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When The Page Becomes A Mirror: A Chat With Radical Face

As Radical Face, Ben Cooper has written song after song about a fictional family. They make up not just one album but a trilogy of them, called The Family Tree. All of the characters on the first two albums, The Roots and The Branches, were made up. But then, Cooper was forced to confront some very real family secrets of his own.

They come to life on his latest album, the last in the series, called The Family Tree: The Leaves. The story begins when Cooper was growing up in Jacksonville, Fla.

"I think I was always kind of the oddball," he says.

Cooper came out to his family as gay at 14; it didn't go well. "I got kicked out, and no one in my family talked to me for at least three years," he says.

While it was a difficult period for the budding musician, Cooper says that in time, the experience helped him grow.

"While it's a very young age to be learning how to, say, have a checking account and how to balance a checkbook, I actually learned a lot about taking care of myself," he says. "It was early, and it was all very scary. But I [watched] my friends go through a lot of this stuff in their 20s that I had already sorted when I was 16. I wouldn't recommend it, but it definitely had its benefits. There were a lot of things that I think I was pretty well-equipped to deal with, especially being a freelance musician."

Ben Cooper spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep about learning to step away from fiction in his music and embrace telling his own stories. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.