a bit of a drought in general.  At the time I was in the habit of perusing the local craigslist musician ads for some comic relief, i.e. Christian metal band auditions, cover bands seeking lead singers, et cetera...  I was kind of shocked when I found Joe’s ad.  I never expected to find a project on craigslist that reflected what I wanted to do musically.

© Jeremy Hogan

Where are you originally from?

Cathleen:  All of us, or the band?  I grew up in New Jersey, but I've been in Bloomington, Indiana for over a decade.

Joe:  I grew up in Teutopolis, Illinois.  It's just past the big creepy cross on I-70.

David:  I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I was homeschooled with my three brothers.

Ben:  I’m from Bloomington.

Where is the band located?

Joe:  All of us except David live in Bloomington.

David:  I lived in Bloomington for several years, but moved out to the country after deciding I wanted a little space.

Can you describe the local scene there?

Cathleen:  Bloomington is a really small town but there’s a lot going on.  And with it being a college town, it's pretty transient, so things shift pretty regularly.  Sometimes there are no basements to play, other times there are a bunch.  Sometimes there are tons of great bands, other times there are serious dry spells.  There's always a new crop of kids, which can be both awesome and exhausting, and it's always interesting to me to see who sticks around.  There are definitely some core groups of older folks who have put down roots here and are still doing awesome stuff.

Joe:  Yeah, as far as this part of the country goes, I don't think there are many music scenes like Bloomington.  Most of the musicians I know are in at least a couple different bands plus weird side projects or whatever, and a lot of them are incredible.  Those people also make up a bulk of the audiences at most shows and it can be a little intimidating.

Are you very involved in the local scene?  Has it played a large role in the history or evolution of Cooked Books?

Cathleen:  I moved here because of people I knew who played music here.  I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the local scene.  I've been attending, booking and playing shows here for as long as I've been here.  Even though most of us didn't know each other when we started playing together, we knew of each other's old bands.  Cooked Books is just a part of the continuing history of Bloomington music. 

Joe:  Yeah, my story is pretty similar to Cathy's.  That's the reason I came here.

David:  It’s kind of hard to say what kind of impact the local scene has had on Cooked Books, but it definitely has shaped me a musician.  It’s probably safe to say that it’s had an impact on all of us in some fashion.  Some of my favorite bands are Bloomington bands, and some of my greatest moments of inspiration and motivation have come from attending local basement shows and developing relationships with the individuals who comprise the local scene.

I don’t like to label or classify music; can you describe Cooked Books’ sound to our readers?

Joe:  Our semi-official bio uses the words “heavy psychedelia, frenzied power pop and raw punk rock.”  Which I think means: just loud enough.

David:  We all kind of have the brains of pop songwriters and the fingers of something heavier and darker, and it all kind of comes together somewhere in the middle.

Can you talk about your music influences?  What about as a band as opposed to individuals?

Joe:  Thee Oh Sees, The Slits, John Maus.  As a band, we've learned a bunch of covers by The Undertones recently.  If we're lucky David will start singing in an Irish accent.

David:  In terms of overall band influences, I think you could Venn diagram this shit out: Joe and I are both into Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and the like.  Cathy and I are both into Television, The Buzzcocks, The Undertones, and a lot of 70’s punk bands.  Ben and I have shared guilty pleasures in the pop music realm.

You are preparing to release your album, The Reader, on Let’s Pretend Records extremely soon.  What can our readers expect from the album?  When is it planned for release?  What format, or formats is the album going to be available in?

David:  We are releasing The Reader, a ten song LP on 12” white vinyl.  Due to several unforeseen setbacks that have already occurred, we are hesitant to announce a specific release date.  That being said, we have approved the test pressings and expect the finished product very soon.  In addition to vinyl it will be available via Bandcamp, iTunes and all of the other usual digital stores.

Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of The Reader?  Where was it recorded?  Who recorded it? 

Cathleen:  We recorded with Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording in Bloomington.  We drank some coffee and some beers.  We hung out with cats.  We ate soup.  Mike is great.

© Jeremy Hogan

David:  The recording process was pretty straightforward.  We kept the overdubs to a minimum and recorded the basic tracks live.  Mike is really good at bringing out the best in individual performances.  We recorded with all of our amps at stage volume (loud) in an effort to best capture our live sound.

Does Cooked Books have any other music that they’ve released?

Joe:  This is it.  It's been a long time coming.

Do you like recording?  Some people love it and it drives other people up the wall!

Cathleen:  I used to hate it but recording with Cooked Books has been pretty painless.

David:  I’d do it every day if I could.

Ben:  Me too.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Joe:  Yeah, it's a good reason to drink beer during the day.

Let’s Pretend has actually put out some awesome stuff from my hometown so they hold a special place in my heart, how did you get involved with the label?

Cathleen:  Pete of Let's Pretend used to be my roommate.  He once broke the shower at 4:00 A.M., but we've been friends for years now despite that.  We both like good punk rock and I've always liked the stuff he puts out.  He asked to hear the record when we finished recording, and consequently offered to help with it.

