By Gabby Redding | April 18, 2023
April 18, 2023 Update:
When we caught up with Will Joseph Cook at his headlining show in Mercury Lounge, it was evident that he had come a long way since we last spoke in the fall of 2022, where he was a supporting act for Tessa Violet. At the time, he was grateful for the virality of “Be Around Me” for giving him a cultural touchpoint to introduce himself. However, fast forward to the present, and Will needs no introduction. When we arrived for the interview before the show, the line to enter the venue stretched around the block, teeming with enthusiastic fans eagerly anticipating his performance.
During our conversation, Will shared how his approach to live performance has evolved since his days as an opener. With the luxury of a longer set time, he now takes audience feedback into account, allowing them to dictate the direction of the show. Alongside drummer, Scott Padden, and Jordan Reifkind on guitar and keys, Will and his band share an undeniable chemistry, enabling them to amplify specific portions of their songs based on the audience’s reactions.
Between songs, Will engages with the audience, providing candid insights into his creative process and introducing fan favorites like “4AM” as ‘50% music, 50% spiritual experience.’ During the lyricless chorus, he invites the crowd to let loose, dance, scream, or simply do whatever moves them.
Although his latest song “MF Bassline” marks a departure from his typically upbeat sound, Will introduces it as a ‘double depresso espresso,’ showcasing his willingness to experiment and take creative risks. During our interview, he shared how he wrote the song in the moment, capturing his raw emotions as they surfaced.
To close the show, Will chose to perform “Be Around Me,” the song that he had used to open his last tour. This decision reflects his amplified confidence as a performer and heralds a promising new era in his music career.
We caught up with Will Joseph Cook before his show at the Mercury Lounge, where he answered a few questions for the groovement:
Congrats on your first North American headline tour! How do you approach live performance, and how do you keep things fresh for yourself and your fans?
Obviously, we have more time to play with now. Before, I was trying to showcase myself as much as possible to new audiences when I was opening. But now, it’s different every night, because the audience input decides which parts of the songs go harder or pop off more. I would say the main thing is just getting to do longer live versions of songs, playing them out a bit more, and we have live drums, so we’re scaling it up a bit. The next time around, we might push it to four people–a classic Beatles set.
You last spoke with the groovement when you were opening for Tessa Violet, how does this feel compared to being an opener, and tell us about the last time you played here!
I was slated to come years ago (before Covid) and play Baby’s All Right, but my visa got denied. This time I’m less of a threat to American society? So they let me in.
Here in New York, we have some time off, everywhere else has been pretty brutal with just waking up the next day at seven AM and driving eight hours or something to get somewhere else. But we have all of tomorrow off to chill. New York was my favorite spot on the last tour. So, yeah, I just get giddy and excited coming here.
Is there anyone in particular you’d like to work or tour with in the future, that you haven’t yet?
I would love to do a US Tour with JAWNY, he’s super sick–we already know each other and have done a show before, but I’m just putting that out there. We’re kind of in the same lane, he’s maybe a bit more rocky, he has a laid back kind of vibe going on and a bit more of a hip hop player, he’s just really cool. He just finished his tour, so maybe our schedules will line up in the future.
Have you guys made music together before?
We’ve never made music together. He came to London last summer, and I did like a surprise support for him there, as an acoustic opener. It’s mad because he was a fan of my tunes when I put out my first album. We were both still in that high school kind of age, and then years later, I ended up connecting with him.
One of the things we love about your approach to songwriting is how vulnerable it is. How do you balance writing about personal experiences while still making music that is relatable to a wider audience?
I think people are probably less unique than you’d imagine. You can go pretty damn personal and people will still find it relatable. So, I think things are more relatable than you expect. However, the only reservation I have about personal stuff is that I never like to dox someone in a song. I have a bit of an issue with weaponized songs where people decide to write an entire album slating someone after going through a bad breakup. Although a lot of writers get tempted to do that, and a lot of good stuff comes out of it, I try to make it about the personal experience rather than focusing on other people in my life who played roles in my experiences. I talk about how it affected me rather than it being a pure storytelling experience.
It’s very much about your experience, rather than pure storytelling.
I usually write pretty reflectively, once I’ve already processed something a bit. But recently, I’ve tried to challenge myself to write about more raw feelings. The latest song, “MF Bassline,” I wrote in the moment of feeling really depressed and tried to give that part of my life a voice rather than just waiting to feel better to write about it and being like, ‘I must feel better to be able to write about bad things.’ I’m like, what happens if I just write it when I’m feeling shit?
As you mentioned earlier, your latest track ‘MF Bassline’ exudes a different vibe, both lyrically and melodically. Can you speak to how your music has evolved over time, and where you envision your creative direction heading in the future?
I think the reason why “MF Bassline” sounds kind of different is that I wanted to make lots of different types of music, and having artistic consistency has been a bit of a limiter. I felt like I really nailed down a sound on the last record, and I had said what I needed to say with that sound after three albums. If I don’t start making different stuff now, then I’m going to pigeonhole myself. I think that’s how I stay inspired. I’m making a mixtape this year, and it’s about throwing any reservations out the window and just releasing the demos I play for my friends, instead of it being super polished.
