Backup Planet has been on the rise for the last several years, and with no signs of slowing, their trajectory should carry them into mainstream radio and household name status. They are known for their synth laden jam rock, a la The Allman Brothers, with enough grungy improv guitar to drop a My Morning Jacket reference into the hat. Backup Planet is quickly becoming a recognized name on the jam circuit as well, selling out shows across the southeast. We caught up with the guys just before their hometown return to The Mercy Lounge in Nashville to talk about the new album, who would die first in a horror movie and partying with Steven Segal.
Blank News: What was your first instrument and what was it?
Ben Cooper (Keys): Unfortunately the instrument I wanted to play was electric guitar, but my parents wouldn’t let me play it, so I played piano by default. And I despised it and absolutely hated it until I got to high school and my brother showed me jazz. Ironically it was by default. It was a wall piano that was my dad’s as a kid.
B.N. Well it obviously panned out…
Cooper: (Laughing) It was funny because when I got out of college, they told me to get a real job. I was like, “Sorry. You made me do it. You made me play piano.”
Chris Potocik (Drums): I wanted to play guitar as well, but my brother talked me out of it because he needed a drummer. So I said, “I guess I’ll play drums.” It turned out that I liked it more than I thought I would. (Laughing) It was a kit called ROX from Sam’s Club.
B.N. (Laughing) Hey, that’s high end. I think that’s what Dave Grohl plays.
Gavin Donati (Guitar): I was in third grade and my teacher said, “You can play violin or guitar.” I was like, shit, I’ll play guitar. They didn’t supply a guitar and I didn’t get one the whole semester. I played someone’s at school for an hour a day. Upside down, because I’m left handed. Eventually my dad said if you’re serious about this, I’ll get you a guitar. We went to a pawn shop and got the cheapest Yamaha guitar. (Laughing) It was right handed. So I played it upside down for a year. Eventually he got me a Mexican Stratocaster. It was white, like Jimi Hendrix used to play at Woodstock. And then I smashed that right handed guitar and lit it on fire.
B.N. (Laughing) You’ve got to give it a funeral, since it was not going to be used.
Blake Gallant (Bass): My first instrument was a little junior acoustic guitar. I remember we would go to a restaurant every Sunday after church. One day, we walked to my grandfather’s car and he opened the trunk and was like, here, I got this for you. I played that for a while and then my dad got me an Epiphone Les Paul. I didn’t start playing bass until four years ago.
B.N. (Laughing) So nobody wanted to play what they are actually playing!?! Except Gavin!
B.N. Talk about your first time on stage.
Cooper: We played a talent show my first year of high school. We played an AC/DC cover and a Jet song. Oddly enough, everyone at the school came down front and somehow a bra came on the stage and thought it was the coolest thing ever. In retrospect, it was really weird thinking about a high schooler throwing their bra at 11:30 am on a Tuesday morning to very, vey bad AC/DC music. (Laughing) So that was cool.
Potocik: I want to say I was in seventh grade. It was back in Knoxville at a place called Prince’s Deli. It was next to a Waffle House and a porn shop. At the time, it was 21 and up, so they wouldn’t let me in without my parents escorting me. It was one of those mind-blowing moments to be that young and playing. (Laughing) Like, I’m here! I’m playing in a bar! I’ll take a Coors Light!
B.N. I remember that place. I think they tore it down recently. It was where people would go when they were kicked out of Cotton Eyed Joes. (Laughing) It was the fall out for rejects from Cotton Eyed Joes.
Donati: I was in eighth grade we used to play in a garage. We were so stoked. Our bassist had a hookup, because his neighbor’s mom was Steven Segal’s doctor. We opened up for Steven Segal’s band on New Years at his house. Legal came downstairs in kimonos with his whole band. It was insane. I was fourteen and we did all Hendrix covers. Steven Segal came dow this long staircase and said, “I’m here ya’ll. Where the ladies at?” I was like fourteen. I said, “They’re probably shopping at Victoria’s Secret. Hit it.” It was badass.
Galant: Sixth grade talent show. Played “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. I learned a valuable lesson, which was, never change anything on stage right before you play. We inserted a breakdown that we thought would be cool and it turned out to be a complete train wreck.
B.N. (Laughing) In the jam world, it can all flow together,as long as one person stays on course. Like, “What are you talking about? This is where it’s supposed to be going.”
B.N. I saw a picture on Instagram of Gavin with a chainsaw.
Donati: Aw…, damn it…
B.N. Recently I saw a picture of Donati with a chainsaw. It conjured an unusual question. If you were in a horror movie, who would play what character? There’s the first to die. The one who figures it out. The one who sacrifices themselves. The one who makes it. The killer. Who plays who?
