Hardcore band Coop turns horror movies into songs

by Conor Battles

Friday the 13th is an appropriately eerie time to catch up with Coop, Akron’s hardcore masters of horror. 

When we meet on Sept. 13, frontman Zach Butcher wears a t-shirt for the 1973 Italian horror film Torso. Much like his songwriting, his speech is peppered with references to slasher movies, cult directors and obscure trivia. 

“So we’re gonna talk about our favorite ‘Friday the 13th’ movies, right?” Zach jokes. “I just learned that Daryl Kahan from [1980s New York hardcore band] Citzens Arrest plays one of the punk kids who makes fun of Jason and makes him take his mask off in Jason Takes Manhattan.”

Coop’s sound is best described as a crushingly heavy mix of hardcore punk and doom metal. But what makes them stand out from the crowded Akron hardcore scene is their unique thematic approach to songwriting: All of their songs are about horror, science fiction and action films. The description for their first full-length release on Bandcamp, Volume 1, reads in part: “Listen to Black Sabbath, Wallcreeper, Citycop, and Low Men in Yellow Coats. Watch Lynch, Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg and Craven. Long live the new flesh.”

Zach, along with drummer Collin Rice, guitarist Mike Bowen and bassist Marcus Strenkowski have made up the core Coop lineup since 2017. While Zach is the sole lyricist for the band, his bandmates are responsible for taking his pulpy, cinematic songwriting and crafting music that fits the films that inspire them.

“I have to think of ideas that sort of fit the synopsis of the song,” Marcus says. “For the song about The Empire Strikes Back, I’m like, ‘if I pair this pedal with this pedal, it kind of sounds like I’m playing a lightsaber.’”

That sonic experimentation, along with Zach’s reference-stuffed lyrics, result in a sound that is as loud and abrasive as it is difficult to assign a genre to.

On “Candy Colored Clown,” a sample of Blue Velvet’s sociopath Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper) ushers in a crushing doom metal guitar riff. The riff just as suddenly gives way to a relentless hardcore-tinged death march accompanied by Zach’s throat-tearing howl. 

Another song, this one about Ghostbusters, contains the endearingly corny turn of phrase, “Men made of marshmallow/A woman named Zuul/Demigods that are ruling dogs/They’ll chase you into a pool.”

Zach’s passion for horror is central to Coop’s identity. It traces back to childhood nightmares that gave way to an unabashed lifelong love.

“My dad showed me a lot of this stuff as a kid,” Zach says. “One of my earliest memories was watching Scream and it terrifying me when I was like 3 or 4. It’s all there. We were part of the Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? generation, and we had awful parents that let us watch this stuff.”

A fascination with horror and cult cinema lends itself naturally well to a career as a singer in a hardcore band. 

“If you want songs about heartbreak, listen to the Smiths,” Zach says. “[Horror] is what I’m interested in. I want to write songs about that. It’s not even intentionally to stand out, it’s just what comes naturally to me.”

While the lyrics are often literal references to the content of the films that inspire them, Zach sees his writing as more personal and reflective then it seems at first glance.

“[The songs] are about how I’m feeling,” Zach says. “The song about Aliens is about the idea of being isolated, being alone, being separated. The song about The Thing is about not being able to trust people. It’s like a thematic retelling of the movie.” 

Coop’s unique aesthetic sets them apart from their hardcore contemporaries. The band proudly defies classification, and bristles at attempts to fit their sound into a specific genre.

“We started out wanting to be hardcore,” Mike says. “We can kind of relate to other bands because [the music] is heavy, but we have our own vibe, our own sound.”

Coop’s diversity is its strength, from the band’s influences to their individual experiences in the local scene. The project is Zach’s first significant foray into music, while Mike, Marcus and Collin have all been playing off and on in bands for years. 

“We can all agree on some bands that we like, but for the most part we all come from a different background,” Collin says. “I think that honestly helps with the creativity behind what we are.”

Coop are in the midst of a break from performances, with Zach concentrating on writing material for their next release. He’s coy about the next steps forward, but couldn’t help teasing songs about Italian horror provocateur Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper and the subversive, feminist slasher parody The Slumber Party Massacre.

As Coop eyes a big year in 2020, the band is unshakably optimistic about the future.

“There is a level of confidence that we now have that nobody have never seen us have,” Marcus says. “When we come back and resurrect from the ashes, we are coming for your head — in a nice way.”

Conor Battles is a journalism student at Kent State University.