Lenny Cooper Interview: Mud Digger King Takes New Approach for Third Studio Album, ‘The Grind’
Lenny Cooper has made his reputation as a country rapper, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Mud Digger King’ due to his association with Average Joes’ ‘Mud Digger’ compilation series. But he’s switched up his game for his upcoming third studio album, ‘The Grind.’
Cooper first came to public attention after he wrote a song about his favorite pastime, mud bogging, and uploaded it YouTube, tagging Colt Ford. The video went viral, and Cooper has subsequently garnered enormous attention for his songs via a series of compilations, as well as two solo albums.
The performer has previously focused his attention specifically on mud bogging and the subculture that surrounds it, but for his third album, he has taken a new approach, incorporating more melodic vocal lines and adding more festival and club dates to a touring schedule that had mostly focused on mud bog events in the past.
The project is set for release on Aug. 26 and features a number of high-profile collaborations, including Ford, Bubba Sparxxx, former ‘American Idol‘ contestant Sarah Ross, Tyler Wood from Discovery’s hit reality series ‘Moonshiners’ and several more.
The Boot recently caught up with Cooper to discuss the new album, the new single ‘Lights On,’ the changing mud bog scene and more in this exclusive interview.
This is your third studio album. What was your goal going into it, as far as what you wanted to do differently than past projects?
The past records are all about mud and having that mud life-type scene, and I kinda wanted to change it a little bit, but still not drift away from the mud too much. I didn’t want to confuse fans. And also, I wanted to take the opportunity to show the fans the growth of me as an artist. So I wanted to try some stuff that I’ve never tried before, like singing and stuff like that.
And this album, too, if you listen to it, it’s a lot different from my first two albums because my first two albums are more beat-heavy. It’s a lot of beats, where this album is more like a studio cut with more live instruments on it. I was very happy for that, and the change in the sound. I think the fans are gonna love it. We had a lot of good artists on there as well, like Colt Ford, Bubba Sparxxx, Demun Jones and a good buddy of mine, Bucky Covington. We had him on the album as well.
"The past records are all about mud, and having that mud life type scene, and I kinda wanted to change it a little bit, but still not drift away from the mud too much. I didn’t want to confuse fans."
How did he get involved?
It was actually kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. We were looking for a big-name artist, and we went from John Michael Montgomery to a couple of other people, and when we couldn’t pinpoint it, then I asked for Craig Morgan, but everybody was busy.
And then when they mentioned Bucky, I was like, “Yeah, man, I’m a big fan of his. If he’s interested, yeah, absolutely. I’d love him to jump on a song.”
And it just happened like that. He went in there and cut vocals on the song, and it just sounds phenomenal. It’s my favorite song on the album.
How important to you are those kinds of collaborations, as far as just getting your name out there and trying different styles?
It’s very important to me. I definitely take that to heart when I get to work with other artists — especially talented artists and talented songwriters. When I get an opportunity to write a song with somebody, I just enjoy stuff like that. It’s a highlight of my life, is being able to do stuff like that and having the ability to do that.
Your album is titled ‘The Grind.’ Where does that come from, and what is it supposed to mean?
It comes from, I’ve been at this a while now and constantly going non-stop, with hardly any sleep. It’s just hard being away from the family and being on the road, show to show, state to state, town to town. I’m just out there working as hard as I can, so I’m just pretty much out there grinding it, is how I put it. And I was just like, “What better way to name this album? We’ll just call it ‘The Grind.’” It just works perfect.
Tell me about your writing process. Do you write according to a schedule, or do you write whenever a new song occurs to you?
I’ll be at a show, and I actually observe what people do. Like, different states and different towns, I’ll see how they do things, and I’ll take and maybe jot that down on my phone in my notes, or maybe on a piece of paper. Or sometimes late at night, I’ll wake up, and I’ll have an idea of a song, and I always keep a pen and a notepad beside the bed, and I’ll wake up and think, “Hold it, that sounds pretty good.” And I’ll write it down. That way I’ll have it for the next day, so I won’t forget it.
But a lot of things inspire me. Just things that I’ve done in my past, or things that I do now — I’ll take that into consideration in my songs and put it out there, because I know exactly now what the fans want and what they drive for. So I definitely take that into consideration and give every little, give my whole heart and soul to them, so it’ll keep everybody happy and wanting more.
"I’m just out there working as hard as I can, so I’m just pretty much out there grinding it, is how I put it. And I was just like, “What better way to name this album? We’ll just call it ‘The Grind.’” It just works perfect."
You’ve earned the nickname ‘Mud Digger King.’ How did that come about?
