Houston Music

Artist of the Week: LL Cooper

Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to [email protected].

You know what's a fun term? Twang. Being able to describe things as having some sort of twang base (i.e. twangy, twangish) and not sound like a schmuck is pretty much one of the best things about living in a Texas city, right along with seeing security guards in Meyerland on horses and having an actual holiday that exists simply to encourage people to dress like cowboys. (Are people in Maine encouraged to dress like lobster fisherman one day out of the year? Go Lobster Fisherman Day sounds glorious.)

So for this installment of Artist of the Week, we went hunting for a musician/band that we could aptly describe as twangy: enter the phenomenal LL Cooper. However, we're using the term "hunting" liberally: In the Artist of the Week's history, LL Cooper ranks in the top four on the Bands People Have Emailed Us About list.

LL Cooper is a super-solid roots-rock group, possessed of all the ethos any good ol' Texas band should have. They made of ton of noise with their 2007 debut Old Hardin Store Road and when we heard they were beginning to ready the release of their sophomore album, we reached out.

Rocks Off: Okay, so you guys used to be an all-drag, Latin-reggae band, right? Talk a little about that. Just kidding. For those who aren't familiar with you all, give a quick rundown of LL Cooper.

LL Cooper: Chris Gray from your paper called it "soulful, semi-psychedelic, roots-rock," and I can't argue with that one. I played lead guitar for several bands here in town over the years - Lisa Novak, Under the Sun among them. Since I wrote and produced in various styles, I was fortunate enough to play with some great musicians who could pull all of those things off with the proper conviction and attitude.

LL Cooper is an extension of that, except that I started writing material for my voice, which is a natural baritone. Rick Thompson, Jeff Enlow, Mando Perez and Brian Hays are all wonderful players who I've known forever. To mix things up a little, we brought in lead guitarist Wil Woodward and backing vocalist Kim Hundl, both of who were very talented, but raw and inexperienced before this project, and the result is really cool. I've watched Kim and Wil grow so much musically, and the rest of us are definitely benefiting from that spark.

RO: If we may be a total fanboy for a second, your last CD, Old Hardin..., was really, really strong. What type of new stuff can we expect on the new CD? And is it tempting to just repeat the exact same thing you did on the previous album, seeing as how it was so well-received?

LL: I think the first record has held up pretty good, even though the content is pretty dark at times. Most of the songs were written after I was looking back on failed relationships and my own mortality after the death of my parents, who died within three months of each other.

RO: Yipes, man. Three months? That's rough.

LL: The new record is a little lighter and more balanced overall - for Christ sakes, I'm happy!

RO: Always good to hear.

LL: My wife Sheila is a beautiful, strong, soulful woman who has challenged me to be a better man.

RO: Hey, that's weird, because our wife just challenged us to be less of a bastard.

LL: With that said, there's more than a few moments when I get philosophical about how damn hard the road was for me to get here. My lead guitarist thinks the title track to the new record, "Tucson," is the best thing I've ever written. It was inspired by a decorative message on the front door of the guest house at my good friend Rich Hopkins' place out in Arizona.

The door is painted up cool and funky and simply says "Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart." Stylistically, the new record is all over the place. The rock stuff has more depth, the alt-country stuff has more twang, and we even throw in some blue-eyed R&B and 60's farfisa garage rock to see if anyone's paying attention.

RO: Remember when David Arquette met up with Black Math Experiment after they made that "You Cannot Kill David Arquette" song? Was that the reason behind the "Harvey Keitel" song you all have? Which, by the way, is just about the best song written about a guy from Reservoir Dogs I've ever heard.

LL: No, "Harvey Keitel" was inspired many years ago by repeated (and fruitless) visits to a marriage counselor. Even when you think you and your other half are cruising along and everything is OK on the surface, you're just one pothole away from the gun going off and making a mess out of everything.

RO: Ah, we get it. Very clever.

LL: When that happens, you better have Harvey's number in your cell phone so the two of you can clean everything up and pretend you never met.

RO: Nice. When you write songs or compose music, do you have a particular feeling that you're trying to convey? Like, do you write something for the sole purpose of trying to make them feel happy or sad or whatever? Because when we listen to "Diggin'" all we want to do is sit in the front seat of a truck in the parking lot of Garland Mountain and eat a BBQ sandwich.

LL: I think all of us who play music try to make that connection with the listener. Most of us remember what was going on in our lives when we connected with certain songs -I know I do. As far as BBQ and "Diggin" goes, I wish I could sell that song, take the proceeds, and convince the Williams family to reopen Williams BBQ over in Acres Homes. Those were the best pork ribs in the universe. It may be hard to sell your soul for BBQ, but I could probably do it for the right artist.

RO: When, where, and for how much can people see you live next?

LL: We're scrambling to finish the record, but once we get it out we'll be easy to find in Houston. For now, the only thing on the calendar is a couple of Austin dates up on the Hippie Riviera and a July 2 show at Main Street Crossing in Tomball, which is my hometown.

RO: Anything else you want to plug? Now's the time to do it.

LL: We're almost finished with the tracking for Tucson and hope to release it in June. We'll ramp up the Houston-area performances, both with the band and some acoustic stuff too. I really want to thank the Houston Press for promoting the locals, there are a lot of very talented folks in this town, and you guys do a good job trying to get people to get off the couch.

But it's tough. I remember thinking when my stepson and I went to the last Ryan Adams show if even 10 percent of that crowd would get out and see what folks like Tody Castillo, Ragged Hearts and the rest of us are doing, it would be huge. All I can hope for is that a few of those people are reading this.

[Ed. note: Us too.]