- Words Solly Warner
Singer-songwriter Will Joseph Cook is back to give us what we’re all so desperate for - 'Something To Feel Good About'.
Born and raised in southern England’s Tunbridge Wells, Will Joseph Cook is one of the UK’s brightest young talents. Still just 23 years old, Will has been developing his uniquely multi-dimensional song-writing since he was just 14. From signing his first record deal aged 17 to releasing his debut album in 2017 and a follow up EP barely six months later, Will took some time away from music to go travelling after a few hectic years. This gave the singer-songwriter some needed time to reset before settling back down to write the batch of songs that form his second album.
“Something To Feel Good About” is a wonderfully off-kilter indie-pop follow-up to Will’s critically-acclaimed debut “Sweet Dreamer”. While the first album acted as a soundtrack to a fairly carefree teenage life, album two, written and recorded in LA after a few difficult months, charts the life of a young man trying to figure it all out. In many ways, a sense of searching for answers forms the heart of the new album. Despite the joyous exteriors, every song is underscored with a melancholic gratitude, highlighting just how fragile good times can be.
With the freedom of releasing via his own label, “Bad Hotel” Will decided to give his fans some positive news, in a year that has been difficult for us all, by sharing the most feelgood, upbeat and positive tracks from the new album first so that they could be enjoyed in the late summer sunshine. Part One of “Something To Feel Good About” contains the classic dancefloor filler “Be Around Me”, along with the album’s title track, the dizzying “Driverless Cars” and three more fresh tracks. “Be Around Me” has particularly gained a huge online presence over the last couple months. Since its release, the music video has received over 1 million views on YouTube and the track has been blowing up on TikTok, with use of the sound growing tremendously and currently being used as the soundtrack to over 890k videos.
“DOWNDOWNDOWN!” was the first single to be released from Part Two of the album; giving an insight into how the second half differs. The track discusses the decisions you make when you’re reeling from a bad breakup. The music video visualises these emotions beautifully with Will teaming up with short film maker and YouTuber Bertie Gilbert again after collaborating on the video for “Be Around Me”.
Notion caught up with Will to chat about some of the new territories he discovered when creating this album, where he plans to take his label next, and how he’s already thinking about the next project.
First of all, I wanted to say congrats on the new album ‘Something To Feel Good About’. What has the initial reaction to Part One been like?
It has been good, but it has also been filled with unexpected little twists and turns on when things have happened on it. But yeah, it’s been good! I think I was, in the initial two singles, it felt like there was a context to what I was doing that would be given through the album that I was very much eager to share with people. I wanted them to consume it at least as this whole Part One. So, I think things clicked into gear once we’d got out of the single phase and people could consume it as one thing, and we had all the weird Tik Tok stuff with “Be Around Me”.
Was releasing the album in two parts always the plan or is that something that happened quite out of the blue and spontaneously?
It was something that I was pushing for, for a while. Because I do it independently, through Bad Hotel, which is pretty much me, my management and a couple other team members on marketing. You can be a lot nimbler and more open to creative ways of putting stuff out. Even though it’s not unheard of, I feel like there’s still so many barriers for any ideas if you’re on a label, because they have stuff like week 1 stats to give a f**k about. Whereas to me that felt completely irrelevant. I was pushing the people that I work with…If we put out an album in a traditional way, it’s kinda like you have two weeks of noise, if you’re lucky, and then the cycle moves on. It’s not dragging it out. I think it’s more allowing people to digest each song fairly. I wanted each track to get its moment in the sun so that’s why I did it. Also, when the track listing came together that was when I was like “oh this is so clearly an album of two halves: a brighter, spur of the moment side A, and a more melancholic, reflective side B”. Releasing them separately one at the end of summer and the other at the start of winter, I felt really helped tell that story.
With this project, what are some of the biggest changes musically from your debut album ‘Sweet Dreamer’?
I would say that for me, writing this album was very much based around re-centering to my guitar and taking a bit more of a minimalist approach. The first album felt quite maximalist. I had been given access to a bunch of Prophet synths and Junos and “oh you can do this”, and production as a field was really new and exciting. So, I wanted to do a lot of experimentation with that, which I don’t have any regrets about. But I think fundamentally I started out as a singer-songwriter and I get a lot of the rhythm and the general feel and craft of a song. I do that best on a guitar and a lot of these songs, pretty much all of them, came from guitar and if not, that came from writing them on piano, so they were a lot more centered to where I started. Which I actually found was really nice. I feel like this record sounds a lot more like me as a person than anything I’ve done before.
Amazing! So, would you say you have a favourite track on the new album? Is there one that speaks to you the most or is it too difficult to pick one?
