It was not easy connecting with Hollie Cook to complete this interview. Fresh off the release of Vessel of Love, her third full length album released Jan. 26th via Merger Records, and the promotional engagements that go along with a Billboard charting record made it tricky to schedule. Add to that London’s no phone zones, some technical difficulties with Skype, the time difference and I began to think this interview was not going to happen. After the 20 minutes we spoke, I was more than happy it did.
It was 5:00PM in London when we connected. Hollie’s accent and soft voice make polite chit chat sound soothing, even when coming through a sometimes garbled Skype connection that left me straining to follow bits of our conversation. Hollie is a pleasure to speak with, a true artist with a natural talent and voice that can be called one of a kind.
Although Hollie considers her music to be “tropical pop,” she has one of the most unique and haunting voices in Reggae. She comes from a deep lineage of music — her father was Paul Cook of the infamous Sex Pistols, her mother was a backup singer for the Culture Club, and was part of the last lineup of the Slits which was an all-female British punk/reggae band. She would be justified in having a sharp and tough attitude considering her lineage, Father a Sex Pistol and Mother a singer for the Culture Club, but she is as pleasant as can be.
Interview: Hollie Cook
The Pier: Thank you so much for joining me today, Hollie, it is an absolute honor to be talking with you. I read that you were in somewhat of a creative block prior to going into the studio for this album — How did you go about the writing process for this record?
Hollie Cook: As always, I am kind of seeking inspiration and getting ideas together, not necessarily fully formed songs. When I did sit down to write songs, I was kind of struggling for a really long time. So I figured that I would kind of just surrender to that and allow myself to go through whatever it was I needed to go through. I literally just sat still for a bit and then there is nothing quite like — I guess I got bored. I got bored very, very quickly. That kind of gave me the kick I needed. I needed to accept where I was creatively and allow myself to rest, to process. Then I was a bit worried if it was going to come out. It was a high-pressure situation, like being in the studio and having decided to finally make an album, to like really get things going, and thankfully it worked.
I would say it definitely worked. Did I read that you had members from the ORB collaborate on the album?
Yeah, So Youth (Martin Glover record producer and bassist of Killing Joke) is a long-time collaborator with the ORB and he is usually working with many artists, all at the same time. There are always various pieces of music that kind of go unused, or he has ideas for things that don’t necessarily get finished. He had an instrumental demo that he thought would be interesting, so he brought Alex (Alex Patterson of the Orb) for a day and we worked on that together, which was amazing, actually, because it was a completely different kind of artist for me to be working with and that was the song “Far From Me” which is the largest departure, sonically, from what people are used to hearing (from Hollie cook).
Were there songs you left off the record?
Yeah, actually, another ORB collaboration that ended up not getting used. It didn’t quite fit with the rest of the album, and there were a few others. I thought that 10 was a nice even number of tracks.
Any plans to release the other Orb collaboration?
[Hollie Pauses]… Umm, it might end up being an ORB song, but not a Hollie cook song.
I want to talk a little about your background. Everyone knows about your connection with The Slits, but how did that come about? I read that originally you were called in to sing on some tracks and then started performing live and the rest is history — Is that pretty much accurate?
Yeah that is pretty accurate. Ari Up (lead singer for the Slits) would just show up, as she would frequently do through the years, in London out of nowhere like the Hurricane she was, and she was calling around to all her friends that had daughters cause she always has very strong song ideas in her head and I guess she knew she wanted a chorus of girls to sing on a particular song, a new Slits song. I kind of very haphazardly ended in the studio, God I don’t remember when that was, that was like 10 years ago. And I have known Ari forever and it was really cool, it all felt quite normal in a weird way and she liked what I did. She said: “You should come and play with us when we play live!” So I ended up jumping into the band for a few shows which ended up being a few years of touring and recording an album, so that’s literally how the story went. I started as backing singer and moved to vocals and keys.
[Laughing] Oh god no… I have relinquished my very limited key playing to actual professionals.
Are you playing any keys on Vessel of Love?
