Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's new home for exclusive music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
Hollie Cook has lived a life most of us only dream of. The London-born artist is the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. Boy George is her godfather. She met David Bowie when she was 10. And before she went solo, Cook was a member of The Slits, alongside the late Ari Up. But even with all of the musical influences in her life, Cook has developed a musical sound that's all her own.
Cook describes her music as "tropical pop." Officially, at least on Apple Music, Cook's music falls into the reggae genre — but we guarantee you haven't heard anything like it before.
Cook's third album, Vessel of Love, will be released in January, and she'll be on tour in March. She's already dropped the singles "Freefalling" and "Survive" from the album. Today, we're premiering the video for "Survive." Check it out below, and read on for our interview with Cook.
Refinery29: Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
"Yeah, pretty much. There were a few other things that I was interested in, but they all basically involved performance on some level. So I found my comfort zone in music and singing, and it's just my most natural ability."
Why did you choose to get into reggae, specifically?
"I didn't necessarily choose that, it just came really naturally. I tried a few other areas of music and a few other genres. But eventually, when I came to reggae, that's just what felt the most natural and made the most sense. And it wasn't really what I was expecting at all, but when you find your song, you can't really deny it. It just felt right."
Have you found that the genre is particularly male dominated?
"I think that all genres are male dominated, to be fair. I don't think that it's necessarily just reggae. But like in every genre, there are an absolute ton of brilliant females, also. And because I was very much inspired by mostly female vocalists, it wasn't necessarily something that I was very much aware of, [that it] was male dominated. I think that now that I've been doing it for a few years, it's possibly, slightly more on the male dominated side. But that's just the general industry, I think. It wasn't something that necessarily fazed me in any way."
Do you hope your music will help change that?
"I think that that is changing. I meet young women all the time who are singers — and reggae singers in particular — because of the festivals and shows that I play. There's no shortage, I don't think, of aspiring and up-and-coming female artists."
We're premiering your video for "Survive." How did you come up with the concept for the video?
"The concept for the video came just by the fact that I don't necessarily feel hugely comfortable with the traditional style of video shoots and being in front of the camera. It just makes me feel really self-conscious. So I just thought that it would be really nice to make a home movie, basically. I was traveling to L.A. for a week, and I love L.A. I think it's beautiful, and I thought that it would just be a really perfect backdrop. I think that visually, it fits my music really well. It's not even the first video I've shot in L.A. It's just the place that I love. And I did it on my phone. It was just the most chill way of doing a video for me, that I felt comfortable and creatively in control of."
Why did you use vintage-inspired visuals for the video?
"I just really like the lo-fi aesthetic. I prefer myself in that kind of setting. I don't necessarily love to see myself back in such a high-definition, glossy kind of picture. I just don't think it really suits me as well. I have a vintage outlook on life, perhaps!"
In the video, you look so happy and joyful. Do you set out to create music that's uplifting?
"I don't know if it's necessarily at the forefront of my thought process when I'm making music. For the most part, generally, I think that lyrically, my songs can be relatively forlorn and melancholy. And I think that my general vocal delivery ends up being quite sad. But there's also a more uplifting element with the music itself, and this song in particular does happen to be on a slightly more happy side of my feelings. So that's nice! I feel like that was a welcome change."
The cover illustration for the single seems upbeat too, with the illustration of the flamingo pool float. Did you come up with the idea for that?
"That one in particular, no. My friend Robin Eisenberg, who's the illustrator behind all of my artwork, came up with that one and just sent it over. She knows me really well, we've known each other for years. And she knows my music really well at this point, so she's able to telepathically capture my essence in cartoon form."
How has your experience in the industry been different as a solo artist compared to when you were performing with The Slits?
"I think that it's taken me a long time to feel as confident with my own ideas and my own mission — my own journey, really. When you're part of a group, you've constantly got backup. You're in it together, and you're basically looking out for each other. I definitely felt that strength way more being in a band than I do by myself. It's so easy to doubt yourself creatively, and putting yourself out there can be kind of tough. And I have a tendency to lean to being insecure. So it's taken me a little while to gain as much confidence being a solo artist as I had being in a group. Especially The Slits, because it's such a power field of women. So it was a really good starting point, especially because that was my first musical endeavor. As a solo artist, it's just really been about trusting myself and being comfortable with the decisions I make and the mistakes that I make. Which I feel like I do, constantly. But learning from those as I go."
Vessel of Love will be your third solo album. Would you say that your solo music style has changed since you released your self-titled solo album in 2011?
"To an extent, yeah. I feel like on this album, I definitely got to better my songwriting skills, and a lot more of the ideas came from myself. Again, it's more about the confidence element of it. That's the one thing that I feel I have gained from having two albums prior to this as well. I can possibly say that I was a pain in the ass sometimes, because I've been very particular. I've ended up being more of a perfectionist than I was expecting to with this one. But I just really wanted to get everything as right as possible, just for myself to be able to listen back to it for the rest of my life. It's so easy to pick apart your own work, so I just wanted to have fewer and fewer opportunities to do that."
What does your album title, Vessel of Love, mean to you?
"The song itself, from which I took the title for the album, is a song about myself and growing with my emotions and my outlook on life, and those times when I feel slightly lost and basically trusting myself. Vessel of Love is really just a symbol of 'My body is my vessel' and to just have as much output and do everything with as much love as possible."
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
"They change and vary, but for the most part, especially with this album, you know, you listen to certain artists and certain music in order to draw inspiration from. Minnie Riperton, I was listening to a lot of Minnie Riperton when I made this album. So she has definitely been a huge inspiration. Dusty Springfield is a constant inspiration for me as well, musically and vocally. I'd said those are the main two. And Susan Cadogan, who's one of my favorite female reggae artists, was a big inspiration on this one as well. It's almost always women, to be honest. And Ari Up. I wouldn't even be in a position to be making solo records if it hadn't been for her in the first place. I carry her strength and guidance with me through everything I do musically, and in life."
If you could go on tour with any group or artist, who would you choose?
"I went on tour with my friends, another U.K. band called The Skints. I would definitely choose them again, because they're just lovely and great. And their shows are excellent... If I could tour with Minnie Riperton — I know I cannot — but if I could, I'd choose her."
Is there anything that you can tell us about Here to be Heard, the upcoming documentary about The Slits?
"Yeah! I just saw it for the first time about a month ago, or maybe just over a month ago. What can I tell you about it? Just to watch it! It's a really interesting story. It's amazing that the entire story of The Slits hasn't been told before. I've seen bits and pieces in other punk documentaries or other women music documentaries, but not a full-length film. So it's literally got everything from the very beginning and the birth of The Slits, all the way until the mid-2000s, when I was in the band. Which I think a lot of people aren't as aware of, so it's pretty cool to have a few of the new members' stories, myself included. It's truly inspirational. Again, I am just always and forever such a fan of the band and of strong women in music. So for that reason, it just reignited feelings of being able to do whatever it is that you want to do without really having any obstacles in the way. The only thing standing in your way is yourself, is the feeling that I left with when I saw it."
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
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