“If there’s been anything that has carried me through life it has been looking for silver linings.”
Just a couple of years ago, JP Cooper considered putting his guitar down for good. Now, his debut album, Raised Under Grey Skies (Oct 6), is a statement of intent, and a milestone of sheer determination. Or self-confessed stubborness? I think perhaps the term ‘persistent’ is more fitting. For JP Cooper, honesty is at the heart of what he does.
“There’s certain subjects where you can’t write that stuff unless you’ve lived it.” JP says, admitting that “a hell of a lot of the album is autobiographical” and gives snapshots into his childhood and family now, with his girlfriend and son. “There’s a lot of songs in there so you can learn quite a lot about me and my experiences and the things that are going on. You might get a lot of it wrong as far as the route of where it came from, but there will be a lot of stuff to relate to regardless.”
Demonstrating a knack for taking sweet, simple sentiments like a school-boy crush, and making irresistible pop songs, music is a therapy and the end results are medicinal. ‘September Song’ encompasses his signature empathetic folk-spun storytelling and soulful projection, and is a feel-good offering that never loses its spark. Whilst ‘On My Mind’ is a melodic earworm, salted with acoustics and an invading hook.
“I think when I was younger, it was definitely not a conscious ‘I write because it makes me feel better’, it just did. Where in hindsight I’m like ‘shit, I wonder where I’d be if it wasn’t for that outlet’.” JP explains, “I’ve torn my heart out writing so many songs that the older I get, the more I wanna simplify things.
“But at the same time I’m still trying to be as vulnerable as I possibly can be and I think that’s the goal – to get more vulnerable, especially as a man, in my writing and in how I approach what I do.”
He wears vulnerability as a spotlight. Beaming down on him in the darkness, JP Cooper isn’t afraid to stand and bare his heart and soul; his smoky vocal aching with the desire and then thrill of the out-pour. Piano led ballad, ‘The Only Reason’, declares vows in the most poetic manner as a love song that shines through the melancholy and soars through a starry sky as a reminder that you are never alone.
Raised Under Grey Skies is described best in its title track – a record of how to draw beauty from pain. A perfectly collated collection of songs finally realising their own worth and soothing as remedies.
A proud Mancunian, the city has been locked in his heart, and the album title. “The grey skies is something that if you’re from Manchester, and especially now I spend a lot of time away from, is something that I’m fond of. It’s something that I find home in, in a strange kind of way.” Laughing, but deadly serious that even an LA set cannot beat the warm that covers Manchester, he says; “There’s nothing like a Manchester sunset after a wet day.
“You know when the grounds wet and the light is reflecting and the clouds make it so much more intense? You don’t get that in places where the sun shines all the time and that’s a metaphor for life as well. That’s kind of what the album is about.”
Having been patient to receive his deserving break with music, it’s gospel that carried him through and has been fully poured into the record. ‘Wait’ is a silk-woven song that explores the virtue, finding its rhythm with every moment and growing into a swaying statement of hope, the broken and bruised lyrics are carefully caressed in the uniting powers.
“I think what I love about it is that gospel comes from a very different place to where I come from and I can’t in any way take any ownership of that at all.” explaining how he grew up in a working class environment, but also a very multicultural environment, this great infusion bought intrigue both musically and personally. “I think that the beauty of things coming together is when they make a different mix that doesn’t usually go together. Two different worlds colliding.” Gushing just remembering discovering gospel away from the sole vocals on 90s dance tracks and in Northern Soul dancehalls across Manchester, JP humbly explains that both his working class nature and the meaning of gospel have greatly impacted his life. “Whether they go together or not, they have shaped me. The way that I look at the world is because I was raised in that environment. My experience with the people who took me in and encouraged me in that world has given me a free way to express myself without judgement and I found a lot of hope and joy and light in that.
“As a result I’ve been lucky that it’s filtered into my music and hopefully it’ll filter into the hearts of a lot of people.”
Pop has provided a playground for people from all walks of life to come together, collaborate and spread goodness. “Music for me has been a toy. Collaborating is like having your friends round to play.” JP says, discussing recent track ‘Momma’s Prayer’ featuring the trailblazing Stormzy. “I think it’s great when you have two people from two different worlds, though Stormzy and I, I don’t feel are from two different worlds. I think as far as how we’ve had to work and our experiences and even like faith backgrounds and I think there’s probably a hell of a lot of parallels – it looks different but it’s really coming from the same place.” The voices of the two are completely different in tone, but together intertwine and connect in a way that feels so impossibly right, discussing an overcome tragedy that its instantly felt and never forgotten. Accompanied by an angelic choir, the human connection is poignant as ever.
Speaking so eloquently about his home, so adoringly about his family, and with so much passion about the music that provided haven in a storm, ‘Passport Home’ is a song that gathers a deeper meaning for me after talking with JP. The heartfelt track whistles with upbeat optimism of having a safe person to call home, but was inspired by the ache behind those who no longer have that necessity. It was triggered by a scary moment of losing his passport earlier this year in a different country. Explaining lovingly how he feels that different communities have always come together in the creative industries, “it gives a lot of hope.” JP explains, “It would be nice if the political community could kind of doing the same thing, well society in general. There’s a lot of different cultures coming together and the important thing with anything like that is to step into that world for a bit. With a lot of musicians doing that it’s very inspiring, so I hope others can do that as well.”
JP Cooper may have been raised under grey skies, but his album provides a guiding light for many. The stormy rumbles of home truths are softened by a gospel shoulder to lean on, flickering on even the darkest of days and coldest of nights. Listen with an open heart, and allow it to be filled.
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