Well, I mean they all hit differently but that is something I really enjoyed about this album. But I would say probably the ones that are most exciting for me to still listen to are…I really enjoy “DOWNDOWNDOWN!” That was new territory for me musically and in terms of how I was expressing the topic that I was on about. I feel like, for me personally I don’t ever really get angry. I’m not very outward with that stuff and that means I end up not processing it and not really dealing with it. Not to get too deep on it but when I listen to that I feel proud of it, that I managed to get out an emotion of anger but in a way that made sense for me as an artist that I don’t look at and regret. Because usually if I ever write a song in the heat of the moment or about a negative experience, I usually hate it and I just feel like no one should care, it just doesn’t speak to me. Whereas this one I was writing in a more reflective place months after what I was writing about and it felt very concise and expressive.
That song comes with a really interesting music video as well. I know you teamed up with your friend Bertie Gilbert on that, like you did for “Be Around Me”. What was that creative process like? Did you have lots of ideas visually going in or did you let Bertie take the reins on that one?
How that relationship came about I feel is good context for it. I’ve been a fan of Bertie for years. He’s the same age as me, he’s 23, but I have literally been subbed to his YouTube channel since I was 14. I remember being 14 or 15 and seeing that he filmed one of his mates in London doing an acoustic session and I remember DM’ing him being like “can I come on your channel please?” and nothing ever came of it haha. But then a few years later he came across my music and we followed each other, he came on my podcast and then when it came around to this album I was like “I’d love to do this with Bertie”. So, it’s like the longest collaboration process ever! It’s been in the wings for some time!
Yeah! Around 8/9 years or so?
Yeah! Like all the best relationships, right? But yeah, in terms of the video ideas he very much came forthright with the simple concepts of it but my brief to him was that I wanted to go for something simple, personable. We both agreed that we really like simple, very literal, physical prop-based things. So on “Be Around Me” you know it’s like the whole video is spinning so it’s pretty down the line and then on “DOWNDOWNDOWN!” we both really enjoyed the practical prop of the door and descending into the night. I was well pleased with that prop man! I made that.
Awesome. Yeah, it looks great man. So, you touched on it just before, Bad Hotel is the name of your own label. I just wanted to know, did the name come from a particularly bad experience and can you tell us some of the benefits behind being an independent artist?
Yeah sure. So, the name I had jotted it down on a note pad ages ago when I was putting my first EP together but ended up doing it through a different indie called “Duly Noted”. It was just a name that had a nice ring to it and the first thing where it materialised into something was, I started it as a podcast. I liked it as a name for that because we would have different guests on the podcast, and it allowed it to be a bit sh*t and like wrap around the edges. I dunno. It’s not that riddled with meaning other than that. I really like the logo of it, this bungalow on fire. As I had built the podcast brand up a little bit, I was like “this actually makes a lot of sense to expand this into a label” and then it has these cool alumni of guests that are associated with it. I hope it doesn’t look too confusing from the outside as to what I’m going for on it. But I just wanted it to be an umbrella under which a lot of my creative relationships can live. Because I think when you’re a solo artist it can very much be the “me show” the whole time and it doesn’t open that many doors to collaboration. Because it’s like “oh do you want to come on the Will Joseph Cook podcast?” It’s a bit more like them co-signing everything about me. Whereas Bad Hotel gives a bit of detachment and they can feel a bit of ownership over whatever that is as well.
That’s a really interesting idea.
Yeah. You can see what I’m doing, it’s nothing that crazy, as in lots of artists now do a distribution deal and they’ll function under essentially their own label, but they’ll just put their artist name there. I dunno. I wanted to have something that had scope for a bit more ambition and that could be a production house, or it could be a studio space at some port or something like that.
So, are you hoping for any other artists to join in and start on the label in the future?
Yeah, I’d love to! I think my immediate goals with it is to continue to release my stuff under its imprint to build its profile and give people a reason to care about it. Then when gigs come back around, I feel like the logical thing will be the “Bad Hotel club night” where I can do a residency myself and then have different support acts each time and then we can theme that up a bit. I feel like that could be really cool! And then maybe some of those artists, if they were putting out their first EPs or something like that, I’d love to do that.
That sounds great. With the creation of an album, what would you say your favourite part is? Is it the intimate studio sessions, finally hearing the finished product, or is it the performing?
I would say the magic is when the arrangement is complete, so before it’s gone to mix. Just that moment when it suddenly clicks into gear and you’re like “oh this is the record!” The DNA of it is complete. Everything after that is less in your control, you know what I mean? That moment is very pure and it’s just about me and the song, so I think I like it for that. It’s so full of potential that’s not unravelled yet and I feel like that’s always so exciting isn’t it? When your mind runs wild about “oh imagine playing this live” or what the video could be like or “imagine what the album around this could be like” you know what I mean? That moment is so pure and then you almost have to sacrifice the purity of that feeling to get it finally out to people.
For sure. I know that you enjoy connecting at the live shows and I saw you did a live performance on YouTube fairly recently. When this is all over and we can go back to some normality, is there a venue that you would most like to play at first?
