Former Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook was on tour with his Young Guv powerpop solo project when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. He hunkered down in New Mexico and ended up stuck there for nine months, living with his bandmates in a solar-powered structure made of adobe and recycled bottles and cans. Spending the better part of a year at the foot of the Taos mountains, a serene setting in the weirdest year of most of our lives, proved inspiring – he wrote two albums worth of songs there.
“I was isolated, the world was in complete chaos,” Ben said. “I lost control of the routine that I thrive in. I worked on songs more randomly, only when I felt like it. I was hard on myself for not writing enough. Truthfully, I don’t even remember doing most of it. I was removed from the process, in a way, somehow alienated from my own creativity.”
Like he did with GUV I & II two years ago, Ben is releasing III and IV as tandem albums within the same year. The first part is out now and is his best batch of Young Guv songs yet, 11 sparkling guitar nuggets that recall the peak late-'70s / early-'80s powerpop era. You can stream the album below.
We talked to Ben about the inspirations behind the album which include New Mexico, Oxaca, Miles Davis, the powerpop genre (by osmosis) and more. Check out Ben's list of influences, including commentary, below.
BEN COOK'S TOP 10 INSPIRATIONS FOR YOUNG GUV'S 'GUV III'
After we got stranded on tour in 2020 and all shows got canceled we decided to spend what we thought would be a two months pandemic in Taos, New Mexico. That two months turned into nine beautiful and awe inspiring months in those mountains. We lived communally, figured out where to live together, built out a studio, hiked mountains and swam in lakes and rivers almost every single day. It was the time of our lives, and I can’t believe we were that lucky to have made it all happen together. I’d never spent time like that in New Mexico and I’m really grateful for the people we met there and the lands that kept us safe, happy, and inspired during such a crazy time.
One of the places we lived in the desert out there in New Mexico was a sustainably built invention called an Earthship. They are built out of Adobe clay, tires, and bottles. It sounds a bit gnarly, but it was the nicest place I have ever lived. The windows are slanted to catch the sun all day, and at night you’re view of the stars is like going to an IMAX movie. Someone just called us up one day we met in town and asked us if we wanted to take over the lease for a few months. It worked out really nice. It’s where this new record really started to form.
Like any semi-efficient human being I usually work pretty well with a strict routine. Wake up, eat, exercise, get into my creative work for the day, eat, maybe see a friend – repeat. During this time in the desert with a pandemic melting all our brains anticipating what could happen next, and also just generally the energy of a desert surrounded by mountains, I completely lost my routine. I wasn’t able to find one. Not in the entire nine months. Instead I would just make music in random bouts of inspiration or emotion. I was completely in awe of the nature around me, and I let music slip to the side or so I thought. I came out of this period with another double LP. It was still quite a prolific time for me creatively, but it came from a completely different place and at a different speed.
"Dark Star" by The Grateful Dead
I’m not a Deadhead, nor do any of my songs sound like the Dead and they probably never will. Spending a year of lockdown in a mountain town in an Earthship in the desert with a Deadhead called Noah Kohll I had no choice but to let The Dead in. I heard them in the car, in the house, on the trails, under the stairs, looking at the moon, cooking, eating, while recording… and I actually didn’t hate it. "Dark Star" in particular and the many live versions is quite a beautiful listen every single time. I appreciate this band on a level I never thought I would, and maybe they’ve softened me up a bit inside if that makes sense. I don't know.
Power Pop (the genre)
I don't listen to power pop the genre. I don.t even think I like it. I just happen to be a product of watching Muchmusic for the entire 1990’s and I took in a lot of great songwriters in this way. The Killjoys, Matthew Sweet, The Inbreds and bands like Sloan, whether I like it or not, completely permeated my soul during these formative years. I'd love to make an avant garde ambient record but it just doesn’t feel like me yet.
I don’t feel like I want to explain this one really. Something about him is comforting, and he's just a really groovy guy. I’ve been asked to be in the reunited line up of Ming Tea, so I’m actually just mentioning them here to plug the band.
The Rio Grande River
I swam in this river every day for nine months. I keep going back to nature in this list because I was just surrounded by some of the most epic there is. It’s really important to me to have experienced it. Feeling our world change so rapidly, experiencing a pandemic which in a way is nature's karmic revenge on the human species for being such ignorant and arrogant creatures, and the thought of this beauty being damaged or destroyed beyond repair fills me with the deepest sadness I have ever felt.
The pastoral PCH cultist tanned CIA covered up acid tested coked up rich fuck butterscotch ’92 La Baron suede-tassle genched-out deer dick hair Erewhon smoothie Venice spiked up murdered missing pedo surfer hiding in the Hollywood hills famous mountain lion Topanga canyon David Hockney driving through the hills to Wagner inspired times I have had while listening to American Music and spending time in California has left a very specific and warped impression on my creative output.
I got sick of America after tracking the record, everyone's opinions on the pandemic, four years of Trump had just passed, I was completely done with it. So I went to Oaxaca on a whim and enrolled in a Spanish school and a boxing club and mixed my record remotely on the side. Just as much as my time spent in New Mexico this part of actual Mexico has changed my life forever. It's so special, I can't describe it with words. It was here where I really spent much needed time alone and dug into therapy and dove deeper into my early life traumas. Oaxaca really took care of me, and healed me in a way no other place ever has. I am very grateful. I plan on returning the favor.
I only had one cassette in the car living in the high desert and it was a Miles greatest hits. I listened to it everyday for nine months. I don't know what this did to my mind or how it influenced the record but it definitely helped calm me down or perhaps it was the perfect partner to the chaos I was feeling inside at the time. As douchy as it is to say “My only tape was Miles Davis driving through the mountains of the high desert everyday, man life's a trip”… It’s just true, sorry. I really fuckin’ love Miles. Bad ass.