Latest posts by Jonathan Greenstein (see all)
One particular thing I remember from my time at university was when a lecturer stated that the majority of artists that reached mass appeal over the last 70 years or so did so due to their unique singing voices. Take for example Elvis’ smooth tones, Freddie Mercury’s range, Michael Jackson’s distant voice and ‘vocal hiccups’, Kurt Cobain’s raspy melodies, John Lennon, Bjork, Serj Tankian and too many others to name. Disregarding manufactured pop, audiences are attracted to a unique voice and wonderfully thoughtful lyrics in equal measure. To this effect, I would like to introduce Jody Cooper.
Jody Cooper is a singer/songwriter living and performing in Leipzig, Germany. Born in Bache, near Chester in England, and raised in rural-North-East Scotland, Jody undoubtedly has an immense musical talent. He attributes his love for composing and performing music from feeling like an outsider watching other people as a child. “I was probably the only boy when I first started at school there (North-East Scotland) that was from England. So, you could say I’m used to being an outsider”.
An accomplished multi instrument playing musician, Jody’s unique voice has a wide range that compliments his poetic lyrics. The often varied nature of his music allows it to fit across several musical genres, making it hard to place his in any one particular bracket. Whilst currently working on a new album, Serenades and Odes to a Cracked World, Jody was happy to grant me an interview to better help bring his work to a new audience.
What got you involved in music in the first place?
I always had a love for music ever since I can remember. My parents had quite a varied record collection (my mum was into pop stuff like The Beatles, The Monkees, Elton John etc., as well as folky stuff like Lindesfarne and singer-songwriters such as Carol King; my dad on the other hand was more into rock and experimental stuff like ELO, Deep Purple, Genesis and Kraftwerk) and I used to love putting on random records just to see what I would hear. As a three-year old, my favourite toy was a plastic Fisher Price record player!
My mum noticed this love for music and so at the age of 6 I started violin lessons (piano would’ve been my first choice but apparently I told my mum we couldn’t fit one in the car!). My violin teacher encouraged her students to perform and I think it was my positive experience of that at an early age which encouraged me to become a musician.
I got involved in songwriting almost, it seems, by accident. When I was fourteen, my best friend played the guitar. I played a bit of keyboard (I think my mum had bought me my first keyboard that year). He had already written some songs and so suggested we have a go together. I said, “alright” and that’s when it all started to come together for me, I guess. I would spend hours and hours deep in the process of songwriting. Personally, I think most people have a defining moment in their lives where they connect to something. That something for me was songwriting.
The ‘eureka’ moment for me though came when I was sixteen. I was struggling at school and didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. One morning, I suddenly woke up with a start: there was this voice inside me clear as a bell telling me “you will be a musician!” From then on I knew I had to be a musician, whatever it took.
I saw you recently performed with a Queen cover band. Can you tell me more about your experiences doing that. Have you managed to integrate things you learnt doing that into your music?
Yes, that’s been a very interesting experience! Playing the part of Freddie Mercury is like nothing I’ve done before. It requires all of my concentration – not just in the energy and specific movements required for the role, but also in making sure my voice is in top shape to pull off the many challenging notes I have to sing. But it’s also great fun. How often do you get to play one of your idols? Still, you have to be very focused all the time to make sure you give audiences what they expect to see and hear (not so easy when your moustache is falling off!).
I would never claim to be Freddie (there could only ever be one really) but I try my best to do him and Queen’s songs proud. The highlight for me so far was doing two shows in a row in Luxembourg as part of the Wiltz Festival – an event that has been running for over sixty years – and walking the same stage as jazz greats Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald did before me.
It’s difficult to compare performing Freddie to my singer-songwriter work because the two are so different. But probably the biggest thing I’ve taken from the experience is learning where my vocal limits really are and, in trying to figure out how to sing the songs, I’ve discovered new ways to approach notes that I had never considered before. I saw it as a type of training (I had started singing and choreography lessons as well as going to the gym) and it was exciting to push myself like that.
What inspires you to record and release your own music?
