Joachim Cooder on crafting his sound
Joachim Cooder grew up in the music world. His father, renowned guitarist Ry Cooder, brought him on tours starting at a young age. He first watched and listened, then joined his dad on stage, first as a drummer. He grew up to forge his own path in the music business, playing with the Buena Vista Social Club and many notable musicians, producing music for other artists, and composing film scores. Joachim and Ry will share the stage at the Ridgefield Playhouse June 6 at 8 p.m., with Joachim opening the show as well as joining his dad on stage. Andrea Valluzzo spoke with Joachim about the show.
Andrea Valluzzo: You were on the road with your dad a lot growing up. How did that influence your musical leanings?
Joachim Cooder: We toured a lot when I was younger. I was able to be exposed to a lot of interesting people you would not see growing up around L.A. I got to go to the South and see people who played their instruments upside down and backwards, and making otherworldly sounds. I think that stuck with me all those years and has a big part of informing the record I made.
AV: What was the inspiration of your newest EP, Fuchsia Machu Picchu?
JC: Uniting all the songs is my daughter, who just turned 3. When she was born, it kind of turned me into a storyteller and singer. We are always telling each other stories and coming up [with] histories of characters and dolls.
AV: Tell us about this unusual instrument you use.
JC: It’s called a mbira. Conceptually that’s how I started singing and writing songs in the first place. Musically, it is all centered around this — that’s what I play on stage, that’s how I write. Probably because I am more of a percussionist rather than a strings player, I crossed paths with this over 20 years ago. Bill Wesley made it — he lives near San Diego. I just right away started playing his acoustic version, which is all he had then. I played it on a lot of film scores and once he electrified it, I was able to get this distorted, pretty sound.
AV: When did you start performing with your dad?
JC: Probably in the early ’90s. I would get up with the entourage and play the last three songs. Toured probably pretty steady after that. On his new record, I am on that, playing in his band, and opening the show [at the Playhouse].
AV: Your dad is pretty well known in music. How do you forge your own path and avoid comparisons?
JC: Since I have been a drummer my whole life, not a guitar player, I’ve luckily avoided any rough comparisons. Now that I am doing my own thing, it’s similar in ways but different. I learned a lot from him growing up but I’ve never had to worry about too many comparisons because I haven’t directly followed in my dad’s footsteps.
AV: How would you describe your sound?
JC: I’ll borrow somebody else’s phrase. This writer in L.A. (Steve Hochman), he used to write for the L.A. Times, he coined the term electro-Congo-Bali-blues. I wouldn’t have come up with it but it fits. I’m always hearing some sort of defunct cosmic ice cream truck in my head — that’s the sound I’m after.