Sensory Overload: Andy Cook
Most recently based out of Oberlin, this year Cook followed in the footsteps of those friends and collaborators by relocating to Columbus, joining the steady stream of Northeast Ohio talent that has opted to trek down I-71 to plug in more directly with what’s happening here.
Last Saturday, the happening of choice for that segment of the scene was at 83 Gallery, where the creative collective known as the Peach District was unveiling a local music jukebox funded by a ComFest grant. Cook was closing out a full day of performers, so I decided to see what he was all about.
I was hoping Cook’s rotating cast of Wanderloons would also be on hand, including Eric Cronstein, another Cleveland-area import who recorded the latest Tin Armor and Saintseneca albums at his new studio The Tone Shoppe. But this gig was solo, so Cook’s songs and persona would be laid bare to scrutiny without the usual fanfare.
He passed the first test, when a blown amplifier fuse cut off his first song and sent him scurrying into a fit of improvised finger picking. He continued to prove himself quick on the draw, be it responding to a sneeze in the crowd by working an impromptu “God bless you” into a song or mugging when he saw me attempting to snap a photo. His presence was buoyant but low-key, frequently goofing around but never overbearing or obnoxious.
The tunes were well-sculpted little ditties with a romantic tilt — big-picture folk-pop about love and how we’re all in this together. Cook occasionally diverged into period folk tunes that meshed well with the Decemberists flavor in his voice and the old-fashioned pop craftsmanship that positioned him as a less avant-garde cousin to Dane Terry and Andrew Graham.
He ended with his best song of the night, a minor-key number that left me feeling reflective in the best sense and eager to hear him with his band.
INTRODUCING: ANDY COOK — “UNDER THE WHITE PINE”
0 Comments 31 October 2011
Andy Cook is an awfully nice fella. Cook recently relocated to Columbus from Oberlin, a small city in northeast Ohio. He has gained some notoriety around the capital city by playing both solo shows and dates with accompaniment as Andy Cook and the Wanderloons. I caught one of the 20-something’s performances at a local art gallery a few weeks ago, where a really cool project called the Community Music Jukebox — a digital music jukebox featuring only local artists, and they’re placed at art- and music-oriented places around the city, with songs for just 25 cents. Cook is one of the artists featured on the brand-spankin’ new music box, and he performed at the get-together celebrating its unveiling.
It’s immediately apparent from watching Cook perform that he lives to write, sing and record music. Cook fell into songwriting following the passing of his mother at a very young age, and it’s clear he relishes the opportunity to be a musical storyteller. The 10 songs on his debut record Sing, Dionysus are as interesting for the composition — Cook plays the banjo, guitar, Wurlitzer, drums and more on the record, in addition to singing and having help from countless friends and Wanderloons — as they are for their lyrical strength.
The track we’re featuring here, “Under The White Pine,” features a fantastic male-female vocal pairing, with Cook’s friend Haley Antell taking center stage for a bit. Cook was kind enough to tell us a little bit about how the song, which was partly inspired by the William Carlos Williams poem “The Red Wheelbarrow“, came to be:
(Bandmate) Eric Cronstein and myself recorded that particular song at my apartment in Oberlin, Ohio. The upright bass being played by Laura Dykes, who would later be the bass player for the Wanderloons for little over a year. We asked another fellow Oberlin Musician/Singer/Songwriter, Haley Antell (who would also become a Wanderloons member for the same span as Laura) to come over and record backing vocals for the song. Originally the end part was going to have my vocal melody mixed as the lead vocal and have Haley singing her part as a backing harmony but when she started singing her harmony with me, it was very obvious that we needed to rework the end section of the song around her part. I think it’s incredibly powerful just like her voice and personal touch as a singer… The rest was all built around really great mistakes.
Conjure a warm summer dream under a magical, open sky. The world is topsy-turvy and the soundtrack to it all is provided by the Wanderloons.
“They play for the sun and the stars and the moon,” Andy Cook wrote in a poem biography of the band. But mostly they play for themselves and a slowly growing number of fans.
Lead singer Andy Cook met band mates Eric Cronstein and Laura Dykes in 2007 when Cronstein moved to Cleveland. Cook and Cronstein began making music together while working at the same Cleveland recording studio. Dykes and Haley Antell, friends of Cook from Oberlin, Ohio, joined the boys to round out the Wanderloons quartet.
“The band sort of fell together,” Cook said. “It’s always changed members and done a lot of different, weird things with people coming in for a couple shows every once in a while. So it’s been kind of crazy, but now, it’s sort of settled into this. It just happened for the right reasons.”
In 2010, the Wanderloons released their first album, “Sing, Dionysus!” under the name Andy Cook. Cook said the group chose to release the album under his name because Cook and Cronstein recorded most of the songs on it with other friends before Dykes and Antell joined the band.
“The next record will probably just be the Wanderloons,” Cook said. “Because we’re all contributing this time and it’s sort of coming together as a band instead of the way we did it the last time, which was me just writing all the songs.”
Cook cited his love for his friends and their diversity and creativity as his greatest musical influence. He also finds inspiration in sitting and listening to other music for hours on end.
“We listen to a lot of music,” Cook said of the Wanderloons. “I also like to take long walks down the woods, you know. That makes me like to write songs.”
