Features, Print March 2, 2021

Kolby Cooper’s Best, Worst Year

by Dan England

Kolby Cooper returned through single-digit temperatures and deep snow to his East Texas home on January 17 to find the hallways full of water.

That just sounds like a country song, doesn’t it? Maybe if he found his dog floating in the water, and snow clogged the engine in his pickup? Well, here’s how Cooper referred to it in an interview with BandWagon: “Whatever man, it’s nothing. Yada yada yada. We were lucky, man.”

And he was kind of lucky. Especially given what winter handed to the millions of Texans who probably had never seen snow before 2021 – at least not the kind that busts power lines and brings pipe-bursting temperatures with it. The Coopers had a cracked pipe, but Kolby caught it just after it split, and their stuff, packed away in boxes for an upcoming move, was mostly dry and safe.

Kolby Cooper – All Photos by Gabriel Muniz

Even so, it’s doubtful Cooper will make the ordeal into a song, as he’s got plenty of things to write about. He’s already catalogued plenty of sorrows, and at 21, he’s only just reached an age where he can legally drown them. In fact, there’s so much sorrow under his young belt that he calls 2020 a “great year.” Maybe one of his best. He put out the album Good Ones Never Last, live shows have picked up (he plays Greeley’s Moxi Theater on March 5) plus he got to spend time with his two young kids and his wife, whom he finally dated during their senior year after being best friends since fourth grade.

“We got to see what it was like to be a stay-at-home family,” Cooper said. “That makes me work twice as hard – when I have the time to work. I’m a lot more focused than I think I would have been otherwise. I’ve got a whole lot of family to provide for.”

Cooper also put out an EP this summer called Vol. 2. It got all kinds of airplay, especially in Texas and especially more in Palestine, a 19,000-resident town near Bradford, the unincorporated farming community of maybe 30 where he spent most of his life. He’s already famous on Spotify, where his tracks have received millions of plays, including “Every Single Kiss,” his first real song. He wrote it when he was 15, three years after he first picked up a guitar.

Cooper is the BandWagon cover story for our March, 2021 issue.

“It Ain’t Me” has 12 million streams and “Fall,” a song he wrote when he was 17, has nearly 7 million. “2 Words,” his most recent, off Vol. 2, is an edgy send-off to an ex lover. It made radio people a bit jumpy (by now you can probably guess what those two words are) but it has more than a million listens, and so just the other day, Cooper got a pleasant surprise.

“My cousin called me and said, ‘You’re on the radio,’ and that was just normal, we get played down here a lot,” Cooper tells BandWagon. “But then he said, ‘It’s ‘Two Words.’ They just bleeped out all the bad words.’”

Honest lyrics are a trademark for Cooper, something he attributes to his hard life growing up. His father died from cancer when he was 14, causing him to “grow up real quick,” which may have had something to do with him getting married at 18 and having kids. He wrote one song about his father, “Curse October,” about life making him grow up too fast. He said he probably won’t ever play it live because it’s too sad. “I think it’s made me write a lot more real,” he said of his life.

Cooper’s other trademark is his sound, a combination of country music and…punk rock? Yup. He considers himself a country artist, but two of his favorite bands, Nirvana and Blink 182, play a significant role in his songs. He has a tattoo of Waylon Jennings, his other favorite artist, but he has a nod to Nirvana on his other arm. Even his producer works with heavy metal bands.

“So when the two are combined,” he said, “they are combined delicately. I still think the core of it is country, but at the end of the day, it’s me doing what I want.”

Kolby Cooper – Photo by Gabriel Muniz

And doing what he wants seems to be the throughline. The pandemic gave Cooper time to write music that he thinks is the best he’s ever done. There’s more breakup songs, the kind inspired by his friends (not his wife – she wondered after he played “Two Words” for her) but there’s also songs about his family, which he thinks is the best stuff he’s written. 

Soon, the Coopers will move to Tyler, Texas, an hour away from Bradford, because they need a place to live after the house they were renting got sold. Yes, COVID-19 made things difficult, but he’s used to that right now.

“It was a horrible year, and a great year,” Cooper said. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

And then he remembered all that snow piled outside his door.

“Well, except for right now,” he said.

Catch Kolby Cooper live, in person at The Moxi Theater in Greeley on Friday, March 5. Click here for tickets via moxitheater.com