To stay sane during the pandemic, London-based singer and songwriter Hollie Cook has used writing and exercise as a way to maintain her sanity. “It was a distraction and a therapy and a nice way to put our heads in the sand and enjoy this strange time as best we could,” Cook told American Songwriter. “I ended up having a really good time actually, which I feel a little guilty to say.” Looking after her garden and herself, Cook completed a collection of songs that shed more light in darker times.
Co-produced with drummer from her band members General Roots Ben Mcckone and keyboardist Luke Allwood, with whom she has been playing for eight years, and produced and mixed by Youth (Martin Glover), who also worked with Cook on her previous release, Vessel of Love in 2018’s Happy Hour is layered with Cook’s Lovers Rock, the lovey-dovey reggae that hit the London beat of the 1970s and early 80s, and intricately woven lyrics. happy hour is the collage of music that gave birth to the British artist, daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and Jeni Cook, a former Culture Club backing vocalist and Hollie’s godfather, Boy George.
In Lovers reggae and hypnotic harmonies, happy hour starts on the more sensual fainting and the desire for love –I’m trapped, I can’t move / Swimming is cool, but there are sharks in the pool / I’m a prisoner locked in a dream / But things are not what they seem / And I know what it means / You never came for me, baby—on the uptempo pre-title track “Moving On” and the celestial and physical unions of “Full Moon Baby”.
Coming to Cook while she was watering her plants, the more fortified reggae of “Kush Kween” marks a first for the artist, featuring Jamaican singer Jah9. “I wanted ‘Kush Kween’ to stay very feminine and fertile, and I love Jah9’s rich and powerful vocal energy, so I reached out to her on Instagram to see if she’d like to join me on the track,” said Cook, who rarely brought artist collaborations. “We had met briefly before and the energy was there in person, and it’s magic on this track.”
Amorous rock pioneer and producer Dennis “Blackbeard” Bovell slyly joins Cook for the reggae “Praying” closing sermon, still wandering in assumptions with Cook softly pleading one way or another, we will get there.
Picked up tracks that Cook originally wrote in 2018, Happy Houbegan to form around “Unkind Love”, with the rest of the album mostly written in 2019 while Cook was in Los Angeles and fleshed out the songs with Mcckone and Allwood through early 2020.
Indulgence is the common thread throughout Happy Hour, the title even resonated around the universal ceremony of the celebration. “I already knew I wanted the album to be called ‘Happy Hour,’ so I was trying to reach for that happier moment and focus on positivity,” Cook shares. “I guess there are still a lot of melancholic themes in my music, but I would say it’s probably my happiest album. It was just a very natural progression in terms of where I am and in my life and in my thoughts.
Cook adds: “It was literally capturing the joy and happiness as the world was going through trauma. I also had some pretty harrowing experiences with friends about a year before [the pandemic], so I’ve also honestly looked at the tougher times I’ve been through. It’s just pure indulgence and cathartic.
Wanting to capture the live element of the band in the recording, happy hour unfolds like a freestyle spectacle, further refined by the help of youth. “He’s good at getting things done,” says Cook, who worked remotely with Youth, who worked from his studio in Spain. “He makes things look so good, and I knew that combining our recording style with Youth’s ideas, executive production and mixing would be like a very happy sonic space for me. Having someone’s experience of this caliber you can’t really take for granted the advice they have and what they bring to the table.
More than a decade since her self-titled debut and 2014 follow-up Twice, and even more since joining pioneering punk band The Slits with late vocalist Ari Up in 2006 – so much has changed for Cook as a ‘songwriter. “I feel like since the first album, feeling inhibited because I had less experience,” Cook shares. “Now there’s a little more consideration and more self-awareness these days, and having previous work to push yourself, that’s what it’s all about…trying to improve .”
Nowadays, the writing seems less designed for Cook. “I can see there’s change and development in the way I write, but I’m also not trying to be too contrived with it,” she says. “I always try to do what’s best for the song without thinking too much and keeping it as natural. I still remember how I felt then and how I feel now, and I’m happy with the trip.
Photo: Fabrice Bourgelle / Merge Records