Over the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to communicate with a pretty amazing guy. Stephen Cochran is a former United States Marine, although he would tell you there is no such thing as a ‘former Marine’, so he is a Marine. He also happens to be a country music singer/songwriter/musician. Never heard of him? Well, allow me to introduce you to this incredible guy.
From Stephen’s biography:
The waypoints in Marine Stephen Cochran’s life appear to show a neat, linear journey culminating in his upcoming second album, Pieces. But for Stephen and millions of other veterans, things aren’t quite that simple. As the title suggests, the timelines most people take for granted are often fragmented for those who serve. The disconnect between life in a war zone and the life left behind is responsible for one of the greatest tragedies in contemporary American life. Like too many of his brothers and sisters in arms, Stephen Cochran was almost one of those terrible statistics.
The following is an email interview that Stephen and I engaged in over the last couple of weeks. In it, he details his time as an active duty Marine, his injuries that led him to partner with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and the music that he and his band have been working on; music that, for him is therapeutic–music he hopes will be therapeutic for others who have suffered and are still suffering, just like he did.
UCN: I read your back story on your website and watched a video where you tell your story on YouTube. It is a powerful story of strong will and determination; I’m sure you’ve told the story numerous times. Would you mind telling it one more time, for readers who do not your story and how you became involved with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs?
Stephen Cochran: Well, I’m nothing special, I’m just an Eastern Kentucky kid who had a dream of playing music since I was small. I was on the track to living that dream when 9/11 happened. I was in my third year at Western Kentucky University when we got the news that the U.S. was under attack from terrorists. This is a country where you can take a dream and make it a career. I look at that as when my country needs me, I’ll be there. Patriotism has always been driven deep in me, both my grandpas served and so did my dad; I knew what I had to do, so I put music on hold thinking I could come back to it someday, not knowing how hard that would actually be. I enlisted and soon after training found myself in a pretty elite unit in the Marine Corps, and then even sooner became a team leader as a recon scout with L.A.R (Light Armored Recon). Then my first tour to Iraq came and while I thought I was prepared, nothing can prepare a person for the chaos and horrific scenes of war. We returned after more than 111 missions including rescuing the crew for Jessica Lynch, but there was still terror to fight and now it was my time to go to Afghanistan…I had heard how bad it was and was not at all excited…up until this point we had not lost a man. We only work in 3 man teams, six man sections as scouts so we were very tight nit…one night inside the Helmand Province that changed…Cpl Ron Payne was a great man and gave his life to save his men…a short while after that we were on a convoy security mission when my vehicle struck a large embankment and threw me, breaking my back from l-1 to l-5 and leaving me with little to no feeling from the waist down. I actually never thought I wouldn’t walk again, though something inside me told me this was a lesson and I needed to learn all I could from it…after 9 months of failed procedures and unsuccessful therapy a experimental procedure using the angioplasty balloon used for elderly with degenerative discs was offered. It’s called a kyphoplasty but it wasn’t Department of Defense, it was a VA sanctioned surgery and it is very hard to cross between those to organizations. But thankfully I got in, it wasn’t very long after the surgery I had the most sensations in my legs I had had in months. A month later I was back on my feet and going hard after that dream, within the year we signed a record deal and then followed with three hit singles to radio…and well here I am now on a new mission to save instead of injure …we are losing 22 vets a day to suicide and that is just unsatisfactory! I can’t believe all the media isn’t covering this, these people are my family! I can’t stand by and watch this happen especially having went down the suicide road myself…so I penned the song ‘Pieces’ and shot the video to try to show them they aren’t crazy and they certainly aren’t alone…it’s had some great success stories come from it, but it still isn’t enough.
UCN: You mentioned the song ‘Pieces‘ and I heard the song for the very first time a few nights ago. Listening to this song and watching the video, it gave me goose bumps and made my heart ache to think that so many men and women are suffering in silence, and then to know that you fought and won the same battle is incredibly remarkable. Did your partnership with the US Department of Veteran Affairs come about partly because of this song, or were there bigger factors?
