Hattie Cooke is a wonderfully fresh and fiercely independent talent with three long players to her name.
With the view that electronic music should not be an artform restricted by background, while she began as a more traditional singer / songwriter, her adoption of GarageBand from an iPad brought new colours and textures to her musical world.
While her second record ‘The Sleepers’ released by Spun Out Of Control was an instrumental soundtrack to an imaginary film, Hattie Cooke’s wider breakthrough came in 2021 came with the intimate gravitas of her third album ‘Bliss Land’ issued on Castles In Space. As a result, Hattie Cooke’s eponymous 2016 cassette debut gets the vinyl remaster treatment by Third Kind Records.
Hattie Cooke kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about her career to date, favourite film genres and the current state of the music industry.
Your 2016 self-titled debut album has been reissued by Third Kind having only initially come out on cassette, how does it feel to have it remastered and repackaged after six years, while looking back on who you were then and who you are now?
I was so desperate to release this record on vinyl, I’ve been begging Nick for years. And he has done such a great job on the remastering, I usually can’t tell the difference but I was really blown away with this one. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a bumpy six years.
I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve had personal challenges and professional ones. I’ve found myself, lost myself and found myself again. I wrote most of those songs in my late teens and early twenties, I’m now in my early thirties and I think the reissue is a nice way to end that chapter of my life. I’m ready to move on.
Although it was a debut, it already sounded transitional. So how did you become interested in embellishing your songs with electronics?
I was writing for many years before this first album, so in some ways I was already transitioning out of traditional folk style songwriting and into electronic music when the songs for the debut came together. Falling into electronic music was a couple of happy accidents more than anything, a boyfriend with a Yamaha PSS-170 that got me experimenting when I was nineteen, and then a couple of years later buying an iPad with GarageBand and messing around with the inbuilt sounds.
Writing straight folk music was boring to me by this point, I felt like I’d done all I wanted to do with that genre, and I wanted to mix things up a bit to keep myself entertained. The rest is history.
What was your own songwriting background?
I started out on my parents’ acoustic guitar, writing very emo songs as a thirteen year old back in 2004. As I got older the songs became marginally more sophisticated and I began performing live when I was around 16. I was most interested in writing about emotions and experiences – falling in love, being hurt, losing somebody, a drunken night out. Around the same time I started performing, I began recording with a childhood friend, Luke, and he showed me a bit about music production. That’s when I discovered things like VSTs and realised I had access to an entire orchestra if I wanted it. After that, I just explored with making sounds, composing classical pieces, ambient works. I tried to mimic things I liked or styles I’d heard. It was always just about expressing my feelings through exploration. That’s still what it’s about for me.
I think there are no excuses for bad music. A half broken iPad, a guitar with three strings, or simply your own voice over an out of tune piano, people have made incredible music this way, like Django Reinhart, Daniel Johnston, endless blues musicians.
Folks who think you need money and equipment to make interesting music are usually the ones who are bad at it. And there’s A LOT of bad music makers (I can’t bring myself to call them musicians) releasing albums right now.
In electronic music, quite a few aspiring musicians and producers forget about “the song”…
A bit like I said before, there’s a steaming heap of (sorry) middle-aged men making album after album of ‘sounds’ who don’t understand music. And when I say they don’t understand music, I don’t mean music theory – I don’t particularly understand music theory – what I mean is that they don’t understand what it takes to write a song. They are an amalgamation of bad imitations of musicians they looked up to in the 80s, ersatz copies without the talent. There’s no song at the heart of their creation, because they have nothing genuine to say.
In my opinion, since that’s what you’re asking for, the best songwriting comes from a place of vulnerability and it’s a well-known fact that most men don’t know how to be openly emotional, to be vulnerable. A scathing inditement of half the population? Yes. True? Well I’ll let you be the judge.
Is there a synthesizer that you covert, old or new that in your fantasies you would like to own, and why?
