Symphonic dream pop rarely sounds as thrilling as when The Receiver are the ones playing it.
The brother duo from Columbus, Ohio specializes in music that sounds like the soundtrack to great movies that don’t exist. We caught up with Casey, who is the singing and composing half of the brothers (Brother Jesse is the drummer) as the duo were making their way out of the forests of Allegheny. The show starts at 8 pm at Makespace and tickets are $5.
Kevin Stairiker: How did the brother band come about?
Casey Cooper: We started playing music together for fun when I was in high school. Jesse’s four years older than me. Eventually, the bassist in his band at the time quit, so they asked me to step in. We played in that band for three or four years together, and during that time I was at Ohio State studying music. I was working on electronic music during my senior year. I showed it to Jesse and he really liked it, and this was happening as the band was dissolving. We tried putting it together with just, bass, keyboards, drums and vocals. It went over really well, even though it was just a demo. We both just liked the aesthetic a lot and liked performing together in that aesthetic so we decided the name ourselves “The Receiver” off of a stereo unit in a car. We wanted a three-syllable band name. At first we just wanted to be “Receiver” but there was another band with that name, so we had to add the “the.”
KS: When you were studying music at Ohio State, was it your goal to be in a band?
CC: I really just wanted to learn everything I could about orchestral music and composition theory…I was just in love with music. I took a few years of theory in high school, so I knew a little. I started off with landscape architecture and I knew I wasn’t going to be happy doing that. I also knew music wasn’t a guaranteed paycheck when I graduated. It was more for the hobby and love of it. I mean, I could spend the rest of my life studying music and not scratch the surface. It gave me enough confidence in writing and working with other musicians to put my own music out there. I knew I wanted to be in a band and compose my music, but I didn’t know if it would be in an academic setting or a “pop/rock” sort of setting. Some of the academic orchestral stuff that goes on in is kind of cold, dissonant and alienating in a lot of ways. I appreciate it theoretically, you know, it’s interesting, mathematically-speaking but it’s not very inviting or warm. Just working on a mixture of electronic music and the knowledge I gained from composition.
KS: The songs I listened to off of All Burn seem to do that well. There’s clearly thought and the education you got from school are there because, obviously, these aren’t easy songs.
CC: Yeah, I’m in love with melody and counterpoint and I love trying to blend two, three melodic lines together. It’s fun for me. I wanted to create something that was inviting for people to listen to and something that people can connect with. A running theme on All Burn is failed relationships, and I think a lot of people can relate to that, I certainly do. I wanted something a little more straightforward lyrically-speaking, so that people weren’t scratching their heads.
KS: Some of the songs on the album remind me of the work of John Carpenter, like themes for movies that haven’t been made yet. Have you ever had an interest in scoring films?
CC: Absolutely. I actually have scored a few short films. A friend of mine, Jennifer Reeder, does really abstract, feminist-themed short films. She’s a professor of film in Chicago. We met through mutual friends and she liked the style of music we write so she asked me to score a few of her films. So I did, and it was awesome and I’d love to keep doing that, but it’s hard to juggle that with the band and stuff. It is online at my Bandcamp page for listening. It’s very similar to The Receiver-style. It’s very heavy with synths and very melody-driven. The only difference is that it doesn’t have live drums or bass or me singing.
KS: Aside from the solo ep, and just to make sure I have my numbers correct, All Burn is your third album?
CC: Yep, it’s our third album. That’s all we’ve released, we haven’t released any eps or anything.
KS: So the time between albums, is that mostly spent on writing? Not that any art takes a specific amount of time to complete, everything is different. I’m just curious if it was other jobs, getting together with your brother or some specific obstacle?
CC: It’s all the above, really. It’s all the general life stuff. We both work full-time jobs, I’m recently-engaged, we’ve moved a little bit within Columbus. On top of all that, there were a few things that delayed the recording and release of All Burn, so that’s why there’s such a big gap between our second and third albums. The second one, Length of Arms, was put out in 2009 and All Burn was put out in 2015, so it kind of makes you wonder why there’s six years between those albums. It is partly because I take a decent amount of time writing the material. Once I get the sketches put together, then Jesse and I have to sit down and work together on it as a band. Sometimes that then requires going back to the drawing board and changing what I sketched out because it sounds different. Sometimes it works in my head but it doesn’t translate to a live setting. We were label-shopping the second record and that was a year process and then two labels that were going to pick it up dropped off. So that was like a year wasted. It was hard to pick ourselves up after that, but we did. We were supposed to record at a certain time, but that got delayed, there were contractual things that fell apart a few times…just, a ton of speed bumps getting the third record done. Ultimately, I’m happy with how everything turned out, because in the end, we decided to self-produce the album and we got the label that we wanted, which was K-Scope.
