Young Guv is Ben Cook.
Ben Cook is a songwriter, a dedicated and prolific songwriter of rare talent. The real deal.
In the summer of 2018, he moved from his Toronto home to a sublet in Brooklyn, and there he began writing some of the best songs of his life.
GUV I, out on Run For Cover in August, is a collection of pop music — staggeringly poignant and infectious pop music — written and recorded by Ben Cook throughout that New York City summer.
Think of the contemporary guitar music that’s meant something to you in the last 18-odd years. Ben Cook has probably had something to do with making it or influencing it. Think of No Warning, which he’s fronted since he was in high school in the ’90s, who pioneered a self-aware, intertextual, and technically adept style of New York hardcore that has became a subgenre unto itself, dominating scenes all over the world for close two decades and counting. Think of Fucked Up, for which he’s played guitar since 2006, the aesthetically omnivorous, thematically ambitious punk-rock-deconstructing band-like entity that, unlike the bulk of their contemporaries in the late-2000s festival-circuit indie-rock boom, no one is ashamed of having associated themselves with. Think also of his behind-the-scenes presence, the co-writing and production work he’s done for a host of artists at all levels of renown (some of the names would surprise you).
But, for all that, the only place to hear music that belongs entirely to Ben Cook — music that comes into the world owing nothing to a bandmate or a client or a genre convention, whether affectionately observed or mordantly subverted — has been under the umbrella of Young Guv, or Young Governor, or Guv, or whatever he may at any given time have been calling the vehicle that, since 2008, has delivered a steady supply of singles and EPs, plus two previous full-lengths. Sometimes Young Guv songs have guitars and British Invasion harmonies; sometimes they have synths and modulated voices. But always they have choruses you’ll never forget and lyrics whose dry wit and acute depictions of intense human feeling never fail to knock you flat.
Ben Cook doesn’t like talking about his music but he understands it. “To me Young Guv songs are like people-watching in a foreign country in the morning,” he says, ever the master of the vivid metaphor. “I’m there and I’m trying not to cry from the overwhelming feeling of sadness and happiness.”
As it happened, when the new songs started coming in May 2018, Ben was in a foreign country, albeit one — the U.S.A. — where he knew his way around, and could speak the language, observe local custom, and blend in, effectively disappearing, into the streetscape, into thoughts and longings, and, inevitably, back into his Brooklyn apartment (he had to be close to the New Jersey studio where he was producing the new Terror record) in the confines of which he wrote a song every single day. The daily pattern of hard-won creativity borne of observing eternal, mysterious patterns of human behaviour, his own and everyone else’s, yielded the penetrating theme of the album’s opener, “Patterns Prevail”: “All these secrets drive me crazy,” sings Aurora Shields, Ben’s frequent collaborator. “Colours shift between the shading / I can see patterns prevailing.”
People-watching in a foreign country. Another way of putting that would be to say that Young Guv songs are about being alone. As the years have passed, as material and social conditions have conspired to make everyone feel increasingly alone, Ben has built a Guv discography out of invoking the desolation that arises when you’re isolated in physical and mental space but surrounded nonetheless by millions of other isolated, solitary people, literally any one of whom you could, for all you know, love with all your heart for the rest of your life, but almost none of whom, you’re forced to admit, will become anything more than a briefly transfixing stranger, at best a wraith that recurrently haunts your dreams. Ben encapsulates the vicious cycle on “Roll Wit Me”: “I can't place who you are / So familiar and brand new / What is it that you've got / So effortlessly cool / You don't have to look at all / Ya why would you anyways / All I wanna do is talk / I just don't know what to say / But I can't wake up in my bed / Alone another day.”
Ben calls GUV I, the new album, “a little ode to the place that blessed me such love and inspiration to create so many songs I felt comfortable sharing with everyone.” The city told him, in its aloof way, that a great record was waiting to be written and, most important, to be offered like a bouquet of flowers to the people of the world, in a humble act of love and communion. Ben’s been a true songwriter long enough to have recognized, and heeded, the coded command when it came. He’s since moved back to NYC and plans to stay awhile.
Photo By Danielle Nemet