Interview: Casey Cooper (CoastalDives)


CoastalDives: “Always work, always create, always compose, whether you feel inspired or not”

Casey Cooper is the man behind the CoastalDives project. His new album Next Light was released in June on Data Airlines, a label focusing on retro side of electronic music. This album was inspired by Casey’s father’s brain surgery. The artist had a chance to speak to Data.Wave regarding the health of his family member, the process of composing music for films and the greatest advice he has been given.

1. Hi Casey! First of all, let's start with the most important question: how is your father?

He’s doing quite well. The brain surgery recovery was slow and intense, but my father is a very resilient and determined man. It’s very inspiring to see how he’s bounced back and the positive attitude he’s had through it all. His spirits are high and you’d never know he was going through anything right now if you met him. Thank you for asking.

2. You work as a film composer. Which came first in your life: your love for movies (or video in general) or your love for sound?

My love for sound came first, for sure. I’ve been involved with some form of music since my mother started me on piano at the age of five or six. That’s very important because it is a great base for understanding music theory and developing the ear. I stayed very involved in music through school, eventually majoring in music composition at Ohio State. I’ve been composing and performing ever since.

3. We know that writing music for movies might be tough psychologically (let’s take an example of Johann Johannsson who had a lot of stressful moments). Being in the film industry, how do you deal with stress?

Meeting deadlines is the most stressful part of composing for film. Sometimes the project requires a non-stop, all night, multiple nights in a row pace. That's not good for anyone's health, but once you make it through it's very rewarding. The crazy deadline pushes you to achieve something you wouldn't have otherwise. But they're not all like that. I think the important balance to aim for is to support the director's vision as much as possible but to do it in your own distinct style, whatever style it is that got you there in the first place. And that balance is a stress reliever in itself - to compose what I like while at the same time making the director and production team happy. You have to be gentle with yourself though. Not everything is going to be perfect, and not everyone is going to love what you compose. So it's important to keep that in mind while trying your best to create something unique and supportive of the film, most of all. It's a wonderful gig for introverts. You have no choice but to hole up, focus, and push yourself creatively.

4. How do you explain the general trend toward the vaporwave and retro aesthetic among most American audiences? What does this have to do with?

I think it’s nostalgia for most people. People like to be transported back to an era that they think fondly of, and that’s perhaps why vaporwave is becoming more popular. It also might be an era that’s out of reach for younger musicians and they see something cool or unique in that aesthetic, real or imagined, something different from what we’re living in now. But that’s just speculation on my part.

5. How does the netlabel culture and the warm, analog, “physical” sound work together? Do you think they combine with each other?

I think they do combine with each other. The beauty of streaming platforms is that everything is at your fingertips. And the more music you release in a niche genre, you have a good chance of getting associated with similar artists in the genre. This allows for your music to become discoverable to so many listeners who otherwise wouldn't ever hear your music. That creates a great opportunity. And if you're lucky enough to have a physical product to sell, the listeners who really connect with your music are usually eager to support and have that physical product to keep. I'm constantly digging for new music, and as soon as I find something that really resonates with me, I immediately want to see if it's available on vinyl or cassette. I think a lot of music lovers are the same in that sense.

6. How would you characterize Next Light genre-wise?

This is always a tough question. I think it’s experimental electronic with ambient and classical influences. Some of the pieces are slightly through-composed so that each is a bit of a journey and a little harder to predict exactly what’s coming next. My background in orchestral music has a big influence on the underlying structures and themes. And of course it’s all analog synths so the textures and sounds are unique. I had a lot of fun with the form of these songs, especially “Splitter” and “75”. I wanted to compose songs that were different from anything else, but still very listenable; challenging if you focus on the time signatures or layers, but still easily digestible for casual listening. I used field recordings of people entering and exiting St. Joseph’s Cathedral here in Columbus, OH at the beginning and end of the album in an attempt to make the music sound and feel like it was being performed in a large space.

7. Do you always take on work when you have any kind of vivid emotion or not?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was from a college professor, Jan Radzynski, who told me to never wait on inspiration. His advice was to always work, always create, always compose whether you feel inspired or not, whether you feel an emotion or not. And I always go back to that. Countless times I’ve forced myself to write music when I wasn’t in the mood, and sure enough that inspiration and emotion comes from the act of creating. Slowly of course, but it always shows up.

8. What other areas of the music industry would you like to develop in?

I’d love to compose more film scores. It’s one of my favorite ways to write. Contributing to someone else’s creative vision and attempting to elevate and support that in my own way is very rewarding. I’ll always be composing my own music for a solo release, of course. I’d like to combine the electronic elements that I’ve been focused on with more traditional orchestral elements as well. I want to always push myself to develop, to grow, to carve my own path so to speak. It’s a unique challenge to create music that is forward thinking but stands the test of time. I’m not sure I’ve achieved that yet, but it’s a worthwhile goal, one that keeps me engaged and inspired.

CoastalDives on SoundCloud

Questions: Ilya Kudrin