Peter Cooper: Nashville Scholar, Fake Hillbilly Hater
The senior music writer and columnist for Nashville daily The Tennesseean and a professor of country music history at Vanderbilt University, Peter Cooper also steps out as a performing songwriter when his schedule permits. He rolls into town Friday night at McGonigel's Mucky Duck as part of a duo with Last Train Home front man Eric Brace.
Eric Brace (left) and Peter Cooper
Cooper and Brace both have individual efforts on CD, but they've also recorded an album together, You Don't Have To Like Them Both, as well as a recent collaboration that produced the just released Tom T. Hall tribute album, I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow, in which they and other guests cover all the tracks ("Sneaky Snake," "Dance of the One-Legged Chicken" on Hall's 1974 LP Songs of Fox Hollow.
Selected by the Nashville Scene as one of the Ten Most Interesting People In Nashville last year, Cooper also recently wrote a stinging Tennessean piece entitled "Country Boys Are Wearing Out Calling Cards," in which he laid bare the emptiness of the average so-called country music song.
Rocks Off: You hit right on the nose with your article about all the lame, not-believable tropes and stock images that dominate the songs cut by the major players in Nashville these days.
Peter Cooper: I don't think that's news to many people. All these guys singing about how much they like the smell of hay in the barn, how much they love those small-town sweethearts - that stuff isn't fooling anyone much anymore. Most of the stuff that gets cut today is the product of co-writing, which is another factor in dumbing stuff down to the Rascal Flatts level.
There hasn't been a single country hit this year that was written by just one writer. And that's all driven by the big publishing houses and major labels. But with that said, I'd also have to say that I don't really want to hear another Texas artist do the whole Lone Star Beer, taco, floating-on-the-river thing either. That's equally trite and empty. These Texas guys who talk all this smack about Nashville are a bit off-putting too.
RO: Mark Germino recently said that it's wrong to identify Nashville as what's wrong, it's the country-music industry and the people with big stakes in that who are dumbing the music down as per the examples in your article.
PC: He's exactly right. Night after night there is probably as much serious musical talent in Nashville as any town on the planet. But whereas in Texas you've got an audience that works days and goes out to hear music at night for fun, the sad truth is that in Nashville most of the events where the best music is are just a few songwriters playing to an audience that is mostly other songwriters. And that's kind of a shame.
PC: Eric and I brainstormed that one up, and the big thrill was getting to go up to Tom T.'s house and hang with him some while we cut the songs. And we got all these special people in there like Jim Lauderdale and Patty Griffin, who is so great she seems almost effortless. It was amazing how she just walks up to the mike and nails it. Three minutes and she's done. It was a fun project, and a lot of good feeling went into making that little record.
RO: What is up with the Brace/Cooper gigs?
PC: Well, we've worked together off and on quite a bit. This gives him another outlet outside his band, and he's just a great voice. And there's probably nothing in music that I find more fun and fulfilling than singing harmony. So it works out well for both of us, and we enjoy traveling together and doing these shows.