It’s not a synth but I’d love to get my hands on a Yamaha PSS-170 like the one I wrote ‘Summer Time’ on when I was 19. I loved the auto-bass / chord functions on it. I never knew which chord it would come out with but somehow it always came out with the right one.
So with ‘Song 14’, but what happened to the other 13?
On GarageBand, if you don’t title a track it saves it automatically as ‘My Song 1’ and so on. I never used to title them, I couldn’t be bothered to come up with one. But eventually somebody wants to put them out and you need to give them a title.
Anyway, I love Elliot Smith and he used to number songs instead of giving them titles, like ‘Waltz 3’ or whatever. Well that particular song was saved as ‘My Song 14’ on GarageBand and so I just thought – f*ck it, if it’s good enough for Elliot it’s good enough for me.
‘Enemy’ has this foreboding doom yet there is a wispy quality about too?
The story behind enemy is actually extremely dark, I’ve never spoken about it before. It’s based around something that happened to me when I was 20. I’m ashamed to say I fell in love with a married man twice my age and we started seeing each other but it was all very clandestine and obviously emotionally it was deeply confusing. It went on for months and months.
Anyway, one night he went out to the pub, got too drunk and was attacked on his way home. It was highly traumatic for him, he was in hospital for a bit, police got involved, he started seeing a therapist. It meant that we couldn’t see each other for a while, and I don’t know exactly how but I sort of got associated in his mind with this bad event that happened to him. I think the guilt of his affair, the reality of what he was doing to his family, it really hit him. And then he just sort of vanished, I guess you’d call the term ‘ghosting’ now. He ghosted me. To my mind, I became a symbol of the trauma, a way for him to put a face on the faceless enemy. This song was my way of asking him to come back to me. Sometimes I see him around, we say hi but it’s still sort of painful.
With its skippy beats and glistening pulses but slower synthbass movement, ‘Making Up Rumours’ has the air of THE POSTAL SERVICE about it?
It wasn’t intentional but I know exactly what you mean. That song was right on the edge of my dance music period and I think that’s why it’s a bit more driving and upbeat. I never realised any of it, it wasn’t very good. But that song survived. It’s about this nightmare girl who used to work in my favourite pub in Brighton and she took a disliking to me for some reason and made my life misery. It got to a point where the staff refused to serve me which was so annoying because it’s where everybody went on a Friday night! So I wrote that song as my own private revenge. Eventually she got herself pregnant and then disappeared. I think she was a little jealous, if I’m totally honest.
‘I Want To Go (Where Everyone Knows My Name)’ is now almost quite prophetic, but what was its original inspiration?
It’s an ode to the pub. I titled it after the theme song from ‘Cheers’. From about the ages of seventeen to twenty-six, I’d go to the pub every day either by myself or with whoever I was dating at the time, and hole up in there until I was sufficiently drunk and chat to locals or strangers or whoever offered to buy me a drink. I love the pub, pubs are a good place when you’re lonely, they’re full of other lonely people who just want a bit of company.
Your recent acclaim has led to some sellers inflating prices your previous releases so are you expecting any flipping on this new vinyl edition of your debut?
Ha! On the contrary I’m expecting this record to be a complete flop. After I came out about my experience working with CiS, I lost a chunk of my fan base, lost the promotion of other artists. I suspect this will impact sales. Sexism is alive and well in the electronic music scene. So I’ll be amazed if we sell more than a couple hundred copies. Still, no regrets! At least I can sleep at night.
I specifically wrote ‘The Sleepers’ for Spun Out Of Control. I was so immensely impressed and interested by what Gavin was doing with that label, with the music and the artwork, and I just HAD to be a part of it.
For me, I wanted to show that I could be a composer as well as a ‘songwriter.’ I wanted to prove I had more than one string to my bow.
‘Evacuation’ from ‘The Sleepers’ captured a dystopian John Carpenter-inspired tension, so are you a horror film enthusiast? What film genres are you a fan of?
