English reggae singer Hollie Cook really shot to public prominence when she joined up with a reformed lineup of punk pioneers The Slits in 2005. Slits leader Ari Up is the stepdaughter of Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon, while Cook's dad is Pistols drummer Paul Cook, so there's a punk connection right there. When Up tragically died from breast cancer in 2010, Cook began work as a solo artist, releasing her self-titled debut album in 2011. Her third album, Vessel of Love, was released this year, and this weekend she performs at Music Tastes Good Fest in Long Beach. We chatted with her about all of that and more.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you start singing, writing, performing, and when did you realize that it could be a career?
HOLLIE COOK: I started singing when I was about 2. I've got some very cute recordings of me singing Kylie Minogue and The Bangles when I was about 3 and have sort of been performing ever since then to people who would pay me attention. Apart from the shy awkward years between about 11 and 16. Then I started to do a bit more professional stuff and pursue a career in music around the age of 17.
Obviously you have a very musical family — growing up, how much of an impact did the Pistols, and also Culture Club [Boy George is Cook's godfather], have?
Not as much of an impact as the Spice Girls, Björk and Alanis Morrisette, to be honest.
As your godfather, has he ever offered you career advice?
He's kindly offered me some opportunities since I've been singing. I was lucky enough to be invited to record with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra a few years back for a Radio 2 series George was involved in. That was really quite a special experience.
You describe your music as "tropical pop." What do you mean by that?
Whatever you want, really. It was a very flippant description that I didn't foresee people latching onto as much as they have. So that's it. The music is reggae but I also feel it's open to stylistic interpretation.
How did you come to join The Slits?
Well, I've known Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt since I was a tiny child, as they have been friends of my parents forever and they all have children of a similar age. Ari was recording new Slits material in the early 2000s and she wanted a group of female voices on a track, so she called all her friends' daughters in London to get them along. After that she mentioned some live shows and that I should come and sing. So I did and just carried on from there. That was the most special time. So the initial connection with The Slits is the Pistols, sure. But I'm the only one who was asked to join the band after that recording session, so go figure.
Vessel of Love came out this year — how do you think you've evolved since your 2011 debut?
I think I have more confidence and also possibly slightly more of a sense of what I'm doing! I still like to think I'm going with the flow, but looking back it was clear that I quietly had absolutely no idea what was going on and was overwhelmed by everything. I still get extremely overwhelmed by things and I'm probably more neurotic than I used to be, but I can handle myself more these days. Musically, I think my voice and writing skills have developed, too. It's all a natural process with persevering in your chosen field.
Have you been pleased with the response?
So pleased! It had been so long since I'd made music and released anything, and I was so nervous and excited to put out this album. It seems to have reached more people than my previous two, which is progress I imagine all artists hope for.
Do you enjoy performing in California? Any memories?
Yes, very much so. I've always felt so at home in California and have spent a lot of time there in my life. The people are so open and my spirit really responds to that. I played at Sierra Nevada World Music Festival a few years ago and that felt so special. It's so beautiful in Northern California and my soul was overwhelmed by the mountain views while I was singing my songs.
What can we expect from the Music Tastes Good set?
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It will be one of the first times we try out our new set. So you're getting a very refreshed and revived batch of energy and songs from me and the band. We've been playing pretty solidly for the past eight months, so I'd like to think we're pretty tight and solid at this point, too. And of course you can expect us to be having a very good time.
When the festival is over, what else do you have planned this year?
Music Tastes Good is our final festival show of 2018! It's always bittersweet when it's over. But we fly back to the U.K. the next day to embark on a U.K. tour and I'm so excited to play some club shows again. After that I think I'm probably going to try and write some new music and start to think about what might be the next record.
Hollie Cook performs at Music Tastes Good Fest. For more information, visit mtglb.co.