Interview: Jeiris Cook
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
What initially got me into music was my mother. When I was kid, my mom would always have music playing in the house. Whether she was cleaning, driving, cooking or whatever. Music was always part of the equation. I'd sing along to songs I liked and complain about the ones I didn't. But being a kid, I didn't really have a choice. From there, my affinity for music took on an identity of its own. I'd go on to sing in school choirs, perform in plays, sing with others, (including a group) with music always being the backdrop. Performing, singing and songwriting was a natural step for me and I've been doing most of my life, even before I started in a "professional" capacity. If I weren't doing music today, I've no idea what I'd be doing. But whatever I chose, it would definitely have to bring me fulfillment.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity? I like to watch movies or hang out with my family when I'm not making music. Some of the songs I've written have been inspired by family activities or movies I've seen. This is especially true with regard to movies and music. They go hand in hand so as an artist I am always inspired by my surroundings. I also try to find inspiration in unlikely places because that's when things get interesting.
How long has music been your career?
I've been playing professionally for 5 years now (as of May). I started playing open mics locally and met some crazy talented people. They are great places to try new material and network. From there, I developed friendships and things kind of snowball from there. It's not always the easiest but I always have fun doing it.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am based in Jefferson, NJ, which is in the northwest portion of the state. Lots of open skies, wildlife and starry nights b/c there is virtually no light pollution. Not only that, there is a bustling music scene out this way. I am part of a songwriter community (Skyland Songwriters Guild) and on a regular basis, they hold workshops, open mics, songwriting circles and performances. I've met so many talented musicians in my area and several have really helped me along the way. All of these connections and interactions have made an impact on my writing, performing and even what I'm listening to.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
Good question b/c they are all unique and I always have a blast. I'd say the best though might be when I played out in Philadelphia for the first time for a SoFar Sounds mini-concert. It's a cool concept, mostly house concerts you can buy tickets to. You don't know who is performing beforehand, you just kind of show up and you get who you get. I was on the "secret" bill along with two other performers and I sang one of my original tunes entitled "Apple Tree". I remember there was someone in the front row who was moved to tears by that song, and later I found out there were others as well. Seeing that made me realize how impactful what I do as an artist can be. In fact, this is the moment I always recall whenever I start to question myself.
Worst show is easy....I forget the name of the city, but it was out in Long Island and at the time I sang with a quartet. The crowd started the boo's before we sang a single note and it only got worse once we started. Beer cans, food, bottles and every type of debri you can think of was hurled in our direction. I think we got in a good 45 seconds before we ended the song and our entire performance. We might still hold the record for shortest set ever.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
There are so many places I've played and continue to play that I enjoy. Chief among them is a little restaurant (Salt ) in Stanhope NJ where I play often. The outdoor stage they built during the pandemic creates this intimate campfire feel, especially on a clear night. A long time ago I got to perform on stage at the Nassau Coliseum as part of an opening act which was cool and unreal. The one venue I've only seen pictures of I'd love to play is the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Madison Square Garden would be pretty cool too.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
This concert would be endless b/c there are so many artists I would love to be on a lineup with. Right now though, I'd be pretty excited performing alongside H.E.R., Jasmine Sullivan, John Legend, Anthony Hamilton, Buddy Guy and Gregory Porter just to name a few. I could fill a few pages just listing people I'd love to perform alongside.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
I would say the foundation of being successful is being sure of who you are. Music is so subjective and understanding at the outset, that everyone won't like what you do is paramount. Once you're comfortable living with this truth, you'll be able to take criticism with a grain of salt and withstand negativity.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to just go for what you want to do. Not what you think others want of you. The worst mistake I almost made was living a life someone else wanted me to live. And I've always ended up rebelling against that and doing my own thing anyway. The only downside is all the wasted time before realizing it. So I would sit myself down and say....just do what you've always wanted.....and let everyone else adjust.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I think this answer changes depending one when it's asked. But I would say consistently "Apple Tree" sits near the top because my wife "sort of" wrote it with me. As in, I would run upstairs after writing a line and ask what she thought and she'd give it a thumbs up or down. It was also the first song I wrote on my first guitar (which I still own). My family goes apple picking every year and it's loosely based on the experiences we've had over the years. It's the one song that tends to be a tear jerker if the right person hears it at just the right time. I suppose that's what makes music, music.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
If we're talking originals, I'd say "Apple Tree" or "Dreams" is the song I get asked to play the most. If I'm livestreaming, "Show Me Your Socks" will definitely get requested. That song was written as a way of making light of a sometimes unpleasant experience that's unique to livestreamers, especially women. It's about chatroom trolls and I'll leave it at that. You can hear it on Spotify.
If we're talking covers, I do a pretty unique version of "No Diggity" by Blackstreet that I love to play. People seem to 'dig' it.....Oh how I love a good pun!
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
The creative process for me is quite messy. I never start writing songs the same way. Sometimes they start out with a chord progression on guitar, sometimes they start with lyrics. I've written songs based on quotes I've been inspired by or maybe something someone said. Certain songs come together quickly while others take time, years even. Even when the songs are done, they are ever changing because I'm always experimenting with key changes, riffs and even lyrics. My latest upcoming release "Date Night" started with a chord progression. The lyrics fall into place once I know where the vibe takes me.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
My last release "Dreams" was a song about being inspired and living out your dream. But the topics range from sadness, to villainy to the lovey dovey kind of stuff. But mostly, the messages I'm looking to get across aren't found in the lyrics, but in emotion. I want people to experience the same feelings I did when I was writing a particular song. With Dreams, I was feeling incredibly hopeful and my goal was for anyone listening to feel the same way.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Yes, I've had disagreements with collaborators.It really depends on what the issue is. If it's a lyric, then we debate or maybe rework the lines until they feel right for everyone. If it's a musical disagreement, arrangement etc.....I'm always open to trying things to see if it works. If it doesn't, I say so and we experiment until it does. The last thing I want is for a disagreement to change the direction of a project or worse, change the relationship of the person you're collaborating with.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I know I've mentioned this already, but my excitement about this upcoming release "Date Night" is indescribable. It drops June 26th and I know folks will find it relatable and enjoyable. In fact you can pre-save it now. Beyond this release, I've been slowly and quietly working on a full length album. I'm not sure about when it will be released, but definitely by next year. I occasionally release raw and unpolished material on my Patreon page as well as post covers to Youtube.