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Speading Indiana Music
Interview: David Bower (Cooked Books, Resting Rooster, The Vegetables)
Posted July 25, 2013 by Rob Peoni
Rob Peoni
July 25, 2013

(photo by Jeremy Hogan)


David Bower recently sat down to answer a few questions about the long, winding road that led to his latest musical endeavor, Cooked Books, and the release of the band's debut LP The Reader. Bower made a name for himself as the front man of celebrated Bloomington acts The Vegetables and Resting Rooster. He and his younger brother Joe moved to Bloomington as teenagers, where they began an extended collaboration with guitarist Cyrus Resur. Bower's story is a complicated one marked by both success and frustration, and a heap of terrific music spanning a variety of genres.

On July 31, Cooked Books will officially release The Reader.The LP was delayed by the feline celebrity Lil' Bub, an unexpected tragedy at a vinyl pressing plant, and a string of other twists and turns. We're happy to report that the album is worth the wait, and the journey that led to its creation makes it all the more fascinating.


MFT: How long have you been playing music?

Pretty much my whole life. I was home-schooled and my mom would outsource tutors for certain subjects. So we had this woman who came in. She taught my older brother math, and she taught me piano. So I started taking piano lessons when I was a kid, and started getting into playing in bands once I got a driver's license.

MFT: Is that when The Vegetables came together or when did that start?

I was about 20 when that started. I was at IU. The first band that I had when I was in Bloomington was called Mt. Gigantic. I played bass for that band for a while and left. I basically wanted to lead something and work more on songwriting.

MFT:How did The Vegetables come to be a band?

At the time, I started getting into this particular kind of music and it was all kind of new to me. Probably around 18, 19, 20. I got this really influential mix tape, well two of them, from this guy named John Ringhofer. He went by Half-Handed Cloud, I don't know if you've ever heard of him before?

MFT: No.

He was kinda this wacky one-man-band. I booked him a couple of times. He's on Asthmatic Kitty Records, or at least he was. I think he played in Sufjan Stevens' band at one time. So he was way older than me, but he became kind of this psych pop, bubblegum mentor in this funny way. But he turned me on to The Byrds, Small Faces, Billy Nicholls and all this stuff. I was really excited about it. My little brother Joe moved to Bloomington when he was like 16 or something, and he was getting excited about that music too. We played around with the idea of starting a band. We met Cyrus, and most of our friends weren't really into this kind of stuff. To them, it wasn't serious enough or something. At that time there was a lot of really heavy, indie stuff going on that was a little more popular. We were listening to stuff about rainbows and unicorns [laughs].

MFT: There is definitely a playful aspect to The Vegetables stuff, but I love that part of your songwriting.

Thank you. That was definitely an important part of it. We were trying to eliminate any sort of stylistic restrictions. We were really young, and we weren't super experienced. Well, we weren't experienced much at all. It was all just a really fun learning game for us. I think you can feel that newness and excitement in the recordings. That feeling of doing something for the first time over and over again.

MFT: You said your brother moved down to Bloomington at 16. What brought him to Bloomington that young?

We were all home-schooled, so it allowed us to graduate from high school as early as we wanted. So if we were motivated, we could wrap up early. And we were all ready to get down there and start our own thing. So we both graduated early. I moved down to Bloomington when I was 17 and Joe moved down a little earlier. We grew up on the south side of Indy. We felt a little out of place. We didn't have a lot of like-minded friends, and Bloomington was kind of this safe haven for us. We felt like we had discovered our little utopia of hippie freaks and musicians. Especially when you're that age and you grew up in a conservative area, it's kind of mind blowing to go down there.

MFT: Did you and your brother collaborate creatively growing up - musically, and otherwise? Did you guys always have that kind of relationship?