So you’re saying you don’t typically write things in the moment, but do you ever write a set of lyrics in the moment, set them aside, and look back on it a month later and say to yourself, ‘damn, that’s really harsh?’
Yeah…I have a lot of unreleased songs. Sometimes I’ll just go outside, stroll around for a bit with no one around and then write a song with no worry about it being good. I’ll just yell. So totally, yeah, there’s, there’s some songs that were just serving a therapeutic purpose, and they’re not gonna be released.
Fans can’t expect an angry Will Joseph Cook song?
Nor should they really. It’s kind of like journaling. You don’t have to publicly release your journals, writing music is just like my way of doing it.
Can you tell us about your creative vision for your latest music video for ‘MF Bassline,’ and how you work with your team, including the director Robert Strange, to bring those ideas to life?
I wanted the video to offset the lyrics slightly because the song is meant to be humorous about a negative voice, rather than making light of it. When I wrote it, I realized it was an extremely negative voice, but it wasn’t me. It’s almost like exercising a demon, so you can look at it properly and realize it’s just a voice.
Robert Strange had been in the band Superorganism, and he did all of their videos. He reached out to me on Instagram and sent me a picture of an 80s Lego set, saying it had my vibe, and I agreed. I appreciated his creativity and willingness to take risks. We had tried to work together last summer, but life got in the way. I was already working with my friend Bertie Gilbert on the last videos, but I wanted to try a different visual team this time. The turnaround was pretty quick. I knew I wanted to have a character with a baseline head, which seemed like a good metaphor for depression, feeling boxed in with your own thoughts and sensory deprivation of the world around you. The character is swamped by the low vibration of the baseline, which colors their whole life negatively.
We love that in the video you get the perspective of someone else, watching you go through all of these emotions.
I think without Kizzy, the actress in it, it would have been a very different video. She kind of humanizes it, because you can see her. (Laughs)
Like I said, I’m not making light of depression or any kind of problems because, you know, I experience them as well. But there is something funny about when you come out of them and you’re like, oh I was so miserable. I was not fun to be around at that moment and laughing in a way is like part of having less likelihood of returning there next time.
It’s spotting certain patterns within yourself and being able to catch it as like, oh, that’s when I’m not well, rather than believing your brain.
Your music has been described as a blend of indie, pop, and electronic genres. How do you approach genre blending in your music, and do you have any particular influences or inspirations in this regard?
When I’m making stuff, I think you’ve got to have five different references in your head. Otherwise you’re just making something super derivative. So when I’m working I’m like, oh, the bass reminds me of this and the drums remind me of that and the kind of melodies are something this person would do. I think once you’ve blended five influences, then it sounds like something you’ve created.
Sometimes I can go horribly wrong, like genre matching is not always good, but I don’t know, for me, I think I’m fairly good at it. It’s like they get turned into like a cuisine, it’s not just like random things thrown together, it still feels cohesive.
Just like lots of other musicians nowadays, it’s just reflective of me, I create how I listen. I’ll listen to the Jackson Five, and then another song, and then wonder what the intersection of these two things would be. This mixtape is definitely pulling on more of the R&B and hip hop influences that I have, and maybe more alternative stuff. So I’m kind of excited to see what people think of it because it’s definitely gonna scale up with the next single in terms of its sound. The next single kind of has a Prince-like vibe.
Lastly, what can fans look forward to from you in the coming months?
So ‘MF Bassline’ was like the soft launch for the next step. I’m just finishing up the second track on the road at the moment, working remotely, and then I’m staying for a week in LA after the San Francisco show to finish this mixtape. Pretty soon after that, the next track will come out, it’s called…Fearless as the Flame, or Flame, or Fearless…I haven’t really decided. Maybe you guys can put out a poll or something.
September 9, 2022 Interview:
Will Joseph Cook has a unique ability to connect with an American audience, despite growing up across the pond in Kent, England. His latest tour, opening for 23 of Tessa Violet’s North American shows, had Will playing at some of the most notable venues across the states including The Studio at the Factory in Dallas, The Foundry in Philadelphia, and, of course, Bowery Ballroom in NYC. With each show, he treats the crowd like a group of friends, inviting them all to join a group chat after the show and stay in touch. He captured each stop on the tour with a series of vlogs that invited his audience behind-the-scenes of life of the tour, with the added benefit of seeing their own cities through the eyes of someone visiting for the first time. Will mans his own merch table, giving him the opportunity to connect with his fans personally. And finished the night at Bowery Ballroom by jumping up on stage to give an encore of his collaboration with Tessa Violet, “Gummy.”
It’s not easy to capture an audience’s attention when they’re anticipating someone like Tessa Violet to come on next. Tessa puts on an incredible show, mashing catchy and vibrant hooks with campy outfit changes and a magnetic stage presence. Concertgoers arrived in costume, ready to hang onto every lyric, and some of them shared that they had been following her since her early YouTube days.
