Upper Beach native Ben Cook is a bit hard to pin down, in more ways than one.
Cook earns his keep as a musician, but is something of a study in contradictions. Unconcerned and a bit cynical about a positive review of his new album on the taste-making Pitchfork.com, he seems genuinely excited to be the subject of a story in Beach Metro News, the local newspaper of the Upper Beach neighbourhood where he grew up.
A decade ago, Cook would be most easily recognized to fans of hardcore punk and metal as the singer of No Warning. These days, he’s probably most well known as one of three guitarists for Polaris Prize-winning punk act F**ked Up.
But that may soon change as well, with the release of the latest in a string of recordings as Young Governor, now shortened to Young Guv, a power pop act that has little to do, sonically, with his other groups.
Cook describes Young Guv as “experimental outsider pop,” as good a description as any for the bright sounds heard on Ripe 4 Luv, which include minutes-long saxophone solos, 80s-sounding drum machines, and spoken-word voiceovers en français, all without much apparent irony.
Cook calls Ripe 4 Luv “a simple, dumb pop record” – though in the same way the Ramones are a simple, dumb pop-punk band.
While the light sounds of Young Guv contrast with his more widely heard bands, he points out that he’s been playing both loud, angry music and pop music since he first picked up a guitar.
“I’ve pretty much done both since I was 14, and I’ll probably do both for a very long time. I don’t know what else to do,” he says. “I try to make good songs. I never read anything that said I had to stick to one thing.”
It makes sense, then, to learn that Cook has ghost-written pure pop songs for artists like Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, and Maroon 5 – artists about as far away from F**ked Up’s philosophy as he’s likely to get.
While reviews have been good for Ripe 4 Luv, Cook says he’s more concerned about what the people he encounters in daily life think of it. A compliment from a grandmother, or a fan who says a song reminds her of a cherished memory, mean more to him than a 7.5 on Pitchfork, he says.
Part of his attitude, Cook says, comes from growing up in the Upper Beach near Gerrard Street East – it’s the Beach, but it’s not really “The Beach.”
“The East End is where my vibe comes from,” he says. “It’s not all volleyball and Overkill and minivans and road hockey.”
A wide-ranging conversation with Cook covered quite a bit more ground than can be written here, so allow Slumberland Records’ Harry Winklebottom to sum up Ripe 4 Luv more accurately – both in description of sound and attitude – than this writer could: “Guv sings like Prince into expensive audio-nerd mics over power pop backing tracks that evoke Big Star after they got some nookie but before they became depressed about their failure to appeal to the right audience.”
Find Ben Cook on Instagram @YoungGuv. F**ked Up will be touring this summer, and No Warning recently reunited for two shows in New Jersey. Ripe 4 Luv is available now.