The very first song I ever did, which was my first single, was a song called ‘Mud Digger.’ And pretty much after I did that song and it came out, after I got signed with Average Joes, everybody started making new nicknames for me, like ‘the Original Mud Digger’ or ‘the Mud Digger King.’ And it just kinda stuck with me. Everybody knows me as that from that song. That started it all.
Tell me about mud bogging and that whole subculture. I wasn’t even that aware of it until I started working with Average Joes on some artists, but it’s a huge, huge thing.
Oh yes, it is. It’s huge now, and it’s still growing. It’s something I don’t think that’ll ever get old, and it’s something I don’t think that’ll ever go away. It’s always gonna be around.
You’ve focused a lot of marketing on that, is that right?
Absolutely, and we still focus on it now. Yeah, it is getting a lot harder now to play mud bogs because there are so many mud bogs out there, and a lot of people are just opening these places up and thinking it’s that easy, but really, it’s not. You know, there’s a few selective mud bogs that are actually professional and know what they’re doing and have got their stuff together.
We’re concentrating now on playing a lot more festivals, a lot more bars, to break more into that hard ticket sale market. Instead of me playing mud bogs every weekend, I need to start reaching out to a broader and wider fan base, so I need to start playing bars and festivals and reach out to new fans. I need to get to new fans and also keep the fans that I have happy.
I know we’re not going to stop playing mud bogs, but it’s just harder now in the mud bog market with all these mud bogs that are popping up everywhere.
Average Joes is really great at developing alternative approaches to marketing. Does it make any sense at all for an artist in your position to try to go for radio at some point or not?
It does … I mean, anyone that does this would love to get played on the radio, you know. But if not, that’s still cool, ’cause we’re still gonna create music, and we’re still gonna have the fans that are gonna get the music. It doesn’t matter if it’s played on the radio. People think, “If it ain’t on the radio, it ain’t gonna get heard.” Well, that’s wrong. Most people now, with Pandora and all — on Pandora, in the last 30 days, I’ve been played 2.8 million times just in a month. And that’s very shocking to me.
A lot more people now are going to Pandora, and most of the time, when you see people with headphones, they’re listening to Pandora and stuff like that. That’s a big market for us now. It definitely helps get the music out there. I have I think 218,000 stations that people have made to play and hear my music. If they ain’t gonna be able to hear it on the radio, they’re gonna go find it somewhere else.
The revenue from Pandora and those kinds of streaming services is pretty small. Are you seeing those listens translate into real sales later on?
Oh yes, absolutely. And that’s another thing that’s shocking. A lot of people sell more music online through iTunes as a digital download. With me, it’s different. I sell more hard copies in stores and stuff than I do on digital downloads. Don’t get me wrong, we sell a lot of digital downloads, but people also want that hard copy CD. And when people get introduced — I have a lot of people get on Facebook and say, “I was on Pandora, and I heard your music, and I’ve never heard this before, but I love it and want to hear more.” So I grasp a lot of new fans through Pandora.
"People think, “If it ain’t on the radio, it ain’t gonna get heard.” Well, that’s wrong."
Tell me about ‘Lights On.’ What made that the choice for the first single?
It’s one of the songs that I was getting outside the box and trying something I’ve never tried before, which was a fan-type song. I wanted the song to be a fun song, and actually write it as if I was in a bar. I’ve been in bars before, and a lot of people have been in bars, and if you’re in a bar and you’re having a good time and they go to turn the lights on or whatever, and they’re saying last call, sometimes you’re having such a good time, you’re not ready to leave yet. You still want to drink another beer or sing another song or something like that. So I made it the kind of song where anybody who’s sitting at a bar and playing the jukebox would want to play this song.
What kind of touring are you going to be doing around this project?
We’re currently at about 100-150 shows a year right now. We’re all over the place, from Michigan down to Florida. We really ain’t been out toward the West Coast yet. We’re gonna start getting out that way soon. We’re just waiting on the right opportunities to come along, and we’re gonna head that way.
You’re featured in the Average Joes comic book that’s out. What’s that like for you?
[Laughs.] I just thought, “Wow, I’m actually in a comic book.” I mean, it’s really cool. At first I thought, “I don’t know how many fans that are our fans would read that,” until last week, I got this email from the CEO of the label, and he said, “Hey, look at this, what this little girl said about this comic book.”
The little girl was worried, ’cause at the end of the comic book something happens to me, and I go away. And she said, “Is Lenny Cooper gonna be okay? Is he gonna come back?”
So they really get into that and worry about the artists if something happens to them in a comic book. I just think that’s cool.
Is there anything else you want to say about your record, the single, touring or anything else you’ve got going?
Get ready for it, because it’s definitely gonna be a game-changer when it comes out.