An Interview with Will Joseph Cook

“I can listen to a Taylor Swift smasher and know that it’s a great song. Pop usually doesn’t hide what it is, and that’s refreshing. If someone calls you a pop act, it’s like being told that you write good songs.”. Will Joseph Cook, the 18 year old from Tunbridge Wells, doesn’t conform to expectations. Yes, he’s a singer-songwriter who fills his lyrics with tales of his own experiences and emotions, but that doesn’t mean that he thinks pop is a dirty word.

Cook’s initial calling card came with the You Jump I Run EP which was released on London indie label Duly Noted Records. Its lead track Message provided his breakthrough, as it powered to #1 at Hype Machine, reached #2 on the Global Spotify Viral Chart, and received BBC Radio 1 airplay from Phil Taggart. Its enduring popularity has continued to the point where it has accumulated over a million plays across Spotify and YouTube.

Message is about some of Cook’s friends – “People that you want to make new memories with, but they’re constantly focused on everything that happened before,” he explains. “But we’re just getting to the good bit now. School’s shit, you want to get out and do your own thing. People gold-plate the past because they’ve glorified their memories.”

The rest of the EP echoed the success of Message. Both Daisy Chains and Streets of Paris earned further support from Radio 1, while Daisy Chains also topped Hype Machine. Cook’s ability to subvert teenage subject matter also continued. Daisy Chains found him musing on a bad trip, while the unashamedly romantic Streets of Paris offered “a realisation of being happy… It’s a ‘fuck you’ to the usual feelings of teenage angst.”

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When it came to recording a follow-up, Cook teamed up with producer Hugh Worskett (Birdy, Michael Kiwanuka, Rae Morris) in a tiny studio at The Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey. Their sessions would be scheduled around weekends and half-term breaks due to the demands of Cook’s studies. The experience, says Cook, was “a weird juxtaposition of doing a twelve-hour day in the studio on a Sunday, and then going to school and having someone younger than your producer treat you like a little kid.”

Such an episodic creative timetable did have some advantages, however. As both Cook and Worskett would be well aware that their next session together could be weeks away, they’d strive ahead with an urgency that would allow their material to develop from skeletal ideas to fully-fledged songs at a lightning pace.

The result was the Proof Enough EP, which represented his first release for Atlantic Records. Lead track Beach captures Cook’s love of a soaring vocal hook, with his anglicised take on “Weezer and all of those millennial grunge bands” backing a lyrical love story that is set within the confines of Guantánamo Bay.

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Elsewhere, Hearse uses funereal imagery as an analogy for a break-up which unfolded in Cook’s life as he wrote the song, while Minute of Your Time blends a trashy retro-rock riff with his acoustic grooves for a tale of a call centre worker who “has been driven mad by having to pick up the phone the whole time.” By contrast, the title track is stripped down to a voice and a guitar – it’s an intimate aspect of Cook’s sound that he feels is important to demonstrate at this stage of his career.

Inspired by the likes of Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, MGMT and The Eels, Cook first took up guitar at the age of thirteen and played his debut gig a year later. His influences soon expanded to encompass everything from Paul Simon, Darwin Deez and Empire of the Sun via Odd Future, Photek and Bonobo.

Cook has been consistently backed by BBC Introducing. That support led to Cook’s biggest break so far when he played Glastonbury just days after finishing his final exams. It followed a succession of notable live shows including the British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park on a bill that was headlined by The Rolling Stones; the Secret Garden Party; a gig with Tom Odell; and special headline show at the Servant Jazz Quarters.

Will Joseph Cook’s journey is firmly underway. His singular cocktail of pop hooks, richly characteristic lyrics and idiosyncratic inventiveness will send him stratospheric.

Will’s latest single Girls Like Me is available for download now (and you can watch the video below) and by signing up to the mailing list on his website you can get a free download of his You Jump I Run EPWill also has a series of festival appearances coming up in Brighton, London, Gloucester, Kent, and Bude, between May and July.

(Interview with Will Joseph Cook at Stag & Dagger Festival in Glasgow, 01/05/2016)

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