The Cooper Temple Clause
Interview by Alexander Laurence
Cooper Temple Clause was formed in Reading in the late 1990s
by a group of six perverts, outsiders, and drunks. They
were more interested in how well they could destroy equipment
and drink than playing music. They came from all over but
had some connection to the Reading area. Their first album
was so raunchy and offensive that the record company didn't
bother releasing it in America. Their hybrid style that
mixes many genres and explodes the standard song form was
a breath of fresh air in the British scene, which had become
predictable and stale. The band is Ben Gautrey (vocals),
Tom Bellamy (guitar, synthesizer, bass), Dan Fisher (bass,
guitar), Didz (bass), Kieran Mahon (keyboards), and Jon
In 2000, the group managed to sign a deal. On an extensive
tour the group gave life to the new British alternative
scene, which had been dominated by American acts. In February
2002, the Cooper Temple Clause delivered their debut album,
See This Through and Leave. After a few years of
tours and festivals they have become one of the top new
acts from England. They played their first New York City
show in October 2003, during CMJ. Their song "Promises,
Promises" was a sign that the Clause was expanding
their chaotic sound for a new continent. I spoke to lead
singer, Ben Gautrey, right after some big Christmas shows.
Gautrey went to the same Swiss school as The Strokes.
The second album, Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames
Break Loose, has already gone up the UK charts. It will
be released in America in February. They will be doing the
first of hopefully many American tours in March.
AL: How long has the band been together?
Ben: We all went to the same school. We have been playing
for almost six years now. Tom and me have been best friends
since we were twelve. We were into a lot of grunge then:
Nirvana, Pumpkins, and Britpop stuff like Blur, Radiohead,
and Oasis. The next thing to do was to pick up instruments
and start playing. The others joined through friends and
mutual acquaintances. When we were twelve we sounded like
the heaviest band ever: we sounded like Boston. Luckily
we didn't do any gigs.
AL: Did any of you have musical backgrounds or did your
families support your musical ability?
Ben: The six of us are probably in a band because of our
Dads. All of our Das are music nuts. We used to go through
our attics for any strange piece of vinyl that had been
collected over the years. All of our Dads had a healthy
passion for rock and roll.
AL: Since you lived nearby, did you always go to the Reading
Ben: We started going to the Reading Festival every year
since we were about fourteen. That was one of the main reasons
we wanted to be in a band. You have such a diverse wealth
of talent coming to your town every year. It's hard not
to be inspired by it. I think that festival had a big impact
on this band.
AL: Did you also get into the DJ Culture and dance music,
which was big in the mid-1990s?
Ben: We are. We are discovering later now that we are fans
of electronic music in general. We love everything on the
Warp Label. Tom and Kieran are really into Boards of Canada,
Aphex Twin, and Squarepusher. Five or six years ago, The
Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy were the biggest bands
in Britain. Those bands opened our eyes to other elements.
You can go back to Kraftwerk and Neu!, and all the Krautrock
AL: Did you get to play with any older bands?
Ben: We played with the Rolling Stones a few months ago,
which was pretty surreal. Never in our wildest dreams, did
we think that we would be sharing a stage with the Rolling
Stones. That was very humbling and very special. We did
a show with them in Dublin. Even though they had written
some of the best songs ever, the way they toured was like
so business-like backstage. It was so organized. You have
this magic that you sense in your heads, like a dreamy state,
that the Rolling Stones are this badboy, rebellious band.
That mist was blown away when we toured with them. I guess
it has to be that way when your tour on that scale and you
has done it for so long. They all have their own separate
tour buses. They don't sleep in the buses either.
AL: How many people do you tour with?
Ben: There are six of us. We do need a few people who can
help Tom with the synths. We have about eight or nine people
in our crew, but that is just for the bigger venues. At
a smaller club we could survive with just one person. Part
of the fun of going to America in 2004 is doing some low
key dates where it. We are getting excited because you miss
that atmosphere of small intimate clubs when you step up
to the bigger venues.
AL: The New York shows at CMJ were the only time you played
in America so far?
Ben: Yeah. We played just that one show in New York. It
was in and out. We really enjoyed it. We have always wanted
to come to America and tour and tour and see the east coast
and the west coast. We want to see all the cities and go
everywhere you can. It was nice just to finally play in
New York. The reception we got from the crowd was surprising.
We didn't expect them to know who we were, but they really
did. They knew the songs. There was a lot of enthusiasm
from all the people that we met there. We are doing a four-week
tour in March.
AL: We have been hearing about the live show for a long
time, but not all British bands come to America.
Ben: The main facet of The Cooper Temple Clause is that
we are primarily a live band. We enjoy playing whether it's
in front of two people, or two thousand people, or ten thousand
people. It's the same every night. We go out and play with
the same passion for the songs. We are not one of those
bands that just stand there looking bored and pissed and
look like they would rather spend their time doing something
else. We absolutely love playing live to anyone who wants
to hear it.
