Posted On 28 Apr 2017
It’s not just artistic anesthetization either, but rather a galvanizing force that inspires us to keep pushing through life’s trials and tribulations. That’s why we still listen to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Rush, and countless others all these years later. It’s the same reason audiences will be talking about BACKUP PLANET’s second full-length album, REACTIONS, for a long time to come. The Nashville, TN quartet—Ben Cooper [keys, vocals], Chris Potocik [drums, vocals], Gavin Donati [guitar, vocals], and Blake Gallant [bass, vocals]—write arena-size anthems echoing with progressive intricacy, funk swagger, and even a little metallic edge. Giving listeners an inspiring and invigorating aural haven, their moniker couldn’t be more apropos…
“I worked at a liquor store all through college,” remembers Ben. “I was sitting there one night in a funk because of school work and a fight with my girl at the time. Every channel on TV decried, ‘The end of the world is nigh!’ I thought, ‘Man, I wish I had a Backup Planet where I could go and escape.’ It dawned on me. That’s what naturally happens when you play music; you’re transported somewhere else. It’s a shared experience where everybody goes together.”
The name perfectly fit the tunes Ben and his college buddy Gavin wrote starting in 2013. Rounded out by Chris and Blake, BACKUP PLANET became a local favorite around the University of Tennessee Knoxville. They independently released their full-length debut, Element, during 2015 and began sharing the stage with the likes of The Revivalists, Papadosio, and more in addition to headlining countless packed shows. Relix proclaimed them “On The Verge,” and one fateful gig led to signing with powerhouse management firm Red Light Management [Dave Matthews Band, My Morning Jacket, Dopapod, Phish,].
However, tragedy struck BACKUP PLANET only weeks after this big milestone.
“I had a weird sense of premonition,” admits Ben. “We had just left a show, and within 30 seconds, our van was flipped over on the interstate sliding. There were sparks, glass, and metal flying everywhere and people screaming. Fortunately, we were all alive, but we lost our van, gear, and trailer. It flipped a lot of stuff figuratively and literally on its side.”
Rather than engage audiences via crowd-funding, the band quietly saved throughout the rest of the year by performing local headline gigs to re-build their infrastructure. Bruised but not broken, they entered Syncromesh Studios in Birmingham, AL with producer Jason Elgin [Collective Soul, Maylene & The Sons of Disaster,] to record REACTIONS during 2016. In just three weeks, they tracked everything analog the old-fashioned way.
“We love production in all of its forms, and working with Jason was an awesome learning experience,” the singer goes on. “He knew every in-and-out and possible thing you could do in the studio, and it became like a creative sanctuary.”
The title REACTIONS evokes the devotion of these four musicians, facing a near death experience and bouncing back with a deeper appreciation for their craft and a definitive body of work.
“It plays into the laws of physics and thermodynamics,” he says. “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You never know what’s going to happen. Everything can change in an instant. It’s about how you react. There are those thematic elements in the music and songwriting. That’s been the story of the last year and ties into what we created.”
As these four talents continue “reacting” at the highest level, listeners everywhere fall into an escape fueled by mind-blowing musicianship, poetic songwriting, and hooks that resound past the heavens.
“This is what we live by musically,” Ben leaves off. “We say this all the time, ‘You can play to three people or three-thousand people, but if you’re not enjoying it and connecting with your band mates, what’s the point?’ Our approach is to take something negative and turn it into a positive by using the language of music. It comes down to overcoming adversity. This makes us complete, and we hope you feel that.”
Learn more about Backup Planet in the following All Access interview:
(Answered by: Blake Gallant (bass/vocals) of Backup Planet)
What are some words you would use to describe 2016 for you and your music? What were some of the highlights? What are you most excited about for this year?
Challenging, Exciting, Breakthrough. Going in to the studio really taught us a lot about how to work as one unit; what our strengths and weaknesses were as a band and as individuals. I’m really excited to have a finished product in our hands that we feel is an accurate representation of the group, and to get it out in to the peoples’ hands by touring the country with three of my best friends.
So how did this band first form? How did you all meet each other and decide to make music together? Where did the name come from? Was it hard to come to a decision?
