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The Cooper Temple Clause
Interview by Alexander Laurence

The 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 Harper (drums).

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 Festival?

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 stuff.

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 phenomenal band.

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.


Website: www.thecoopertempleclause.com


--Alexander Laurence


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