Will Joseph Cook


Will Joseph Cook’s new album, Something To Feel Good About, is the gloriously off-kilter indie-pop follow-up to 2017’s critically-acclaimed debut Sweet Dreamer. While Sweet Dreamer was the soundtrack to a fairly carefree teenage life, album two, written and recorded in LA after a difficult few months, charts the life of a 21-year-old trying to figure shit out. “One of the themes of the record is living an optimistic and loving lifestyle in the shadow of either something big and existential that everyone’s feeling, or just personal worries you’re struggling with,” he explains. That constant tussle between exuberance and pessimism permeates the sunshine melodies of the title track and resides in the underlying hope of first single Driverless Cars, a three minute blast of undulating alt-pop perfection featuring an effortlessly surreal video to match. “This album is about my life from the last year and a bit and Driverless Cars symbolises the starting line” muses Cook. “Musically it was the song that inspired the entire album’s sound, so it felt right for this track to start the story. The lyrics have this very dumb, literal way of expressing a lack of control and clear direction in my life. Surrendering to the fact that a lot of what happens to us is out of our control. It made me laugh when I wrote it, as it’s such a contemporary way of describing a very contemporary feeling.” 

Born and raised in southern England’s Tunbridge Wells, Cook’s musical epiphany happened via instant messenger when a mate sent him Vampire Weekend’s Oxford Comma. Here was a band taking conventional indie guitar music and re-shaping it, pulling in unexpected influences and transforming it into a bright and bold pop songs. They were also one of the bands – Metronomy were another – that Cook bonded over with his dad. “As I got older he started explaining to me more about his past and growing up and being an art student in London and the gigs he’d go to,” Cook explains. “He was now into the same new stuff I was into and so we started going to gigs together every other week.” But there was a problem. “There came a point where I’d watch people on stage and stop enjoying the gig as much because I was like ‘I just want to do that and do what they’re doing’.” At the age of 13 he started playing the guitar. However, after a couple months Cook ditched the guitar lessons, instead turning to Youtube. “Ultimately, they won’t teach you the chords to Time To Pretend,” he laughs, “and I didn’t want to learn to play Eric Clapton riffs.” 

Once he had the chords down he started to write songs, drifting in and out of school bands before ending up solo because he was the only one passionate enough to stick it out. That creative drive, he says, came from his parents. “My mum’s an artist and my dad was a set maker, so they’re both self-employed, and they both almost did something not creative but then followed their heart.” Doing something not creative was never an option for Cook. “Me and a mate Finn would go to certain places and perform, like break into my school at night and go up on the roof and film the session there,” he laughs. From there he went on to record his debut EP You Jump I Run with producer Hugh Worskett (Rae Morris, Crystal Fighters) and things properly started to take off, scoring three number ones on Hype Machine. The release of his debut album Sweet Dreamer followed, ‘bursting with energy & charm’ and ‘infectious melodies’, it mostly dealt with the tumult and technicolour of teenage romance, and its success across the board demonstrated his ability to take the seemingly mundane and imbue it with tragicomic significance. 

Following the busy period of Sweet Dreamer, and at his manager’s insistence, Cook took some time off and went travelling with that same friend who’d recorded his outdoor YouTube sessions. “There were definitely some realisations on that trip, as clichéd as that is,” he says with a smile. The trip also coincided with falling in love with an album that would change everything. After meeting a girl at SXSW in 2016, she sent him Head, an album by her friend Eric Radloff, who records as Okudaxij. “It’s a singer-songwriter album but the kind I always wanted one to be,” he says. “It felt like an early-twenties dude living right now trying to work everything out. It didn’t feel like old tropes of what it means to be a young man, it just felt current yet classic at the same time, it really struck a chord with me.” After his trip Cook decided he wanted to go to LA so he messaged Radloff out of the blue and ended up staying with him for three weeks.

During this stint he had a chance encounter with writer-producer Matt Parad, who would also become a main collaborator as they worked on what would become album two. 

For Something To Feel Good About he knew he wanted to try and capture an energy. “With this one I had the privilege of being able to record it in short creative bursts, so I spent about two months making the record in total, but in two week chunks in LA or London.” There’s also a sense now that the music’s caught up with what he was trying to do on his debut, with Something To Feel Good About becoming a refinement of that first album’s sound but centred around a more emotional core. Despite its joyous exteriors, every song on this album is underscored with a melancholic gratitude, highlighting just how fragile good times can be. There’s also a definite ‘day and night’ feel to the track listing; the first half of the album expresses a very present, and hedonistic rush of feelings with songs like Something To Feel Good About, Driverless Cars and opening track Be Around Me, a dizzying spin of refined indie guitar pop. Plucking on newly strung heartstrings, the song explores the enamoured thoughts of two young lovers. “Falling for someone really does feel like just that, especially if you’ve been hurt before” says Cook. “It’s exciting and thrilling but also feels like this massive risk. The lyrics become more and more vulnerable the deeper you get into the song, and that’s exactly how new relationships feel.” 

While emotions are supercharged through these upbeat opening tunes, the latter half of the album is more sobering and reflective. The song DOWNDOWNDOWN!, an angst ridden ‘end of the night’ waltz, displays a captivating clash between gooey aesthetics and stark lyrical vulnerability. “It’s about dealing with heartbreak and disassociating with the decisions you make in the wake of it.” he explains “The chorus masquerades as a kind of hook-up anthem, whereas the verses are a lot more introspective. I loved the duality of something so superficial meeting something deeply emotional. Elsewhere the ballad 21 attempts to capture a more shared existential crisis (“I don’t know anyone who’s 21 and knows how to feel” he croons at one point). “That’s a big moment from the album. That’s me doing my best to explain through a song where I’m at and where my friends are at.” 

In Last Year, the album finale, Cook’s feelings are laid bare with a stark vulnerability. “It’s a letter written to myself, a perspective I’d never explored before. It felt like the perfect way to sign off the record.” In many ways a sense of searching for answers forms the heart of Something To Feel Good About, in way that continues Cook’s passion for idiosyncratic pop melodies but underscores it all with real heart. “I can communicate with music better than I did before,” he says. “I knew what sounded good, and what I liked to do melodically, but then in terms of something with an emotional connection that’s happened more on this album. Releasing through my own label Bad Hotel has also been really exciting, it’s definitely opened a lot of doors to more creativity and self-expression.” So what are his hopes for it now that he’s an independent artist who’s poured more of himself into the songs? “I care about what this album says a lot more. It feels like more of a pure and vulnerable expression of what I want to do. I’m hoping some 21-year-old comes up to me and says ‘that’s totally how I’m feeling now’.” He smiles. “I want it to resonate with people.”


photo credit: Sophie Holden

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