We really enjoyed our chat with musician James Cook back in 2009 so when he approached us with news about his latest album ‘Arts & Sciences’ out this year we thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up again. Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby sent over some questions via email, James kindly provided the answers with the addition of a rather lovely track by track look at the new record…
Cat On The Wall: We last caught up with you at the end of 2009 and it seemed that 2010 was going to be a busy year. Did 2010 work out as expected or were there a few surprises along the way?
James Cook: Well the intention was to make a solo album and tour as much as possible solo with a laptop and electric guitar. The album took longer than intended, I didn’t actually finish and master it until August 2010. In between times I embarked on European tours with IAMX, solo tours, Double headline tours (with Noblesse Oblige and CBK). All in all I have played in more than 12 or so countries, all over Europe and even to Latin America. Being solo has allowed me to move more freely and efficiently and has been a personal revelation to me.
The album process was certainly a new experience. I decided to lock myself away for the winter 2009/2010 in my friend Chris Corner’s IAMX factory TURMWERK studios in the Berlin countryside. Chris was brilliant, he lent me a laptop, mikes and gadgets and set me on my way with Logic Pro lessons, then left me to fiddle away until I started to achieve some results.
Being trapped in my snow prison really forced me to work and I wrote a lot of the album during this time, and Chris helped me with some technical/musical advice. Once i had got my head around the process I returned the equipment (he had his own album to make), and got myself set up with everything I needed to finish it off in my Berlin flat. I did a lot more writing and programming, recorded lots of violins and cellos with my musical partner Anne Marie Kirby contributing her unique string arrangement abilities. I mixed and tweaked with engineer Mia Becker.
I finally returned to TURMWERK and to Chris Corner for the final process, further mixing, editing and mastering much of which I did myself under supervision from Chris until it was completed.
COTW: Obviously we’re into 2011 now and your new album ‘Arts & Sciences’ is coming up for release. You’ve given fans the opportunity to pre-order the album on bandcamp with some tasty preview tracks to boot. Is there a definite release date now? What made you decide to use bandcamp?
JC: Well we are finishing off the video for the second single, the eponymous ‘Arts and Sciences’ which is out in May. The official album release will follow very soon after. Fans can pre order the album onJAMESCOOKMUSIC.COM.
I had such fun at TURMWERK making the first video to ‘Face to Face’ with Chris Corner (he directed and edited our improvised filming sessions) that I returned there to make another one, this time with Graeme Maguire at the helm. I had worked successfully with Graeme on the final NEMO video ‘Yellow Sun’ in 2009 so we have a good working relationship. This video will be a lot of fun I think, so watch this space…
I chose BandCamp because its a very simple way of selling your music non exclusively online without having to go through all the other middle men (labels, itunes, distribution). All of whom take a sizable cut. Ladies and Gentlemen, please support independent artists by buying the music online directly from the artists websites. You wouldn’t believe how little money ends up in the artists hands otherwise!!
COTW: We’d love to know your thoughts behind the songs on ‘Arts & Sciences’, would you be willing to give us a breakdown of each track?
JC:The Self Machine.
This was written as a guitar riff/synth loop, I struggled for months with the verses, couldn’t decide whether to sing or speak, ended up doing a kind of narration. It’s a real departure for me, a good hybrid of the electro/guitar thing but with some fantastic improvised string loops recorded in one take by Anne Marie Kirby which i edited as a kind of sample/loop. The title came from a German friend of mine using the phrase as way to describe the human ego. I thought it was a great way to refer to the modern human condition, so i tried to write about it. I am so proud of the guitar solo…
This song initially came to me as a dream in 2002 when I was living in Caledonian Rd, London. In the dream i was listening to the radio and the Dj said “And here it is… the new single from the Strokes, ‘Government Kid’.” On came the song and the opening line ‘Hanging out with a Government Kid…’ I woke from the dream and grabbed my guitar and dictaphone. Six months later the strokes released 12.51. It sounded nothing like this. It has taken me until now to finish the song…
This was the first song I wrote in preparation for my solo album. The title comes from an episode of Simon Sharma’s A History of Britain. It kind of sums up how I feel about Britain these days. Musically it took many incarnations and rearrangements, the strings sound epic, thanks to Anne Marie, but I had to take a lot of music out. It still sounds huge, like a wall of sound. There’s definitely some Scott Walker in there, as well as The Who, but really beneath all the bluster is a very sweet little acoustic song.
