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Interview: Hollie Cook Brings Tropical Pop Warmth To Frozen New York City

Hollie Cook At Highline Ballroom, January 8th, 2015

Hollie Cook At Highline Ballroom, January 8th, 2015

The weather outside is beyond frightful,  a singles digit nightmare of frozen life in the post 2014 wilderness known as a New York City winter, but backstage at Highline Ballroom before the Summerstage Showcase last Thursday, the lovely Hollie Cook is bringing some “Tropical pop” from London with her. Sitting opposite me while people scurrying around us, the 28 year old reggae singer in town to support her excellent sophomore album Twice, the little ray of sunshine explains the term to me: ” Tropical Pop is what I called it but really very casually. It wasn’t like I decided to announce my fantastic new genre… I just threw a name at it really casually just making it sound a bit more interesting.  Not necessarily thinking that people were going to latch onto it quite as intently as they did but if you call it something else what it is is Lover’s Rock or Reggae or whatever but people’s ears prick up when they hear something called something different.”

Hollie’s eponymous debut isn’t bad and the follow up dub album is the reggae equivalent of a remix album, but Twice is a gorgeous thing, very melodic, very warming, maybe a little odd coming from the daughter of Culture Club back-up singer Jeni Cook and the legendary Sex Pistol’s drummer Paul Cook. But nothing is the way it quite seems and Hollie, in a long scarf, she looks like a bohemian child of the 70s, but she speaks with a bubbly charm and infectious straightforwardness. “Throughout my childhood where my interests were more focused, my dad was absolutely in no way surprised whatsoever when I decided I wanted to go to performing arts school and do dance classes and sing and all that. I did sing in the church choir eventually. I was actually extremely introverted and shy and by the time I got to eleven I had enough courage to join the choir.” She has a breezy, lovely, easy flow voice with the slightest of undertows. “and then I went to performing arts school which helped with my shyness, It’s weird to want to be creative and perform and also to be very shy, it’s a complete contradiction of one’s own personality. Which I still struggle with today. It also keeps things relatively interesting.”

Her first big break  came when the late Ari Up asked her to join the Slits reunion in 2006: “I kind of feel like I owe a lot of where I am now to her, having worked with the Slits so closely for years, from my very late teens, the transition into early young womanhood and really building a lot of my confidence by working with the Slits and being surrounded by very strong women. Ari was my mentor and my musical mother. Literally my greatest loss, I still don’t feel completely recovered from it and fortunately the one thing I had when she passed away was the album making process. I was half way through it and that was my first album, I was half way through and that was my therapy and I wrote that song kind of right around the end of the first album and so it’s been there for a long time , it’s not a heartbreak song, it’s an uplifting tribute.” The song, “Ari Up” opens twice with a Gregorian chant before celebrating the late singer.

It was around this time that Hollie connected with reggae producer Prince Fatty:  “The way I sound and the loveliness of my album quality is due to Prince Fatty, he is kind of a bit of a genius sonically speaking. He was kind of a lunatic as well but you kind of have to be I think. I met him yeaaaars ago now…

“I met him 10 ten years ago  right when I was becoming a bit more serious about pursuing a solo project. Kind of very casually got introduced to him, very casually decided to try something out to see if… when I first met him he was in the process of recording an album so I heard a bunch of his demos which were all instrumental and just delicious sounding. He records with analogue equipment, with stunning real musicians, it sounds really alive , and so it really grabbed me and I wondered if he was interested in vocals and he threw a couple of songs at me ‘Oh these have been lying around for a while so try one of them out’ and it worked out perfectly.

“The first thing I recorded with him was “Milk And Honey”. Which worked out very nicely. But that set the standard and we worked with each other on and off over the years, He lives in Brighton, has a studio in Brighton, and so I just go down there and hang out for a day or so. It was just a real casual, relaxed environment. So we just continued to work together and realized accidentally that we had a really decent body of work after a couple of years and so then continued it into a couple of albums over the years.

“They are very different actually, considering we have never stopped working together. I feel the gateway between the two, there was the dub album was kinda like let Prince Fatty do what he does best and kind of explore a deeper side of an album that I personally really enjoyed and then I worked on a bunch of stuff for his album and from there we kinda moved into this weirder more wonderful second album. Twice is my second album .”

Hollie’s interests don’t lie in her contemporaries, though she counts Cronnix as a new favorite Reggae performer, or in subgenre’s, a question about Trip Hop doesn’t spark any interest ,and while she enjoys popsters like Katy Perry that isn’t quite it either. Hollie is a melody person, her pleasure is a songwriting purism if not indeed puritanism. She loves writing melodies. ” I’m melody driven, that is usually the root where most of my ideas come from. I start with piano or guitar, more guitar, I’m very limited, I’m self-taught, as an instrumentalist really, but guitar will usually suffice. I learnt piano as a kid and I just wasn’t disciplined enough, always much more focused on my vocals, I love melodies so if I get a melody in my head I will figure out the chords to go with it and throw a bunch of words at it. Lyrically is where I am slightly more challenged I think.”

Melody is where Twice happens, the soft tropical sunbaked beach sweetness is as ephemeral as a summer day, the melodies shimmer in glorious and lovely settings, songs like the wonderfully orchestrated “99” seem to be waiting for you to approach them like a lovely girl in a bar. You just have to let them in. Yes, there is a spirit to them, on stage a couple of hours later it is like music that takes you elsewhere and Hollie who is very pretty (the pictures don’t do her justice) is a guide to a better world and a sweeter sound. “God? Nooooo, yes, no, something higher power, spirituality, God not sure.

“Agnostic? Yeah, I suppose so. I find it comforting to have something of a higher power or being… I guess it’s more of a spiritual thing and I’m also very much into breaking from within, I’m more into energies than into gods.

“No one has ever asked me that before, I do feel a small amount of guilt because I went to a Christian school, Church Of England, which wasn’t even very religious but when you’ve had that rooted in you from a young age and then you stray from that it is really hard to do so without there being something of a guilt attached to it but I think that’s normal for anyone who has a small amount of religious upbringing in them.” Although, as Cook told Independent last year, ““There wasn’t a whole lot of discipline going on at home, but they did bring me up well, and I have good manners.”

I ask cook who her favorite parent is ““That’s like asking a parent who is there favorite child and I’m an only child so… I can’t choose. I mean, the thing is I’m a real mummy’s girl but Im also a massive daddy’s girl. Growing up I was a huge daddy’s girl and in my later years I’ve been a massive mummy’s girl. They both come in useful for completely different things.”

About two years ago I spent half an hour interviewing the wrong band in this very venue but this has been a much more pleasant experience, Hollie is an enormously endearing young woman and a true artist, she is like her melodies, breezy, light at first sight but they get to you and stay with you.

Any last words for our audience? All ten of them…

“No” she giggles.


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