For me, songwriting involves three steps: the writing, the recording and the releasing. Unless you see those steps through to the end then it’s like an unfinished painting, and I can’t stand leaving things unfinished! Songwriting is also a cathartic process, much in the way that some people write diaries. The only difference is I write my thoughts and feelings in song form.
The releasing of an album or EP is an important step in the creative process. It creates a sort of ‘closure’ on that part of my life and enables me to move on to the next set of songs I have rolling around in my head. It also allows people to hear my songs as close as possible to what I imagined they’d sound like. After that, it’s up to others then to take those songs and find their own meaning in them. The songs then become something else instead of just my own personal expression – and that’s important.
Who are your musical influences?
Out of all the artists I listened to when I was young, I would say that The Beatles had the most profound effect on me. Their creativity and musical diversity, as well as their vocal harmonies, really inspired me to experiment and be free in my songwriting later on. I was also fascinated by the music of Mike Oldfield and his album ‘Tubular Bells’ and, ever since I heard that as a child, it’s impacted the way in which I write music. I write mostly pop/rock music, yes, but I also like to express myself through instrumental music that is based around a certain musical theme. It also means that not of all my songs are 3-4 minutes long!
What are you working on right now?
My current project is called ‘Serenades and Odes to a Cracked World’, and it’s definitely my most adventurous so far. It’s going to be a concept double-album, inspired by things like The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. I think the idea of the concept album is something that kind of stopped at the end of the seventies with the Punk backlash against Prog Rock, and so I wanted to revive it in a new way to bring it into the 21st Century. The album will be released in two parts, and each part deals with a different aspect of the themes of disintegration (part 1) and integration (part 2).
When we look at the world, it’s very easy to just focus on the bad because that’s what the media wants us to believe; but there’s also a lot of good things happening. My aim with this album is to explore these two themes to show that, although it seems like they’re contradictory, they’re also working together to bring down the forces that would keep us apart and awaken us to the fact that there really is only one reality: that we’re one human family.
I’ve been working on this project on and off in my little living room ‘studio’ for several years now, but as it came towards completion I realised I needed financial backing if I was going to make this a success. This is why I’m currently running my first Kickstarter campaign to bring other people into the process. It takes a lot of energy (and money!) to bring an album like this into the world, so I’m really excited to hear what all of these people who are supporting me in the campaign think of it.
Can you talk me through your creative process? How do you write and compose music from start to finish?
The great thing about songwriting is there are no rules. There are plenty of methods out there that will help write a song but, at the end of the day, it always comes down to how inspired you are in the moment. That inspiration for me usually begins with the music first rather than the words (although their have been exceptions). Normally I sit down in front of a piano or pick up a guitar and see what happens. Sometimes a fragment of melody pops into my head, either while I’m playing, dreaming or just randomly during the day, and in that moment I feel compelled to do my best to bring that idea to fruition.
If I’m lucky, I’ll end up with a finished song. I find that, if the idea is strong enough, it usually doesn’t take me long to write it. Because I don’t write more than the lyrics and chords down, I make it a habit of at least recording my ideas to my smartphone so that, when I come back to them, I haven’t forgotten how they went (which can easily happen!).
Which of your songs are the most meaningful to you and why?
Like all songwriters, different songs resonate more deeply with me at different times. But, probably the song that means the most and was also the hardest to write is “Immortal Friend”. I wrote this as a tribute to my brother Robbie, who died of a very rare form of cancer in 2014. It was a very difficult time for me but I knew I needed to express my grief in some way, and so writing a song about it seemed to be the most natural thing to do. It proved a lot harder to write than I could’ve imagined but, in the end, I had a song that I’m still very proud of.
What do you like to do outside of music that contributes to your musicality?
One of my favourite activities is to get out into nature, whether that’s a forest or a beach, or whatever – I find it very inspiring. The city overwhelms my senses so it’s tricky to be creative in that environment. What I’ve learnt is that just about anything can be inspiring if you have an open mind: from old buildings to conversations and, even, fantasy. The beauty of being creative means you have the ability to look at things differently and see beyond the surface. This enables you to find new creative possibilities in the world around you.
