Something To Feel Good About, the title of Will Joseph Cook’s splendidly vivid new album, is something we could all need right now.
But for the 23-year-old, it’s a defiant statement – a chapter of optimism as he overcomes a personally difficult period and looks forward with heady positivity.
“I wrote it because it’s very defiantly optimistic rather than a throwaway ‘hey, this is something to feel good about’”, Will told Daily Star Online. “It was something to feel good about in spite of everything. The songwriting theme across all of them is maybe tackling not the happiest situations but finding the thing that is most joyous within that, or focusing on the positive that’s come of it.”
It’s a brave but justified and rewarding step for the rising London-based talent following the release of his acclaimed indie pop debut Sweet Dreamer in 2017.
Dropped over two parts via his own Bad Hotel label, Something To Feel Good About is a snapshot of an artist growing in confidence and breaking boundaries with his songwriting themes.
Written and recorded between LA and London, the songs are darker, more personal, but lose none of the dynamic pop sensibilities that make Cook one of the UK’s most promising acts.
It saw him delve into The Eels’ Beautiful Freak and Darwin Deez’s debut record for sonic inspiration, resulting in blossoming tracks like album opener Be Around Me and the sun-soaked, sun-soaked single Driverless Cars.
Its second half winds into more tender, heartfelt moments as he puts his vulnerabilities to the fore across DOWNDOWNDOWN!, Boundary Street and poignant closer Last Year, while retaining a comforting sense of hope.
“The shift in my songwriting style on this album was trying to make it a lot more personal and a lost more honest and biographical”, he adds. “That was spawned out of hearing a few albums that when I was feeling not so great, they were real guiding lights for me. I really appreciated hearing other artists speak in a frank and modern context, of certain feelings or experiences. I wanted to offer that to someone.”
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown sat down with Cook to talk about Something To Feel Good About’s writing and recording process, overcoming challenges, its influences, his independent label Bad Hotel, and his evolution.
Hi Will. How would you sum up your 2020? How’ve you dealt with lockdown and the challenges it may have brought?
“It’s been a mixed bag. Relatively for me it’s been fine. It’s just not been what I expected. I was pessimistic to begin with. I didn’t think it was going to be over as quickly as people would have liked it to be. I feel that early on I gave up on the idea of touring and thought about other cool ideas I could do.
“I was doing these monologue videos and extra bit of content that add colour to what I’m trying to say with the album. I would say overall it’s been pretty good. It’s had some unexpected things, like one of the songs went viral off the album, which is cool. It’s been alright.”
Have you enjoyed the different paths of creativity that’s come with lockdown?
“For the title track, Something To Feel Good About, that was the music video that had to be made in the heart of lockdown. Me and my girlfriend shot it respectively on our phones and the video is in split screen. The whole thing is a FaceTime call. Things like that were pretty sweet, having to lean into a concept you weren’t anticipating. It put a song into a new light.”
You’re about to release your second album Something To Feel Good About. What was its writing and recording process like? When it you start the process?
“I’ve been working on it for the best part of two years. When it finally clicked it came together pretty quickly. I did most of it in 2019 over two and half months in between here and Los Angeles, which is where the producer and collaborator Matt Parad lives.
“I liked having it compartmentalised. If you go somewhere else to record, there is no distractions. You’re inspired by a new surrounding.
“When I was recording it, probably two months to make it. The songs are about the last two months of my life.”
Do you think there are vibes of London and LA within the record?
“Totally. I think the more upbeat tunes are definitely in America. 2019 was a fairly difficult year for me. When you were asking about 2020, compared to last year I actually way prefer it as things personal to me went wrong. It was a happy escape for me to go somewhere else and to make music, to leave the woes of whatever bulls*** you get tied up in.
“The more upbeat tracks, like the title track, reminds me of that first trip to LA.”
You mentioned about last year being a difficult and the album is called Something To Feel Good About. Was that a name you thought of on purpose?
“Yeah definitely. I wrote it because it’s very defiantly optimistic rather than a throwaway ‘hey, this is something to feel good about’. It was something to feel good about in spite of everything.
"The songwriting theme across all of them is maybe tackling not the happiest situations but finding the thing that is most joyous within that, or focusing on the positive that’s come of it.
“For me it was a lot more of a tool making this album. When I was younger, I was making music for the sheer fun of it. Not that it wasn’t void of meaning. On this record there was a lot more utility to it and getting emotions out, trying to tie things up more.
“Once I’d written a song about something, it puts it to bed a bit. Almost as if when you’d write it down in a diary or a journal. It’s a similar feeling.”