I think I would prefer to do a smaller venue but do a few nights in a row there. Just to get back into the swing of things. You do get that unrivalled intimacy don’t you with a smaller venue. But I think somewhere like The Garage would be really cool, in Islington. Do you know that place?
Yes, I think I do.
It’s like 600 cap but there’s great sound, it’s easy for everyone to get to and I dunno I’ve just seen a lot of great shows there. But then hopefully, the dream one to do, I’d really love to do a Roundhouse.
Is that up there on the list?
Yeah, maybe around Autumn next year if everything goes great that would be cool.
The residency? The Bad Hotel at The Roundhouse?
We could drop some fresh banners down the side of the building.
That sounds perfect haha. Now we know times have be strange over these past few months, but I see you’re very active on social media with things like TikTok and Instagram and Twitter. How has it been for you being able to maintain a connection with your fans?
I would say, weirdly I have found it easier than ever before and I think part of that is through doing it out of, initially, an element of necessity as to what else do you do? But then also I think I feel like I’ve grown a bit as a person and maybe understand with this record there feels like more purpose to why I’m doing it. There’s quite a clear mission objective as to why I’m making music now and what I want it to be for people. I feel like if you have a certainty in who you are and what you’re trying to say then suddenly putting yourself out there, whether it’s on social media or whatever platform you’re doing, it suddenly becomes a lot, lot easier because there’s no identity crisis going on. I feel like a lot of artists do actually struggle with that, especially if you’re young, everyone is like “well what do you stand for, what are you about, what are you trying to do?” and you’re like “I don’t know? I was in school yesterday”.
Some people hit it earlier than others, but I think it just took me a minute to feel comfortable with who I am and how I put myself across. The key with it is I just try…you know how people have “finstas” and sh*t where they are more themselves. I was like, I really like my finsta so why don’t I…
Get on that vibe?
Yeah! I just thought what’s the point in having this duality. I feel like it’s easy to get bummed out that “no one gets you” and people don’t get your sense of humour or when you do come to social media there’s a disconnect between what people expect and what you then give. If you’re just more upfront with that from the beginning, then the whole thing is a lot smoother and it feels a bit less depressing.
Definitely, definitely. It leads me into my next question. Again, it’s been a tough time for creative people especially trying to produce work, but it has allowed for some positive, beneficial time away from constantly creating. Have you been able to discover any new interests or hobbies during the past few months?
Ummm. I bought some rollerblades. That was great. I got into roller-skating but that was a bit more of a summer activity. Weirdly I always loved ice-skating and was good at that. Not out of doing it regularly, like I’m not trying to brag, it is just weird when suddenly I ice-skated for the first time and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. So, I was like I need to replicate this on solid ground you know? But to be honest man, these have been some of the most productive months for me ever. I don’t mean that…I feel like everyone’s experience of this has been completely different. I found it quite comforting. There weren’t as many distractions and the usual pressures of touring. I’ve always found it hard to find rhythm with my touring because I’m independent, I’m a solo artist, which means touring is really expensive and there’s a huge amount of pressure to even make them plausible and make them happen. So, in a way I was like “thank god!” I can focus entirely on making the videos, finishing this album and actually giving the premotion of the record and the online presence actual meaning and depth, and focusing on that for once rather than just seeing it as a necessary evil or something that I don’t want to do but I have to do it. So, I think for me it was just working out new ways of connecting with people and that was the main focus of this time for me.
To wrap up I’d just like to ask, what do the next few months have in store for Will Joseph Cook or is that an impossible question to answer right now?
I have a few vague plans that are obviously world dependent. But I mean some exciting stuff has come out of the back of Part One and it seems to be that people are paying attention in the industry a little bit more and there’s been some opportunities in The States from the TikTok things. Its oddly quite an exciting time and then there’s all of these barriers up that feel like they’re maybe going to slow me down. But I feel like I’m going to power through it. So, I want to go back out to LA, where I made this record, catch up with my buddy Matt, who I made the record with, and probably quarantine with him in the new year and make the next thing. Upon principle…I had one show, one socially distanced show that was for this year and that was meant to happen last Thursday, the day lockdown started. I was very apprehensive about it, even announcing it to begin with and was like, “I don’t think we should be doing this” but then the promoter just announced it anyway. But I think based off that experience I’m just not going to announce until its fully legal and I know that the show will happen. I’m not going to waste fan’s time by saying “oh February tour!” or something like that. We shall see.
But exciting things to come I’m sure.
I just want to get busy with the next project! I’d love to continue the collaborations that worked. Like, if Bertie still wants to make sh*t then I will do more stuff as well.
Just keep that rhythm going, I guess.
Yeah, exactly! I’m feeling inspired so I may as well.
Perfect! Awesome! Right well thank you so much for speaking to me today. I wish you all the best with the album and any future projects on the way.
Sure man. Thank you.