Feature #18 – Cookies

The Facts: Cookies is a band from New York City specializing in popular music.  Ben Sterling formed the band shortly after the dissolution of his former group (the critically lauded Mobius Band) last year, enlisting Melissa Metrick (vocals/bass/keyboards) and Ian Ainley (drums) to help craft a unique and compelling sound. Unlike most good bands specializing in popular music, Cookies is a truly innovative outfit, incorporating into its productions a genuine love of 90s hip hop and R&B, electronic music, and – perhaps most importantly – savvy, distinctive songwriting.  We’re grateful to Ben for taking the time to answer our questions, and for creating some excellent lists. Those of you who are in the NYC area should be sure to check them out tonight (Thursday, November 10th) when they play at Glasslands, in Brooklyn.

Listgeeks: So far you’ve released six tracks, and based on the live set, it seems there’s more than enough material for a full-length on hand.  Do you anticipate releasing an album in the coming months? More generally, do you think we’ve moved past albums, for the most part?

Ben Sterling: We’re doing at least one more single and then probably an album. I like singles. I like albums. Grouping songs together will be around in some fashion forever… though our attention span is shorter, expectations are changing, and the internet means we often hear a song or two and leave it at that. But maybe that’s fair. It’s hard to make a record that deserves its length. They are very rare. Even “Rumours” has a couple wack songs.

LG: Your previous band, Mobius Band, was a little more on the traditional side, both in terms of the live show and from a production perspective . . . what are the main differences in how you approach realizing the songs in Cookies Vs. the way process worked in Mobius Band?

Ben: Mobius Band was a gang. We met in college and lived together and finished each others sentences. We were a thorough democracy with every decision. It was great for a long time. But then it wasn’t anymore. The dynamic broke down and got weird, like it usually does.

Cookies: “Love Will Never Do Without You” (Janet Jackson cover)

Cookies doesn’t work that way, it’s truly the opposite and that’s something I need after that experience. For me, the process of writing songs is very simple to start with and then excruciating to finish. The original rush of an idea is quick and beautiful and easy. But it’s just an idea, not a song or a production. The rest is basically window dressing and finishing lyrics, but without that it’s not a song, unless you’re making folk music or free improvisation. The original spark usually takes about ten minutes but I can’t finish a song in under two months.

LG: I’m a big fan of the boy/girl tradeoff vocal approach, which seems to be becoming a more central element in your productions. Has working with Melissa over time changed your perspective or approach in writing the songs, or did you envision that Cookies would have this type of dynamic from the start?

Ben: Melissa’s voice was at the heart of it from the beginning. I love her voice and have always wanted to do something focused on singing together. At least in my little hetero-framed world, the dynamic between men and women is relevant to just about everything, so it can point in every direction at once. It’s a really good challenge to write for a female voice. I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally comfortable with it. That’s part of why it’s so interesting in the first place.

LG: Who are some of your major influences at the moment from a production perspective?  Which artists have done things you’ve found compelling in the last year or so?

Ben: I’ve been digging back into early 90s New York hiphop. It’s such an optimistic era. Tons of 60’s and 70’s samples, everything soft focus.  A lot of Pete Rock and some lesser known stuff. Caribou’s “Swim” is probably the best pure production work I’ve heard in a few years, it’s untouchable. Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Junglinge.” Watch The Throne sounds amazing blaring from a car loud and distorted. New stuff: I have a feeling the new Chairlift album is going to be era-defining, based on one live show in June.

LG: You’ve collaborated with the photographer Emily Keegin and director/designer Wyeth Hansen, both of whom seem to have a visual sensibility/vision that really works with Cookies. Are the visual aspects of what you’re doing an important part of the process of releasing the music?  How did those collaborations come about?

Ben: Part of why Emily and Wyeth are in tune with the Cookies aesthetic is because they invented the Cookies aesthetic.  I knew what the cover was for “Summer Jam” before I’d written the song.  I’m so lucky to have Emily in my life, she is an amazing artist and thinker.  We’ve got some great stuff coming soon. Wyeth is the same, just a great friend that makes work I admire. He made the “Wilderness Tips” video in one night. I made him dinner and spoon fed him wine, and he sat there mumbling at the computer and made a video in two hours.

