Having amassed a cult following over a lengthy career on the festival circuit, JP Cooper has now officially launched himself to stardom after a string of hits such as “September Song” and “Birthday”, with the latter being on the soundtrack of the latest 50 Shades movie. With the release of his new single “Passport Home” and him having just finished a lengthy European tour I caught up with the man himself to chat about life as a musician on the cusp of stardom.
So what are you up to? You’ve just finished you Europe Tour, managed to lose your passport in the middle of nowhere?
It’s amazing; right now I’m kinda in the middle of a lot of radio promo, a lot of European stuff so basically I’m just flying a lot. We’re kinda going to 4 or 5 radio stations a day… Last week we were in Germany, out there for 3 days so a lot of performances and interviews. So, a lot of travelling, finishing off the record at the minute getting all sorts of mixes done on that. What else, in May we’ve got our first proper headline European tour going on which is exciting, so we’re just getting ready for that. And also we’ve got the Shepherd’s Bush show in May… Mainly it feels like I’m doing mostly promo, but I’m enjoying it, y’know just going to different places and getting a feel for how things are starting. It’s exciting. I’m just grateful that things are actually kicking off in other places, because it’s been lot of years putting this in, and finally seeing it, other territories getting on board with it and seeing the support come from them is amazing.
Yeah, because before this you’ve had 5 EPs and you’ve been putting out music and performing solidly for seven years. You had quite a cult following at festivals like Barn on the Farm and smaller festivals, but now you’ve had the success of Perfect Strangers, September Song and Birthday, how have things changed since then?
So obviously the Perfect Strangers thing was like, a random, one off, “Let’s see what happens” sort of thing, and that kinda opened up a lot more things internationally, I started getting a lot more interest from Europeans, and obviously the radio stations gave me more of a name. September Song was almost like we had to bridge the gap between “Classic Me” and the more poppy stuff. September Song did that perfectly y’know, so it’s put me on the map in a much more commercial way, so for now we’re kind of in a place where it’s getting those people to just follow me down the rabbit hole with where we’re going with the music. Yeah, things like seeing my monthly listens on Spotify go up has been crazy, and that changes everyone’s view of you in terms of radio stations and industry people so the last nine months have changed so much in regards to my status. Sadly that’s the way things are, you need to have that before people start really working you, but that’s happening, and it’s all good.
So I actually interviewed Jonas Blue a few months ago and he was very nice about you, it was quite cute actually – what was it like working together?
He’s a great guy; it’s weird because when we first met it was after we actually finished the song. Because we wrote it on Facetime together, and it’s the start of his career as well, obviously he’d had the big success of Fast Car but people were like “Well it’s a cover, so can he write?” y’know, is there anything that can continue this. But he’s amazingly talented when it comes to pop music; he’s really on point with it. It’s really nice to share the experience with someone where it’s new for him as well, so yeah, great guy, and I’m sure he’ll have a lot of success in the future really.
So you’re working on a new album, are we allowed to talk about it?
Yeah! Full album, the title is probably going to be “Rays from the Grey Skies”, 98% sure that’ll be it. At the minute we’ve narrowed it down to like 20 potential songs, we’ve just recorded so much work. So now we’re going to finish them, and that’ll go over to whether we release like a Deluxe or… the main album will be about 12 songs. We’re just figuring out which single is best to go with, it’s almost like having a look at what cards you have really and figuring out the best way to play them. The album will be with you before the summer, and yeah I’m feeling pretty relaxed about it really. There’s so many songs and so much material that I’m quite comfortable about it.
So this new album, would you say it’ll bridge the gap between the classic you and the more commercial side of things?
Yeah… I dunno whether I could say that about the album, that was more September Song really. The record is different, because what I’ve done with the album is, obviously when I started doing this I’d play the guitar, because most of the gigs I’d do I’d have to do them on my own. But certain tracks I’ve gone “Y’know what, this would work better on piano”, so there’s a few tracks on there that are mainly piano based… guitar kind of limits where you go with a song, sonically, so there’s moments of absolutely beautiful stripped back piano and vocal moments. I don’t know if everyone’s heard “Birthday” from the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack but we’ve got songs in that same pocket, a classic soul song with modern production. We’ve been trying to blend those two worlds really, of traditional and modern, but yeah overall there’s so many beautiful, heart-breaking moments on there. I think that’s what people loved about my earlier stuff was that it was just very honest and very heartfelt. That’s still the same, but it’s just a bit more piano instead of just me and the guitar. There’s only one or two acoustic songs on there really, most of the time I’ve been playing electric a lot more, in fact most of the time I don’t play the acoustic anymore, I just play the electric. Yeah it’s definitely been an evolution, and getting to a point where we’re putting out the first record and saying all of the EPs have been experimentation and figuring out where you are. The first album is a statement, kind of like “This is who I am” and it’s funny because a lot of people have made up their minds about who I am. I’m just trying to challenge that a little bit because I want to be free. I think we’re doing good… I’ve been amazed at the reaction; I was terrified when we put Perfect Strangers out. I just thought everyone would be like “What are you doing!?” – But people have been very understanding about collaboration and I think people listen to music differently these days compared to when I was a teenager.
