A Q&A with Matt Cooper of Little Chief

Coop Dawg is back! I met Matt Cooper my freshman year of college in a dorm room. He was playing some sweet riffs on an acoustic guitar in my friend Sam’s room. He became one of my good friends during my college years at the University of Arkansas and it was a joy to cheer him and my other friends who are still pursuing their musical talents. (Do yourself a favor and check out the band Brother Moses with former Little Chief members John Lewis Anderson and Matthew Heckmann; and then enjoy the sweet melodies of Ellie Turner, whose voice you will recognize from the other Little Chief albums.)

It’s been four years since the band split up after graduation, but Matt is back, as a solo artist, producing some amazing work. Matt returned to the studio earlier this year to record a five-song EP entitled “Running Wild” that I’ve literally been playing on repeat since he agreed to let me talk music with him like the good ole days. The new EP is an exciting piece of work, at times harkening back to the Little Chief we all loved, but also bravely running into a new era with Matt at the helm. I can’t stop listening. Watching your friends flourish and create something that you can totally relate to years after you’ve known them is such an honor. I’m so proud to know him!

If anything, it’s been the most fun to see Matt’s music and arranging abilities exceed expectations and go beyond anything I’ve seen him do before. His lyrics and songwriting have always been excellent, but it’s been sweet to hear this album and notice the maturity in lyrics and sound playing off of each other.

Matt is currently still living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He’s married to his wife Melissa who seems really cool. He’s a financial advisor and still somehow finds the time to pursue music AND record a podcast about his newest album. Kudos, man.

In his Running Wild Podcast, Matt talks a lot about the process of actually putting music together, which is fascinating and enlightening. But for this virtual chat, he discusses more what it was like to go back to the studio, the stories behind the songs, and what it’s like to pursue music on his own. 

Let’s go! 

My questions are in bold, Matt’s answers are not.

Little Chief circa 2013 at George’s Majestic in Fayetteville, AR

A Q&A with Little Chief’s Matt Cooper

Back to the Studio
MJ: After a four-year hiatus, what was it like getting back into recording? Especially now that you’re on your own.

MC: Getting back into the studio was something I had envisioned for 4 years and the moment I got on an airplane headed to El Paso, it finally started to feel real. It was so exciting and really refreshing to get creative and see what we could do with this new music. There’s just something special about the recording process.

Where did these songs come from? Did you write them over four years or recently?

The songs were written over the last 4 years while Little Chief has been in hiatus. Some of them were written a few months before recording, while others had been sitting on the shelf for a few years. It’s been a really cool journey to see all of them come to life.

Do you feel like your songwriting or process has changed since your return to the studio?

I think my songwriting process has changed over the last few years as I have had to figure out how I wanted these songs to sound on my own. In the past, my process looked like writing a song and then taking it to my other bandmates to fill it out and add all the color. With me pursuing Little Chief on my own, I no longer had that “sounding board” to bounce ideas off other people. It was a real challenge but with the help of some really talented people in my corner at the studio, I think we were able to create some really amazing songs.

Dream Team
So you went to this artist retreat, Sonic Ranch, and you got to work with some fantastic people—Ivan and Alyosha with backing vocals, the producer of All Sons and Daughters. How was that?

I have been following the work of Chad Copelin for a long time and have always loved the music he produces so getting to work with him was really exciting. Chad has produced and engineered for Sufjan Stevens, All Sons and Daughters, Ben Rector, and so many other talented musicians so I knew he would be invaluable and I had to have him produce and engineer the new music. In addition to Chad, I was really grateful to have Casey Foubert (The Shins, Sufjan Stevens, Lucius) and Nathan Price (Broncho) come down to El Paso with us to play guitar and drums. It was a really talented team and it was amazing to get creative with them.

Themes I’ve noticed
* Hindsight/moving on from the past.
* Forgiveness and freedom to move on (Conversations, Reasons)
* Fire – there’s a lot of talk of fire in this album. Why?

I think all these themes are interwoven throughout the record. There has been a lot of “growing up” in my life over the last 4 years and I think each song represents a unique aspect of that time. The symbolism of fire is pretty powerful – it can represent the culmination of feelings and emotions. In the physical sense, it can illustrate the refining aspect fire brings. I feel like I definitely experienced that when I was writing these songs.

In some ways, this album seems like a story following your marriage, your return to the studio, or maybe even something bigger. It starts with Conversations, a song questioning where you’re supposed to be. Then Reasons, a song about the tension of staying in a relationship full of differences, choices (like reasons for staying or going). Then Wildfire, a quiet song about passions growing. Then medicine, this sweet in between of something being as good if not better than you imagined. Then Running Wild, a song that honestly seems like it’s about freedom. Is this accurate? Was that intentional?

The layout of EP track-wise was definitely intentional. I wanted to convey everything that has happened to me personally over the last 4 years while also keeping it relatable to listeners. While each song may mean something to me, I think listeners can interpret the songs and relate to it in their own life whether they are moving toward a new goal and reflecting on their past. What I love about songwriting is that before it’s released for everyone to hear, it’s your personal song. No one else’s. But the moment you put it out there for others to listen, it’s no longer just yours. People are relating to it, reliving old memories with it, and like a soundtrack to their life, creating new moments with it that they’ll never forget. At that point, it’s everyone’s song and I love that.