Ben and Gavin met in a hotel room while in Chicago for a concert only to discover that they had similar tastes in music and both attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They began working with Chris as a trio cutting their teeth in Knoxville, TN. The band had picked up a decent amount of steam by the time I joined in May, 2014. The name, Backup Planet, came to Ben amidst several trying situations. He was working a shift at a liquor store and seeing a constant stream of negative news spouting from the T.V., his girl had left him- just seemed as though everything were looking down- and hoping to find an escape he thought to himself “Man I wish there were some sort of backup planet we could go to and get away from all of this.”. To him, and to all of us, Music is that backup planet and provides an internal escape for all people- so the name seemed very fitting for the project and has really turned in to our ethos.
How is your current 21-date co-headlining tour with The Heavy Pets going so far? What have been some of your favorite venues and crowds? Where are you excited to play at next?
Working with a veteran act such as The Heavy Pets has been an absolute blast. We started out the tour with some dates around the Southeast- including our album release shows in Atlanta and Nashville- so it was nice to kick everything off with some heater shows in front of our closest fans, friends, and family; it was a good introductory for them to see “how we do”. Those guys always have musical tricks up their sleeve, so to speak, and they keep dropping discrete indications that this tour is going to get rowdy when we get in to the Northeast/ New England area so we’re anxious to keep it rolling. Looking forward to the Brooklyn Bowl show presented by RELIX, as well as Nectar’s (Burlington), Milkboy (Philly) presented by Endless Boundaries Jam Radio, and getting back in to New Orleans during Jazz Fest.
You just released your sophomore full-length album, “Reactions.” How do you think your sound has grown and changed on this collection? What was it like working with the producer Jason Elgin on the album?
Starting back with the song-writing process, our sound was much more calculated and mature for this record. We went for a ‘heavier’ sound on “Reactions” mostly for two reasons; one being that it provided an outlet for our frustrations from being hit by a drunk driver while on the road in Chicago
(2015). Secondly, we all felt like there was a gap in the jam scene that left something to be desired for fans of both live improvisation and heavy rock & roll. Jason was the perfect producer to get out of us exactly what was needed to accomplish the goal that we had set out to do. We knew it wouldn’t be easy- he proved us right, and then some. There were a lot of nights where we would stay up late tracking with Jason, and when it came to a halt he would say “OK, now this is what I want you to have ready for tomorrow.” We would stay up all night, in pairs or individuals, trying to perfect the parts only to come in the next day and see that look on his face that read “Did you even work on this?”. A lot of the times producers are hearing something beyond “the part” that you just can’t see as a bass player, guitarist, etc., and that can be frustrating, but then we hear the final product and just face-palm thinking “Ooooohh I get it!”
Where did the inspiration for the songs on “Reactions” come from? How do you all go about putting together a song?
There is a distinct common thread, lyrically, of overcoming adversity in life. The opening track, “Bad Man”, most explicitly details the event in Chicago of 2015- when our van and trailer were flipped on to the interstate. On the title track, “Reactions”, the chorus kicks off with soaring vocals over a dropped out band to highlight the line “Down but not broken”, and then there are songs such as “Looking Up” and “All In” that point to the light at the end of the tunnel. Most of these songs started from one idea- whether it be a riff from Gavin, or a chord progression from Ben- and got pieced together in rehearsals or “writing pairs” which we have found works well for us being a four piece. Jason also played a big part in arranging once we got in to the studio.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Who would you all love to work with in the future? What would be a dream collaboration?
Personally I am a big fan of jazz, r&b, and progressive rock; think Medeski, Martin, and Wood, The Staples Singers, Frank Zappa. A lot of the stuff I’m listening to now is to get new ideas as a bass player. I have been digging in to the work of Paul Jackson (Herbie Hancock, “Funk on a Stick”), Nate Edgar (Nth Power), Chris DeAngelis (Kung Fu), and Pino Palladino’s work on “Black Messiah”. A few dream collaborations for Backup Planet would be working with Gov’t Mule, Snarky Puppy, Primus, Kevin Parker, Mavis Staples, Umphrey’s McGee.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people take away from your songs?
We intend to purvey positivity and support through our message of overcoming adversity, and hope that our listeners feel like they are a key component to this musical escape we call Backup Planet.