I first heard Hattie Cooke from her excellent imagined soundtrack The Sleepers(Spun Out Of Control). It stood apart from so many in that genre in that it was as much this loose, emotion-driven dance album as it was world building. Though, it very much built a world to live in and experience at both an intellectual and visceral level. Hattie came from a singer/songwriter background, having released her debut with Third Kind Records in 2016. Cooke mixed sleek electronics with heartfelt, personal songs that locked into Elliot Smith vibes.
Cooke is now releasing her brand new record Bliss Land on June 25th with Castles In Space. Bliss Land has a unique beginning as it started out as one thing, but by the time Hattie was well into the writing/recording process it was evident the album was something completely different. Something far more personal and revelatory than she had first envisioned.
I spoke to Hattie recently about the new record, as well as being a DIY musician, her childhood, and the possibility of live shows again. Check it out below.
J Hubner: So where did you grow up?
Hattie Cooke: I grew up on a council estate just outside of Brighton in a place called Mile Oak. It was pretty rough back in the 90s and everyone had pit bulls and wore Manchester United football shirts and ran around the close terrorising their neighbours. But then again the ice cream van used to come every day in the summer and I used to play out until dark with my friends so it was pretty fun when the mean kids weren’t throwing eggs at you or trying to beat you up.
J Hubner: Has music always been a big part of your life?
Hattie Cooke: Both my parents are musical and love music so music was always being played one way or another in the house. It was totally normal to enjoy music and have a passion for it. I didn’t really understand the concept of genre though until I was probably 11 or 12 so up to that point I didn’t realise I could have a particular interest in a type of music and sort of search for it. After that I went to a lot of gigs as a teen, mostly indie NME type bands. I remember the summer of 2006 I was 15 and really into Hot Chip, I saw them live at the Concorde 2 and they were so good, that whole electronic/indie wave was a great period to be a teen and be into music.
J Hubner: What was the first instrument you learned to play?
Hattie Cooke: Like all kids I learnt to play the recorder when I was about 7 or something. Then when I got to secondary school I got to pick something to learn so I chose the oboe. I just thought it was a really nice looking instrument, all long and shiny with the silver keys. I started teaching myself guitar at 12 and then when I was about 15 I gave up the oboe. I never learnt to read music and I became too old to keep playing in the kids orchestra, but I couldn’t audition for the next one up because I couldn’t read music so yeah, I gave it up. I still miss playing in the orchestra all these years later.
J Hubner: You do this pretty remarkable thing with your music, in that you create in both the singer/songwriter world as well as in the more instrumental-based composer world. Your self-titled 2016 album with Third Kind Records is very much a pop album, albeit a very ethereal one. While something like The Sleepers with Spun Out is an imagined soundtrack, very much in the electronic synth canon. When did the instrumental, electronic world start to influence you? Or has it always? What were some integral records for you that inspired your work?
Hattie Cooke: When I was 20 I was seeing this photo-realist painter guy who was a fair bit older than me and he had an old Yamaha PSS-170 set up in his living room so I started sort of mucking about with that, using the built in beats and auto chords and stuff. Then when I was about 20 I bought an iPad to record music and that’s when I discovered all these cool synth sounds and the built in drum machine. I think I just got bored of the overly earnest folk/singer-songwriter thing and the electronic sound felt really fresh to me. At that time I knew absolutely nothing about making electronic music and never really had much of an interest in that side of it before I started doing it. I know fractionally more about it now but I’m still a total dunce in that regard.
J Hubner: Let’s talk about your new album Bliss Land. How did it come about?
Hattie Cooke: Bliss Land has been many things during its conception. It’s been in the making since before The Sleepers. I knew I wanted to do a follow up album to my debut but I just wasn’t quite ready. Songwriting is very emotional for me and some of the things I wanted to write about were too raw for a while. That’s how I ended up doing The Sleepers, it was kind of a break away from the more emotionally draining processes of music making. Then in the summer of 2020 I was approached by a label to do a soundtrack project for them, so I started writing a sort of ‘dancey soundtrack record’ but what came out was the early demos of Bliss Land. I realised it wasn’t what they were looking for and that I was obviously ready to write the record I’d been putting off. I’ve had the title in my head for 4 years, that’s how long it’s taken to finally be born.
J Hubner: You write, record, and produce all of your work. The DIY musician is something that comes out of necessity at first, but eventually it becomes what you’re comfortable with(coming from one DIY musician to another.) Do you ever fancy working with others in a studio environment? Or is the solitary musician too ingrained in you?
Hattie Cooke: My childhood friend Luke used to record me in the very early days of 2007/2008. He liked my songs and told me I should put them on Soundcloud but we just used Audacity. The whole thing was a very basic operation and I never had any interest in production at that time, it seemed like the nerdy, boring side of music making. But then later on I got kind of frustrated of needing to rely on others and wanted to be able to record whenever I liked, which is when I got the iPad and started learning how to record/produce. It was definitely out of necessity at first, not being able to afford to go into the studio and not having anyone who wanted to help for free. But then production became really interesting to me and now it’s one of the things I love the most about making music. I would definitely be up for working with other people. For a while I wanted to do it all myself just to prove to myself and to others that I could but it seems kind of silly to keep struggling away with the intense work load on my own if people out there want to work with me. It would make a very nice change.
J Hubner: What’s the rest of the year look like for Hattie Cooke? Shows? New music in the works?
Hattie Cooke: It’s kind of hard to say what 2021 is going to bring, people still aren’t sure whether we’re going to go back into lockdown at some point or not. So it’s all very tentative but I have a few shows lined up for this summer and autumn which will hopefully happen! I’m currently rehearsing with a three piece band and I’m very excited at the prospect of not being alone on stage for once. It’s a daunting thing, having nothing and nobody to hide behind up there. Hopefully some interesting offers music-wise will come in once the album is finally out there but who the hell knows what’ll happen!
‘Bliss Land’ will be released on 6/25 via Castles In Space. Preorder it here.
5 thoughts on ““To Finally Be Born”: Hattie Cooke Talks Bliss Land, Songwriting, The Future”
Excellent interview (I always say you have the knack, ‘cos you do!). So I’m wondering (if I read this correctly): she tried making that soundtrack and this album came out instead. Did she ever finish the soundtrack as well, or did the label go elsewhere?
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Not 100% on that. I sort of felt like it’s the same label, it just became a different album from what they thought it would be.
Actually it was Lakeshore Records that I originally started writing the album for. But we amicably went our separate ways and I ended up with Castles in Space. The soundtrack record is on hold but I’m thinking I’ll have another go at it later in the year – one thing at a time though!
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Thanks Hattie! Aaron, now ya know!