Andy Cook turns a corner with the ultra-personal All Turns Blue
- By Andy Downing
Throughout, Cook, 28, wrestles with heavy concepts like aging (“Weighted down and slow/ It seems that age is only heavy bones,” he offers on “The Grave and the Cradle in Bloom”) and death, a presence that looms particularly large on the shattered “Willow Boy,” which the musician penned in remembrance of his mother, who died when he was a child.
“Now, even in the dead of night you hear him call her name,” he sings atop a delicate acoustic strum, his voice registering just above a whisper. “Under the willow’s shade, weeping over her grave/ What can a child do when all the world turns blue?”
“I was 10 when she got in a car accident, and when I was 12 she passed away. She was in a coma about two years,” said Cook, who performs at Brothers Drake on Friday, Feb. 27, in a mid-February interview downtown. “A lot of my friends pushed me to write that song … [and] I spent a lot of time with it. I must’ve had twenty-some drafts just changing words around. I wanted it to hurt, and I wanted it to be ugly and out there. That’s why it’s the one song on the record that’s just me and an acoustic guitar. I don’t know if I’ll ever play it live again.”
The songs on All Turns Blue first started to take shape in 2010, not long after the musician released his solo debut Sing, Dionysus! — a period of great personal turmoil that included the death of an aunt and a grandmother, and the unravelling of a romantic relationship.
Initially, the music matched this shattered mood lock-step, with the singer crafting tracks as sunless and oppressive as any black hole. But, given time and space to heal, a sense of resolve and a grudging optimism gradually bled into the recordings.
“It started off with me having this overwhelming feeling, like, ‘Why does anything matter? Why am I even here? We’re smaller than we could ever imagine, and we’re all just going to die off,’” Cook said. “Then, since it took me so long [to write and record the album], I came out of that slump, and a lot of [the songs] came around to more of a positive message.”
Such is the case on “Somethin’ to See” where, following a long, dark night, the narrator awakens “looking for the sun.” Even “The Grave and the Cradle in Bloom,” which traces the arc of life from birth to its inevitable end, feels anything but morose, with Cook applying lessons learned along the way as a means to maintain solid footing.
“Find yourself a steady course/ Down the river to the other side,” he sings over a surprisingly buoyant backdrop of jangly guitar and loping percussion.
According to Cook, music has always served a therapeutic role in his life, a function of both his history (he started playing guitar shortly after his mother’s accident) and his family lineage (the singer grew up outside Oberlin surrounded by all manner of self-help tomes and psychology texts, thanks to his therapist father).
In recent months, however, Cook’s songwriting has started to take on radically different form. He now adopts a far more methodical approach, often spending days at a time laboring over a single line — a marked shift from the past, when the creative process was akin to purging. “Before, this stuff was just running screaming out of me,” he said.
The musician has also started to embody various guises in his songs rather than penning verses from a strictly first-person point of view.
“My writing was always in this [autobiographical] vein … and now that I’m a little bit older I’ve been thinking of what comes next,” said Cook, who was introduced to the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley by his music-loving father. “I’m not going to keep writing about the horrors I went through. It’s not relevant to me anymore, and going back would only be opening up old closets I don’t need to go through. This album felt like a huge closure and pivot point in my life.”
Regardless, Cook doesn’t believe his music will ever take on an overly chipper tone — “[The songs] tend to stay really dark even when I’m happy,” he said — and he assured he’ll continue to force his writing into uncomfortable places even as he becomes more settled in his day-to-day.
“That’s where the biggest challenge is coming from now,” said the singer, who prefers to maintain a degree of unease in his personal life (he and his artist/writer girlfriend opted not to move in together to avoid settling into what they’ve jokingly coined “the obese cheese nest,” a lifestyle marked by too many evenings of comfortable-yet-creatively-bereft television viewing). “We both see the easiness we’re falling into, but we still want to push and be artists. It’s such a struggle … but I can’t put something out there that isn’t real to me.”