Honestly, this album felt like I was listening to you falling in love, with life, with your wife, learning the hardships of life in your twenties, and eventually settling into freedom that allows you to be yourself surrounded by those you love. It was so lovely! Was that your same experience or intention?

Your early twenties can be a rough period in life. You’re on your own and that can be really freeing and exciting, but the stresses and challenges of life can be daunting. I think the music illustrates the ups and downs that I have had to wrestle with during this time. From low lows like questioning my purpose and identity to high highs like meeting and marrying my best friend, Melissa – there’s just so much that can happen in your twenties!


A Fever Dream

At the end of your Running Wild Podcast, Episode 1: Wildfire, you say that the dichotomy of the whimsical vocals and the harsh power chords resonated with your twenties, that it’s been a bit of a “fever dream.” Can you speak to that?

I have been into the “fever dream” theme for awhile – I think it really depicts what my early 20s have looked like. We set goals for ourselves and have big dreams as we grow up and they’re usually great and ideal versions of what and who we want to be. In your 20’s you start to learn that life doesn’t always have our dreams and hopes in mind and it’s confusing, challenging, and can leave you in a haze. Hopefully, by the last song, listeners can hear the point of this record which is: keep pushing, keep climbing, just keep going.

A Track by Track Breakdown 

I loved the tension in this song. It seems like it’s about realizing your role in a relationship and when to walk away. This applies to so many situations, but I love the struggle and hindsight in this song—the drums marching behind a bit of a carefree and loose bass electric behind, and then an ultimate kind of freeing bridge.

Can you talk about how your music plays with your lyrics? And how the words and music dance off of each other?

“Conversations” is a really upbeat song which is ultimately what I wanted to convey in the lyrics because, in the end, it’s a happy song. The bridge poses the question “Am I where I’m supposed to be?” over and again. By the last chorus, I think you can tell there’s a realization and acceptance there and the music plays with that idea opening up and ending on a driving, moving-forward note.

I thought this one was interesting. It felt like a friend (you! Haha) telling me to keep pressing on for the hope of a better relationship. Where did this one come from? Again, the percussion paired with the electric in this song is so forward-moving and encouraging. I love it.

I’m really glad you connected with this one and relate to it in that way. Like I said, that’s the incredible thing about music. I think for me when I was writing “Reasons”, I wrote about the challenges my wife and I have had in our lives dealing with those around us whether it be at work or day-to-day life. Some people just make your life harder whether it be intentional or not and the goal for that song was an anthem to keep pressing forward, focus on what you can control, and don’t let others get you down.

This song may be my favorite. I don’t know if you meant to do this, but this song made me think of that place we all used to cliff jump in college. I also love how calm this song for a song talking about wildfire. It’s tranquil, like a growing flame. The imagery is great! The song is a slow build, then explodes, and then settles like embers.

This song talks a lot about compromise, the ideas of following something even if it’s crazy. In some ways, the music feels like a compromise and tension between chasing your dreams and going your own way, kind of like a quiet toil that eventually builds into something bigger. Do you want to speak to that?

When I was writing this song, I loved the mental image of a wildfire. They are these awe-inducing natural events that can start really small and build into something really powerful and overwhelming. This song can be related to a lot things, but I think I had our generation in mind when writing this song – as our generation gets older, we are going to start to become the leaders of those around us. I think we have a really big opportunity to change our world for good and do things differently than those before us whatever the setting may be.

Oh, my word, this song is so sweet, and it makes me want to meet Melissa even more! Please both come to KC. How has your marriage affected your writing process, creative process, music process? I love that Melissa gave you an electric guitar. That seemed to change your music, but you still seem to approach the electric guitar somewhat acoustically.

The incredible electric guitar she gave me definitely changed my approach to music. Having a new tool really opened my creativity back up and helped me create a lot of these songs. Music without Melissa is like painting without color – she brings so much life and fun into my life and I think that translates into more vibrant, creative songs. But more important than the music, I think Melissa has made me a better man and husband – she is the raddest.

Running Wild
All the claps for this one. The anthem of the album. Why did you choose it also to be the namesake of the album? This one also seems like a song about joyous hindsight on your past. The “I’m not going back” and the faster tempo. It seems very freeing. Was the process and production of it similar?

Unlike the other songs, I knew exactly how I wanted “Running Wild” to sound from day 1. I knew it would be the song to end the record on and I also figured it was probably the strongest of them all. The song highlights coming to terms with insecurities and self-doubt and then quickly shifts halfway through to illustrate that those are in the past and it’s time to move forward. We had a lot of fun in the studio with this one. There is so much going on percussion-wise to give it that crazy, upbeat punch and drive and I think it was the perfect song to end the new music on. I will probably have to have 2 drummers on stage to get close to recreating everything we put into it.

That’s it, folks! You can check out the new EP on Spotify, Apple Music, and wherever else you get music. Matt will hopefully be going on tour soon. Follow him on the Instas at @littlechiefband. Check him out on the webs at littlechief.net. 



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