Are there anymore collaborations on the album, or is it just you and the band?
There might be… We’re toying with the idea. Mainly the album was always going to be selfishly me. But we’re toying with the idea of a… if it was gonna be on a CD and people were still buying physical stuff, then it would be a secret track. We want it to be a part of the album but a bonus kind of thing. I don’t want to say what it is, but there’s potential. As far as the future goes, like, obviously after doing the Jonas Blue thing I got every tropical house DJ in the world asking me for stuff. I can’t turn into a feature artist, it’s not what I do, but the focus has definitely been on getting people back to what I’m doing. But in the future I’m always gonna be doing collaborations, it’s something that I love. You learn a lot from it and meet some great people and have a lot of great experiences. That’s something I’ll do in the future, but for now it’s just focusing on the record.
So what are you doing when you’re not pootling about on your son’s scooter, when you’re not recording or touring?
You know what? Usually if I have time off I’m just with the little one. At the minute it’s like, I need that time. For want of a better word, I’m owned by this work. If there’s a space in my diary it’ll get filled within a day. At the minute there’s like three people, I’ve got the live guy who works for me, the British part of the label, the main part of Island records that are saying “Well you need to finish the record and be continuing to write moving forward as well” and then you’ve got the international team at Universal who are trying to get me out to do promo. So I’ve got all three of those people going “We need you!” The international team want me to be in Europe, the live team want me to be booking more gigs, and the label want me to be working more on the record. If there’s ever a space then someone’s gonna jump in it, like for example, today was supposed to be a free day up until 3 or 4 days ago and now there’s things in it. My diary is theirs apart from when it comes to time with my boy, and even then there are times when big things come up and I’ve got to go and do that. But yeah, usually when there’s time off I’m at the park, or the swimming pool, or at the cinema, just chilling with him. That’s about it, other than that my evenings are mainly car crash TV and if I get anything free I just want to sit on the sofa and completely zone out.
So, Passport Home. I’m getting some real Macy Gray and Lighthouse Family vibes from this track; you’ve got the gospel choir going on… What’s the story behind it?
So the story behind the idea of the song came about because I actually lost my passport when I was in the states at the beginning of the year, and the day that I realised I’d lost it I had the studio session and I was kinda chatting away about losing my passport. I was like “We should write a song about it”, about the idea of not being able to get back home… Kind of because we got a little deeper into it and it’s not so easy for a lot of people to get around these days, without getting too political about things there’s a hell of a lot of people who are struggling to find their way back home. So I wanted to draw on that emotion and dig into that a little deeper, the idea of somebody being the person that allows you to get to your destination… Whether it’s a literal destination or a problem that you’re struggling with and there’s someone there who helps you get to the point you’re trying to reach. So that’s the idea behind it, that someone could be your passport to allow you to move forward. If that makes sense? It’s really nice to go back to the organic stuff, y’know the last few things that I’ve released; obviously the Jonas Blue thing was completely left of centre for me. September Song was a lot of production, even though there’s a classically written song under there there’s still a lot of modern production there. So we thought it’d be cool to do something that’s just a shout out to my beginnings, which is singing in gospel choirs, very straightforward strings, singers, piano… Production wise we thought it’d be cool to do that. Hopefully the world will embrace it like they did September Song and it’s an interesting little experiment really just to see how that kinda music exists in the commercial world at the minute. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.
So I want to ask about live performances, are you going to have to drag a gospel choir out with you everywhere you play now?
As with everything, most of the songs I write I try to make sure that they work with just one instrument and one vocal. I’ve already done a couple of shows in the states where it’s just me and a piano… We’ve just done a live version actually that should be out at the end of the week, y’know a video with strings and a choir and that’s amazing. Whichever gigs we can get the backing singers into we will do, but obviously some thumbs will see whether that’s available or not. But yeah there’ll definitely be some shows where we’ll bring them along and have some fun with it.
What is your FAULT?
I’d say my biggest thing that I’m trying to work on is being a perfectionist. Just as far as a human point of view, I’m so lucky in what I’m doing and the gifts that I have and the opportunities that I’ve had to make that better. Sometimes I just focus so much on my failings or my own personal idea of my imperfections that it kinda takes away from what incredible stuff is happening in my life in a way that almost kind of ungrateful. I’ve been really working on it though, like it used to be that if I’d do a show and drop one note I’d just beat myself up for the whole night about it and forget that there were three people crying in the first row. Now when I do like radio station things then I’ve got a rule that I’ll do one take if I’m in a live thing, unless something terrible happens which luckily hasn’t happened yet. Every single person we go out with like from the international team are like “I can’t believe how fast you are!” because we’ll do one take of each song and then leave the studio, I don’t listen back to it. You just get too involved in little things that no one will ever notice. So that would be it, being a perfectionist, I wish I was freer. It’s not worth the heartache.
Get Passport Home right here.
Words Morton Piercewright
Photography Gerald Boye
Styling Edith Walker Millwood
Grooming Shamirah Sairally