Photo by Meghan Ralston
Three solo acts making noise in Columbus
In Columbus there’s no lack of hubris when it comes to wide-eyed musicians starting bands, playing shows, and gassing up the tour van.
Our music scene is defined and dominated by bands of all stripes. But what of those who choose to go it alone each and every night? Those solitary souls who can only command the ear of a crowd at a noisy bar or an intimate art gallery with their own two hands? Now that takes guts. It can go either way—you either have them in the palm of your hand or you have their complete indifference. Fortunately, Columbus has been of late a healthy place for those who have more singular, personal ways of expression. It’s not as if the folksy/coffee shop/journeyman scene of open mics and neck harmonicas has never existed, it’s just now it’s becoming the feature rather than the wallpaper. As a primer, here are three artists spearheading a growing community of solo acts.
When asked what he admires most about being a solo musician, Andy Cook instinctually said it was the “artistic freedom” that being with oneself allowed. Cook’s vision as a songwriter is kaleidoscopic. Though most nights he’s on stage alone with his guitar, in his head and in the psychedelic pop of his latest release, All Turns Blue, he’s exploring a world of sound. Perhaps that’s why Cook rented a warehouse, which he calls the “Final Frontier,” where he hid away for two-and-a-half years to complete the album. For what he wanted to express, he needed a place bigger than an apartment and more personable than a studio in which to create.
“This record kicked my ass. It drained me both emotionally and physically,” said Cook about making All Turns Blue. “Right now, my soul and everything feels beaten down and dead. But it’s all in this record, so it’s worth it.”
Cook’s enthusiasm and drive have never been in question. He learned guitar at an early age in his hometown of Oberlin from Kevin Jones, a teacher of the delta blues, and as soon as Cook could leave the “boot-camp” that was the liberal arts campus, he and his first band, the Ghost Town Trio, migrated from Ohio to “make it” in Los Angeles. Cook found the band a constraint on his songwriting and his aspirations to tour constantly. Soon he found himself hanging out at the Stink House, a house show house in Columbus, scrapping to make a name for himself.
In recent years though, his persistence has made his craft a viable endeavor, and he returns frequently to L.A., “hungry for advice” on how to reach the next level in a music industry that has changed dramatically.
“I just want to make pop in the sense of what it used to be,” said Cook, referencing Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Randy Newman as spiritual guides. “I just want to let the art that comes out of me do its thing.”
… AND THEY ARE FINALLY HERE!
The lovely folks at CD 102.5 are gonna start spinnin’ my song, Waitin’ for the Man, in their regular rotation, starting tomorrow (8/8/14)! Turn on and tune in and request it by phone (614-221-1025), or text “request Waitin’ For The Man by Andy Cook” to 68683!!!Tweet
So close, y’all! Been finalizing the artwork for All Turns Blue and fishing the album around to some people to see if anyone wants to help put it out into the physical and digital world with me… (in case anyone knows some rad A&R, or music bizzy peeps, throw a dawg a bone!) Also, I will be booking a lot of shows in the near future so keep an eye out for those dates coming soon…Tweet
Greetings! From here, there, nowhere, and everywhere… wherever you are… The information super source… The world’s widest web… How wonderful it is to be introducing you to my brand new website! (Thank you so much to all my wonderful friends who helped get it rolling) Please be patient as we get some more material up for you to experience… I just finished my new record, All Turns Blue, and will be sharing some photos and videos from the process along the way of making it… and of course, will be posting some music from it, in the next few days.Tweet
The new seven inch has arrived. If you would like a digital version, you can buy it here. If you would like a physical copy of the record that comes with a download, they are $5. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like one.
I will also be playing with some very good friends (Tin Armor and Bobby Stevens) this Saturday for the July Gallery Hop at 83 Gallery. Here’s the info…
MAY 5th – @ 83 Gallery
Short North Gallery Hop
with Zack Kelly and Bobby StevensTweet