hmv.com talks to... - October 15, 2021

“I’m somebody who naturally takes a position, whether that be politically or personally..." - hmv.com talks to Joy Crookes
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James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

“I’m somebody who naturally takes a position, whether that be politically or personally..." - hmv.com talks to Joy Crookes

Joy Crookes was still just 17 years old when she released her debut single ‘New Manhattan’, which almost immediately began earning praise for its maturity and sonic dexterity, indicating to anyone who heard it that that may have stumbled on something special.

Since then, London-based singer-songwriter has been honing her craft and steadily releasing an impressive string of EPs and singles, including songs such as ‘Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?’ and ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’, earning herself a nomination for the BRITs Rising Star award and a place on the BBC’s Sound of 2020 poll.

In August this year Crookes announced her debut album Skin, which finally makes its keenly-anticipated arrival in stores on Friday October 15, just a day ahead of this year’s National Album Day, for which Crookes is also an ambassador and which this year has a particular focus on albums made by female artists.

In the run-up to her debut album’s release this week we caught up with Joy for a chat about putting her debut album together, her upcoming tour, and why it made sense to her to become and ambassador for National Album Day as it puts the spotlight on women in music…

 


Your debut album finally out this week – how are you feeling now it’s almost here?

“I feel very scared, but also quite relieved. We actually finished the record at the end of May.”

 

They say you have your whole life to write your debut album, how far back do the songs on this record go? What’s the earliest song you wrote to feature on the album?

“The oldest song was written when I was 15, and it never got put on an EP or anything, but I’ve always performed it live. That song is called ‘Poison’. There’s a song written after that called ‘Power’, which I wrote when I was about 18, but I think the rest of the songs on the album have all been written in the last year and a half.”

 

You started out very young, what inspired you to start writing songs that at such an early age?

“I think it was just a form of therapy. As cheesy as it sounds, I thought it was wetter to write a diary and easier to write songs.”

 

What kind of music inspired you growing up? There’s a kind of jazz sensibility to the way you sing and the way you write…

“Yeah, I was in jazz bands at school and learnt to play jazz piano, so I guess it’s natural that comes through, but also I just stumbled upon Youtube videos of people like Nine Simone, Eartha Kitt, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday. That was when I was about 14 and I guess when Youtube was sort of starting to happen.

“I was just really interested in the kind of narrative that they would sing about, and sing from, however the social and historical context in which they lived. The juxtaposition between that, and how strong you have to be in order to take that position as an artist. As a brown woman, or a brown girl, that was very empowering to me, to see that.”

 

So it’s more than just the style of those singers that has been an influence?

“I’m somebody who naturally takes a position, whether that be politically or personally, and I think that lyrically, for lack of better words, I just haven’t really given a shite, I’ve just written about whatever I’m passionate about, or whatever affects me.”

 

What kind of album would you say your debut is from a lyrical point of view?

“I think I just write about anything, I’m not really a conceptual artist. I mean, whatever feels like the right emotion to tap into on the day is where I’ll take it.”

 

That being said, have you found any themes emerging as you wrote these songs?

“Oh, yeah, I mean I guess it all kind of melts into identity. Like you said, you have your whole life to write your first album and I think that because it’s so autobiographical the theme is just personal, as boring as that sounds.”

 

Not at all, with a debut album you’re trying to showcase your whole personality on one record, really. Have you found any of that a bit of a learning curve?

“Yeah, it’s made me realise that I find it much easier to talk from a storytelling point of view than anything else, to be honest. Concepts and conceptual work, or just writing about heartbreak or wanting, it doesn’t really work for me.”

 

You’ve worked with Blue May as producer on the record – how did that partnership come about?

“Well, I really loved the last Kano record, which he worked on, and I was just kind of amazed at the production, and that it was actually coming out of England. I’m very interested in music as a human being in general, so I took in that album massively. My dad loves that album as well, funnily enough! It was a little bit difficult to explain to my A&Rs that I wanted a ‘rap producer’ to make my record, but to me it wasn’t as simple as that. I think Kano isn’t just a ‘rap artist’ - he’s an artist, full stop, and it felt like that record understood a live music sensibility, it understood so much. It was just very hard to explain to other people how that would make sense to my music, but to me it made so much sense.”