While Cook joked about his musical inspiration, he added that he doesn’t like trying to define the Wanderloons’ genre. He described it best as pop music, but said it’s also just music for everybody.
“I like humans playing music,” Cook said. “We search for some feelings in our playing more than worrying about being spot-on.”
Cronstein said the entire music-making process is imprecise.
“Songs are not created really until they are recorded,” Cronstein said. “So there’s like basically the seed of a song that Andy has, an acoustic guitar and the vocal. So the song structure is there, the melody is there, the song is there and then the rest of the writing process happens.”
“It starts with the idea, and usually we demo it out a couple times,” Cook added. “It leaves a certain element of the environment of wherever we’re recording. That moment gives the song a little bit of life that it wouldn’t have had if we had just planned everything out before.”
Cook said his songs are all about real issues and experiences in his life. Writing lyrics is one of his favorite parts of the musical process — choosing the right words to express his feelings in a captivating way and molding them into a sound he is happy with.
“I love making that sculpture,” Cook said. “The song.”
Once the words are down and the framework of the music is completed to Cook’s and his fellow Wanderloons’ satisfaction, the band gets ready to go live. Cook said his group has mostly been working on live performances for the past few months.
In their live shows, the Wanderloons let their musical variety come through on stage. A typical show involves two hollow-body electric guitars for the band’s signature warmth, an upright electric bass played by Dykes, a bell kit and piano played by Antell and anything else the group manages to throw in.
“On the record, there’s probably 30 different instruments,” Cronstein said. “Just whatever’s there at the time.”
All of the Wanderloons play in multiple bands in addition to this one. This makes it difficult for the band to come together to practice, so Cronstein said they are sometimes forced to go a few weeks without rehearsing. Most of their practices take place leading up to a tour or big show, when Cronstein makes the drive from his home in Columbus to Oberlin where the rest of the band lives.
When performing live, Cronstein said the Wanderloons enjoy mixing up the songs they perform, rotating sets so that their performance is always new. There are, however, staple songs in every show, including band favorites “Mulberry Moon” and “Grow Strong.”
The Wanderloons and a few extra friends took a long weekend in early March to play the East Coast, stopping in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Somerville, N.J. “We just played with different people that some of us knew,” Cook said. “It was awesome. It was a blast. It was a lot of driving and a lot of time, but we just always had fun. The dynamic of the band is really funny and we all just love it.”
“People always seem to think that band members hate each other,” Cronstein said. “I’ve spent weeks in the car with these people and never got remotely upset at anybody.”
Cook said the Wanderloons tour every six months, on average, but they plan to do shows every couple months starting in the near future. He added that it can be stressful travelling as a band because they usually have to scrape money together to keep their van in shape, and because every new trip presents unexpected challenges. It has also been difficult with members joining and leaving the group, but both Cook and Cronstein said all those annoyances are well worth the final payoff.
“There’s never a thought of ‘man, I would rather be doing something else,’” Cronstein said. “It’s all for the greater good — everything we do. You definitely lose money. I mean that’s what musicians … we’re not known for being wealthy people. It’s just doing what I love to do.”
“Playing music with people that you care about and love,” Cook added. “And sort of connect with in some way, in whatever way that is, it’s the most incredible feeling in the world, I think.”
Neither Cook nor Cronstein like to think in terms of reaching certain goals or progressing by levels. They said the Wanderloons like to do well now, rather than plan where they will be in five or 10 years’ time.
“We only have hopes,” Cook said. “I don’t wanna roll burritos anymore. It would be cool to be able to play music for a living ‘cause right now we’re working on new songs, and we’re just spending this whole week working on music. Now I have to go back to work after this, but this is what I would love to be able to do for a living.”
They have played in Kent at the Rathskeller and the VIP Festival at The Vineyard. Cook released an EP and the CD “Through Leaves, Over Bridges” with Kent band American War.
Despite the 20-some years of musical experience between Cook and Cronstein, the Wanderloons are still waiting for the break every serious musician dreams of. They keep hoping, driven by fervor for the music.
“You gotta be fucking nuts,” Cook said. “You gotta be fucking crazy. You have to want it that bad, that’s it. If it’s not your passion, you’re just not going to do anything about it cause it’s so hard. I work at crappy jobs, and every spare ounce of my time I’m working on music. If you get knocked down or something, it’s what you’re willing to do. You gotta keep getting back up, and it’s gonna take time and effort and hard work.”
“It’s like being in love with anything, I guess,” Cronstein added. “You’re crazy about it. I’m 27 now, and I’m not planning on quitting any time soon.”
So the Wanderloons wander onward, following what moves them and sharing their birdsong along the way.
“I don’t want perfection,” Cook said. “We let it be loose. We have a good time.”
Contact Amy Cooknick at firstname.lastname@example.org
Review of our performances at this years Clifton Heights Music Festival.
ANDY COOK AND THE WANDERLOONS
Andy Cook and the Wanderloons never disappoint, no matter who the Wanderloons are for the evening. For the festival, Andy Cook played an acoustic set with two friends, allowing the harmonies and evocative lyrics to be more prevalent. Whether you’re right up front and involved or standing in the back with a drink, Andy Cook and the Wanderloons will undoubtedly catch — and hold — your attention.