An interview with Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper

Modern Nature

Interview by Lady Godiva

MOOF caught up with the prolific Jack Cooper of Modern Nature about his musical journey, literary influences, life under lockdown, and more…

Can you name four records that represent the seasons and did any of those inspire you to create Annual?

JC: I suppose it’s rather literal but I think of Nick Drake and Five Leaves Left in the autumn. I read about him in a friend’s Dad’s Mojo when I was probably 16 and although he’s obviously very well known now, I felt like I was in on something that most people my age weren’t. He was my gateway into a lot of folk music from that time. From reading record sleeves, I’d follow threads via the different people who played on records… so from him, I found out about Fairport Convention and John Cale.

Around that time I read about Love and Forever Changes in an interview with The Stone Roses. I was a huge Stone Roses fan and would track down interviews with them in second hand copies of the NME or Melody Maker. This was when I was 16, so 1996… I’d only be able to get a new CD maybe once a month, so even things I wasn’t that into, I’d know inside out. So that record still reminds me of the summer.

Sorry I’m going backwards… Spring I don’t know, nothing really jumps to mind right now. I’ve listened to a lot of music this spring that shares a certain fragility with the season; The Stan Tracey Quartet, Nucleus, Pete La Roca. 

Do you celebrate any rituals throughout the year?

JC: I don’t think I do besides Christmas… my wife works for an organic growing co-op in North London and they’re naturally very tuned into the seasons. I spend a lot of my time walking and we live in quite a rural part of London, so I’m very aware of the seasons but it’s more of an insular thing.

How do you feel your music has evolved since your first band?

JC: Immeasurably… one of life’s frustrations is wondering how different things would be if you’d made realisations sooner. Why haven’t I listened to this earlier? Why did no-one tell me about that sooner? I think one of the most detrimental social constructs regarding art and music is the myth of the male genius and all the baggage that comes with that… the canonisation of John Lennon, Bob Dylan et al. As a younger person, I realised I had a certain talent for songwriting but I wasted years waiting for my talent to be noticed rather than actually working on it. The truth is that those people succeed because of circumstance and hard work… talent is just one element of that. One of the biggest realisations as well is that pretensions are not a bad thing… In this country, a certain type of attitude regarding music is very ingrained and it’s stunted creativity…be expansive in your ideas. Think bigger.

Who would you like to collaborate with? 

JC: I’m very enthusiastic about my collaboration with Jeff Tobias ha. No shade on anyone else I’ve worked with but I find Jeff’s outlook very refreshing and he talks about music in a similar way to me. It’s everything to him and as a self conscious northern male, I enjoy being able to express myself like that finally! Jim Wallis is also a remarkable musician; thoughtful and sensitive. As far as outside collaborators… I’d love the opportunity to talk to Anthony Braxton but the list of people I admire is endless really. I think you can learn something from most musicians.

Modern Nature
If you could make a supergroup with any musicians who have passed, who would you pick? 

JC: I don’t think I’d be able to put together a better supergroup than the great John Coltrane Quartet… it’d be interesting to hear that group interpreting someone else’s music or directed by someone from a different world…perhaps Morton Feldman, Sandy Denny, Frank Sinatra, Daniel Higgs.

Do you remember the first record you ever bought and are you still into that band/artist?

JC: The first record I bought with my own money was With The Beatles and I often wonder how things would have been different if I’d chosen the White Album. My relationship to the Beatles has changed a lot over the years and I’m at the point now where I can’t imagine listening to them ever again. Perspective on music changes with context and now I just have too many negative associations to enjoy listening. I’ve been thinking about The Beatles recently and their influence. I’ve always found that a lot of American musicians come to music through hardcore and DIY culture, so their goals when it comes to music are expression and connection. British musicians have The Beatles hanging over them and a music industry/press that prizes commercial success over expression. It’s a mindset that you have to get over if you’re going to make anything of value.

Tell us about your main influences in music. Are you also inspired by literature? 

JC: I’m dyslexic so I’m not a particularly good reader, but the books I do persevere with often have a lasting impact. Mount Analogue by René Daumal was an inspiration behind the How To Live record and The Tempest as well. Musically… It’s difficult to know where to start. I suppose I come from a rock background but over the last few years I’ve really grown tired of it and it’s very rare for me to hear a new band from that world that I’m interested in. I think my experiences in Ultimate Painting and being involved with that sphere have sent me down another path, so in that way, even a reaction against something can be an influence. 

Would you consider writing a score and which directors would you like to work with?

JC: Oh yeah very much so… I’d love that opportunity. If the idea is good, then I’d be excited to work with anyone on anything. 

Do you think your next record will mirror the civil unrest happening worldwide? What do you envision so far? 

JC: How To Live had a very broad narrative but that could essentially be boiled down to ‘being in a body, walking around and the concept of thinking’… haha so very broad… ‘life’ essentially so I can’t imagine what’s happening in the world not affecting it. I think of all these songs as being a part of one piece and like most relevant music or art, it’s primary aim is processing what this is. It’s been interesting to see the different points of view regarding the importance of art during this crisis. The media’s take is that art is non-essential but to me it’s the very definition of essential… I imagine art and music will come out of 2020 in fine form, which can’t really be said for the music industry.

What was your creative routine or process during lockdown? Did you come across any interesting films or books? 

JC: I’ve been focused on writing another record and that’s been most of my days. Other than that and life stuff, cooking etc, I’ve been learning to play trumpet. I never imagined it to be quite as difficult as it is, but on other hand I never imagined it to be as rewarding and to have changed the way I think quite as much. When I’m working on a new record, I find it quite difficult to sit down and read or pay attention to movies, but I often have something on in the background. I’ve watched the whole of Mad Men like that but it’s usually something on Channel 4 like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares or Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown

Can you recommend some jazz records which might be lesser-known but that everyone should have in their record collection?  

JC: I guess it depends what appeals to you. Jazz is such a broad term. One of my favourite records of all time is Miles DavisIn A Silent Way and one of the biggest influences on Modern Nature, so I’ve sought out a lot of records with a similar feel such as Wayne Shorter‘s Moto Grosso Feio, John McLaughlin‘s My Goal’s Beyond and Terje Rypdal Vossabrygg. I’ve been listening to quite a bit of British jazz from the late sixties and early seventies as well…The Stan Tracey Quartet Under Milk Wood and the Michael Garrick Septet

With thanks to Jack Cooper for his participation. Read our review of Modern Nature’s latest release, Annual, here

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