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Interview: Hollie Cook

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Hollie Cook was always destined for the weird, the wonderfully bold and the brave. With her mum singing backing vocals for Culture Club and her dad drumming for the Sex Pistols, there wasn’t really any other direction that it was going to go in.

Hollie began dipping her toes in the big kids’ pool at a very young age, and by the time she clocked 19 years, one family friend was particularly interested. That family friend was none other than our spiritual punk mother Ari Up: the daring, dreadlocked firecracker fronting the first all-female punk band the Slits. Ari was a woman who, in her boldness and brashness in smashing the status quo before breakfast, fused punk with reggae and brought a thrashing dynamism to a genre dominated by slow, it-can-wait-until-tomorrow rhythms.

Hollie’s “story” then, is a beautifully cyclical one of inspiring women - but before meeting with Ari and the Slits, something was amiss. “I had been trying various sounds and working with different people from the age of about 15. It always felt like I had to make some sort of compromise musically to get anyone to pay attention or get feedback...that never sat right with me,” As a young girl at one of the most crucially influenceable times of her life, Hollie could’ve packed it in right there. Then, as if on queue, Ari smashed the door in. 

“When I was 19 I got to join the reformed Slits which changed everything for me.” Not just musically, but personally, Hollie found an authenticity in herself that had been lost in her previous endeavours in the music industry. Being surrounded by strong, weird women doing music exactly the way they wanted to was like a dream. I learnt about going on tour and got all of my first live performance experiences in that band.” 

Since Ari’s passing in 2010, Hollie has carried that ethic with her ever since, matching her exploratory nature fusing lamenting lovers rock with classical reggae rhythms - and of course a spritz of punk fizz for good measure. Her latest cut, a tropical rework of the 90s club classic ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ by Shanks & Bigfoot, is a true testament to the way she is bold in her decision making, and decisive in her direction as a young, female artist.

“Even when we are young and uncertain about everything in life, when it comes to being creative I think that deep down you know where you’re coming from, and where you want to be…

That gets ruined by the people higher up who have an idea of irrelevant criteria that needs to be met in order to fit a model that supposedly makes you more marketable. That works for some...but it’s about embracing all types of female artists and just letting them damn be however they want to present themselves.” 

However, to contrast a boldness in her sound, Hollie has found the creative process behind making music something more inward, reflective and quiet. She spoke particularly about working on Vessel of Love - her immaculate 3rd studio album, which resulted in a beautifully messy entanglement of reggae, dub and rock that explored themes of love and resilience.

“I’ve realised that when I’m writing I can be very quiet...sometimes I hear and complete the melodies totally in my head before I sing them out loud...

“I like to get quite high when I write...and I read random excerpts from random books for inspiration. For Vessel of Love, I also looked quite deeply into myself and rooted around for emotions that have needed expressing for quite some years.

“For the most part I was pleasantly surprised with how willing and ready lyrics were to be written.”

Vessel of Love feels inward in its personal reflections, its desires and pains, but so open in the way it sways freely, even breezily, in its soft arrangement. Strongly melody-laden,  inspired by the vast soundscapes of Portishead, The Smiths and Dusty Springfield, Hollie has perfected an ability to dissect and blend elements from the assorted genre pick n’ mix and still make it sound uniquely “Hollie Cook”. I get the feeling that her commitment to the eccentric won’t be changing any time soon.

“Encourage weirdness and differences and individuality. It’s all beautiful.”

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