WLUW’S Bri Guntz had a conversation with Will Joseph Cook prior to his show at Schubas. The English artist explains the ever-changing music scene and how TikTok played a role in his career. Additionally, Cook talks about his most recent single MF Bassline and his relationship with music.
Interview by Bri Guntz
What’s your musical, background? How did you get started?
I started playing guitar when I was like 13 and I literally just learned YouTube covers. That was my Genesis so the YouTube space was definitely an inspiration. And I started uploading covers and weird little acoustic performances of my own songs, it’s mainly originals. I got bored of covers pretty quick. Yeah, just videos on YouTube, sometimes.
Did you ever have any formal musical training?
I did grade one guitar as a way to get started. I had guitar lessons for four months and I just learned more on YouTube.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never listened to it?
I would say, it’s like, introspective alternative pop music from indie influences. That’s it.
So you had your song, “Be Around Me” go viral on TikTok, how did that impact your career?
It gave me a lot to do over lockdown. It went viral at the end of 2020 and into 2021 so that was a weird time to be releasing music. I feel like going viral in an organic way with TikTok was like a golden ticket and I’m independent, so I feel like that kind of stuff can just help you circumvent all of the worst bits of the music industry because it’s already happening without having to throw loads of money at or convince a major label to take a shot on you. it was great. I think those moments you can’t really predict but when they happen they’re life-changing.
Would you say that you find TikTok to be overall positive on the music industry since it circumvents some of those harder bits you were talking about? What are your thoughts on that?
I think it definitely was. I think it’s just changing a lot as a space. It used to be kind of Fringe and it was dominated by mostly random music success stories. Which were more frequent in 2020 and 2021 like TikTok dancing and songs popping off in short form was more of a trend. Whereas now as it’s become more mainstream. It’s almost like the new YouTube in that there’s everything happening on it. Where it used to just be more dance and music focused. So I think it’s more crowded now and there’s more money involved in things being successful in there. But you know, clearly, there are still people that are being discovered here all the time. It’s free to get on there.
So, tell me about your most recent single MF Bassline. What’s the story behind that song?
Wow, the story behind that song, I wasn’t feeling great. It was basically, I’ve always kind of struggled with writing about more difficult emotions and they end up sounding like in my head, the voice that always says this is too self-indulgent this isn’t going to help anyone. I’ve felt the same way (about) talking about problems, it feels a bit like wallowing in it or something.
So whenever I write I would always try and focus on something more optimistic or hopeful and then this was the first time where I was like I just want to feel the feelings and it’s a motherf***ing sad feeling. But it was also, it was just about my relationship with music at the time. I think it can be a really challenging thing to do as a career because it’s so volatile and it’s so up and down. It has, as everyone knows, these huge highs and big lows.
So it was kind of like a musical gimmick, the bassline is the lowest part of the song. If you are existing underneath that you’re not even in the arrangement anymore, you’re just like a slow vibration, a very lame vibration. So it just felt kind of cool. I feel like I’ve come out of it even just playing that song to people and seeing people connect with it. To have a song about struggling with music to be received well by music fans is cool.
So what was the process of making that song? Can you walk me through that a little bit?
Sure. It so started out as a joke. I had COVID and my friend just asked me how I was doing and then I sent him a voice message because I was just making beats at home because I had to quarantine. And then I just freestyled and that was like, the lyric that came out, and then I was like, actually, this is kind of dope.
So like most things in my life started doing it because it was funny and then gradually became attached to it, and then it started carving out into this quiet introspective thing. That is honestly a trajectory that most of my songs follow. If it starts out as something kind of humorous I think it had something original about it where I’m like, “Oh I haven’t heard that before” and I wanted to kind of challenge myself genre-wise.
Do you find songs like that kind of therapeutic to write and release?
Definitely. Definitely, it can be a long journey to get to the therapeutic bit.I feel like I’m at it now, seeing people connect to it. Having someone shout the lyric, the chorus to that back to me, like last night, we had a great show in Minneapolis and (it) definitely had me in my feelings.
So speaking of shows, how do you get ready for a live show?
So I mean, besides the obvious shit, checking everything is working. But, I always want to do vocal warm-ups. I quite like just getting together with the band and we do little harmonizing things. I pick a random song to try to do bad harmonies on. And then depending on the mood, I don’t know, sometimes I’m already hyped, sometimes we’ll just do a bunch of stupid shit to try and get in the zone. We did one thing on one tour where you just like really cringe and fake laugh until everyone is just laughing because it’s so bad. That just kind of forces a good energy, so you should try that.
So getting the good energy is important.
For sure, I think audiences mirror what you do. If you come on and there’s tension then people feel it, which is not what you want. When you get there you want to feel loosey-goosey.
Have you ever started playing a show where maybe you guys were feeling it and then the audience was kind of harder to get on board?
So have I played a bad show? Yes, I have. I think sometimes if you’re in your head about other things sometimes something goes wrong that’s out of your control and then it’s difficult to win people back. It’s like if you’re giving a speech and then someone was outside yelling everyone’s going to be just thinking about the person yelling. Say, I feel like doing a show and then something is going wrong. It’s really hard to focus back on the show there’s something kind of delicate I think about communal music experiences that you don’t want to be pulled out of. and I think the best from front men and women performers, in general, are just able to kind of pull people to that.
How has your tour been going, do you have a favorite part so far?
Yeah, last night was my favorite show, Minneapolis. Just because I played that city before on a support tour. So there are people that I literally recognized and had met last time who were super hyped to have me back. But we’re only three shows in.
Is there one show in particular that you’re looking forward to the most?
I’m hyped to be back in New York. I just feel like I have unfinished business. We were there, I was like a giddy kid, it was like Christmas morning. I was really excited to get to New York because it’s New York baby! So I woke up when we got there on the support tour for Tessa Violet that I did last year. I woke up at like 6:00 a.m. got off the bus and just went walking around all day and seeing stuff.
And this time we have two days. I’m just gonna be a little tourist. New York people are absolutely bananas in the best way. I didn’t have one normal conversation when I was there. You hold the door for someone and they’ll tell you a ghost story or something.
Lastly, what can fans look forward to from you? Any upcoming shows or music you want to talk about?
I’m finishing my next project for the end of this tour with some time in L.A. at the end to record. MF Bassline is the first track to my field series that I’m doing. I’m calling it a mix tape. Because there is room for a lot of experimentation on that and me trying new ideas, but all of it slaps. So I’m very excited for people to dig in.