Cooper: (Laughing) I would throw all of them under the bus.
Donati: (Laughing) I know exactly how this would go down. We talk about zombie apocalypses all the time. Blake or myself would be the first ones to die. We would try to kill the guy. I don’t know. I just imagine him dying first. Chris would probably live with me. Ben would be…Ben wouldn’t be heroic. Ben would be the killer.
Cooper: I would either sacrifice myself or I would be the killer.
B.N. (Almost crying laughing) That is the complete opposite!
Cooper: I know! I’m either really giving, or you’re all going to die!
B.N. I guess if we’re working with Scream rules, then Ben could be both.
Donati: Oh, you mean like friends, but…
B.N. Like, “I’m totally helping everyone.” And then he chops them into pieces.
Cooper: It’s funny that you ask about this, because we talk about this all the time.
B.N. (Definitely crying while laughing)
Cooper: Try being in a van with four or five dudes for long hours and you kinda run out of things to talk about.
B.N. Okay. A little more serious. “The Road” was a collaborative effort. In the song you say, Why try if you can win them all/Why try if you’re likely to fall? Obviously this is not your mantra or you would be screwed. When the road becomes a series of white lines, what is the thing that pushes you to go on? What makes the road not feel like the road?
Cooper: Honestly, it’s stimulating. It’s ever-changing. It’s meeting new people. It’s completely new outlooks. Sometimes it’s insane. You get to go to completely new places with completely new cultures. You get outside your comfort zone, but you get to do the thing that is most comfortable in the world, which for us is music. It’s not chasing the dragon from a drug use perspective, but it is, because there is no other feeling like being on stage. It is chasing that high to some extent, but it is with your best friends.
Donati: The road is awesome because I get to play music. I don’t really drink or do drugs or go to bars. I don’t go out on the weekends or anything like that. I like to be on the road and playing. I don’t dislike anything about it. I like it all.
B.N. Any new things in the works? New songs? New album?
Cooper: We actually toured a studio this morning. he worked with Collective Soul and Bailey and the Sons of Disaster.
Donati: The studio has a crazy vibe. It is in the middle of the hood in Birmingham. You would never suspect that it used to be the KKK headquarters from 1925-1945 in Birmingham. It’s kinda sketch on the outside, but when you open the door, it’s pristine.
Cooper: On the record, it’s not still affiliated with the KKK.
B.N. (Laughing) Like, this new album is going to go a way different direction…We’re going to alienate some people, but we’re going to get some different fans…
Galant: We’ve been looking at some places in Nashville too. This new album is priority list number one right now. More important than going on the road again.
Cooper: We’re hoping to start recording in May or June, so I’m not exactly sure when it would come out.
B.N. Do you like to record in sections? Like all the drums, then bass? Or one song at a time?
Donati: On the first album, we didn’t really have an option. It was in a dude’s living room home studio. We did one thing at a time and that was it.
Cooper: That was the only capability that we had. We’ve only really done that. But we thrive off of live energy, so we’re going to try to record live and then do any over takes after. I think that will capture the element of energy.
Potocik: We were talking about some techniques today, like recording drums in two takes. One without cymbals at all. One with just toms and snares. For stuff like that we need extreme isolation of sound to make it sound really modern. We talked about all of us recording in the same room. Maybe a broken down acoustic song.
Donati: A lot of the stuff on the new record is going to be completely different from any of the other stuff we have done.
Cooper: But with the same element of the band.
B.N. Are you comfortable enough with the songs that you are playing some or all of them now? Are you holding back?
Donati: We don’t play any of them really. A few. Two out of a possible fifteen or sixteen.
B.N. Last one…When you gather around with your friends and look back at tour, what is the “I can’t believe this happened moment for you?”
Cooper: Mine would be meeting Dan Aykroyd in Jackson, Mississippi. It was actually our first time playing with CBDB at Martins. There were probably six to eight people there getting ready to start our set and there was Dan Aykroyd. Just being Dan Aykroyd. So, of course we had to go get a picture with him. He was super cool and really down to earth. That’s probably the craziest thing we had happen.
Donati: I think that playing a sold out Georgia Theatre show was nuts. We opened for Moon Taxi. And we sold out Aisle 5 too. That was great, being that far from home.
Gallant: New York was great too. I think we brought out like 250 people. That’s now our second biggest streaming city.
Cooper: It’s great to get that response in a market so far away. And I feel it’s a really tough one. It makes you want to get back out there.