“To be really honest with you, I knew Blue from when I was 19 and had to record vocals for an advertisement. And I didn’t know him that well, but I knew that he worked hard, and I knew that the Kano album was a lot of work and a lot of artistic creativity. I actually had a secret meeting with him, which no-one knew about. A bit sneaky of me. But I just played him everything and listened to what he had to say, and all his references were the same as mine.”

 

What has he been able to bring to the table in making this album?

“I kind of knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t know who’d be able to do it, and he just absolutely understood. Again, it was difficult in the beginning, because it was explaining to people who put money where their mouth is why I wanted them to put money on someone I’d never worked with before, that I was really just taking the plunge with. But as soon as we’d finished the first song that we started, which was ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’, they just called me up and said: ‘So do you want him to make the rest of the record?’, and I said yes.

“He did all the overthinking, and I’m normally the one who does the overthinking. I’m usually the one that sources the musicians and does all the overthinking, but he just came in and he kind of swept me off my feet, in a very platonic and musical way. He brought in some of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with. Sam Beste is probably the best piano player I’ve ever come across in my life. We had an im-f***ing-peccable brass section. We were bad enough to say: ‘Shall we record strings at Abbey Road?” And I said: “Yeah, why the f*** not?”

 

What was that experience like?

“I mean, it was mental. It was obviously just a joke in the beginning, but it actually ended up happening. But it was insane, it was super emotional. I cried like a child. I don’t even know how to explain it really, it was madness. A lot of the method of this album was madness. It was like ‘Why don’t you do this’ and ‘OK, f** it, let’s just do it. It was quite punk in the sense that it didn’t take very long to produce the record, we just got it done.”

 

You probably haven’t had as many opportunities to play live as you would have liked, but you have some live dates coming up soon, you must be itching to get out there?

“Honestly, I’m excited for the whole thing. To have a debut album and to be able to showcase that for the first time is just an insane feeling. And although I haven’t really been able to play many live shows, I sort of have, because we do our guerrilla stuff, and no-one can really tell us what to with the guerrilla stuff. We just do it, and again it’s that DIY nature that we’ve had from the very beginning, it’s like: ‘Well, if we can’t make something happen because of the powers that be, we’ll just have to do it ourselves.”

 

There must be quite a lot of material that most people haven’t even heard yet?

“Yeah, there is, but we have played some of the album stuff and it’s been really fun to do. It’s amazing to go from making a record to making a live show, but I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s reactions and how it’ll translate live.”

 

Anywhere you’re really looking forward to playing?

“I mean, two nights in Kentish Town Forum is a bit mad. And love playing Bristol. But I love it all, and I love the surprise of a show, sometimes you know they’re not going to be as big as other shows you play, but it’s just the spontaneity of it that I love.”

 

You’re one of the ambassadors for National Album Day this year too, how did you get involved with that?

“They just contacted me, and I’ve always been a ‘body of work’ girl, so it just made sense to me.”

 

A lot of the music industry seems geared towards singles these days, do you think albums are here to stay?

“I can only hope so, simply because I think that you don’t really get the full story unless you have that kid of body of work, and I think artists should be allowed to showcase that."

 

This year NAD has a focus on albums by women in particular. Do you feel women are represented well across music generally? Are there things you’d like to see change?

“Line-ups, in particular. I wish that when you removed all the men from a festival line-up that it didn’t look like tumbleweed. And I’d say just HR in music, I wish women were treated better across the board. Not only artists, but also women that work in the industry, just based on my own experiences and those of the women in my own team, and how they’ve been patronised throughout the process. It feels like we constantly have to prove ourselves, and it’s ridiculous. Just general respect would be nice!”

 

Are things getting any better, do you think? There have been quite a few bands and artists committing to only playing festivals with a 50/50 split on the bill, for example…

“I mean, that’d be nice, to see more of that, but also I think it’s a mentality. Holding more people to account in the music industry would be great. And I think it’s an issue that starts form the beginning and works its way up into things like line-ups. The imbalance on line-ups is a symptom of women’s treatment in music, and society’s treatment of women generally, to be honest.”

 

If we asked you to name the three most important albums by women to you as an artist, off the top of your head, what would they be?

“Coming straight off the top of my head, I’d probably say Little Girl Blue by Nina Simone, I do love Joni Mitchell’s Blue, that’s a beautiful record, and I’d probably have to say Little Simz’s album Grey Area, that felt like a really important record to me.”

 

 

Skin is available in hmv stores from Friday October 15 - you can also find it here in our online store.

 

Skin
Skin Joy Crookes

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