I want to write songs that are very pure
The sun was shining bright the day we called Jack Cooper for a conversation. Having released Island of Noise with his project Modern Nature almost a year ago, he is eager to further explore the songs in front of a live audience. We unwind with Jack before their upcoming show at De Roma next Sunday 22 May. Drawing inspiration from the natural world and the Shakespearian play The Tempest, the project fills an aching absence of tranquillity and peace felt by the average city dweller.
I was wondering if you had certain images in your mind while working on Island of Noise? I felt like the music was quite cinematic at times.
Yeah, that's very intentional. I’ve started approaching writing an album the same way someone would, say, write a script for a play or film. I try to work within a certain framework, constructing a narrative. This gives everything direction, each song serves the purpose of developing an overarching story arc. I view every song like a scene in a film in this sense.
I feel like the majority of music nowadays is very difficult to process, because there's usually so much going on. Personally, I like to play with this notion of stretching the music, to move in this direction where time is less of a consideration. You know, when you initially come up with a melody or a musical idea, this idea only lives inside your head. Only when you try to play this idea on a guitar or piano does it start to conform to Western ideas of pitch and rhythm. I’m convinced people think far more abstractly than that, so I try to move away from these concepts.
I view every song like a scene in a film in this sense
How much does the history of free jazz play into this? Island of Noise featured free jazz legend Evan Parker for instance.
A lot of improvised or free music particularly resonates with me, it just feels like a much purer form of expression to me. I’m particularly interested in how I can relate this experience to the melodic and songwriting aspects of my music. I want to write songs that are very pure.
Island of Noise was initially released as a box set with complementary texts and artworks, together with an accompanying film. It looks like you have a very specific idea of how you would like the listener to experience your music.
I think music has been really devalued over the last 15-20 years. Not only in financial terms, but especially in how much time people are willing to spend with a piece of music. I really wanted people who got the box set to sit down with it and give it some attention. I do believe that the listener gets this effort a hundredfold back. The absolute worst would be if people stumbled on the album on Spotify and skipped it after the first song; that’s not the intention of the music at all.
How will you go about translating this experience into a live show?
Oh, I don't know yet. I really have no interest in trying to replicate the music perfectly though. What excites me about being able to play live, again, is the chance to interpret the music in a completely different way for an audience. I feel like there is still a lot of ground that hasn't been covered yet in the songs, I’m really looking forward to it.
Has your creative process changed since you moved to the countryside?
Yeah, it definitely has. My life has changed a lot over the last couple of years here. It’s a lot more tranquil and with that comes a kind of clarity, I suppose. I feel like it's very difficult to be creative in a stressful environment, so I think it's been a very good move for me.
My life has changed a lot over the last couple of years
Merlin Sheldrake, a researcher and philosopher mainly known for his work on fungi, wrote some texts for the physical release of the album. I was wondering if his ideas inspire your art practice in any way.
Well, you could say that the outlook I have with my music is one of collectivism and I see that also in his writing. There’s no greater analogy in the natural world for this collectivist idea than mushrooms and fungi. I think the thing that resonated with me the most is the fact that you can really sense his politics through his writing, even though he never states it directly.
This is really my aim as well because I feel like stating everything overtly can be almost counterproductive. One of the reasons why art is so important and resonates so much with people is because it transcends me just talking about politics or whatever. I feel like you can gain a much deeper understanding of these ideas this way/through experiencing art. You probably get a pretty good notion already of my outlook from just listening to the music. Everything I have to say is there on the record.