Yeah, we did. We're four years apart, but we're really close friends. We have learned about a lot of new things at the same time, in spite of our age difference. So, at that time, when he was in his early teens before I moved out of the house, we started really getting into foreign films, which really played a part in some of The Vegetables thematic elements. We were really into Fellini and some of those ostentatious European films from the 60s. We kind of got on all of these creative kicks at the same time, and that definitely evolved into music as well. He lives in New Mexico now. He's a chef down in Albuquerque, but we played music together for quite a while.

MFT: He was in Resting Rooster also, correct?

Yes. Exactly, and Cyrus was as well. So Joe and I were kind of on the same page in what we wanted to do musically and stylistically at the time. We talked about it a lot. You know how loud mouth teenagers do. We met Cyrus and he was totally on the same page. He grew up in Green County, IN in a really small town. His dad is a jewelry maker, and he grew up going on these bus rides from jewelry shows. He kinda grew up in this little hippie-type lifestyle, but his dad was really into music. He's a huge record collector and so Cyrus was into all these obscure records from the 60s. So we started getting together and listening to all this music and feeding off of each other. It turns out he was a pretty excellent guitar player too.

MFT: That's convenient.

Especially, since Joe and I had absolutely no idea what we were doing. I mean we knew the basics of how to make sounds out of it, but Cyrus really helped us with a lot of the technical side of things. He helped get a lot of the melodic aspects put together.

MFT: And is Cyrus closer to your age or your brother's?

He's my age.

MFT: So what caused the break-up of The Vegetables?

That was all on me. There were multiple elements. The Vegetables was this expression of youth and excitement. It's all pretty upbeat stuff. There are some darker elements at play, but it's all pretty playful. I got to this point, and I think some of it had to do with us being really young. You know, for us, it felt like we were on top of the world. We got to open up for The Walkmen and The Decemberists. It felt like we were meeting all these famous musicians. A lot of people came to our shows. So we started partying a little bit too much, especially for our age. Somehow, for me - I'll definitely take the blame - things got a little bit dark for me personally. I felt like I couldn't really play those songs anymore, because I felt like I was faking it. There was this juxtaposition between where my head was and the stuff I was trying to perform, so I felt like it wasn't honest anymore. I wanted to transition to something that reflected my current mental and emotional state. So that's when I started working on some other projects.

We were all getting a little bit older at that point. We had been doing it for a couple of years. People started getting girlfriends and Pete Voakes and Dustin Wessel - the other guys in the band - they started getting other interests, and it wasn't the same kind of "Summer of Love" thing that spawned the whole situation. The first couple of years, we pretended like we were living in the 60s. I think we all actually thought we were. [laughs]

MFT: It's easy to play that game in Bloomington.

Yeah. It totally is! Especially when all your friends are on the same level. You just build this fantasy world.

The Vegetables

MFT: I wouldn't necessarily say darker, but Resting Rooster definitely seemed more serious than The Vegetables. Did you have any other projects between those two? Or did you just jump right back into the saddle?

We toyed around with a couple of things, but it was always Joe, Cyrus and I. We collaborated with a few other musicians. We got really involved with with the guys fromOdawas - Mike Tapscott, Isaac Edwards, and Brad Cash. They helped nudge us in that direction to a certain extent. They were into The Vegetables, but they weren't into the whimsical aspect. They were a little bit more experienced than us, and we fed off of each other's negativity a little bit and pushed each other in certain directions. I think some of that initial change in direction was fostered by or goaded by some of those other musicians that we were recording with. They had a house in Ellettsville and they had a studio there, and we spent a lot of lost weekends there improvising, experimenting and working on new sounds. All winter long. We were all personally in weird places. We were all kind of in trouble. I remember Joe, Cyrus and I piling in the back of Isaac's pick-up truck and it was like 20 degrees outside. We had blankets on. We were freezing our asses off, and they drove us to Ellettsville to record all night long. It was a pretty weird time for all of us.

MFT: So were you guys all enrolled in school at this time, or no?

