Feeling a bit glum? Will Joseph Cook has the answer.
Words: Jamie Muir. Photos: Liam Evans.
There’s a silence as Will Joseph Cook sits in his front room. He’s reflecting on the past few years of his life, where time passed, and in turn, he had to face questions about himself and what to do next. Life-changing events hitting with added force as he traversed that period between being a teenager and being a young adult. There’s a whole load to unpack as he reflects on the road that led to new album, ‘Something To Feel Good About’ – but there’s something he needs to tackle head-on first. “Look, we’re going to have to talk about the elephant in the room here… the moustache.”
Thick in plumage, its growth can be (sort of) tied to Will’s own personal journey over the past three years. Since dazzling his way into frame with debut ‘Sweet Dreamer’, Will Joseph Cook has been through a fair bit. A ride that found him not necessarily trying to work out what music he should make next, but who he even was as a person.
“I was 20 years old at the end of that run on the first album. I’d committed so much to music that I hadn’t really done as much personal stuff in my life,” he explains. A whirlwind of making music, releasing music, moving on to the next step up and then going again became a cycle that left little room for much else. “I think I was in crisis like, what do people call it? A quarter-life crisis? Yeah, I had one of those, but just nudged it forward a bit.
“I’d be thinking, ‘oh I should be doing this’ or ‘where am I going?’ It felt like I’d been on this motorway since I was 15 where all these things are constantly happening, and it becomes bewildering because you’ve never done it before. I’d committed everything I had to music. All my eggs were in one basket. I needed to grow up and develop a life outside of just music because I hadn’t explored all this other stuff in life that I’d see my friends doing.”
It didn’t feel like jumping into a second album right away was the right thing to do for Will. ‘Sweet Dreamer’ was an opening scrapbook of teenage diaries, packed with different stories and messages overlapping one another across its full collection. To have something else to say, Will needed to actually have those life experiences he’d long been turning away from – not because of neglect or choice, but because his sole focus had been music from an early age.
“If you want to write some work of substance and if you want to really figure out what you’re trying to say, it does require you stepping back for a moment, and that feeling can be quite alienating,” he admits. “I think a lot of young artists, especially now because you’re encouraged to be active the whole time, I think a lot are just shit-scared to be like – actually, I’m gonna think about what I want to do’.”
What Will couldn’t have foreseen is the range of events that were to come. ‘Something To Feel Good About’ – released in two parts – comes together as a biographical diary of Will’s past couple of years. Direct, unflinching in places and sharper than anything he’s created so far – it’s an honest look at every shape and impact that came into his life, one that never pulls back.
“I didn’t have that much shit on the first album. Y’know, you kinda stumble into a debut album. Nobody had broken my heart properly, I hadn’t lost anyone in my life, I hadn’t lived independently. Those tracks on the first album, there are songs there that were written by a 14-year-old, so it feels really weird to look back on that after writing this album. It felt like a stark difference to me, in particular, what the songs mean to me. There’s almost more on the line with these tracks which feels nice.”
While ripping himself open in a lot of ways, it’s an album underpinned by optimism. That out of life’s most difficult moments, a brighter day can emerge. “It wasn’t a really pleasant two years for me…” Will admits, taking a moment to recall those moments. “They were formative, but there were a lot of difficult things happening. I found it interesting looking at it and being like oh, I feel good listening to this record now. It can be really empowering to take bad experiences or difficult feelings and then put them into something that is really defiantly joyous. Not necessarily happy but just hopeful and seeing the best in a situation and learning from it instead of just wallowing. That’s why I wanted [‘Something To Feel Good About’] to be the title. In spite of everything… wait – I’m basically explaining what silver linings are aren’t I?!”
“In the same way that skinny dipping is freeing, there’s the risk people are going to see all your bits”WILL JOSEPH COOK
Born out of different iterations and a few near-completed moments, things began to click into place after Will connected with another artist’s directness. With ‘Driverless Cars’ sitting as a blueprint of sorts for what he wanted to do next, a simple music recommendation from a friend pointed him in the direction of the exact sound he wanted. In Eric Radloff and his lo-fi Okudaxij project (think short and sharp indie-songwriter vibes with tracks running two minutes long with no flab), Will found exactly how he wanted to communicate his feelings to the world.
