Onion Talking: James Cook

Here at TVO, we’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Nemo, who, like many, we discovered via their frontman’s appearances in The Mighty Boosh.  After producing three albums with the electro rock outfit, and crafting another project: The Dollhouse with violinest Anne Marie Kirby, the mighty James Cook has spread his wings and is flying solo.

Velveteer Paulyne, caught up with James in anticipation of the release of his debut solo album, Arts & Sciences.  This is her story:

© James Cook / Chris Corner

© James Cook / Chris Corner

 James Cook is a man who puts every fibre of heart and soul into his music, without question.  Currently resides in Berlin, as he has for the last three years, I had to ask about his perception of London and how it reflects his music. As we sat in Convent Garden his response was accentuated by constant interruption in one of the most intense area’s in London:

“Berlin’s got a lot more inspiration – there’s more time and space to write. I love London.  It’s very exciting but it’s no good for writing. However… I don’t get inspired by place: I get inspired by words and concepts. I don’t go around Berlin looking at the architecture and singing about Nazi’s or anything.”

When Cook moved to Berlin there was an obvious change in the mood of his songwriting.  The busy, pop-electro of Nemo gave way to picturesque string-based melodies in The Dollhouse and more presently, on new record Art’s & Sciences. This change is partially the result of the involvement of Anne Marie Kirby: a close friend who composes the string arrangements and does an overwhelming job of it to say the least.  When I bring up their working relationship, James explains simply: “She’s one of my oldest and best friends and I don’t often have to make much suggestion, she always gets what I need.”

With this being the first we’ve seen of Cook on his own and having the lead in every aspect, I ask how it compares to just fronting a band? “It’s a good challenge for me to write it all myself,” he opines. “With others there was that battle for everyone to write something. The main difference now is that I can bring people in. Whoever I want and for whatever I need – whereas in a band you have to follow that format of ‘he’s the bass, he’s the drummer’ etc.”

At this stage Cook had to run a small but unusual errand. Shortly after I was introduced to the talented Ms Kirby, she performed in the string quartet Oopsie Mamushka, in the famous Convent Garden Square.  And whilst I basked in the flawless talents of the classical band, James circled the room for collections. Once the band had taken their final bows and soaked in the applause that echoed through the room, I recollected myself from the amazing interlude and we briefly had a wander in search of a quieter location.  After realising that would be hard pickings on a Friday night, we settled in the Savoy and I got down to the shameless question that I was eager to ask: What do you think of The Velvet Onion?

© BonMag!

“I think it’s great,” he enthused. “I think there’s not enough talking about the Boosh world. It’s a very big and interesting world and I think that in years to come people will look back and see it as a very important scene because most of the people around it are all amazing and talented in their own right. In the future everyone’s going to go on to great things, so I think it’s important to document it such a huge pool of talent.”

Cook’s involvement in the Booshniverse goes back a long way, before any television or radio episodes after being introduced to Dee Plume and Sue Denim with whom he shared a manager. With that, came an introduction to Noel FieldingJulian Barratt (with whom he and Anne Marie shared a flat for 3 years) and then-Sneaker Pimps front man, Chris Corner. James still works closely with Chris in the production of his albums:

“He showed me how to use logic and how to work my way round the system – I was influenced by the way Chris puts music together and the way he’s so self-generating and I wanted to learn how to do that.”

As their social circle grew, Corner gave birth to his IAMX project, and this group of friends became an intriguing collective:  “[Chris] asked me to tour with IAMX. I toured with them for a year and that was also the period when we had this rotating line-up of me on guitar, Sue on keyboards, then when she couldn’t do it, Julia Davis would also play instead. Noel played Bass and Dee played occasionally too –and Julian would also play occasionally with Chris. Whoever was available would fill in and do the tour!”.

The collaborations continued, with Corner remixing a selection Nemo songs and in exchange, James provided a cover of the IAMX song Running for the recent reworks album Dogmatic Infidel Comedown.  Though, covers is a somewhat distasteful word in James’ vocabulary, as he tells me of having to decline his nan’s request for him and his cousin to sing Danny Boy for her!  “For me it just can’t be a straight cover.  It has to have my style on it”. To this end, we can look forward to a Jacques Brel interpretation, translated by Cook himself on his second solo album!

© Chris Corner/James Cook (Taken from ‘Face to Face’ music video)

That second album has a potential title – Ausland.  With the majority of song titles noted down too, it seems James is quick to move onto his next projects.   At this point, with our meeting coming to an end, and the faint sound of the melodic piano still chiming, James was happy to sum up his latest piece of work: “There’s not another record like it. I don’t think there’s anyone else that put songs together the way I do and with the same musical style. It has a certain vista of sound and a variation of style too. I think it’s very broad ranging music.”
He’s also happy to revisit the past – having made his previous records available for free streaming.  I wonder aloud why he has chosen to go down this potentially dangerous route.

“I remember when I was a kid,” he explains, “and people used to do cassette copies of albums.  I had loads!  If I really liked an album, I’d go buy it.  I don’t like it when they just give you a little snippet of a song. It’s a question of whether you want people to hear your song and like it or not listen to it at all.”

A huge thank you to James for talking to us.  To get hold of Arts & Sciences, all of James Cook’s previous work, and find out anything else you need to know about the man and his music, visit James’ official website.

2 Comments on Onion Talking: James Cook

  1. Glad you got that interview eventually Paulynne! It sounds like it was worth waiting for and James certainly seems a multi-layered and interesting character. I will definitely visit his website. Wonderfully written interview by the way.


  2. I love the way he talks about the Boosh gang being an important creative movement. Makes me feel all proud and giddy about supporting them!


3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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