Locals: Casey Cooper happily sticks to the background with And I Will Rise

From the April 3, 2014 edition

In Jennifer Reeder’s 2011 short film “And I Will Rise If Only to Hold You Down,” two groups of people — a married couple in the midst of a split and a teenage girl and her best friend bonding before a school dance — struggle to come to terms with the dynamics of their relationships. But while the onscreen tension can sometimes feel suffocating, the score, crafted by Columbus native Casey Cooper, often functions as a pressure release valve, providing an airy counterpoint to the movie’s weighty happenings.

Cooper, who is releasing his soundtrack this week as a standalone album titled And I Will Rise, is no stranger to Reeder’s work, having previously composed the score to her 2010 short “Seven Songs About Thunder.” This time around, however, he said he approached the assignment with a better understanding of what he hoped to accomplish.

“I think the first time I fell into a few clichés, like, ‘This scene is tense. Let’s do something tense with the music!’” said Cooper, 32, who also plays in prog-pop duo The Receiver alongside his older brother Jesse. “With this one, I wanted to write things that enhanced the viewing experience, but didn’t get in the way. I wasn’t trying to steal the show. I was just trying to support the film.”

Many of the same qualities that drive his band’s music bleed over into Cooper’s film score, which is equal parts pretty and somber and dreamy, with piano-driven tracks like “It Glows” evoking the feel of stars being born in some distant galaxy. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s understated performance in “Owning Mahowny,” there’s little flashy about the material, yet the collected work still manages to worm its way undetected into the listener’s subconscious.

“I think I paid a little more attention when I was watching movies, or even commercials, and the things that moved me were the things you almost didn’t notice,” said Cooper, who graduated from Ohio State in 2004 with a degree in composition. “Everybody always says that about [The Receiver’s] music, like, ‘Oh, man, this would be great for commercials or movies.’ And I see that, because … it’s not very in-your-face, and it doesn’t demand your attention.”

Cooper hasn’t always been so content to blend into the background. In fact, when he joined his brother’s band Lucid’s Dream for a handful of shows in the late ’90s, filling in for a bassist who skipped town to attend a music festival, he was convinced rock stardom was all but inevitable.

“When [Jesse] asked me to play bass I thought, ‘That’s it dude, I might not even need to go to college now!’” he said, and laughed. “That was pretty short-lived, but I really thought I had made it.”

Photo by Meghan Ralston