Interview with Young Guv aka Ben Cook | By John Gentile
If you try to define Young Guv, aka Ben Cook, you are going to fail. He grew up fronting modern hardcore heroes No Warning, screaming lyrics like “I will remain convicted!” and “This is my way of laughing in your face!” After that, he joined the ranks of Fucked Up! just as they were transitioning from a band of hardcore traditionalists to avant-punk weirdos.

But then, he started a plethora of diverse projects, including the power pop of Marvelous Darlings, the gritty garage rock of The Bitters, and even the ‘80s synth-jams of Yacht Club. On his newest release – Ripe 4 Luv, available via Slumberland Records – Young Guv fashions an eclectic sound that is reminiscent of all his previous work, but can’t be described by just a few adjectives.

The new album is hard to pin down. There are traces of Chic, power pop, ambient sound, Lovin’ Spoonful, Stevie Wonder, Jodeci, and others. Did you purposefully set out to create a new sound?

I didn’t really set out to create a new sound and… I’m not sure that I did… but thank you! I’d say some of those references are definitely influences on some of the music I have done in my life. My solo music doesn’t really follow a specific vibe or style except for generally making sure the songwriting is bangin’.

I knew I wanted a clean, sparkling, diamond, champagne-like, twinkly pop record based around the guitar. Anthony [Nemet], my co-producer, Steve [Chahley], my engineer, and I have been dubbing the sound “chimp pop.” It references the FX unit from the ‘80s that we ran everything through, which is called “The Chimp Box.” We had a minimal approach in terms of track layering and that gave a general chimpy vibe to some of the playing, sounds, and vocal arranging.

“Wrong Crowd” has that distanced, almost chilling sound.

The song was inspired by a story I heard on a podcast about a man from Virginia who was hanging with some people one night in his teens. They held up a Burger King. He was meant to spend hard time in jail for it, but the courts forgot about him, and he just went on with his life, waiting for them to put him in jail, but it didn’t happen. He raised a family, got a job, started his own business, only for the courts 10 years later to catch up with him and send him off to jail already a reformed, positive contributing member of society. It was a heartbreaking piece, and so I wrote the tune about it.

Speaking of people in the wrong place at the wrong time, what about “Kelly, I’m Not a Creep”? Who is Kelly and who was the creep?

I wrote it with my old roommate, Marvelous Mark. It was about our upstairs neighbor who would wait in the laundry room for us sometimes, and be really sexually suggestive and forward to us both. It was pretty awesome, and we respected her a lot for her intimidating boldness and power. So, she got a tune. “Meet me in the laundry room/I’m gonna make your dreams come true…”

A lot of songs on the new album deal with sex and relationships. A lot of recording artists who write positively about the relationships, particularly the early stages, actually have gone through a lot of bad relationships.

Yes, there’s a lot of that on this album. But, to me, it’s more an album about people in general, masked by the classic love song delivery. The album is about lack of love, the crushing feeling of trying to feel loved, the confusing feeling of trying to love yourself, the love of a mother, the love of a stranger, trying so hard to love something you’re supposed to, but never being able to. I’m not sure it’s based on my specific personal relationships with girlfriends, but more a reflection of things I’ve seen and felt around me over time.

Interesting. Some of the songs sound like slow burning “lover jams.” “Aquarian,” for example. What is it like knowing that people might be having sex to the sound of your voice?

I’d find it amazing, and I’m glad you said that, even though I’m not sure it’s going to happen! But, if it does, I hope it lasts more than five minutes…

I ain’t no D’Angelo. I grew up on ‘90s R&B. It’s some of my favorite stuff. Not in a modern R&B way, either. I like it all. I like the corny stuff. I know every Boyz II Men lyric, vocal, and harmony. Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, too. If a small sliver of that translates into my chimpy-ass no-brainer pop songs, that’s a good thing.

One of the most fascinating things about you is that you used to be in a pretty raucous hardcore band, and then had the guts to make music that was far removed from hardcore.

I still make hardcore music. I released a song with No Warning last year called “Resurrection of the Wolf,” and it was the most hardcore song of the year, by far. [Laughs]… [Straight faced] I’m not kidding though. Fucked Up also still makes music somewhat hardcore based. Well, maybe it’s more punk based…

I don’t really understand when people think that just because someone makes one kind of music, they can’t make another. I’m a musician; I’m a huge music fan. I love so much. I want to do a lot and I will.

Having roots in hardcore and punk definitely gives me a simpler and more confident approach compared to others who I have worked with who came up differently. When you come up in hardcore or punk, things move faster. You bang out songs. You don’t look back. You forget they even exist sometimes. There’s a certain energy. One take, done. Songs arranged. Could it be better? Maybe? Who cares, let’s record it and make another. There’s no overthinking anything, no time to second guess. I don’t necessarily approach everything I do in this way, but the feeling is still there.

Speaking of the pop/punk divide, you’ve ghostwritten songs for Taylor Swift!

I wrote some demos for her a long time ago. Most of them weren’t used. I’ve ghostwritten some horrible songs, though! It’s a lot better writing songs for other people, because you don’t have to hear yourself.

Many punk fans seem to feel that punk, hardcore, and indie music is inherently at odds with pop music. You’ve existed in both worlds. Is that distinction valid?

Maybe I’m wrong, but hardcore is one of the last large musical bodies not completely infiltrated by corporate business, blogs, and brands. A lot of it is still run by the people involved, and that’s an awesome thing.

I don’t think they are at odds with the pop world. I’d be surprised if 95 percent of the hardcore community didn’t think Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” was an incredible song. That subculture is a safe world to basically act [however] and do whatever you want, and an escape if you need it. So, while I think these worlds are definitely and intentionally light years apart, they are not necessarily “at odds.” Maybe at some point they were, but now? Nah. The Internet changed that game.

A good deal of hardcore music is very macho. Your new album comes from a masculine perspective, but isn’t inherently “tough guy.” Is the macho aspect of hardcore a virtue or a failing?

I guess, both. Ignorant, trashy, loser-ass men have made some pretty amazing music over time. Too bad they are such dicks.

Pick up Ripe 4 Luv here.

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"There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment."

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