(photo: Ollie Grove)

British singer-songwriter Hollie Cook grew up in a musical family and kept the company of rockers and pop stars. Amid her storied exposure to musical luminaries, Cook crafted her own tropical pop sound and shares it on her third solo album Vessel of Love.

Cook was 10 years old when she first saw the Sex Pistols perform at a 1996 reunion show. She was familiar with Sex Pistols records and aware of the punk band’s impact on music history. But that show, Cook has said, marks the moment she finally got “to see what the fuss was all about.”

That day she watched her father, Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, play onstage before thousands of fans. She also hung out backstage with Johnny Rotten.

“He’s a dad a girl could wish for,” Cook said. “We used to go for pizza after school sometimes, which was cool. And he helped me learn songs on bass and we’d jam together.”

Her mother Jeni Cook was a backing vocalist for Culture Club, and Boy George was often around as he is her godfather. Cook fondly recalls the afternoon David Bowie was her babysitter and took her on a jaunt around the Guggenheim Museum.

She was 19 when family friend Ari Up, frontwoman of the 1970s pioneering female punk band the Slits, asked her to join the lineup for the group’s reformation circa 2005. She appeared on the 2006 EP Revenge of the Killer Slits and the 2009 album Trapped Animal. In addition, Cook toured the world with the Slits for about four years and credits the bold and controversial Up with paving the way for her solo career.

“I learnt to be brave and unfazed,” Cook said of her time with the Slits.

Now in her early 30s, the West London native released Vessel of Love on January 26 via Merge Records. In February, the 10-track album reached number one on Billboard’s Reggae Chart.

Her tropical pop is rich in lyrical flow and layered instrumentation, yet simple in its sweet emotion.

“Mostly relationships inspired the themes of the songs. Different dynamics of love with others and with myself,” Cook said. “‘Survive’ is about being able to be honest and sincere, in a simple way, about the one I love.”

Cook blends modern reggae and elements of nostalgic soul with electronic and dub influences, a rhythmic tempo, and a melodic style. She has been compared to lovers rock singer Janet Kay and draws inspiration from 1960s girl groups like the Shangri-Las.

“I’d describe my music as all those things,” Cook said, referring to reggae, lovers rock, and tropical pop. “Maybe chuck the word ‘cosmic’ in there somewhere too.”

Songs like the summery single “Angel Fire”and the heartbreak anthem “Freefalling” feature Cook’s smooth and sultry vocals, crooning brass, lush synths, and a rocksteady beat.

“‘Freefalling’ was reflective of a time when a relationship was waning. I was feeling strong urges to fly, emotionally and physically,” she said. “I just sat and processed my feelings on that time in my life and tried to articulate them into a weird, funny song with abstract analogies.”

Esteemed UK producer Martin “Youth” Glover, original bassist of Killing Joke, produced Vessel of Love. Glover is known for his work with Paul McCartney, the Verve, Guns N’ Roses, U2, Tom Jones, among many others.

In a statement, Glover called Cook “one of the most exciting emerging singers and writers over the last 10 years.” He further described her songs as “sharp lyrical observations and clever word play combined with an exquisite and informed pop sensibility.”

“Youth is a really chilled-out, guy which suited me well,” Cook said. “His studio is a very zen and creative space and I felt very at home and relaxed. I learnt to be more free with my ideas and he opened up the songs into a much bigger picture than I could see.”

Cook has a history of notable collaborations, which includes working with dub producer Mike “Prince Fatty” Pelanconi on her first two albums. Her self-titled debut album was released in 2011 and the acclaimed follow-up Twice was released in 2014.

“I collaborate on all my songs, as I love more than just my own musical perspective,” Cook said.

Following a tour through the UK and Europe, Cook is headed to the US including a show at the Independent in San Francisco on March 28. “I have performed in San Francisco before with both the Slits and solo,” she said. “It’s always been a positive and magical experience. I expect to be overexcited and feel at one with the audience.”

Hollie Cook, DJ Sep
The Independent
March 28, 2018
8pm, $16 (21+)