AL: In America we are used to British bands being sort
of mellow. The Cooper Temple Clause is a little bit more
intense than most of us would expect.
Ben: Yeah, I think so. That is one of the reasons that
we started the band. We wanted to break this illusion of
new bands aping and mimicking bands from twenty and thirty
years ago, and not doing anything new. We wanted to push
music forward. We wanted to say something new. We never
said that we are better than anyone else. We just do what
we want to do. We do what we love and feel. Our live show
is energetic and intense and we are wearing our hearts on
our sleeves. We are very lucky to be playing and very lucky
to have people listening to what we do.
AL: When did you start recording this new album?
Ben: We started in October, 2002. We finished in May. That
was quick since we had to build the studio. We wrote all
the songs in that time as well. We didn't go in there with
twenty songs. We didn't have any songs. We went to this
little farm and converted it into our little world. We didn't
know if you would be able to hear the metal workers next
door. We didn't know if it was a suitable place for a studio.
It definitely created the mood for the album. It took about
eight months to do it.
AL: How do you go about writing songs?
Ben: Each song is different. There is not one way or set
rule that we follow. All six of us do the writing. Sometimes
it's one person that has an idea for a song. Sometimes there
is some jamming. Something there is three or four people
there. It does change. That is one of our endearing qualities
that all of us write the songs. There is not one person
standing there dictating how it should sound. We have completely
different tastes in music and we are trying to work together.
We are trying to make this big sound and push music in a
way we all want it to go.
AL: Some of your songs go one place, then go somewhere
completely different? What is up with that?
Ben: I don't know. Maybe that is just our warped heads.
That is what happens when you are stuck in a farm in the
middle of nowhere. We were three miles from any civilization.
Your headspace becomes distorted. That is just how we end
up writing music. It's quite unexplainable how we get there.
It seems natural to us. When someone says that sound weird,
we have no answers. It sounds to us how it should be.
AL: The title of the album comes from a Philip Larkin poem.
Why did you choose that?
Ben: When you are in a band with six people, you are going
to have a hard time agreeing about anything. Fisher was
reading this book by Philip Larkin, and a line from one
of the poems just stuck in his head. He mentioned it when
the album was half done. Everyone thought it was too long.
When we were finishing the album and we had a list of album
titles, that name popped up again. Later that title made
more sense. Some of the imagery in the lyrics of "Blind
Pilots" and "Music Box" related to that title.
Then we became worried about whether you could put the band
and the title on a spine of a CD. It seemed to make sense.
Our attitude is just deal with the repercussions later.
AL: Do you write all the lyrics?
Ben: No. It used to be mainly Fisher who wrote all the
lyrics. Now Kieran and me are all chipping in. Tom wrote
a few songs. We usually write about personal experiences
and things we know. We don't feel comfortable writing about
anything else. The first album was about us growing up in
a satellite town in England, fifteen miles from London,
where there is nothing for young kids to do. There is a
lot of disillusionment and intimidation from people when
you are different and want to do different things. The second
album is more about close friends and families and people
who supported us. It will be exciting to see what we do
on the third album and what direction we will go in.
AL: Didz got sick recently?
Ben: Yeah. Last Christmas he had too many sun dried tomatoes.
He was going to have his appendix taken out, but it ended
up being more serious. He became physically ill and lost
three stones (fifty pounds). The doctor said there was a
chance of him dying but Didz wouldn't believe it. That was
right in the middle of the album. We were playing him demos
in the hospital. It was good to have an outside opinion.
It was a scary time.
AL: Have you read any book recently?
Ben: I have been on a gothic adventure. I have been reading
Dracula and Frankenstein. I was disappointed with both of
them. I also read The 39 Steps. It was easy to read. Fisher
and Kieran have been getting into Russian novelists. Big
epic thousand paged books.
AL: Do you have any favorite films that you have seen recently?
Ben: I saw a film that was awful the other night. It was
called The Transporter. It had an English actor in it trying
to be an action hero. It was absolutely terrible. I still
haven't seen a film that could match The Goonies. That and
Back To The Future are my favorites. We are all fans of
films of the 1980s. Back To The Future always comes on around
Christmas in England.
AL: Are there any bands that you have played with in the
past year that you liked or who are any good?
Ben: There have been a few. Oceansize are absolutely amazing.
They are cross between Mogwai and Soundgarden. They are
amazing live. We are all big fans of this Scottish band
called Aerogramme. The 80 Matchbox B-Line Disaster are a
AL: What songs are you going to play on this tour?
Ben: We will probably play all the songs on the new album.
We will play the singles from the first album. It is unknown
what we will actually do. Just expect a wall of noise. We
have some weeks off right now. We are jamming and maybe
we will have some new songs by the time of the American
tour. We just played Wembley Stadium a few days ago. We
opened up for Feeder. Wembley is almost the biggest venue
in England. We got to play it the other day. If you would
have told us a few years ago that we would be playing at
Wembley we would have never believed it. We would never
have dreamed that we have gotten this far. It was very exciting.