I also find reading in whatever form – books or internet articles – a great source of inspiration. One of the songs off the new album – “Leave a Light On” – was inspired by a news story about an American teenage musician who committed suicide in front of a live audience at an open mic night. I took the story and turned it into a song of hope and understanding for people who might be feeling the same way.
How do you feel about the internet in the music business today? How has it affected you as an artist?
I think the music industry feels threatened by the internet because it was never a business model they planned for, which means they have very little control over it. Sure, they can try by spending lots of money on advertising so their artists get in front of more faces but, at the end of the day, for independent artists like me it has levelled the playing field a lot.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges – the industry has changed so much that there are no longer the opportunities there once were for new artists to break through, and the industry can’t afford to invest in new artists unless they are already creating a scene for themselves. The good thing is that this has forced musicians to become more self-reliant and make and release their own records – at which point the need for a record label can become meaningless. You as an artist are then in direct control of your destiny, which can be a bit scary and overwhelming sometimes!
I think the greatest thing about the internet is that it means I can create whatever I want, put it out there and get an instant response. For example, I decided some time ago that I wasn’t going to release a new album until I had enough support behind me. It was no longer enough to create music to satisfy myself, I wanted it to resonate on a deeper level with others who could take it to places I’d never imagined. This is one of the reasons why I decided to do a Kickstarter campaign – I wanted to connect with others who felt the same way as I do.
What are the plans for the future?
At the moment I’m very focussed on making this album the best I can possibly do – both aurally and visually. I already feel the music part is there so now I need to work on the artwork side of things. My overall plan is to eventually turn my concept album idea into a performance experience that goes beyond music to include costumes and stage design, tying all the various themes and elements together into something that people will remember, and taking it on tour. That’s just for the first part of the album (‘disintegration’). After that, I’ll carry on working on the second part (‘integration’) with my eventual goal to combine the two together into a complete double-album and live-concert tour extravaganza (I like that word!). Ultimately, my goal is to become a successful singer-songwriter with a band but this can’t be the primary goal. More importantly, I want to be of service by sharing the messages of my songs with people all over the world.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Lately I’ve been revisiting a lot of the music I listened to as a child, both as a walk down memory lane but also seeing if I can pick up where my influences come from. It’s really self-affirming. Other than that, I like to listen to random stuff depending on my mood: sometimes classical stuff like Vivaldi but also modern artists like singer-songwriter Glen Hansard or musical wonderkids Walk Off the Earth. Youtube is also a great place to find new artists although I don’t use it nearly enough.
This may be a hard question but what differentiates yourself from other artists and bands?
Other than my voice – which many people have commented is my most unique feature – I think the main thing that’s different about me is the way in which I look at the world. I’ve always seen myself as a bit of an outsider – not quite fitting in with the ‘in-crowd’ but not an outcast either. This has given me a unique perspective that enables me to view people and situations in alternate ways which, in turn, has influenced my songwriting.
I don’t accept things as I see them but, rather, through my songs seek to question and even challenge preconceptions we take for granted. As a Baha’i, where the independent investigation of truth is a central principle, I view my work as more than just entertainment: it is my responsibility as an artist to make uplifting as well as meaningful music that attempts to tackle the issues that we as a society face. And, if the audience happens to go away feeling good about themselves, then I feel it’s a job well done.
Serenades and Odes to a Cracked World Kickstarter campaign
As Jody alluded to above, he is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his new concept album, Serenades and Odes to a Cracked World. If you have enjoyed listening to his music while reading this article, I implore you to please go to Serenades and Odes to a Cracked World’s Kickstarter page and donate any amount. There are several pledge rewards for donations ranging from copies of the album to song writing retreats with Jody himself.
If you liked this interview and want to learn more about Jody Cooper, you can find further details, concert dates and media on his website, jodycoopermusic.com. Additionally, Jody has a Facebook page, Twitter, Youtube channel and Soundcloud site for you to keep track and share his music from.