End of Summer
This one started as a piano riff that I developed into a dark little tale of growing up in England. I think lyrically this whole album has a theme. I have definitely started writing more personally and specifically about English culture and its effect upon me. The distance of living in Berlin has allowed me this luxury I think. Again, Anne Marie’s strings are fantastic. I was trying for a little Gainsbourg/Morricone/Nick Cave vibe, but really couldn’t get the groove right. Luckily Mr Chris Corner was on hand to play and record a little drum part that I subsequently looped and added some acoustic/electronic percussion to. Another breakthrough song for me I think.
Another old one, written actually in 1998. It’s funny how a song like this makes even more sense now, both lyrically and musically. I re-wrote a few of the lines, but I think its basically a timeless critique of capitalism. One of the songs that first appeared on the Dollhouse album, but graduated to my solo album solely on merit. Its a lovely little acoustic ballad with yet another heartbreaking string arrangement from Ms Kirby. It also features Phil France from The Cinematic Orchestra on double bass, and some deft finger picking from ex-Nemo guitarist Kevin Kennedy.
Arts and Sciences
This was the last song to be written for the album. I was aware that I needed another upbeat, poppy track because I didn’t want an entirely downbeat album. The phrase came to me almost immediately, and in order to make sense of it, I had to write some very auto-biographical lyrics. Another breakthrough song for me, because I am mining British music culture, celebrating it as well as satirising it. We have just made a great promo video to accompany the release of this song as the album’s title track second single. I loved the title and I decided that it somehow encapsulated the ethos of my new solo direction.
Black Market Futures
Probably the darkest song on the album, and one of my favourites. This song came from nowhere one January morning, snowed in at IAMX central. The phrase already existed, actually as the working title for the album, yet another comment on our times. However, I decided it was too negative an image for my new found pop sensibilities. I does however remain one of my proudest outros. Actually an editing error played out to its illogical conclusion.
Sediment In Wine
This was an old lyric from early Nemo days that i never really did anything with. It started to work better when I put the song in 3/4 time. It’s dedicated to all the people pulling the strings, trying to destroy human culture. These people are evil sociopaths who will not succeed. Musically very sweet, but lyrically very dark. Its probably the first time I have tried a standard singer/songwriter sort of groove. Kind of Beatles/Dylanesque but with another cracking string arrangement from Anne Marie Kirby.
Face to Face
This track is one of two songs (see below) that I co-wrote with Anne Marie. Another old song with some beautifully heartfelt emotions. Classic break up song really. More than ten years old. ‘March of time is never ceasing’. Indeed.
Circus of Our Lives
Had to be the final word. Another co-write with Anne Marie Kirby and also lifted from the Dollhouse sessions. Haunting piano from Ms Kirby and strings that will make you cry. In fact, this song is all about crying.
COTW: You’ve just finished a small tour of South America, how did the shows come about and most importantly did you have a good time? Are there any plans for further touring once the album is out?
JC: A friend of mine called Charlie Da Silva at Roxy Record Label booked me three shows in Argentina and Uraguay and invited me to stay for a s long as I wanted. I had enough of the European winter so could not refuse. I played in Montevideo, Punta De L’Este and Buenos AIres. It was fantastic. The gigs were great, the people were wonderful. I had a wonderful holiday, did some promo and wrote some new songs. A great way to spend my February. Now its back to Europe and as much touring as possible. I intend to promote this album a lot, as I believe it is definitely my best and most complete work to date.
COTW: Finally, what are your hopes and dreams for the rest of 2011?
JC: I will make some more films, do lots of touring, put a live band together, promote my album and continue writing for my sixth album (tentatively titled ‘Ausland’). I like being a solo artist. You will hear more from James Cook. these are difficult times, and we need music more than ever.
James Cook’s second single ‘Arts and Sciences’ is released in May on DeepSeeMusic. The album will follow in the summer. Pre order ‘Arts and Sciences’ from the website WWW.JAMESCOOKMUSIC.COM. James’ entire five album back catalogue is available here. Join up and get involved!