Creatives in Conversation: Oli Cooper is following his dreams one drumbeat at a time.
Many drummers gravitate towards the art of playing the drums long before they finally get their hands on a proper set. There's just something about creating a rhythm with something as simple as your own fists banging on a desk at school that is so satisfying, regardless of whether it leads to something deeper than that or not.
While not all parents may encourage their children to experiment with such a loud creative outlet, LA-based musician Oli Cooper didn't give his parents much of a say in the matter. After his passion for experimental drumming resulted in many broken windows as a kid, his parents decided to invest in the necessary equipment, helping lay a foundation that evidently would shape his career path as an adult.
Oli's love for drumming was instilled early on in his life, and soon, his dedication and work ethic grew to match his interest in music. From taking lessons to navigating his place in bands of varying capacities, Oli found his calling as a drummer to be quite rewarding and decided to dedicate his life to perfecting the craft as he got older.
Currently, Oli is balancing his studies at the UCLA School for Music with playing in two projects, Jordan Hawkins and Molly With Charles respectively. In addition to lending his talents to other live acts and studio work throughout the Los Angeles area, Oli is also committed to finding his own unique sound and style as a drummer, something that he feels is an integral part of becoming a notable talent.
While simultaneously attending school and cultivating his career as a professional musician is no easy task, Oli is keeping his eyes on the long game and putting in the hours necessary to achieve his goals in music. As he continues to experiment stylistically and works to help shape the sound of Jordan Hawkins and Molly With Charles, Oli is well on his way to making his dreams come true and further reinforcing how his parents made the right decision by buying him his first-ever drum kit nearly two decades ago.
Oli recently took a moment to talk shop with the DropLabs team about how he got his start as a drummer, how technology can help aid his live performances and what supporters can anticipate in the year ahead.
What do you do for a living?
Right now, I'm a full-time student at the UCLA School for Music and I'm also a musician. I play drums primarily and I study jazz right now in school. I'd say I specialize in R&B, hip-hop, funk-influenced Neo-soul music and more modern stuff. I make my money touring and performing around LA and recording on various artists' tracks and albums. The two projects I currently play most with are Jordan Hawkins and Molly With Charles.
Is there an early memory you’d like to share about when you first discovered some of your passions?
I have a whole bunch. The first one that comes to mind is when I was about three years old. I had a pair of drumsticks in my house, but no drum set. I remember playing drums on everything I could find, just running around the house and hitting everything with those sticks until I discovered that the living room windows made great noises. I broke them all. My family bought me a tiny little drum set after that. They were like, 'Alright no more breaking windows. You have a drum set now, play on that.' [Laughs] Funny enough, I broke that in about six months too, so that was great. This was all when I was around three and four. I didn't really play any instruments after that until I was about eight years old. My best friend Neel played guitar and was like, 'I want to be in a famous band and you need to play drums.' I got a drum set shortly thereafter, started taking lessons and I haven't stopped since.
What were your influences early on, music-wise?
Growing up, I listened to Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. Those two would be a constant for me. As I got older, I got more into grunge and went through that phase with the Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden and bands like that. I've since settled more into a fuller scope of music and I definitely love listening to a lot of R&B. Daniel Caesar, Hello Yello, D'Angelo, Snarky Puppy and Amy Winehouse are all super inspiring to me. Amy Winehouse is definitely one of my all-time favorites.
What type of environment or setting do you feel the most creative in?
I've been trying out a lot of different things while recording. I've found that I really like playing music in a darker space. I like creating an environment that satisfies all of the senses. The lighting needs to be nice and I think that music overall is the most enjoyable in a good, comfortable environment. I also usually listen to a couple of my favorite tracks before I play a show or record just to get some inspiration. I try to not get too deep into my head and make sure I am comfortable before I play a show.
What words of wisdom would you like to pass along to someone first starting out in your field?
I would say, find what you love doing within what you already do. There's always a niche in music. So, find what you really love and what you're good at and what you can focus on and develop that into your own sound. I think it's really important to practice expressing yourself in your sound and making it very personal to you. That's how you'll be set apart from other people in this industry.
How would you explain the DropLabs experience to your friends?
I found out about DropLabs at the Basement Series in LA. After I got home, I was just raving to my roommates about it. The first thing I think I said was that it's just mind-blowing and so different than anything I’d experienced before.
What would be your approach to utilizing DropLabs?
I've tried on the Bose sunglasses that have directional speakers that send sound straight into your ears. With that product, you don't have anything in your ears at all but you can still hear the music really well. However, DropLabs is so different [from other types of tactile sound] because DropLabs allows you to really feel the music through vibrations in your whole body. It felt like a direct parallel to being at a live show. Instantly, I thought of metronome capabilities as a drummer and was stoked. To be able to use those as a metronome during a show or during recording would be really crazy.
For those unfamiliar, a metronome is a steady beat that keeps time perfectly for you. I have an app on my phone that I set, such as, for example, at 60 beats per minute. It'll just click; one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, all in perfect time. I try to practice along with that. At bigger shows, often times, you'll have a metronome running through your in-ear monitors that helps make sure the band is all playing at the same tempo. If you're also playing with tracks or background vocals coming through a computer, those will all be set to a certain tempo as well and the metronome ensures the live band is locked with the tracks. I think sometimes it's hard to follow along when you're just listening, because you're also trying to listen to what the other musicians are playing to be able to interact with them.
When I first tried out DropLabs, I immediately thought of how crazy it would be to feel the beat in your body on perfect time along with playing the show or while practicing. I am so stoked to experiment with that and cannot wait to try them out while practicing. Also, as a drummer, I use both of my feet while playing and already feel vibrations in a way, so it's exciting throwing DropLabs in the mix to emphasize those feelings even more.
Would you say DropLabs Technology™ is influencing how you approach music in general?
I'd say it's definitely influencing how I'm experiencing music in general. Everyone always says that it doesn't matter if you hit the right notes or anything, you just have to have the right feel. The feel has to be good and the feelings have to be there. As a musician, it's your job to portray those emotions and feelings and help the audience experience them as well. With DropLabs, it's allowed me to actually feel the music, in the direct word of feel, through my body. It helps me feel the music even more in that emotional, colorful, visual sense.
What are you currently working on?
Along with working on getting my degree in Jazz drum performance, currently, Molly With Charles, the project I'm a part of, is finishing our debut album, 'Ownership.' That's going to be released sometime in Spring 2020 with some singles starting February or March. With Jordan Hawkins, we just released a track called "Thankful," and he will be releasing a new EP or album also this spring. Both projects perform around the LA area often. My next show is on Valentines day at the Sayers club with Jordan Hawkins. Stay tuned for new music from Molly With Charles and Jordan Hawkins!
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