Manchester’s JP Cooper is a self-made, self-taught musician who manages to exist effortlessly within two scenes generally considered to be at varying ends of the sonic spectrum.
Learning his craft on the Indie Rock scene, but later connecting with the Sing Out Gospel Gospel Choir, John Paul Cooper’s exquisite vocal and adroitly played guitar seamlessly encompasses the best of both worlds. It’s Indie with soul, soul with heart. This is meaningful music from the mind of a man who’s lived life, loss and longing. The 28 year-old defines the idea of what it is to be a truly singular artist who both defies convention and resists comparison. “I don’t want to be seen as a singer/ songwriter because people lump you into that sulky troubadour box,” points out JP with a quick laugh. “I want to be a bit more than that. I want to make great music and grow. I’ve always loved and admired artists that evolve; people like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Björk. Hopefully I can be an artist who will explore and transform in a similar way.”
Though it might seem like music is in his DNA, JP wasn’t bought up in a particularly musical household. However, his Granddad, a commercial artist and dad, also an artist, taught him something that would prove invaluable to his own artistic endeavors in years to come. “My dad went to study at art school and my Granddad told him, ‘Never get a job in art ‘cause it’ll be something that you don’t love anymore. It’ll be a job not a hobby’. That really stuck with me years later when I began to teach myself guitar. You need to know your a,b,c’s, but the main thing is to have fun with it, to play with it like a child would, ignore the rules. The fact I’m completely clueless about what chords I’m playing works in my favor. I’m a complete blagger! But that’s really nice I think; I can stay wide-eyed about it.”
Bought up during the guitar-laden years of Britpop, like many young Manchester teens, JP played in various bands throughout school. Broadening his musical tastes beyond Oasis by regularly visiting eponymous record store, the Vinyl Exchange, it was there the young music enthusiast discovered everything from Björk to Aphex Twin, Donny Hathaway and Rufus Wainwright. Deciding to go solo while at college, JP was finally able to fully draw on his various influences and begin to experiment with the sort of artist he wanted to be. “I realized that I didn’t want to have to rely on anybody – as long as I could play and I could write then I’d be pretty self-sufficient. And I could make the music I wanted to make without having to compromise.” Teaching himself guitar, JP began testing his sound out at Open Mic nights and quickly started getting booked to play all over Manchester. Within a year he rose to selling out 250 capacity venue, the Deaf Institute. However, because he was a white guy with a guitar, he found himself increasingly booked at folk / indie / band nights. Ill at ease in a scene into which he was thrust, slowly his audience began to diversify as the subtleties in his music began to emerge. He joined Manchester’s Sing Out Gospel Choir and released a series of three mixtapes, noticing a growing fanbase within the urban world. Soon he was not only selling out venues like the Gorilla in Manchester, but he was hitting capacity at shows in London too. “As soon I found an outlet into the soul and urban world, everything changed overnight. Since then it’s grown and grown and I’ve found my audience. It’s really nice to be embraced by that world.”
Three years ago, he became a dad for the first time and a year later faced a difficult decision. Supporting himself by working in a bar so he could be with his son every morning and night, when Island Records offered him a development deal, he knew it would mean a lot of travel to London. “I didn’t want to miss any of my son growing up, but I also had to build a future for us both. It got to the point where I’d had this massive dream of doing music and all this amazing stuff was happening, but at the same time I was away from all of the things that are home to me.”
It’s a subject he covers on Closer, found on his 2015 EP, When The Darkness Comes. After signing to Island Records 18 months ago, JP released two EP’s, which combined have had over 5 million plays. The first, Keep The Quiet Out, was produced by the Confectionary [Bonkaz, Jacob Banks]. The most recent (When The Darkness Comes), produced by the duo One-Bit, features six perfectly executed vignettes. The EP is deeply personable yet utterly relatable. “It’s about relationships, people’s struggles, family and the human mind, the weirdness of it, the complexities of it,” explains JP.
He not only has a large online following, but he has a large and loyal live fanbase too. Last year, he sold out four headline shows in London, including the The Scala the Village Underground and Koko. The EP’s, along with his engaging live performances, have won JP a legion of fans as disparate as his sounds; the likes of Boy George, The Cast Of EastEnders, Maverick Sabre, Sean Mendez and Stormzy have all sung his praises, while recent collaborations with the likes of George the Poet have seen Cooper diversify a little into the spoken world arena. “It’s not my world at all but it’s taught me loads,” he muses. “The whole imagination behind it all inspires me to want to be better.”
Next up is JP’s debut album proper which promises to be bigger and bolder affair, while retaining a sense of simplicity and honesty. Featuring elements of Hip Hop, stand-up soul and Country-inflected guitar, there will also be some unexpected twists and turns. JP isn’t an artist that deals in the formulaic, the predictable or the conventional. “It’s going to be bold,” he decides. “I’ve enjoyed some spot plays on Radio and I know I’m lucky to have those because what I do really doesn’t sound like anything else on there. I’d like to carry on down that route. I don’t want my music to sound like everything else that’s being put out at the minute.”
JP Cooper isn’t the sort of artist to list his ambitions as being awards and accolades. That’s not why he makes music. He’s isn’t here to make cookie-cutter sounds that cynically appeal to a mass market. Rather he wants to challenge the idea’s of what music people should – and shouldn’t – be making. “There’s no façade. I’m just somebody who lives life and writes about it. It’s a human experience. I’m not untouchable,” he points out. “I think people trust what I do because of the way that I am; there’s no front. I think that makes people want to find out more. Hopefully when they do find out more, they’ll like what they hear. I know nothing’s promised, and I know I’ve been doing this for a few years now, but it feels just like the beginning. And that’s really exciting.”