From an artist’s point of view, do you hope what you write about resonates with the listener?
“That’s the main goal of it. The shift in my songwriting style on this album was trying to make it a lot more personal and a lost more honest and biographical. That was spawned out of hearing a few albums that, when I was feeling not so great, were real guiding lights for me.
"I really appreciated hearing other artists speak in a frank and modern context, of certain feelings or experiences. I wanted to offer that to someone. I wanted to speak on a perspective that someone might not have been hearing in average pop music. I hope this album does for other people what those albums did for me.”
What was it like getting into the mindset of putting personal experiences and feelings into song form? Was it something you embraced or were there challenges you had to overcome?
“There’s definitely a discomfort to it. There’s a track called DOWNDOWNDOWN! and probably the most unflinching is the album closer Last Year. They’re about problems that are still present. I lost three family members in 2019 really abruptly. Putting it into music, I remember playing it to my family and they weren’t sure if I should write about it just yet. They don’t feel that now. Maybe it’s that rawness that’s sometimes a bit uncomfortable. You don’t really know to feel about it.
“It’s a good place to be creatively. If your head’s just above water, that’s usually where you’re making something of meaning. I feel like it’s one of those songs that might not be everyone’s favourite track on the album or might not vibe with it, but if people do it will be their favourite.”
Now that you’ve tackled such difficult subjects, do you think it’s made you stronger as a songwriter and grown creatively?
“Definitely. It gave way more meaning to what I was doing because I think you can assume that writing just about your own experiences of something can feel a little bit egocentric. The truth of it is we’ve all experienced similar things and you always tell your own story way better than someone else’s.
"When I’m writing about something that’s actually happened to me, it’s looking at this really detailed coloured painting. It’s not a stress to think about what the word should be, you’re literally trying to explain a run of events. The story’s laid out for you.
“It’s was a breath of fresh air. I can write about these things and it felt easier. You’re not there thinking of where the song will end. You’re thinking of where the story ends.”
Were there any artists in particular that you were listening to that impacted you?
“I came back to some of my favourite classic albums, some of the ones that got me making music in the first place. One of them were The Eels’ debut Beautiful Freak. I came back to that. Even that was a production reference for me. I love how he’s done the sample drums on it.
“The Darwin Deez’s debut record is such a classic for me. It was one of the first things that got me into playing guitar.
“One of the most pivotal was an artist called Okudaxij who is a collaborator on this record. He’s playing keys and we finished up some of the tunes together. He was the whole reason I went to LA to begin with. He was a friend of a friend. His music is not well known at all, which is such a crime. I fell in love with his record. It really does epitomise that direct lyrical style. Where you’re saying it how it is and how it happened, even if it feels embarrassing or weird. His honesty in lyrics is a massive inspiration to me.
“He’s from LA. He’s a friend of a friend. Have you heard of a band called Muna? Their album Saves the World was a big influence on this one again. He was a friend of theirs and I got introduced to them through that. I sent him a Twitter DM saying ‘man, this album has resonated with me so much’. Some really gushy DM. We became friends over Twitter and after a month or so I said I might go over to LA. He let me sofa surf at his house for three weeks and we made some tunes together. That was how I met everyone I know in LA as well.”
From a DM it spiralled…
“It was very spontaneous! The same goes for the producer I met on the trip – Matt – who I did a lot of work with on the record. Both those guys hooked me up so good. They let me stay at theirs. We chilled and made music.”
Do you think you’ll take what you’ve learned from the process of Something To Feel Good About looking ahead to your next material?
“I think the spontaneity and gumption to do that trip. You can spend a lot of time in music waiting for opportunities to appear.
"In between albums you should be listening to and seeking out stuff that inspires you. I think I’d always been quite shy about collaboration. Because of my first album I was a young teenage artist signed to this pop label and I assumed that everyone would think that I didn’t write my own tunes. I was very fervently ‘I’m going to write this album in absolute isolation’, which I don’t necessarily regret because you learn a lot by doing that.
“I became a lot more confident in what I create that collaboration is such a joy, working with a bunch of sick people that you admire, rather than people you’ve been set up with by a label.
“Moving forward I’m a lot more open to collaboration and moving to other people.”
Stylistically and sonically it’s extremely varied. From the up tempo Be Around and the more acoustic driven, blossoming Something To Feel Good About, to the darker DOWNDOWNDOWN! and stripped back but huge sounding Boundary Street. Do you enjoy delving into different paths with your output?
“I always gravitate towards that duality. The Eels do that so well. There are all kinds of range. Often his saddest songs are the ones that sound the most happy anyway.