Related Links:

Cookies Website
Cookies tumblr

Cookies Twitter
Cookies on Listgeeks

Listgeeks Feature #9 – Emily Keegin

Emily Keegin is a fantastically compelling, Brooklyn-based photographer who grew up in San Francisco and studied in Vermont (at Bennington College) and in London (at the Royal College of Art, where she earned an MA in 2009).  While the focus of her work has shifted greatly since she first started taking pictures, a few threads recur consistently: the spaces between public and private realms, the quiet elements and artifacts of domestic life (and the secrets they reveal), and the ongoing complexities of American girlhood.  Emily’s work has recently appeared in the “Humble Arts Collectors Guide” (Chelsea Museum) and in the “Women in Art Photography UK” exhibition (Taschen Book Store, London UK).  After you’ve read her interview and checked out her website (note: features potentially NSFW artful nakedness) be sure to take a look at her lists.  Otherwise, we’re thrilled that Emily has allowed us to show three brand new/untitled images for the first time! They’re the last three in the below article:

Emily Keegin – “Dallas”

Listgeeks: What first inspired you to take pictures?

Emily Keegin: My parents were fantastically rigid in their whole-grain anti-pop aesthetic.  As a reaction, I became obsessed with American cheese and fast art.  The camera is the world’s greatest tool for making pop art.  It’s forever linked to its other role as a lowly household appliance, and yet: SO SHINY! And – as it happens – I’m a terrible draftsman.  Those who can’t draw take pictures.

Listgeeks: What was your first camera?

Emily Keegin: A 1987 purple 110 Vivitar, which I got at age 7.  Vivitar is a terrible gateway drug.

LG:  It seems like much of your early (pre-MFA) work revolved around mostly domestic themes – people and places close to you, perhaps – but that you were also mostly interested in depicting their less obvious aspects. Does that make sense?

EK: Photography was invented to capture the moment between moments, to stretch the human second and preserve the otherwise overlooked.  Even though much of my work (then and now) is staged – or at least “still”- I remain linked to the intrinsic nature of of the medium.  Also, it’s true: I’m a snoop.  I like the stuff that’s under the bed.

LG:  In the “Homeland” series, which was part of your MFA program at The Royal College of Art, you incorporate and juxtapose typically American and typically unAmerican things.  How did being in London while you were making those images shape how they turned out?

EK: Working outside of the united states was crucial for the construction of “Homeland.”  The newness of London forced me to take aesthetic risks I wouldn’t dared to otherwise, and the physical distance allowed for a distillation of the American culture I was so keen on analyzing. I am easily overwhelmed by the largeness of things.  Being outside of the states allowed me to deal with it in small, digestible pieces.

Emily Keegin – “Bless This Mess”

LG: Does the newer, post-London work you’re currently featuring on your site deal with some of the same themes as “Homeland?”

EK: Totally. I’m still working through the same ideas I was in “Homeland”- the fame, failure & aging of American girlhood – but am now using a slightly different vocabulary.  I think this is due primarily to a very short haircut I gave myself right before leaving London. With short hair, the self portraits I had come to use as totems in my work didn’t have the same zing.  In their stead, I began working in still life and the occasional sculpture.

Emily Keegin – New/Untitled

LG: On your blog you document a seriously wide range of images and projects that seem to inspire you in one way or another.  Are there specific photographers or artists who have been especially important to you lately?

EK: I love the work of Liz Deschenes – though finding her images online is not so easy.  Lucas Blalock and the rest of the common language guys are excellent tightrope walkers (commercial meets art meets meats).  Viviane Sassen makes perfect portraits.  Walead Beshty makes art that’s good in all ways.  Always and forever: Ed.

Emily Keegin – New/Untitled

LG: Finally, your images (both from “Homeland,” so far) have adorned two vinyl singles covers from the NYC-based band Cookies (fronted by Ben Sterling, formerly of Mobius Band).  Does relating them to music give you a different sense of what the images are about?  Is the feedback to them in that context very different from the kind of feedback you’d get in a traditional gallery setting?

EK: Strangely, the boombox image was created in the midst of a body of work about pop music and memory.  The photograph was in every way an accident/a slow Saturday messing around in my studio/a film-test-gone-interesting/the kind of accident that you pray for.  It was through the creation of this photograph that I began to shift away from music and toward a larger discussion of pop media and femininity.  It seems very tidy that the subsequent body of work has found its home on album covers.

Emily Keegin – New/Untitled

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