Birch Cooper, a biological classic, interviewed by Sean Christensen
Hey Birch, in the name of fleshing you out for our readers I would like to talk about an amazing vision into your abilities that you once gave me. To my friends this story in now legendary. I tell it all of the time as an example of how to live awesome & do things in a free & creative way with all of your life. Once i was at a karaoke bar with a pack of friends just getting awesome, and you and some mutual friends arrived at the bar. After some time a song I normally can’t sit through came on. I was ready to cast a bummed glare and I turned back and saw you, who somehow so complemented, in an incongruous aesthetic way, the vibe of “No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley that I knew I was in store for something beautiful that would change my life! You were wearing a bejeweled baseball cap with your sandy long locks creeping out and your shirt was buttoned all the way to the top and hugged by a beach-worn denim jacket and some post-Hammer shorts. The song began and oddly the karaoke recording of that track at that bar is pristine with deep bass & crisp backup vocals. Your moment to make or break this thing was about to begin. Confidently you closed your eyes with a smile and as purple light washed your face you began to sing gently & softly in a low voice, almost like Serge Gainsbourg but more you. The words that came out were not Marley’s but your own. I believe you were freestyling a cosmic love ballad from beyond the cosmos. Love in the stars and across galaxies, you proclaimed! You would come back to Marley only for his chorus that hit just right with your back up women, who you made seem as though they were themselves being broadcast across time & space from another dimension. Or at least that’s the way I remember it.Once you were done I clapped harder than I maybe ever have. I have yet to see a karaoke performance to beat it, and furthermore few art or music performances that got me so moved.
How did you do that? I don’t think I would be sad to know it was practiced like so many karaoke performances in this city of Portland, but there was certainly something special there.
That’s cool that you remember that karaoke thing… and thanks, I had no idea that you felt that way! Around that time I was doing it occasionally for the first time in my life. Karaoke is obviously a “transcendental hell” type of situation and the tiki theme at the Alibi only augments that. I still don’t understand why people obediently sing the words to the song when they’re given a microphone, audience and the totally insane environment of a karaoke bar. The whole situation feels so extreme… I’ve alway felt that I need to respond to that energy in some way, but I doubt that an appropriate response is even possible. That night was an attempt… It wasn’t rehearsed.. ~;o).
Sporay (Kevin Shields, Caldera Lakes and MSHR (Oregon Painting Society/Slaves)Thurs 29/9 Galería Miscelanea - Barcelona Fri 30/9 Power Lunches Arts Cafe - London Sat 01/10 Gårdaskola-Gothenburg, Sweden Sun 02/10 Galleri Swop:art Roslagsgatan 60 Stockholm, Sweden Wed 05/10 MDKLNKRT - Tilburg, Netherlands Thurs 06/10 OCCii - Amsterdam, Netherlands Fri 07/10 Zakk - Bremen, Germany Sat 08/10 Madame Claude, Berlin, Germany Sun 9/10 Postgarage 2nd floor - Graz, Austria Wed 12/10 Quitch - Linz, Austria Fri 14/10 Karel’s Space, Brussels, Belgium Sat 15/10 LE BOUILLON BELGE (6 rue Planchat, the 20th arrondissement) - Paris, France
So shouts The Greys’ frontman Birch Cooper to a crowded room, right before his band launches into the loudest, face-meltingly narcotized breed of rock'n'roll. It’s a special evening at Holocene – The Greys are opening up for noise legends Lightning Bolt. I remember being amused by Birch’s inaugural statement for their highest-profile set to date. It was Bowie who used those words to kick off his anthem “Diamond Dogs”, and while one can hardly hear a connection to the glam pop mega-star in The Greys’ hazy mass of reverb and layers of gorgeous noise, it seems oddly fitting. The Greys wear sunglasses inside. So long as the fog machine doesn’t get overzealous, one can often make out a gold sequined hat on Birch. Perhaps we’ll think of these details as tiny nods to the aggrandized spectacle of rock'n'roll….
The Greys ARE spectacular, but their type of spectacle is spiritually dense. This is music by conjurers, for conjurers. Let’s trade the word “spectacle” for “ritual”! The group is comprised of Birch Cooper and Barbara Kinzle, known for their haunting ambient surf project The Slaves (which I consider one of the most honest and gorgeous expressions of musical romance ever seen in this town) joined by Jed Bindeman, one of the busiest drummers in town (see also Eternal Tapestry, Operative). Their sound exists in the realm of Phil Spector’s wall of sound as co-opted by those Loveless ones, but The Greys sounds like real love to me.
What The Greys do best is play delightfully with the tension between a punk rock ferocity and the patience of ambient experimentalists. Face-melting yes, but you’re watching strips of skin fall softly, gracefully into your hand. Time is confused, foggy, you’re floating….yet you’re also being accosted, you want to thrash, to shout, to get the spirit.
At my first Greys experience, a flailing Birch flew off the stage and landed straight on his back in front of the audience, unfazed, content to gloriously shred and writhe on the ground…. a star expelling all of its matter, a sublime explosion which transported me along with it. His only comment on the matter afterwards was that he had “transcended physicality”.
This is, of course, always the way. To become transcendent actually just involves a decisive physical move, a move imbued with personal significance. Pen to paper, feet (or in Birch’s case, back) to concrete, written words made utterances, that stone moved from here to there. “I put this moment…here”, as witchy woman Kate Bush puts it. It is not so much that ritual is the expression of belief or spirituality. It is that spirituality/transcendence/religiosity is born from ritual. At this moment, there are no decent recordings of The Greys on any social media websites. There is no neat and tidy takeaway video. Problematic, yes, because all I can say is “trust me, go see them play!” But also reassuring, perfect, in its way – you have to meet these weirdo conjurers in their element. You have to engage in this ritual as a live experience, to enter into the proper arena and experience that heart-leap which allows really great rock'n'roll to grow a million times larger than itself.