Off and on. We all considered ourselves to be students. Cyrus was always the one that managed to hold his personal life together better than the rest of us. The rest of us would flake on school and get distracted by other things, then go back. We all ultimately finished, but we didn't necessarily start with the most direct path. [chuckles]

MFT: Describe other differences between Resting Rooster and The Vegetables.

I think serious - you know, I hate to use that word. One thing that inspired me to move in that direction was that we always had really well-populated shows. People used to want to come party when The Vegetables played and we had a really good time, but I was insecure that people weren't taking us seriously as musicians or creative people. I felt like, in order to remedy that - and I don't agree with this anymore - I felt like I needed to take a more serious approach to songwriting. I started to listen to a lot of Skip Spence and Neil Young and some of these bummer, outsider folk musicians - solo Syd Barrett and stuff like that. I wanted to take a page out of that book and show people that we could do more than 'happy fun times.' I wanted to show a deeper side, for lack of a better term.

Resting Rooster

MFT: Why didn't Morning Said ever see an official release?

That's when, again, things started to dissolve with the personnel with that band. Resting Rooster started as just a studio thing. Cyrus had a 4 track, and we just recorded that first album on cassette. We started getting - people seemed to be into it. We were like, "Oh shit, we better learn how to play these songs live." [laughs] Around that time, Michael Gira fromYoung God Records and Swans, he had us come out to play for him in New York. We were like, "Oh, great! We're gonna go on tour with Devandra Banhart. We're gonna be on Young God Records. This is gonna be great."

MFT: How'd that come about?

I just sent him an email right after we had finished some tracks just for the hell of it, and he responded like the same day. And we started a correspondence and he asked a lot of questions. He was fairly enigmatic about his intent, but ultimately had us come out to play for him. So we drove out to New York and at the end he was like, "You know, the songs are great. I like the recordings." But he had this huge list of things we were doing wrong with our live performance. It was because we didn't have a band, and we just slapped one together because he asked us to. It wasn't a natural band. We hadn't been playing together long enough.

So we started to experiment with a lot of different live set-ups. Three-piece with just Joe, Cyrus and I. We collaborated with a lot of different musicians just to try to find something that worked, and ultimately the band that did the recordings for Morning Said was Anson Hohne, a jazz drummer from IU, Jerel Hall on bass and Joe, Cyrus and I all played guitar. That was when the live show finally started to sound like what we wanted it to sound like. We had a really solid rhythm section. Everybody was on the same page. Then we were going through some personal life things. People being on different life directions. Some people wanted to move out of Bloomington. You know, the classic story, but right after we finished recording it, it just kind of fell apart.

We were suffering through a lot of bad tours and not a lot of local support. I think we created that issue. We weren't helping the cause. We would do a lot of weird improv shows and noise shows. We would like send a venue one of our put-together songs, and then we'd show up and do something completely different. [laughs] So we were really alienating stuff. We were trying to challenge ourselves, but I think we were challenging the audience a little bit more than they wanted to be, and that was frustrating us as well.

MFT: So Resting Rooster called it quits shortly after 2008, is that right?


MFT: And when did your brother move down to Albuquerque?

That's a good question. Probably around 2010.

MFT: And he was still in Bloomington prior to that?

After that, he started taking pursuing his culinary career more seriously. He didn't pursue the music thing as much after [Resting Rooster] broke up. So he had lived in Atlanta for a while and worked at different fine dining restaurants around the country and ultimately ended up in New Mexico.

MFT: I noticed through your MFT stuff that Mike Bridavsky (Russian Recording) has been a longtime collaborator with you. How did that relationship with Russian Recording develop?

That was kind of just one of your small town, Bloomington connections. We met each other and got to know each other a little bit. Cyrus got a recording engineering degree at IU, and he did his internship at Russian when it was still in Brown County. So they got to know each other a little bit, and we always wanted to record with Mike but early on we just simply couldn't afford it. So we saved up some money over time and really wanted to make a splash with the Morning Said album and have a really big sound and have big drums. So we thought it was time to go into the big studio. Prior to that, we were recording at home.

