By Jay Vilarrubi-Smith
There’s certainly an abundance of singer/songwriters in today’s music industry.
But within seconds of listening to Jack Cooper’s debut EP ‘Riverwoman’ it’s clear you’re hearing something unique.
The 19 year old, studying Popular Music at the University of Gloucestershire, announced the release of his three-track EP on the 8th of February through Matchbox Media.
Seeing as he happens to also be a good friend of mine, it seemed only too obvious to catch up with him and find out more.
Firstly, congratulations on the release of the Riverwoman EP! How did it come to life?
Thanks! The EP came about from working with some third years on my course, who set up Matchbox Media- which promotes local artists in Cheltenham. They wanted to record an EP after seeing me play some gigs in the autumn, so with their help in the studio at Park campus (University of Gloucestershire) we recorded it.
How long has it taken to get the EP released?
We started working on it just before Christmas and finished at the end of January. I’ve had the songs for a while as well but I was able to develop them further with the help of Danny and Lewis, from Matchbox Media, who mastered and mixed the EP.
What’s the process when you decide to write a new song? Do you sit yourself in a quiet room or is it more scribbling notes on the train?
There isn’t too much of a process because if I say I’m going to sit down and write, nothing normally comes of it! I always keep a notebook and write things down, and a lot of the time it’s putting lyrics together with guitar parts I’ve been messing around with.
A lot of the time nothing comes of what you write but then that one good line from a bad song might lead to something completely different. Inspiration can appear at the most random moments, so I just try and either write something on a piece of paper or in my phone.
Having some space to think about things is always good and keeping your scope of inspiration as wide as possible really helps, and it only takes one lyric to sometimes get things going.
If someone is reading this but might not have listened to the EP yet, how would you try and explain it to them?
I would say hopefully it’s something different to the usual acoustic song-writer sound, as I always try and think how I can do something different to what is normally done.
So I’d say it’s varied across the three songs, you start with ‘Which Way Is Home’ with its more upbeat catchy riff, then ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’ is more intense and builds through out the song and ‘Riverwoman’ is more calming, but is the title track holding it together.
It’s varied and hopefully you get something different out of each song and don’t find it to be repetitive. And I’d hope the lyrics would make you think about what they mean, and maybe even put your own thoughts and meaning to it.
Do you see the release of this EP as a stepping stone in your career?
I see it as the start of things- I’m amazed and so pleased to have my own songs recorded and want to use this as forward momentum!
Do you have a plan for what’s to come next or is it just taking things as they come?
The short-term plan is to play the gigs I’ve got coming up in Feb/March, like the launch of the EP on the 26th Feb in Cheltenham, and I think there may even be a live EP recorded soon.
But I would say I’m just taking things as they come! I wouldn’t have guessed any of this would be happening back in September when I started my degree!
As mentioned you’re currently studying for a Popular Music degree, do you think it’s important to get that educational background for your music career?
This is interesting because I’ve never formally studied music, and don’t read music at the moment. The Popular Music degree is more geared around how to be a working musician in the modern industry, and equipping us with the knowledge and tools to help with that.
Of course you don’t need to get an educational backing to have a music career, but this course lets you try things out and make mistakes, and before you’ve even started it drops you in the middle of a music scene in the town.
I know you’ve done a lot of ‘Open Mic’ nights, do you think they’ve helped you learn your trade?
Absolutely! ‘Open Mic’ nights are the best places to start. It took me ages to get the confidence to do my first one, and it took a lot of encouragement and support from my Dad to go do it, but they teach you how to perform in odd circumstances.
Things like if you’re in a crowded bar and you can’t hear yourself play, or how you deal with a string breaking. Or if someone doesn’t like what you’re playing and ask you to play Wonderwall or Brown Eyed Girl! All of these have happened to me but they give you great experience!
And would you recommend them to other aspiring musicians as a useful exercise?
Yeah 100%. As I said I think it’s the best way to start, and if you start doing some regularly, you start meeting other musicians in your local music scene, and start networking with people; which can lead to other things like gigs and support slots.
‘Open Mic’s’ can be hard because you might be playing to three people! But if you persist with things and try out different open mics hopefully you find it to be a useful exercise.
Personally I knew you for a while before I heard your music, and the thing that struck me first was the soulfulness of your voice. Is that something you recognise in yourself?
Not until recently! I’ve always had a very deep voice and have sung in a style that suits my voice, but I’m very flattered that the word soulful has been used!
I’m technically not the best singer but I want to push what I’m able to do- that’s why it’s great to let people hear your music and get feedback from it, because you find different areas to improve on or think about something in a new light.
What have been some the major musical influences in your life?
There are a lot so I’ll try and keep it brief!
The main and probably most obvious one is Ben Howard. I love his different approach to music in the way he plays- using alternate tunings and different picking techniques to get various sounds out of the guitar, and not just your standard three chords.
Others include Bob Dylan as I love his song-writing- he is so poetic and some of the lines he has written just cut right through me. He is so clever because he says so much with so little, using condensed meaning in his songs…he is an amazing songwriter!
Bruce Springsteen is a massive influence again because of his song-writing and performing. A lot of people only know him for ‘Born in the USA’ but he has so much more in his back catalogue, which I have gone over and over.
Others such as Bon Iver, The Staves and when I was younger I loved Oasis and Coldplay!
So what’s next for Jack Cooper? Is there more music heading our way?
My main aim is to be gigging more and spread the EP around the place and there should be a live EP coming soon, which will be exciting! Also, carrying on with the semester and seeing what happens with my degree at Uni, and hopefully some festival stuff in the summer and writing new songs!
You can get your hands on the Riverwoman EP here: https://matchboxmedia.bandcamp.com/album/riverwoman-ep