Up to the challenge, Will strategically opened with his song “Be Around Me,” which went viral on TikTok this year. As he predicted during his interview with us, the audience immediately lit up when he got to the now famous lyrics;
“Oh my God, did you call me baby?
Maybe, is that okay?
Yeah, it’s cool, I liked it
Once the audience realized something familiar in Will’s music, he had them locked in. Will spoke about how he feels it is a “blessing to have a cultural touchpoint that contextualizes you and then it feels like, in people’s hearts and minds, there’s some kind of story that’s being completed. They can relate to your music, it’s super powerful.”
He followed up with “Little Miss,” another track with a vibe reminiscent of summer and lyrics that bring back the feelings of high-school puppy love, but with the benefit of a mature perspective;
“And when you come home
My lights go low
I think they get nervous
Around your glow (damn)”
His latest album, Every Single Thing, is strewn with songs that make you want to drive with the windows down and whistle along, he captures a feeling: optimistic, loving, and wholesome.
That energy translated to our interview, where Will zoomed in from his bunk bed in a tour bus, as he pulled into San Francisco for the third show of the tour. Will opened up to the groovement about how he has used the virality of “Be Around Me” to connect to audiences, how “Every Little Thing” serves as a love letter, and how he has learned to focus on those who appreciate his work, rather than worrying about how he might be perceived and answered a few questions for the groovement:
What was your first concert?
Vampire Weekend. They’re one of the first bands I got into properly, so yeah I love them.
What was it that inspired you to start making your own music?
Every time I would go to a show, the inspiration or desire to actually do it would grow and grow. Like ‘damn this is what I want to be doing, I don’t want to be in the audience, I want to be playing in the band.’
Is there any particular band or an experience that you were really inspired by?
Yeah, there’s two that spring to mind. I saw this band called Digitalism, they’re a German duo, and they blend indie guitar tones and songwriting with really big techno influence. Their set is half DJ, half synthesized live. I saw them and was like, “this is so cool.” And then I saw Phoenix play at Reading Fest when I was 16, and that was super inspiring.
Do you see yourself, now being on the opposite side of it, inspiring other emerging artists to do the same thing?
Yeah for sure, it’s strange the journey you go on when becoming a better performer, or becoming comfortable on stage. You don’t really realize the process that’s happening. So when someone comes up to you and says “You’re really great on stage! That makes me want to have that confidence,” it comes as a surprise to me, because I still feel like I’m on that journey, but being able to inspire other people is great.
What is your dream venue to perform at?
There is a spot in London called Brixton Academy which seats four thousand people, and when you play it, it’s a tipping point. It’s the first “big show” you do in London…That’s a pretty unmovable career goal for me.
It seems like your music has really gained traction after a piece from your song “Be Around Me” went viral on TikTok. Has that changed how you song write, do you think about what pieces might catch on with audiences now?
Yeah, it’s interesting doing this support tour with Tessa [Violet] because, for many people, it will be their first time listening to me. But when you have something go viral, it’s so pervasive that when I play that song, I play it at the front of the set so that everyone has a touchpoint. They can go ‘hey, I know this! I like this guy!’ It’s mad how it warms a crowd to you, they feel like they have a connection or they’re in the know.
So the last show that you performed, did you see that light switch turn on for the crowd? Can you tell when they start to get into it?
Yeah, it’s a slow build, I can see people thinking ‘I know this, where do I know this from’ when I play the track, but when I get to that bit they know. And then I’ll make a joke about it “you guys like TikTok?” and everyone cracks up. That’s been the experience so far.
Part of that song ended up trending because it was parodied after and slowed down, did you find that flattering seeing how fans warp and interpret your art? Or was that strange for you?
I’m definitely a child of the internet, I was a YouTube kid back in the day, so it was a weird experience seeing it, personally. But, I know the journey when something goes viral, and you lose ownership over it.
It was pretty innocent!
Yeah it becomes internet social property to a certain extent, but I’m fine with that. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about it, for a moment it becomes part of the internet’s tapestry of culture. It felt cool to be somewhat close to the epicenter of that for a minute.
We’d love to end by speaking about your latest album, Every Single Thing, and its overarching theme. What kind of vibes were you trying to put out there? Did anything stick out as the main piece of inspiration?
It was definitely not a theme that I’m new to as an artist, but I wanted to double down and do an album of love songs, because that’s what I was leaning towards writing about pretty heavily. But across that, it has a lot of infatuation songs, a lot of songs about the long distance strifes of lockdown, it has a track about how I felt about love and romance as a teenager compared to now, and it has a song about how I might feel about it when I’m dying–so it covers some ground, but it’s a pretty earnest album of love songs that I needed to get out of me, because I was fully in love and I needed to make music.
That’s so beautiful! And people seem to really connect with the album because it is so earnest and truthful, and you’re really putting yourself out there with it.
It is a strange thing because as I’ve gotten older I’ve gained the positive of not caring. I can shamelessly write about whatever I want now without worrying.
📸: shot by Amy Guo