Finally, a question about film! I love film, obsession would be a fair descriptor. I love psychological thrillers and I especially love if they have a sci-fi or dystopian element to them. So it made complete sense to go down that route with ‘The Sleepers’. It would be easier to list which genres I don’t like to be honest! I think sci-fi, psychological thrillers and comedy are probably my top three in no particularly order. I love a good rom-com too. I’m less keen on fantasy, gore and action. I’ll watch anything with Bradley Cooper in it – guilty as charged!
Your third album ‘Bliss Land’ gained a lot of acclaim and songs such as ‘I Get By’ and ‘Youth’ have brought you to a wider audience, where do you see yourself heading for your next record?
I think my next record will just be a total love affair with music. I really want to make lots of different types of song, like a shoe gaze track, a lo-fi track, a dance track, an indie track, a piano instrumental. I think it’ll be my version of ‘The White Album’. I’ve got nothing to lose so I’m not going to hold back.
Will there be any more attempts at dance anthems like ‘Mistaken’?
I don’t really control what comes out, unfortunately, so I can’t really say! But as I side note I will say this – I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I seem to have this weird ability to predict the future through song. I released ‘The Sleepers’ in October / November 2019, a story about a worldwide pandemic, probably around the exact time that coronavirus was slowly seeping into the world. Whereas, ‘Mistaken’ was about the collapse of modern society and I hate to break it to you but I think that’s what we’re seeing right now in the western world. Record levels of inflation, terrifying energy prices, rail strikes, food shortages, NHS on the brink of collapse, war, mass poverty, etc etc etc. Maybe I should write one about world peace or winning the lottery or something!
You’ve also been quite vocal about the lack of equal and inclusive platforms at festivals and awards for female musicians and producers, what needs to change in your opinion?
The music industry is a microcosm of wider society. You’d think that all the creative, arty types would have more empathy and balance out the inequality but no, it’s exactly the same as any other industry. We need affirmative action by labels, festivals and so on which commit to supporting and representing women by having rosters which are 50% women. We need more women in positions of power like in PRS, Ivor Novello, etc. We need to believe women when they say that they are being discriminated against because of their gender.
From my own personal experience, so many men in the UK electronic scene claim to be all for equality and ‘believing women’ but were then totally silent or actually outright abusive or defensive when I called out one of their own. It tells you everything you need to know. They’re on your side in principle, unless of course it’s going to impinge on them or their careers in any way. Then you can get f*cked. I have called men out again and again on their sexism within this industry. Needless to say, they don’t like it. I don’t intend to stop though.
It was interesting to note that one female producer said the most vicious attacks on her social media came from other women. I’ve certainly found in my experience that some female journalists, managers and promoters in the music industry can be particularly negative towards other women… any thoughts?
It’s sad and it’s also true. As I see it, those women are themselves victims of a sexist society. They don’t seem to understand that we are stronger when we stick together – collective action and community is extremely powerful. Unfortunately, we’ve been taught to see other women as competition. And that competition is constructed by who? Well by men, of course. If we’re busy fighting each other, we won’t turn our attentions to the real issue – a society ran by men, for men, whose infrastructure is institutionally sexist and built to keep men at the top and women at the bottom.
Now the world is steadily opening up again, what’s next for you?
Genuinely? I have no clue, this country seems to be on the verge of total collapse if you ask me. So I can only do what I’ve always done – write and make music and try not to be an arsehole. If life is about to go up in flames, the best I can hope for is to soundtrack it.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Hattie Cooke
Special thanks to Third Kind Records
‘Hattie Cooke’ is reissued as a white vinyl LP by Third Kind Records on 10th June 2022, signed copies available direct from https://hattiecooke.bandcamp.com/album/hattie-cooke-2
Subscribe to Hattie Cooke’s Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/Hattiecooke
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Chris Standley except where credited
6th June 2022