Will Joseph Cook is a young musician on the rise who is already weary of hearing ‘just 16’ attached to his talent. The Tunbridge Wells native may be new on the scene, but he speaks with a grounded wisdom beyond his years. Dreams of celebrity status and clothing deals couldn’t be further from his goals. He has no interest in being the next anyone — other than Will Joseph Cook.
We met with Will to chat about his debut single ‘Catalyst’ featured in our Jigsaw Menswear SS14 video and the man behind the music.
Jigsaw Menswear: Have you always been drawn to music?
Will Joseph Cook: As a little kid I was never really into music. It was my brother who had all the cassette tapes lying about. I was playing with sticks, obsessed with army men and action figures. According to my mum though, I was always making up songs and singing random things when I came home from primary school.
I got a guitar when I was about seven. I had a couple lessons, realised I wasn’t Hendrix standard and then gave it up. It sat around guilt tripping me until I picked it up again when I was thirteen. I started lessons again, but I got bored again. The Internet though was the biggest teacher. I started off doing covers like everyone else and was pretty shocking, but once I got my hand coordination down it opened up a lot of possibilities. It was really important that no one told me I was shit to begin with, because I just kept at it.
JM: Your sound is pretty unique. Were there any musicians you emulated to form your signature style of vocals?
WJC: I’m still trying to work out my style. I think it’s the struggle of any young artist though. I try not to emulate the sound of anyone, even though that’s probably not true. I like to think I draw influence from four or five people and mesh them into one. You can’t get wrapped up in trying to sound current or cater to what’s in at the moment. As long as you’re doing something honest it will be relevant.
Records labels have a tendency to jump on hype. When I started out, people asked me if I could have more of a rockabilly, Bob Dylan sound. What, do you mean like Jake Bugg? Well, Jake Bugg already exists so what’s the point? I wouldn’t just mold my sound if that was the defining aspect of getting a record deal. I’d end up making music you’re not comfortable with and inevitably being unfulfilled.
JM: How do go about writing your material?
WJC: I have the music and melodies mapped out before I start on the lyrics. I’ll start out by just singing gibberish over the top until a line sticks that I think sounds nice. For the most part my songs are built like that and then I make sense of them later. I find the meaning as I work through a song.
JM: What do you usually end up writing about?
WJC: I normally end up writing what’s most relevant to me at the time — friendships, relationships, things that touch connect with me emotionally, stuff like that. Some days you just wake up either feeling really shit or really good and suddenly you’re sitting down at the piano and you’ll knock out a song in an hour. And then there’s times when spend a month trying to write something, not being inspired by anything.
JM: Do you always write your own lyrics?
WJC: Yeah, all of my songs are my own words. I have actually recently worked on my first co-write with another artist in Manchester, but that was more about working on completely new songs. I would find it really weird to sing other people’s words. It would be kind of like singing a cover. I don’t really see the point if I’m not singing my lyrics.
JM: Any particular inspiration behind ‘Catalyst’?
WJC: There is — it’s a cliché one as well. It’s about an on-and-off ex-girlfriend that I was infatuated with for quite a long time. It’s about drawing a line under the relationship. We’re either this or that, being quite black and white.
It’s also not the only song I’ve written about her either. She was probably the inspiration behind a lot of my work at the time, but I try to avoid talking about it these days. There was this craze, with artists like Ed Sheeran, where lyrics were super relatable, about sitting on the sofa and things but I’ve moved past the cutesy love songs. I haven’t written a song specifically for a girl in a couple years now. I hope I don’t get smitten and end up writing a whole album of love songs. My music now is more of a collection of how I feel right now. I guess having messy, on-and-off relationships is pretty good for material.
JM: Well, you’re only 16 so…
WJC: (laughs) This must sound like absolute bollocks coming from me. People are always ask how I can write songs like ‘Catalyst’ about heartbreak. I think first love and first heartache are so big because it’s so dramatic and new. I don’t see why people who aren’t young can’t write about matters of the heart. I think your first break-up defines the way you look at things for the rest of your life. Maybe that’s pessimistic, but I think that’s how most people feel.
Watch the official video for ‘Catalyst’ by Will Joseph Cook.