Somewhere beyond our own world, there is a place where young girls sleepwalk on water, forest witches heal the sick, and an ageold family has the power to communicate with the dead. It is here, among the twisted trees and abandoned factory towns, that the music of Radical Face makes its home, a realm where phantasmagoria and fables become one. It’s a universe created by multifaceted musician Ben Cooper, who crafts albums like an author writes a tome, extolling subtle Southern Gothic and magic realist tales with a soundtrack of jangling guitar, layered strings, and syncopated rhythms.
The Jacksonville, Florida native embarked on a series of “Family Tree” albums, which trace the fantastical lives of a 19th century family, whose blood flows with special abilities that range from seeing spirits to bringing the dead back to life. Their secrets bind them together, a warm flame held against a harsh world. “When I started, I thought I would do three EPs, but it ran away with me. I didn’t know I was signing up for an eight-year project.” The latest installment, The Family Tree: The Leaves (March 2016), continues the narrative of the supernatural brood, offering a polished, textured sound entirely crafted by Cooper, who plays nearly all the instruments on the album. His DIY-ethic, which was forged in the early days with a four-track in his family’s back shed, has evolved into a lushly orchestrated album featuring his boyfriend, Josh Lee on strings.
While the stories of Radical Face take place in an alternate reality, Cooper’s real life has been tumultuous. Growing up in an interracial family of 10 in the South, they dealt with racism firsthand. When he came out to his parents at 14, he was kicked out of his home and worked full time while going to high school. With a fractured family, Cooper found a home in music. “It’s my life, but I wrap it in fiction,” he says. “I’ve always been guilty of using music as a therapy. Because with music, you can take something ugly or hard and can turn it into something pretty. You can force it to become something that it never intended. Even with the saddest things, you can make them beautiful.”