“I rinsed this Okudaxij album – like it was so unguarded and felt like the antithesis of the things that were bothering me about music and not being able to get my words out right.” A Twitter DM later, Will was out in LA staying with Eric and producer Matt Parad forming the basis of what would become ‘Something To Feel Good About’. Over the course of a few months and bursts of trips between London and LA, exactly what Will wanted to get across was down on an album that leaps and bounds above ‘Sweet Dreamer’. “Ultimately, there was a feeling of being able to be a lot more direct with this album.”
The results are an album that, despite being released in two parts, offer up a collective release for Will. The spritely joy of the title track, the gleaming ‘Driverless Cars’, the confident wink of ’10X MORE FUN’ and dreamy landscape of ‘Wayside’ are met with the raw emotion of’ 21′, the bopping ride of romance and heartbreak in ‘DOWNDOWNDOWN!’ and the captivating honesty of ‘Boundary Street’ and ‘Where Is My Heart’.
The album’s frankest moments may be saved for closer ‘Last Year’, it’s unfiltered truth sounding like Will breaking himself apart for the world to hear, without any pretension or mask.
“The opening line of that is ‘last year, your grandparents died’ – it’s so straight up,” Will explains. “I lost three family members in the space of 12 months, and prior to that, I hadn’t really experienced that. It was obviously worse for my parents and watching them go through it, and you know what it’s like, it trickles into your whole world. I remember playing it to my management, and everyone’s initial reaction was quite jarred by it, like it was so honest it was a conversation about whether it should go into a song. But it happened, and it’s a cathartic moment, to be able to put that down in a song so you can process it.”
It shines a light on a new Will Joseph Cook. One who through living life and experiencing the highs and lows it can bring, has come out the other side as an artist who sees music in a brand new light. “I think I had always enjoyed music, but I hadn’t needed it,” he states. “That’s the main difference between who I was then and who I am now. I see a lot more emotional context now of what music can do for you, because I was in a vulnerable place and listened to records that spoke to me about niche feelings, or spoke about things from a perspective that I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone else on. As I’ve got older, I have more things to say in general and more thoughts on stuff, so it feels more vital for me as a tool to get my brain across to people.”
Releasing such honesty must be nerve-wracking though, right? “In the same way that skinny dipping is freeing, it’s exhilarating and feels good to have this big release, but there’s also the risk people are going to see you naked and can see all your bits,” smiles Will. “But all the best things in life are full of risk, and that’s where the meaningful art is. That discomfort, that limbo, that uncertainty – that’s the place you want to get to. On this album, those songs felt like that in a fragile moment where I needed to get ideas out while I still felt those emotions.”
With life lived both in darkness and in light, ‘Something To Feel Good About’ is an antidote that yes, life isn’t all sunshine and cocktails. It can be brutal, unforgiving, relentless and at times – too much. But it’s exactly that which makes living so vital. Of overcoming it all and on the other side, finding the good in every journey and setting off for what comes next.
“There’s a calm confidence now in myself that I didn’t have before,” notes Will. “I used to think that my brand was to be very outwardly confident and kinda light or bouncy and just about having a good time, but when I started to feel things and change into a person who wasn’t always that – at first it was difficult. Now it’s like, I’m sure of myself. From having those experiences, connecting with people and their struggles as well as hearing in other peoples music the emotional place it comes from – there’s a more vivid existence I guess, and I like that.
“I obviously want the album to do well, but to me, I’ve almost already completed the goal. I’ve completed this album that for me contextualises all the things that I wanted to get across. My mission with it is complete, and now the final bit is just hoping that it resonates with other people too.”
Taken from the November issue of Dork. Will Joseph Cook’s album ‘Something To Feel Good About’ is out 27th November.