JP Cooper has done the legwork. Ten years in bands in and around his Manchester hometown. Multiple songs written on his own and with a variety of collaborators, a couple of which became global hits-that-will-not-die: Perfect Strangers with Jonas Blue and his own September Song, which is now sitting at some 600 million streams. An international solo career built on pure songcraft.
And he’s done the business. The singer-songwriter’s 2017 debut album Raised Under Grey Skies has sold in old-fashioned numbers: one million copies at time of writing. His 11 million monthly Spotify listeners have contributed to a grand – very grand – total of four billion total streams.
And, over the past 18 months, Cooper has done the hardest thing: built on all that to create a second album, a collection of 13 songs that work as together and work apart, that out-paces, out-sings and, by his exacting standards, out-classes his debut.
“My first record reached so many people on a personal level,” he reflects, “so they’ve built a relationship with it – and even now it keeps doing its thing. But coming back now, this is more of a body of work that’s been put together with thought and care and not in a rush. When you have a hit single that changes things and what the album should be – there’s pressure to write a load more singles.
“Whereas this one I feel like I’ve been able to give a lot more attention to all of them because I’ve not been distracted, trying to launch my career. I’ve been able to sit at home and work with the people I love and get it to the place I want it to be – and only then send it off into the world.”
It is, too, coming from a place of love. Which is one reason why the second album from JP Cooper is called She.
As he explains: “I started thinking how most of my biggest life experiences have come about because of women: losing my mum at an early age, having four sisters, having a baby with someone I didn’t end up with, meeting my wife, with whom I’ve just had a baby… I’ve learnt most of my lessons through women and wanted to celebrate that and give thanks!”
All things considered – i.e., the pandemic – JP Cooper had a productive 2020. He released the Too Close EP, with two of the songs, the title track and Bits and Pieces, making it onto the album.
“Then Covid came along and everything stopped. It’s been a trying time but thankfully, it gave me the time to really pull this album together. We had all the songs, and we knew what the main tracks were, but it was a case of working them up and finishing them”.
“A big thing for me during Covid was to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going,” he continues. “Up until then, I’d really been working from a place of survival. I’d never reset, so all my decisions were made from that place. But I realised I wasn’t in that place anymore. I could make creative decisions and be bolder with them, not be so fearful, not worry too much about it from the industry side. I’d earned my stripes.
“So, it was nice to have that new mindset, and make music from that position.”
Opening the curtain on the new album is Holy Water, the first track and recently released single.
“I’ve got deep roots in gospel music, real musicianship and playing in bands, so I wanted to make that statement with this single. I don’t want to try and emulate pop stars. Because I’m not a pop star. I’ve stepped into that world and it felt like a badly fitting jacket. But this feels like me. It feels more about the record as a whole.”
Recording in a tiny room in The Premises in Hoxton, East London with songwriter/producer/keyboard player Hannah Vasanth (who’s worked with everyone from Rihanna to Jessie J via Jason Derulo), Cooper called in “all my favourite players, and we recorded it like an old school record – built it from the ground up, piano, live Hammond organs from Nicky Brown, who’s just an absolute animal on the organ, my guitarist Jack Shepherd, everything.
“It wasn’t made on a laptop with synthetic sounds. It was real players, real voices, real relationships. That’s the people I want to make music with moving forward. I much prefer working in a room with musicians than arranging little dots on a screen.”
The rootsy, gospel-tinged hymn to family and the difficulties that can arise therein also serves as the opening statement in a five-track narrative that will be told across subsequent videos for songs from She.
“We wanted to take a different approach to the promo videos for this new album,” he says of the accompanying film. “Holy Water follows the strained relationship between father and daughter because of the father’s struggles with alcohol. The two part ways and we follow their separate journeys of self-discovery, healing and growth. In this short, our main characters are at a turning point in their lives. Growth isn’t always easy, and we often distract ourselves with things that aren’t necessarily in line with our true selves – but the beauty lies within the journey. Falling and failing are two very different things. I can’t wait to unravel the rest of the story.”
Call My Name, pivoting on the kind of big pop chorus and soulful delivery that come naturally to Cooper, continues that story. “That was a pain in the arse to get right!” he admits with a laugh. “We’ve had four different producers on that, because we were constantly searching for this extra 20 per cent. But we got there in the end.
“So, another long journey, but this is the thing with this record: we’ve been really meticulous with where we get the songs to before we let them go into the world. Pushing forward, going back to the drawing board, keep at it until we were totally happy with where the songs were at.”
Also ticking the Big Tune box is Radio, a rippling, hands-in-the-air moment as sure to ignite dancefloors as playlists. Again, Cooper has taken his time with it and been unafraid to radically remodel the song. He began writing it a couple of years ago with singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow and Moon Willis, then he gave it to a producer called Vodka who tweaked it further.
“It used to be slower, but we put it into Ableton and sped it up – and it just came out great. It’s another reason why I want to give every song on this album a bit of focus. We had this last time with songs like In The Silence, which streamed really well in other countries like Germany and Holland. So this time, we’re trying to do something amazing for every track, whether it’s a gospel version, lyric video, full video, or release it as a proper single.”
One of the album’s best vocals – intimate yet soaring, old school yet fresh – comes on the beautiful soul of Need You Tonight.
“Not many songs like that come along, it’s such a well-written song. I wrote it with Jamie Scott, who I’ve written a lot of songs with. And we knew from the start it was really, really special. We spent a lot of time on the production. Lyrically it basically sums up navigating the aftermath of a relationship – still wanting to believe in somebody after you’ve split up, living in small town, often bumping into each other because you drink in the same places.”
We Cry is another cornerstone song, a simple yet powerful note of reassurance and comfort. Both personal and relatable, it feels purpose built for a film soundtrack moment. “Such an important song in terms of the lyric and as a part of the story. I wrote it with Matt Koma and Fran Hall in LA. We’d never met before and she was heavily pregnant. She was talking about how she had days where she cried all the time, and I wanted to get that energy, and feminine energy, in there.” Given that Cooper’s wife was pregnant for most of 2020, the message took on extra potency.
The shimmering, elegant If The World Should Ever Stop is another song of outreach and connection. “In the journey of it, that’s in the middle, this place of, no matter where we’re at,
“I love the simplicity in the message, ‘I’ve got you and you’ve got me’, it’s so straight to the point and universal. And it worked within the story of the song, finding that place of finding a true home with someone. Initially I wrote this song thinking I’d give it to another artist, but when it was done I had to keep it for me”.
The title track, another Scott co-composition, closes out the album. JP switches it up again, with nods to both Stevie Wonder and Bacharach and David in a retro-soul moment tricked out with future nostalgic electronics.
“The lyric summed up a lot of where I’ve been in my life, with my ex-, my first son’s mum. Our relationship is incredible now. So, it’s about appreciating her and giving thanks to each other for setting each other free. Everyone deserves to be free. And with my little Leo’s mum, when we met, I was still very mixed up… and she’s been very patient with me,” he acknowledges with a smile. “So, in terms of the title of the album, it felt perfect.”
This, then, is She. It’s that paradoxical thing: a collection of songs that hangs together as an album, that tells a story, but that’s also rich in standalone tracks the each ignite a moment. It’s the sound of an artist developing, stretching and reaching, both inwards and outwards.
He’s done the legwork, done the business and done the hardest thing. Now JP Cooper has done himself proud. “And I’m only just getting started,” he promises.
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