"In terms of my tone, lyrically and artistically, it doesn’t feel I’m jumping too far around. If you are a singer-songwriter it’s always geared around the central thing of your voice and lyrics, the topics you’ve used to talk about.
“This album was definitely full of sonic exploration. What’s been useful about it was seeing what I enjoyed the most. That’s given what I imagine the next thing I do more focus sonically.
"I released this album in two halves, and that was part of this idea of that fans of the first album know me for more upbeat indie pop, so I wanted to deliver that on the first half, which is still part of my identity. Then I wanted to explore something that people wouldn’t expect, move into those darker songs with more sombre topics. There’s a disconnect that I didn’t get across, I didn’t know how to express the more difficult things when I was younger.
“This album was, in many ways, a transitional thing for me. Allowing me to move forward and try different things in the future without it being some sort of sudden gear shift.”
Has that come with the decision to start the independent label Bad Hotel?
“I think so much about what went right about this album wouldn’t have been able to happen had every decision been democratised, and the usual politics of a label. If you’re doing it independently, you pick your own priorities.
"I had certain creative ideas on how I wanted people to actually listen to the music. Doing it in two parts, the amount of visuals you do for it, the time frame it comes out.
"What major labels obsess over is ‘what did it do in week one?’ or ‘have we broken into the top 10?’. I feel like that doesn’t matter anymore. From a sales perspective, why would you want it to all happen in one week? You want it to be relevant for longer than that.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed that doing it through Bad Hotel. On the creative stuff, you're your own gatekeeper.”
The album art is quite striking as well. What was the idea behind it?
“I did it with two of my friends. The preliminary illustration was with by good friend Billy Smith Morris, who is a really good artist, and then with a friend called Tom, who is more on Photoshop and turned it into a proper artwork thing.
"In terms of the concept, there’s a limbo to it. I wanted it to look overly dramatic. I find that putting your every day life and experience into songs, it’s a massive dramatisation of it. You’re making something that feels so average to you or a normal life into this fanfare. I wanted it to be a bit extra. When you’re working with cartoonists, you may as well make something you would never be able to shoot in real life.
"It’s about that transitionary phase of not feeling up or down, just caught in the middle of all of this positive emotion but more difficult things as well going on around you. He’s got his eyes closed on the artwork because I wanted it to feel what’s going on in the head.”
Have you got any plans for Bad Hotel?
“The label started out when I was writing other stuff besides music. I started a podcast interviewing other young creatives, everything from filmmakers to DJs, or a music photographer. The story of how they’d get into it is always so random. When I was a teenager or when you’re at uni, you’re wondering how the f*** people get these cool jobs because there aren’t degrees that certify you a pop star or whatever.
"It started out as a podcast where we’d talk to different creatives. It built up a nice creative alumni. The director I worked with on this campaign for the music videos, I became friends with him through the podcast. When it came to releasing the album, I knew I wanted to do it through my own distribution.
“In terms of the future and when live shows are a thing, I think it would be sick to do a Bad Hotel club night or even a residency, even if it’s just a few shows where I play a residency with different support acts each time.”
How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist since dropping your debut EP?
“The main thing that everything stems from is confidence in what you’re doing and understanding the timeline of how things happen better. For new artists, and especially if you’re on a big label, there’s this fetishisation of the first album. Like ‘at the tender age 18 they have a top 10 album’. There’s this huge pressure that things have to happen – everything has to be a public step forward regardless of whether it’s the right thing for you to do.
"They would rather put on a show that’s too big for you, rather than putting on something cool that you’d feel comfortable playing in that’s right for your fans.
“Now I know what the process of putting album out is. If you want a career out of it and want to make music for a long time, you can just chill and make appropriate decisions along the way.
“Also that confidence of being able to write about my own life in a succinct and direct way. That comes with age. How can you expect a 17-year-old to have that s*** together and crush it first time around?”.
Are you already thinking ahead of where you can take this? Do you have an ultimate goal?
“How we put this album out in this indie way, it wasn’t focused on the UK as the primary market. That never made sense to me anyway. We started lots of conversations and promos around the world. I have relationships with fans in Brazil, Philippines, Mexico and the US. I would love to go and actually materialise all of that, do some shows in places I’ve never been before.
“In terms of direct plans, I wrote most of this album over a year ago. For me, creatively I’ve had enough time to digest some life and I feel inspired to get writing again. I want to move pretty swiftly, hopefully next summer for another project. We’ll see.
"Everything that’s happened has been a little bit of a surprise and on the fly this year. I’m sure next year will be no different.”
Will Joseph Cook's new album Something To Feel Good About is out now via Bad Hotel
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