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September 2019

Will Joseph Cook: "You should always aim for something unrealistic"

This teen has the best moves in Tunbridge Wells. Probably.
Published: 11:05 am, September 23, 2016
Will Joseph Cook: "You should always aim for something unrealistic"
Like a lot of music hungry teenagers, Will Joseph Cook got his first taste for live shows by going to gigs with his dad. “I went from being a really avid consumer of it to becoming frustrated that I wasn’t the one getting to play the shows,” he recalls. “There were even times when I’d start to almost not enjoy the experience because I was annoyed that I wasn’t doing something as good as that.” Seeing the likes of Vampire Weekend, Phoenix and Everything Everything (the latter, eight times) made him feel such a way. “Literally, we were going every other weekend. It was definitely an important education and it gave me a lot of context when making music by seeing bands that are already massive perform.”

Having started playing songs aged 14 and writing tracks shortly after, his passion for a career in music came “as soon as I started buying records and idolising people. But it took me a long time to translate what I was listening to and what I loved into my own music,” he recalls. In terms of his sound, Will describes it as “song-centric, emo indie-pop. I only say emo because with all the tracks I try to put a bit of melodrama into it; I like it when songs are slightly overemotional. If I’m feeling miserable I could end up writing the complete opposite sounding track - I use the emotion as a balance to change how I’m feeling. So if I’m feeling miserable and then write something and feel better by the end of it, I’ve probably created some weird love child of emotions in the process.”

Will was signed by Atlantic Records while in his first year of sixth form, and a few days after completing his school studies found himself playing Glastonbury. “I did three regional dates along the way and then played a BBC Introducing set,” he says. But it wasn’t the celebration he might have liked, having been dumped a few days before. “It was definitely an emotionally-charged performance,” he remembers. “I was a little bit miserable but it probably made the performance better. My one regret is that I didn’t hang about; I played the set and then thought ‘that was great, but now I just need to get the fuck away from pounding bass and the noise of the festival to work things out’.”

Describing himself as academically-interested, Will “never neglected school. I could have left if I wanted to but I don’t think it would have been justified at all,” he ponders. “I like seeing things through anyway and it was where all my friends were so I think it would have been a really lame decision to make if I’d have left.” Though he’s certainly not taking his current position – performing festival shows and putting the finishing touches to his debut album – for granted. “I feel glad that I’m doing what I’m doing and not having to fill out a UCAS application,” he jokes, “anything to escape the average run, I guess.”

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Growing up in Tunbridge Wells, Will says his hometown has a “pretty decent” music scene. “The fact that I could put on music shows for free in my town and just pile in 80 of my mates was great,” he says. “I think sometimes it’s good for things to bubble away in a small town for a while because you can test things out and build a buzz. Because, if you grew up in London, I think you’d just get swallowed up in the sheer amount of music people are making.” Since moving to London, Will says his music is becoming increasingly inspired by current affairs and “just looking at the world – without sounding too much like a musician bullshitter.”

Despite millions of streams online, Will thinks his career only started to materialise recently. “As much as being signed to Atlantic was obviously a massive thing, and then dropping an EP and seeing it spread, I think the last London show was the most ‘real’ thing I’ve done.” The show he’s referring to, at the Boston Music Rooms, was a real turning point. “It wasn’t until that London show that it started to become a tangible thing - seeing people in front of me. It didn’t feel like a new music gig. It was very surreal. When you’re starting out there are lots of people who come to the shows on a whim, but this time we had 400 people who knew all the tracks.” Needless to say, Will was pretty “gassed” after that.

Having caused a stir at new music festivals in the spring like Dot To Dot, The Great Escape and SXSW, Will’s just announced his debut UK tour. “This will be my first headline run of dates,” he says enthusiastically, “so, yeah, it’s quite the milestone.” And when can the world expect to hear his first album? “We’re just adding bits to it and trying to condense it. I’m distilling it into the best tracks it can be and doing the artwork. I probably have the album’s worth of songs, I guess, without saying too much, but if I write a better song I’d willingly dump another off to make it more of a condensed, sugary hit of an album,” adding that he’s not a fan of lengthy records. “I don’t really like long albums – I think when it goes into the teens in number of tracks, for me as a listener I always lose interest. There’s definitely a sweet spot.”

In terms of the future, Will’s aiming high. “I don’t want to pin a realistic idea onto it, because I think you should always aim for something unrealistic,” he ponders philosophically. “I want to get the music to more and more people, put an album out that I’m really fucking pleased with and play an American tour; even if its just tiny venues and stuff, I just want to use the music as an excuse to travel…”

Will Joseph Cook tours the UK this October and November.

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