SC: The VA defiantly played a big role in helping get this video and song attention and was actually the only country music video to ever be approved by John Gingrich the Vice President to veterans affairs…but no, I had already been the national spokesman to Research and Development for 3 years when I finally got the nerve to write and shoot the video. It’s a hard decision to make because PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has such a stigma on it and so does suicide. I would be lying if I said the music business hadn’t turned its back to me a bit due to my revelation of what I suffer with and had been through. It’s really sad, I’m trying to save my brothers and sisters and I’ve been told if I want to continue my career I need to shut up and do as told. I have even been asked if I wanted to be in the music business or the saving lives business …in the genre I’m in, it has surprised me; country has always seemed to be a vet support system but when it comes to REAL life issues. I don’t think anyone wants to get involved, but again these are my family and if I don’t stand up for them, and they for me, who will? And I think the bigger and bigger we grow this new album (which comes out in November) among the veteran community, music will have to pay attention…there are 28 million vets in these United States, not counting their families…that’s a large group to ignore. And we will not be [ignored] for too much longer. I’ve never given up on anything and as it is true I may never chart on radio again, I will succeed in this business and any other we as vets decide to take on. I’ve been so proud to also be the spokesman for www.buyveteran.com which lets vet-owned businesses list their company in the directory so you can actually do all your business with a vet. One of our huge success stories is my good friend Travis McVey; he founded and has launched Heroes Vodka which is not only one of the best and highest awarded vodkas on the market to date it is a liqueur with a purpose! 30% of all proceeds are given to the American Veterans. That’s just the tip of what we have coming. Like after WWII the vets came home to no jobs, a failing economy and no plan…but ‘adapt and overcome’ is bred in the American Veteran…so if we can’t find work, we make it.
UCN: You mentioned the album that you have coming out in November. Can you give readers an idea of what kind of music will be on the upcoming album? Are these going to be songs to shine light on PTSD and the struggles of Veterans?
SC: Yes, we are very excited and this has been a true full band project. Our long-time guitar player Derek Parnell mixed and engineered the album along with Jon Comstable and Chet Robinson of 3 Doors Down. It’s very eclectic and I got the opportunity to write every song except three on this album…along with some of my favorite songwriter buddies , Trevor Rosen (‘Better Dig Two’) and another vet songwriter Michael Hamilton. And yes, it does have other vet-inspired songs on it, things I’ve lived that I think not only vets but a lot of people suffering with PTS deal with. I’d love to bridge that gap between those who don’t understand PTS and those who fight it…and I’ve always known music to do that. At least it helps me understand things I normally wouldn’t. We hope that this album does just that. I’ve really gotten to be able to use my songwriting to heal and hopefully help others. One song ‘Dog Tags,’ is about when I returned injured from Afghanistan…some had been told I was dead and I had a fiancée at the time I left a set of dog tags with her before I left, and it’s kind of an emotional song. Looking back, I was what I thought a super hero; one day after all the combat we had seen, the next not walking literally half the man I was, and looking at friends and a fiancée from a wheel chair…it was a long road back and I hope ‘Dog Tags’ tells and helps tell a lot of our returning vets stories, even if it’s not right on the money, the experience is the same. Then we also redid a song from my previous album about a friend I lost in combat Ron Payne, it’s called ‘When a Hero Falls.’ I’m very excited about this version, as long as I’m blessed to make music and put out albums I will have a different version of this song on every album, I never want anyone to forget this man and how he laid down his life for his friends. We also have some harder hitting song like ‘Whiskey Lies‘ which really goes back and pays homage to the songwriting style of Kris Kristofferson and the older style of country …but then songs like ‘She’ll Thank Me Later” bring it back to the style they are playing on today’s radio, with our vet twist, LOL. This song is really about something all of us feel at one time or another when you know you’re dealing with something you don’t understand, but yet, you have these loved ones looking to you to pick it up and be the same….you can’t, so you think, “you know what, they would be better off without me”….if I leave now it may hurt but she’ll thank me later. Hell, I’ve done that more than stay, I’ve had two fiancées for a reason, LOL. They’ll thank me later, I’m sure…but I think a few of my favorites are so outside the box but so much fun! We brought in a horn section and mandos, I got to showcase a little eastern Kentucky on songs like ‘Drunk Months,’ ‘Pretend,’ and ‘Grown Man Frat House.’ I definitely think those are the most fun songs on the album, but there is defiantly something for everyone as I completely left the Nashville model behind and instead of using one producer with one sound, we used three! From Chris Henderson also of 3 Doors Down, to New Voice Entertainment, Producers of Thompson Square and Jason Aldean, and the unconventional Pino Squalence from the Muzik Mafia, so it flows well but not one song or sound is the same… [it’s a] good driving album because you don’t get stuck with one sound the whole album. We opened ourselves up as musicians, writers, producers, and lovers of music for this…I’m pretty proud but it has its insanely silly moments with some characters we have met along the way while touring the world these past two years. A guy named Charles Ulysses Nathan Thompson has quite the life, and stories that we let him tell and narrate the whole album threw our intros…so I look forward to seeing how the new and old fans take to it.