MFT: So onto Cooked Books. How and when did this start coming together?

It kind of started slowly in 2011. I was tired of not playing music. I had a few little projects that never really did much after Resting Rooster and I was managing a restaurant and working too much to fully commit to anything anyway. [chuckles] Funny origins, I have this habit of checking Craigslist ads - just for laughs. Cover band audition posts and all that Christian metal bands. They're just hilarious. At the restaurant sometimes I would print them off and put them in the server area and we would all laugh at them. I found one that Joe Crawford had posted, and it was exactly at that time what I wanted to do musically. I was kind of shocked by it. Am I the kind of guy that just responds to a Craigslist ad from a random dude? [laughs] Yeah, screw it. Unless he's the Craigslist killer, it shouldn't be too bad.

So yeah, that's how Joe and I met. He started driving up to Bloomington. He was new to town so that's why he put the ad up. He had been collaborating a little bit with Pete Schreiner ofMagnolia Electric Co. andThe Coke Dares and stuff. He had just moved to Bloomington from New Mexico. So he started driving out to Brown County, and we spent a long time just the two of us trying to figure out what kind of sound we wanted. We experimented with a lot of guitars, amps, and pedals and volume up, volume down - different kind of feels. So it was pretty abstract from the beginning. Things started to solidify and we said, "Hey, we like this. Let's try to start getting the rest of the band together."

We didn't really work on songs so much in the beginning. It was more of just the sound we were trying to go for. Once we found that, I contacted Ben [Lumsdaine] and Cathy [Paquet]. Joe didn't know either of them at that time. I knew Ben. I was a fan of his as a jazz drummer. I used to see his congas play from time to time. I just thought he was a phenomenal player and I always wanted to play with him, and he agreed to it. I've known Cathy for a while, but never really that well. I just went out on a limb with those choices. She used to play in a lot of straight up punk bands. She had kinda been in the scene a while, like the Plan-It-Xscene and the Bloomington punk scene. She was kind of a pillar of that scene in a certain sense. So, I thought it would be fun to get all of these contrasting characters together and see what happens.

MFT: So you said it began kind of abstract. When did you guys start recording and writing for The Reader and moving in that direction?

We played some of our first shows in early 2012. We had been writing songs prior to that, over that winter. We were still just trying to get a feel. One thing that was kind of a goal of mine with this band. In previous bands, I was the sole contributor to all of the writing. I was collaborating on the arrangements. I wasn't exactly a task master, but I definitely had to exercise control over that aspect. And I wanted to do something more collaborative, kind of like a real rock n' roll band, where everybody gets together and has input on songs and it's a real open discussion on everything - just as a new exercise. So that kind of slowed down the progress in a good way. We wanted to get to the point where we all felt like, "Hey this is our song. This is our sound." As opposed to me just hiring a back-up band, or Joe and I covering the songwriting and everybody collaborating on the arrangements and back-up vocals and blah, blah blah. We always came together [with Cooked Books]. Everybody had input on everything.

So that's when the writing started to click and some of the songs started to come together a little bit more. We started playing out that spring and summer. Then we decided we've got enough songs, let's go in the studio. That's when we booked Russian. That summer/fall. There were all these famous cat-related delays.Lil' Bub had to go on Good Morning America and what not. So we had to postpone a lot of our sessions for Lil' Bub-related activities.

MFT: Have you guys been playing a lot live lately? Or have you just been focusing on getting the album out? What has it been like the last few months?

Yeah, we've been playing pretty consistently. Not a ton. We've been trying to get this album out for a long time, but that has also run into a lot of strange delays.

MFT: Yeah, why did the pressing get delayed?