KS: Was a part of signing with them that you wanted to self-produce it or was that something they offered?
CC: Well, the album was already completely finished. It was already recorded, mixed and mastered, a done deal. We self-financed it and sent it to K-Scope. The reason we sent it to K-Scope was because they wanted to put out our second record. That fell through, but we kept in touch with them. They really liked it, but their schedule was difficult because they couldn’t put it out right away. They were like “Do you mind if we put it out in seven, eight months?” At that point, we were like “Look man, it’s already been like five years, so there’s no reason to jump the gun on this.” We were just happy to have a record that was done and a label to help us.
KS: Was self-producing that much different than the making of the first two album?
CC: To be honest, it wasn’t much different. The biggest difference was, on the first two, we had co-producers. Their role, more than anything, was showing us what to do in the studio. Just very like, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, administrative-type work. And those two guys are incredible producers and engineers. But when we got to the third album, it was kind of like “Ok, we’ve done this two through thanks to them helping us.” At that point, we were able to set stuff up ourselves and work in a friend’s home studio. We wouldn’t have been able to do it as efficiently without the people we worked with prior.
KS: Looking into the future, do you see the two of you branching out and having other people play with you, whether on stage or in studio?
CC: For the time being, it’s going to stay a duo. Financially speaking, it’s hard to take four or five people out on the road for the length of time we’re doing it currently. And that has a lot to do with why we wanted to be a duo. We’re brothers, we’re on the same schedule, we get along pretty well, for the most part. At one point, we added a guitarist for the live show that was going to be a big part of the show and record with us in the studio. He was awesome and we liked what it did for the live show, so we added a second guitarist for fun, just to beef up the show. We did it with two guitarists for a while but it was mostly local shows. One of the guitarists had to drop off because he was getting married. It was impossible for the second guy to commit because he’s a teacher, he’s married, he’s got his own life, just a busy dude. But we figured it wasn’t smart to record a bunch of guitar parts for this new album if we weren’t sure he could tour with us. So we would have had to find another person and teach them the parts and do the whole deal It’s not like we’re sitting on a bed of money to do this tour. We’re touring and living off what we make show to show based on who comes through the door and what we sell at the merch stand. So, really, we’re at the mercy of the listeners, but that’s what this tour is about. K-Scope is fantastic and we’re extremely honored to be working with, but we are there only U.S. band. So, we’re kind of an experiment for them in a way. They did give us quite a bit of publicity when the album dropped, but now I feel like it’s up to us. We got a booking agent and we’re trying to literally gain fans one, two, three at a time. It’s all coming up to showing up in the town, playing our set and trying to connect with the handful of people who are there and happen to be listening. It’s kind of a grassroots method, but we’re loving it. We’re meeting tons of new people and merch sales have been great. Tonight will be show twenty-one and altogether, it will be right around 120 shows.
KS: Wow. So after tonight, you still have one-hundred shows in this tour?
CC: After tonight, we have twelve more, then we go home for ten days. After that, it’s thirty more shows, then home for three weeks. After that, sixty more shows and that’s it.
KS: So the tour will be ending in 2017 or…
CC: Well, the end of the tour is July of this year, so it’s all crammed in. We’re playing every single night and that’s how our booking agent likes it. You know, you can either sit around and do nothing, flip channels at a Motel 6, or you can find a place that’s willing to let you play. Even if it’s an open mic night on a Sunday and it means no pay-out, we’ll do it. It sounds slightly desperate, but we’re just being honest with ourselves. That’s where we’re at.
KS: Of course. And at the very least, even if it’s an open mic, it’s still exposure, experience and practice, even if no one’s there.
CC: Yep. Luckily that hasn’t happened yet on this tour, but it’s happened to us numerous times before. Just playing to the bartender and the sound guy.