Album Auto-nalysis is a regular Counterzine feature where we ask some of our favorite artists to breakdown their albums track-by-track, to provide further insight into the thoughts, feelings, and artistic processes that went into making them. For this edition, we asked Peter Obermark of Cincinnati power pop band Copper to detail the band’s recent album ‘Number Six Girls School’.
1. “Number Six Girls School”
Peter: The song is based on a true story from China’s “cultural revolution” purges of the late ’60s and early ’70s, when a lot of teachers, intellectuals, and professional people were rounded up and imprisoned or executed. I wrote it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of authoritarianism, and its insistence on ideological conformity. But I wanted the song to really rock—to counterpoint the grim lyrics with an up-tempo, rowdy feel. We layered a lot of tracks on this one—tenor and acoustic guitars on the quiet intro, and then George Cunningham’s twangy/over-driven Danelectro vamp when the song takes off.
2. “American Boy”
Peter: A true story about a young woman I knew in London, England of the mid-1970s. She had been raised by fundamentalist Christian parents outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, but escaped when she turned 17 and ran off to London. I met her in Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve, 1975, and we became friends. She had a thing for dressing in men’s clothes, and liked to “pass” as a man—and her parents had a hard time accepting that, which is why she fled when she could. I had originally conceived of this tune as a strictly acoustic ballad, but as it evolved in the studio, co-producers Chris Arduser and Matt Hueneman decided it would be fun to really let the song morph into a pop rocker after the first verse.
Peter: My poison-pen love letter to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway—a Zen
mistress of obfuscation and gaslighting if ever there was one. I wanted to make it fun in a ’60s kind of way—really give a jangly, harmony-driven kind of feel to the song. The chord structure is utter simplicity, but the vocal arrangements and idiosyncratic guitar riffs make it sound more other-worldly than it otherwise would. We had two superb singers—Kelly McCracken and Hallie Menkhaus—who really ran away with the vocal harmonies on this one.
4. “Sleeper Cell”
Peter: A true story from my days as a street paramedic. There was a house of friendly heroin addicts my squad used to get called to on a regular basis for overdose emergencies, and we’d usually—but not always—get there in time to resuscitate them. Our producer/drummer, Chris Arduser, added a couple of dandy baritone guitar tracks to the opening hook—I wanted to give this song an elegiac, slightly country feel. The verses are meant to be dreamy, but I wanted a harder rhythmic edge on the choruses.
5. “Dread and Circuses”
Peter: A song about the current awfulness of American political and social life—the place where mindless reality television and vulgar politicians meet angry young men in polo shirts marching with tiki torches. We anchored the song with acoustic and tenor guitars, and then let George loose with his ’60s Stratocaster to give the song a playful, even mocking feel. The title, of course, is a play on the ancient Roman axiom that one can always distract the restless masses with “bread and circuses”.
6. “Radio Opticon”
Peter: I wrote this one about my son, Nathan, and his lifelong love affair with music and public radio. He was born with severe cerebral palsy, and in addition to keeping him in a wheelchair since birth, it has also left him with severely impaired vision. Consequently, the world of sound–music, NPR, Car Talk, and so forth, became his window on the world–his “opticon”– from an early age. This started out life as a mid-tempo tune, but as we worked it in the studio, it kept getting slower, harder-edged, and more eccentric. By the time we added the theramin track, it sounded almost like a parody of a sci-fi B-movie, and I love how this one came out.
7. “Bippy Can’t Be Bothered”
Peter: Not the kind of song I’d usually write—it’s a bit more punk-ish and knuckle-headed than my typical style—but it was just the mood that I was in at the time. It’s about that place where rural, southern Ohio prejudice meets Ayn Rand.
8. “What Happened to My Heart”
Peter: This one started as a very stripped-down tune—a single electric rhythm guitar track, and a couple of jangly hooks with a Rickenbacker. Like a cook who can’t stop adding ingredients, we kept finding more stuff to do on it—Chris started doubling the jangly guitar hooks with a baritone guitar, Matt added a crunchier Rickenbacker on the choruses, and Chris wrote a complex vocal harmony arrangement for Hallie, one of our backing vocalists. It ended up with a fuller and more nuanced sound than what we started out with.
9. “Slipping Out of Time”
Peter: A song about the interior dialogue of a man contemplating suicide—not just with
sadness, but relief and anticipation. I wanted the verses and choruses to capture the backand-forth pendulum of that dialectic—first, a meditation on past failures and disappointments, and then an ever-increasing exhilaration at the prospect of release. Thus, the song’s alternating between the subdued, tremelo guitar-inflected verses, and the fast build to an explosion on the choruses.
Copper’s ‘Number Six Girls School’ is out now digitally and available to purchase through CD Baby and Bandcamp. As the image above suggests, it seems CDs are or will soon be floating around, so follow Copper on Facebook and Bandcamp for updates. ‘Number Six Girls School’ was also listed as Shosa’s #12 album of 2019.