So Pete atLet's Pretend Records decided to put the record out, and he had a connection atPalomino Records - outside of Louisville. They do the vinyl mastering, and the stampers, and they do the actual pressing as well. So we sent everything down there after the digital mastering at the studio. Shortly after that, the owner of this place [Tom Dillander], horrifically, tragically died at the plant. There was a boiler explosion at the plant.

He was an interesting guy. It was a square dance company. Their website company When the square dance industry dried up to a certain extent, he started to take on other punk and metal and whatever projects were around that area. So he developed relationships with labels like Let's Pretend. So, of course, after his death we were already committed. They had already cashed the check, and we didn't feel good about trying to withdraw from that arrangement. So we just moved the date. We couldn't really just be like, "Hey, hurry up." This was no laughing matter. The owner died, you know? So we decided to wait it out.

MFT: That's impressive of you guys, because the other side of that reality is the fact that while you were sympathetic, you had nothing to do with the explosion and neither did the release of your record. I think that's awesome that you guys honored that arrangement.

Yeah, well we had to try to find the balance in that decision. Basically, every time we talked to them they told us it was going to be two more weeks. Then two weeks after that they would tell us it was going to be another two weeks. So we were kind of on hold for a lot of long-term projects, just waiting for this to come up out. You know, record release show and everything that goes along with making an album. But yeah, it's finally out. We actually just last night screen-printed all the inserts. Hand-numbered all the copies. We dropped off a huge stack to Pete to finally send out all the pre-orders. So, it's a huge sigh of relief to finally have it.

MFT: Congrats! So have you been recording through the delay or have you just been sharpening the sounds on the record? What have you been working on lately?

We haven't been recording, but we have been doing a lot of writing. After the record was done, we kind of got to the point where we were trying to decide whether we going to continue down this path or whether we were going to try something different. So the songs we've been working on, we've been hashing out some ideas and trying to make it new and fresh. We're actually a good way towards the next record, and I'm hoping to get started soon. We were all just sort of holding our breath and waiting for this to come out.

MFT: I bet. So are you guys planning to do a lot of touring in promotion of the debut, or what are the next steps?

Due to life obligations, we're going to focus on more regional touring: long weekends. Hopefully, before too long, we'll be able to get out on the road for something more serious. We're kind of waiting to see what kind of reaction we get, putting ourselves out there for the first time. We all love to record and I think that's probably the top priority to continue to be more prolific and churn out more material. We want to keep ourselves on our own toes. So we rehearse quite a bit, and collaborate, and write, and that's kind of the fun part for us. We're kind of nerdy in that way I guess. We would exchange partying for getting together in the afternoon and working on tedious arrangements. You can grow old with that.

MFT: Is there a creative thread that runs through The Vegetables, Resting Rooster, and Cooked Books? Could you describe that, if so?

I think so. I think that there is a whimsical quality to all of those bands, in some way or another. Sometimes it's a little bit more varied, but I think it was inspired by my love of 60s psych pop. I think that shines through. I think my obsession with David Bowie shines through. Just those poppy elements. Even if it's just like with Resting Rooster, even if the overall theme is something opposed to pop music, it never strays too far from a chorus or something that's a little bit catchy. We've also just generally always tried to experiment and make instruments sound like other instruments and playing with electronics. Not in an overt way. I've never tried to be obnoxious, like a jam band, but with every song try to have something unique and a different sound.

MFT: Again, congrats on the release and thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I'm excited to hear the rest of this record. Anything to add?

It's fun to talk about all this. It's so long ago now. It was a walk down memory lane. I just wanted to say that I've always been really fortunate to collaborate with incredibly talented people that have always brought out the best in me. I'm not the most musically talented person by any means, but I've been able to find really talented people that I've been able to lean on. They have shaped me musically. Music, to me, is a collaborative art. It's a collaborative exercise. I've listened to a lot of solo musicians, and I just don't think I could do it. To me, it's always been about bouncing these ideas off of one another.

Cooked Books MFT Page

The Vegetables MFT Page

Resting Rooster MFT Page

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