UCN: It sounds like there will be a little bit of something for everyone on this album. You said November, do you have an exact date, or is that still in the works? How about a first single for country radio?
SC: We are actually in the works with a major department store outlet chain for direct distribution and an official release of the album and our show in Phoenix, around November 10th which is the Marine Corps Birthday; then followed by the 11th which is Veterans Day. And we actually had a plan for radio and TV when we shot the video and recorded the album it was to be ‘Pieces‘ but then as soon as we had got everything in line we were told another larger artist had an album and single of the same name coming…so we since have had to go back to the drawing board. Our ‘Pieces’ will still be on the album with an mp3 of the music video so it can still reach the men and women who are in need of it, but the next single is kind of in the air as is the name of the album, my hope is for a country rockin’ number that New Voice Entertainment produced called ‘Gasoline on a Goodbye“,’ but there are several and each leads in a different direction. I wrote most of them so of course I’m a little biased …they’re my kids, I want them all to do well! And not just on radio or in sales, each has a meaning and represents a moment or lesson in life I lived through and like I said when we started, I’m nothing special…so if I’m going through something someone else is as well or has been there, these songs may help them get through or understand why. I’ve been blessed to have this career but I have to believe it’s not just for commercial success, music is and always will be bigger than that…true life songs are anyway, that’s what I hope for this project.
UCN: It is quite clear to me, and should be to anyone who reads this interview, that you have a passion, not only for our military and especially for the men and women who carry the burden of war with them when they return home, but also for music. I can only imagine that that passion and emotion carries over into live shows. You mentioned a show in Phoenix to correspond with the release of the album; do you have an active tour schedule through the summer and fall, leading up to the album release?
SC: Well thank you, we try hard to stay true to ourselves, the people who support us, and the causes we believe in. And yes, our live shows are what we love the most! Most of us, at least the founders of this group (Mark Erhardt, Ryan “Smitty” Byrnes, and Derek Parnell ) have been doing this together for almost eight years now! And I am sad to say there was a time in my career where I didn’t speak up and wasn’t totally true to who I am…but I was new and had just came from literally fighting to walk so I wanted this dream so bad I was willing to let certain things slide. It got to where I couldn’t look myself in the mirror, I am a lot of things but a sellout isn’t one – LOL, so it was back to the drawing board and we decided to create the album then look for a label and home for us and who we are. So yes, we are currently looking for a label and regrouping our whole team, new management, booking – the whole deal. We are currently on the Leatherneck tour, playing military bases across the country and overseas. This is our second year as part of this great tour. Also we are out with our sponsor Heroes Vodka to help promote responsible drinking among military, young and old. One thing is they wouldn’t send you to combat without training you first; well, drinking is a part of military life and tradition especially the Marines – we were founded in a bar (Tun tavern Pennsylvania 1775) – so these young guys and girls need to learn to be responsible with it, and what better way than the first ever veteran owned liqueur in the world, which gives 30% of all proceeds to our brothers and sisters through AMVETS. But we also have some upcoming shows in the national media spotlight we are very excited about. I don’t want to jinx it but it will be in Phoenix around race time in November.
For more information on Stephen Cochran and his latest project you can visit his facebook page and also his official website http://www.stephencochran.com/ Also, please be sure to visit http://www.buyveteran.com and support veteran owned and operated businesses such as http://www.heroesvodka.com/