Jack Cooper steps aside Ultimate Painting to reflect on his youth in Blackpool on his debut solo record.
Sandgrown is your debut solo record. How is this record different from an Ultimate Painting release? What do you leave behind with UP in regards to writing and recording when you work on solo material?
Well the subject matter which is integral is not something that I would bring to Ultimate Painting. It would be strange to have half an Ultimate Painting album made up of songs that were so specific to me. As James and I contribute 50% of the songs each, a certain amount of my songs go into a separate pile as they're perhaps too slow or downbeat. With this I wanted to make something where there was no pressure on me to write something that might get played on the radio. Also with the band, there's a very loose template to the way I write songs for that project... I guess the folkier and jazzier things don't really fit.
The record is mainly about your hometown in Blackpool, a seaside town in North West England. The lyrics and tone of the record are relatable to anyone looking back in reflection of their own upbringing back home, wherever it may be. What inspired you to put these thoughts of home and your past into a record? Was it a difficult process, something that brought closure, or a project that makes you feel content about your youth and home?
I've always written about Blackpool in the various things I've done over the last few years but I just kept coming back to it and wanted to make something that collected my thoughts, memories, stories and the feeling of the place. I suppose my definitive take on it once and for all... Weirdly, it's actually done the opposite and I think I'd love to do something further down the line... something a bit more elaborate. It's a very strange part of the country and the further away I get, the more unique it seems. The Fylde Coast is very beautiful and then it has this odd town in the middle with all this history and color. Blackpool has been almost cut off from the rest of the country and pushed off into the Irish Sea. It's incredibly deprived and bombed out, yet it's surrounded by the prettiest countryside.
How were you influenced by music as a youth? Was writing and recording something you did as a teenage in Blackpool? What was the music scene like there?
Well, back when I started going to shows, Blackpool was one of the towns most bands of that era would hit, so I got to see Suede, Pulp, Oasis, Radiohead, etc. at the Empress Ballroom. The actual live scene was fairly non-existent, but historically it's a place based around show business. I feel like the number of musicians who have come from there is out of proportion to it's size... Graham Nash, Robert Smith, Chris Lowe, Jethro Tull, Maddy Prior. I always took some inspiration from that. But being a musician or comedian, drag queen or actor definitely has some gravitas there, so oddly that's a very positive environment to be brought up around.
Blackpool became sort of a fly-over destination with the introduction of cheaper flights to Europe during your teenage years. What did that do to the music scene in the area? How did those changes to your home impact your music taste and interests?
Well there wasn't too much of a local music scene but I think it had a detrimental effect on bands coming there, as the town became way quieter and burnt in general. It didn't really impact my music taste too much but I definitely started venturing further a field to Manchester and Liverpool when I was old enough. The north of England generally has a high proportion of great bands for a variety of reasons, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's deprived... it's one of the only ways you can make it... making people laugh or whatever... that and the fact it rains all the time, so sitting in a rehearsal room with your friends is a pretty good idea.
How long have you been working on this material? How was it recorded? How were the record recording and release processes different as a solo project?
I guess I started going through my song ideas and these themes began to emerge. James had started doing more stuff around a Proper Ornaments album being released and I just set myself a month at the start of this year to tie it all up and record it. I wanted a particular type of tape machine, so I tracked one down that worked perfectly and just dug in.
You recently played a show in Central Park opening with Ultimate Painting for Yo La Tengo where you actually joined Yo La Tengo playing guitar. We can only assume this was a surreal experience. How did this come together?
Well they asked us to play with them at Central Park and we obviously jumped at the chance. We're recording a new record at the moment so we've been turning things down but YLT are one of the only bands we'd drop everything for. I have an email friendship with Ira dating back to them coming to see us last year at Pickathon and he just brought the idea up of of us playing on I Heard You Looking. It was certainly surreal though... They're probably in my top 5 bands of all time, so to be playing on stage with them in Central Park is something I'll never get over.
You've announced a tour with Andrew Savage across the US. He's also announced a solo record stepping away from a louder band to release some more chilled out stuff. What role did you play on his new record? What makes you two compatible tour mates? What can audiences expect for the live performance?
Yes! I'm really excited about Andrew's album... He assembled a very loose band and we went into the studio before Christmas and spent a week recording these great songs. Myself, Jarvis and Aaron from Woods, Mike from EZTV, Shannon from PC Worship and guy called Catfish John who plays with Psychic TV. I think I'm on 70% of the songs in some form or another and again... I really love all of those Parquet Courts guys and I consider them all really close pals but just getting to do something with one of my favorite songwriters is such a trip to me. With the tour... we still have to iron it out but I think Andrew, myself, Jarvis and Aaron are the band for both sets. That could all change though. It's exciting to have so much on.