Where’s the best place for our readers to buy your music?

David:  There are plenty of digital outlets, but I feel like only listening to The Reader on vinyl is going to truly capture what we were going for.  If I were you, I’d check out the Let’s Pretend Records online store or the Bandcamp page.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about your songwriting process?  Is there a lot of jamming or does someone come in with a more polished riff or idea to share with the rest of the band?

Joe:  Well we basically have two songwriting processes.  In one, David writes the bulk of a song, guitar and vocals, and then brings it to the band; we polish it up from there.  In the other scenario, I bring in a bunch of guitar ideas strung together and we figure out how to build them into a full song.  It's possible we've never actually jammed, at least not for more than about thirty seconds or so.

David:  One of my favorite things about being in Cooked Books is the fact that everyone contributes to the arrangements.  Everything we write is a full-band-effort, and I think that’s why we, as individuals, struggle to describe the sound.  As we work out a song in the basement, all of our individual interpretations of the song begin to influence each other’s choices until it ultimately melts into something that is unique to the group as a whole.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes this year so far?

David:  After the release of the new record, we plan to keep things somewhat limited to regional weekend jaunts.  In the long term, we hope to cover more ground.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live performances that you’d like to share with our readers?

Ben:  Our first show was in front of a wall of televisions all playing a puppet porno based on Charles Manson.

Joe:  Yes, at a venue named The Gourley Hole.  It went well.

Who are some of your favorite musicians that you’ve had the opportunity to play with?

Cathleen:  It was really fun to play with R. Ring.  I was pretty star-struck when Kelley Deal gave me a hug and said that she really liked us.  They were the nicest people and it was so awesome to be right up close to that voice that I've been listening to since I was a kid.

David:  I definitely agree that playing with R. Ring was pretty amazing.

Where is the best place for our readers to keep up on the latest news like upcoming shows and album releases at?

David:  I kind of hate to even say it, but Facebook is probably the best way to stay in touch.  We also enjoy face-to-face conversations, email, and the occasional phone call.

I love having a digital copy of an album, but there’s something irreplaceable about a physical release to me.  Having something to hold in your hands, to look at and experience while you are listening to the music makes for a much more complete experience, at least for me.  Do you have any similar connection to physical releases?

Cathleen:  I feel the same way.  I like the fact that vinyl specifically forces you to actually stay physically close to the music.  You can't just put it on and ignore it like you can with a computer or mp3 player.  You have to stay close by to flip it; you have to handle the sleeve so you see the song titles and the art.  The nature of it forces you to be more engaged with it.  I'm not in any way opposed to digital music.  I love my iPod, and it's incredibly convenient to have so much at my fingertips.  But I have definitely found that I have a better knowledge of, and a deeper connection with, records that I own on vinyl.

David:  I one-hundred percent agree.  Digital recordings can be great.  I’m not going to take my vinyl collection on a road trip.  But there’s something much more interesting about a physical copy.  It takes up space in your home.  You have to live with it even when you’re not listening to it.

Digital music is rapidly changing the face of the music industry to say the least, but it also affords up and coming bands a much greater opportunity for promotion and distribution of their own material.  How do you feel about digital music and distribution?

David:  Digital music and digital distribution is hard to ignore.  It can also be really difficult to tell how helpful it really is.  Does it help good musicians get better?  Probably not.  Does it help really shitty, yet brand savvy, musicians find an audience?  Most definitely.  It certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it’s easy to blow its importance out of proportion.  I guess it really depends on what your expectations are as a creative person.

Do you have a music collection?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Cathleen:  Yes.  It's too big, but maybe it just feels that way because I recently moved.  I briefly considered setting everything I own ablaze.

David:  I have a hard time parting with anything.  Because of that, I have a varied collection that expresses a lot of the personal changes that I have gone through over the years; a lot of strange bedfellows in there.

© Jeremy Hogan

I ask everyone I talk to this question because I absolutely love hearing new bands.  I’m always on the hunt for new and amazing musicians.  Who should I be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of?

Cathleen:  I really like The Purple 7.  Joe's other band LEGS is really great too.

Joe:  My new favorite band in Bloomington is Dracula Pills, I believe they are self-described “tough stuff”; and Kam Kama too.

David:  Too many to list, but I’ve been really into the Purple 7, Thee Open Sex, Apache Dropout, Dead Beach, The Sands, Kam Kama and LEGS.

Ben:  Kam Kama.  Elephant Micah.

What about nationally and internationally?

David:  I typically listen to a mixture of new and old music: I really like the new Sic Alps record; I’ve also recently reignited my fascination with Love and Moby Grape.  Why am I listening to all of these California bands?  Its summertime music I suppose.

Joe:  You ever hear of Hank Williams, Jr.?

Is there anything that I missed or that you’d just like to talk about?

Ben:  I have a great recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins if you want it.

Joe:  Yeah, you don't want it.

© Jeremy Hogan

(2013)  Cooked Books – The Reader – 12” – Let’s Pretend Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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