James Cook could easily be described as the new Scott Walker. His music is quirky, melodic and above all heartfelt. It’s not surprising then that Walker is cited as one of Cooks’s biggest influences. Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby caught up with the Berlin based songwriter via myspace…
Cat On The Wall: Most will recognise you as the front man of the London electro outfit Nemo. Although the band’s original line-up has parted ways, you mention on your myspace profile that Nemo is still an active project. Can you tell us about the future plans for Nemo? What can we expect?
James Cook: Nemo’s line up has actually changed with every album. The first album ‘5 Minute Heroes’ featured the talents of guitarist/keyboard player Simon Davies. He left and was replaced on ‘Post Human Love’ by the equally talented Kevin Kennedy, who subsequently managed half of the follow up album ‘The Third Wave’. Bassist Milan Adamik also left the band before completion of the third album. The only person apart from myself who played on all three albums is drummer Section Q aka Jamie Boulton, who has now since left.
As the main songwriter and only surviving original member, I guess I have to say that Nemo is basically my band. I would definitely not rule our making another album, and would work with whoever was available, although I do not plan to do so in the immediate future.
My career is definitely moving into solo territory now.
COTW: You’ve recently exchanged London for Berlin. Why this particular location? How are you settling in?
JC: I have settled in wonderfully, and actually cannot conceive of another existence at the moment. I love Berlin, it has been a great inspiration for me creatively and I have renewed my love of writing, something which had definitely got lost during the last two years of my London Life. I have made lots of new friends and continued some old friendships. London seems like a distant dream now, and although I miss my close friends and family, I feel increasingly detached from it every time I return there.
COTW: What’s your musical history? When did you decide that music was the right direction for you? Who or what inspired you to take that first step?
JC: I decided around the age of fifteen that I wanted to be a songwriter when I found an old guitar under the stairs in my parents house, taught myself some chords and immediately began writing songs on it. I have never veered away from this auto-didactic approach, I tried singing lessons once or twice but never felt comfortable with it it.
My schooling came from singing along to and memorizing all the pop songs I heard as a child. This then led to an obsession with certain singers/songwriters, most notably Lou Reed and then later David Bowie. I also discovered the amazing voice of Scott Walker in my early 20s. I would say that those three people were the primary inspiration for my work.
I have also spent fifteen years working closely with classically trained musicians, especially string players. These are talents I have very much admired for a long time.
COTW: Do you have a creative process when writing songs? How does a song begin to form?
JC: I have many different ways for writing songs. I might just strum an idea on a guitar or play something simple on piano. I often get words and phrases separately which I jot down in my note book and add to music later. Sometimes these ideas come simultaneously and song can evolve in it’s entirety very quickly. Equally I get inspiration from other musicians, sometimes jamming ideas or running with a riff or piece of music someone in the band might might come up with, then shaping that into a song.
Other successful methods include dream ideas. I often wake myself in the middle of sleeping where I dream I am singing, writing or performing a song, and grab a guitar or dictaphone and get it down in the ‘real’ world before it disappears back into the ether. You would be amazed how many Nemo songs were written all or in part from this method!
A song can take somewhere between 5 minutes and 10 years to be completed…
COTW: The Dollhouse is a new project you’re working on. How did this come about?
JC: Anne Marie Kirby is one of my oldest and dearest friends, she is also an extremely talented violinist and string arranger. We began writing songs together ten years ago, but never got round to recording and completing a whole album. I decided last year that it was time to get the first album finally completed, especially as I desperately wanted to make an album with a string section. So we finished off some of the older songs and also wrote some new ones to make up the album ‘The Dollhouse’. It features many talented musicians including Phil France from the Cinematic Orchestra, a plethora of string players as well as Kevin Kennedy from Nemo on bass and Kathleen Herold on drums, who formally played with Robots in Disguise, but now drums with Nemo as well as the Dollhouse.
We began work on it in London, but I finally finished it in March this year at Gordon Raphael’s studio here in Berlin.
COTW: If there was anyone you could collaborate with who would it be and why?
JC: I would love to work with my good friend Chris Corner on something big. Myself and Anne Marie are preparing a Dollhouse/Iamx collaboration at the moment, and I am going to work on my solo album this winter in the IAMX factory. We are also discussing/planning a promo film for a Dollhouse/Nemo song.
I helped with the Secret Friend video and that was immensely enjoyable. We also just finished a sizeable European tour together which was also great fun.
So I guess that will do for now…
COTW: What are you reading/listening to right now?
JC: I don’t read that much, I find that my mind wanders away to places. I don’t listen to that much music any more either, I have too much of it swimming about in my head most of the time. However, I basically love Science Fiction, Conspiracy Theories and Comedy. Put all three together and I am in heaven!
COTW: What are your plans for the near future?
JC: I think I have answered most of that in question seven, but to expand… I am releasing ‘The Dollhouse’ album at the moment and planning a promo video and some theatre shows for that project in March.
I have written most of my solo album (James Cook – Arts & Sciences) and begin work on it now in November and December, residing in the IAMX factory/studio complex in the East Berlin countryside. This will hopefully be completed by January/February.
I will then continue my live excursions. This will incorporate solo shows with electric guitar and electronics, two piece sets with myself and a drummer, three piece sets with bass player, plus some four piece Nemo sets and shows with string players where possible.
The line up will depend on the fee and the location! The more money i get paid, the more musicians I can use and the bigger the variety of songs I can perform.
Next year I will have 5 albums to promote, the three Nemo ones, The Dollhouse, and my first solo record.
I see it as a life project to present and promote this music forever. I will continue to find new and interesting ways to perform my songs from my increasing catalogue of albums.
I would like to thank all my friends and fans who have continued to support me through the years. I am very exited moving forward into 2010.
Interview by Jo Whitby