Published Mar 31, 2015"Musical A.D.D." That's how musician, producer and label head Ben Cook characterizes his prodigious output.
It also explains how someone who once fronted Toronto hardcore heroes No Warning managed to craft a power pop record like Ripe 4 Luv, Cook's first official album under his Young Guv alias. "I've always been writing power pop," he says, sitting in the sparsely decorated bedroom of his east end Toronto apartment, which doubles as his recording studio, the Mednick Mansion. "My first band ever was called the Smegheads. It was a pop punk band derivative of the Ramones: three chords, songs about Pamela Anderson, global warming and the girl I had a crush on. So not much has changed."
Best known for his role as third guitarist in Toronto experimental punk behemoth Fucked Up, Cook has released a wide range of material through projects like Marvelous Darlings, Roommates and Yacht Club. But the Young Guv moniker has proven his most resilient; he's dropped over a dozen singles, EPs and cassette tapes under the name over the last seven years.
Cook's recording process mirrors his creative one. Since his No Warning days, he's recorded in a host of Toronto studios, from the Dreamhouse downtown, which he found a little too crowded ("It's a private process, making music") to a basement under the Hell's Angels' east end headquarters. The Mansion alone has seen several iterations of his setup in the four years he's lived there.
Along with recording sessions in Australia, Montreal and even on an airplane, Ripe 4 Luv also touched down in five different Toronto locales, including the plush DNA Recording Facility to a friend's basement in Bolton, ON that Cook describes as straight out of That 70s Show. "I like to be mobile with it, because I get kind of bored."
But recording through a Duet firewire box with Logic or Ableton leaves his recordings a little stale. "I like to catch the moment and then figure out the vibe a little later," he says. To create artificial presence, he'll re-amp tracks with analog gear, running individual digital tracks through his TEAC reel-to-reel or '80s Harmonizer rack which he calls "the Chimpbox." Cook based Ripe 4 Luv's overall sound around the latter's "corny, but classy" choruses and phasers.
Perhaps the only through line between all of Cook's projects are his roots in Toronto's east end, where he grew up. "I've always done shit in the east end," he says. "It's got that rough around the edges vibe. Nobody wants to go, but it's actually pretty safe. I hope that comes out in the music."
His first musical love was West coast G-funk, until a friend "put a guitar in my hand" and hipped him to Nirvana and Guns N' Roses. As he moved into his mid-teens, Cook fell into the city's punk scene. He simultaneously dove deep into acting, appearing in several Goosebumps episodes as well as an adaptation of Little Men. With the money from those gigs, he was able to help his mother buy a house as well as a few guitars and a four-track recorder for himself.
His first real recording experience came after No Warning signed with a major label, and recorded in the kind of big expensive studios that once ruled the roost. "I learned a lot of shit from the people we were working with." Between their mid-2000s split and joining Fucked Up, Cook started a number of projects, including Marvelous Darlings, while packing and delivering high-end tea around the city. He also started ghostwriting for bands like Sum 41, a gig he got through former Treble Charger member Greig Nori, who had produced No Warning's final album. "Being close to Greig Nori when he's writing a hit chorus is amazing. It just comes out of him."
He also started producing records for other artists, notably "early Toronto art-wave" groups like Tropics and Huckleberry Friends, giving him an outlet for the knowledge he'd accrued working in both pricey studios and DIY set-ups. That's carried over to Cook's role as label head for Last Gang imprint Bad Actors. "I've never had a manager or anyone to tell me 'Do this,' or 'Don't do that.' So I use my experience to help people navigate [the industry]."
Ripe 4 Luv, is, nominally a solo record, but Cook had a crew of friends helping him along the way, particularly Actual Water member Anthony Nemet and Mark Fosco, who played in Marvelous Darlings. "I don't know how to craft pop records, which is why I've done singles for so long," says Cook. "I've never personally seen anyone do it by themselves. It's a really impressive feat."
But the area that Cook needs the biggest hand with is distribution. The two keyboards in his room sit on top of a giant chest filled with the seven-inches and cassettes he's made under various names. "I'm a hopeless idiot when it comes to giving my music to anybody," he says, though he stresses that none of the records made by his Bad Actors roster have met a similar fate. He hopes that Slumberland, who is releasing Ripe 4 Luv, is able to properly distro the record.
But it's the process of creating, not selling, that keeps Cook inspired. "I really like making it, but once it's out I stop caring," he says. "Just because this is a band doesn't mean we have to take it super seriously. A lot of the projects that we do are just for straightup fun and for the good of releasing great songs into the universe to show that great songwriting still exists."