In a recent interview you said the music industry needs to hire, sign and book more women artists, which is absolutely true — Two questions about that: 1. Because you were in the Slits (all female band) at a young age, did you feel that there was a lot of female artists because of that experience? and 2. When did you realize the lack of women in the industry?
Well the thing is, women kind of magnetize more women, I guess. Also, when I was in the Slits, we always played with up and coming female groups, well not always, but lots of female groups worked with female publicists, tour managers, etc. It wasn’t necessarily an absolute requirement by any means, but it is how it ended up to be.
I would say it is more since I have not been in an all-female band. I was looking for a female manager a couple of years ago and found that difficult. It some ways, it does feel like there are a ton of women out there, and I have had women in my band before, but it’s always been a bit outnumbered. It doesn’t necessarily feel deliberate, and I think it is definitely changing. It is being spoken about a lot more which is making a big difference. I have friends in my age group who are in the industry and have created spaces and workshops for other young women to get involved in, and feel really a part of it all. It is a space created for women by women, there is strength in numbers so it just gives young women more confidence in the industry. So there are a lot of really positive changes in that area of the industry.
What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in the music industry?
Be unfazed. Be as confident in yourself as you can be. There is no reason for a woman to feel less capable because they are one of a few. Being outnumbered is not something that should deter you. I guess because I came from being surrounded by such strong women, I have very rarely been fazed, even in a situation where I was the only woman in the room. It was not a lesson that I was taught very literally, it was very much just naturally happening around me.
The melodies in your music are phenomenal. I think anyone on first listen is going to hear these beautiful spooky vocal melodies — How are you writing these melodies? Do they just come to you? Or are you sitting at a keyboard and writing?
They do come to me. Every now and again I have to work a little harder on them, but my main focus when I am writing is melody. I am extremely melody driven. For the most part, melody will come before lyrics. The melody can almost write the song and dictate what the song will be about. I am just a big fan of unusual song structures and things that don’t sound usual. I was a big fan of Bjork and Portishead as a kid and have always been a fan of the weirder melodies in the world.
Are you singing all the parts, including the harmonies?
It is all me this time, which is really fun. I feel like I am a very frustrated backup vocalist [laughing]. One of my dreams is to be a backing singer in a three-part harmony group.
Like the modern I-Threes?
You are coming to the US in March, what can US fans expect from your live show?
I just try and have a really good time. I really like positive energy and I can’t take myself seriously at all, so I am very much a “silly billy” on stage. I feed off the smiling faces, and I just like to make people smile, as cheesy as that may sound, but it’s just about being positive. I am also very much excited to announce that I will be bringing my UK band with me as well, so you will be getting the true London Hollie Cook experience.
I saw a band I really like called the Far East that is playing a show with you as well…
Yes… Maddie Ruthless is a friend of a friend and I am really excited to play with them.
Another band we love is The Skints. You have worked with them in some way as well, correct?
Well, we’re all kinda music besties at home. We’re all from London and pretty much running in the same social groups, and we’ve been on tour together. Of course we have all worked with Prince Fatty as well, so that is where the friendship started. We all hang out and go to each other shows. I think they are great.
Your artwork has this Tiki Zombie vibe, what drove the artwork?
I really like colorful but dark imagery, if that makes sense? I have always been quite drawn to tropical kind of cartoon illustration visuals. Also, I have always wanted to fulfill my own cartoon fantasy, so I got to do that on my album which is really cool.
In preparing for the interview, I was listening to a lot of the New Age Steppers, specifically the stuff with Ari Up, which is a hidden gem. That whole album is great…
It’s fantastic and always been a source of inspiration for me…
Perfect, that was going to be my question so you answered that. Any plans to do Vessel of Love as a dub release?
I think that there is definitely going to be some dubs at some point. It won’t all be with one producer. I have been speaking to a couple of people and will hopefully be able to realize some of the dubbier elements of the record, later in the year.
Watch: Hollie Cook – “Survive”
Watch: Hollie Cook – “Stay Alive”
Listen: Hollie Cook – “Freefalling”