For Melbourne singer-songwriter Louis Cooke, music was it. From a young age, he knew it was what he was going to do, and even as he got older and began to explore other options, he always came back to music.
This was evident the moment he began opening up about how he got to where he was today. Louis told me he had tried other things during his school days, but our conversation always came back to music.
Having picked up the trumpet from a young age, Louis began performing in school-based jazz bands. He admits that having attended two very musically-driven schools contributed to being constantly surrounded by being on stage, and now as a result no longer gets nervous before performing.
“They had us performing from when we were like five years old. I never really understood how people got stage fright, I was like “what? It’s not like you’re going to die. You might just stuff up. That’s it”.”
Aside from being heavily involved in music at school, Louis’ mum was in an African choir whilst he was growing up. He says that he used to sing along to her choir CDs in the car, as a way to alleviate motion sickness.
“I’d always sing along to distract myself. I think maybe I’m good at pronouncing things now because of that, I suppose. You have to work your way around different consonants and sounds (in African music).”
Once releasing that he had the potential to do more, Louis find himself dabbling in guitar and vocals. Initially beginning guitar lessons, it was singing that he took to.
“I started guitar lessons, and they kind of sucked, so I just taught myself. I’m sure my teacher was very good, and I heard that fact, but they just weren’t what I wanted to do. He was trying to teach me the technical stuff, and I just wanted to accompany my singing, at least at first, and then build from there.”
Not only did he come to learn that he was a talented vocalist, but he was also met with the support of his school cohort, and found himself a mentor that took him through his remaining school years.
“There was this end-of-year school show thing, and I signed up for it and I did it, and played two cover things and my whole year level sort of erupted in applause and I was like “okay, maybe I’ve got something here”.”
Song writing followed for Louis not long after this realisation, at about 14 or 15 years of age. He began writing with his best friend at the time, as they both played guitar. I can’t help but ask him, because I’m always fascinated to know, if he remembers the first song they wrote together. He looks at me and laughs nervously, and that’s really all the answer I need.
“The first song I ever wrote was with him. And I think it was just an escapism sort of song about good times at his house. It was terrible. It was so bad. It was overly dramatic and symbolic and you think “oh yes, I’m going to write the most anthemic song ever”.”
For many artists; however, song writing styles change over time. Louis is no stranger to this, admitting that he now prefers to write about things that happen to him, “real-life happenings”, he calls them.
“I just think there is a kind of mundane quality that can actually be quite emotive if you tap into it. A lot of the artists I like at the moment are in that stream of consciousness, so I kind of like that.”
There was one aspect of Louis’ song writing that really stood out to me; however, and that was when he told me he mostly writes his lyrics first. At first, I was surprised, as many artists describe their song writing process to begin with a melody, and focus heavily on the music itself, but then on elaborating, it began to make sense. For Louis, on the other hand, he is driven by lyrical content, and is particularly passionate about how the lyrics of a song come together, whether it’s his own song or not.
“I’ll listen to a song and be like “how are the lyrics?” and if they’re really good, then I can generally excuse any melodic shortcomings perhaps. Normally something will just build up in my head, and I’ll be trying to work out some phrases whilst walking around or whatever, just throughout my day. And then it’ll get to a boiling point and I’ll just write it all down. I’ll write the song out in one blah and then go back and edit. It’s like a release. And then I’ll start playing with chords and mess around with the vocal melody, and perhaps do some finger-picking stuff and some lead-in type things. Then I’ll edit it down and change a couple of things over.”
Being so focused on the lyrics, when we got to talking about who his musical influences were, or who were the people in the music industry that he admired, it was not a shock to hear the name ‘Gretta Ray’ be thrown up in the air.
“I really like Gretta Ray. She’s like the songwriter that other songwriters go crazy for, lyrically. I can’t imagine being so consciously focused. With lyrics, I’m like “it’s a release”, and she’s like “how can every line fit together absolutely perfectly?”.”
One of his other biggest influences is Swedish singer-songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth. Once again, Louis draws back to the lyrics, being fascinated by how an artist, who’s second language is English, uses the English language in his songs.
“I don’t know, there’s some warm quality about it and it’s just amazing, because English is his second language and he has ways of saying things that like no one else does that speaks English as their first language. So, it’ll be slightly grammatically incorrect, but it sounds cool. He’s definitely an influence. Music has never sounded so nice to me, and he doesn’t have a song that I don’t like.”
Now having found his song writing style, and a process that works for him, Louis suggests he may be in the position to release some of his music in the near future. Not wanting to rush it, and being content with where he’s at at the moment; however, he says it’s important for him to release his music properly, and give it it’s best chance to be heard by the world.
“I’m happy with the songs I’ve got, at the moment. It’s just that I’ve been gigging a lot, and I suppose I’ve been wrapped up in that, and I’ve been looking for producers and talking to a few and playing those songs to people. I’m thinking of releasing an EP, maybe like five tracks. I remember the first producer I talked to, which was only earlier this year, was like, “I think you have to find yourself more and find yourself more”, and I was like “damn”, but in the back of my mind I think I already knew that. I think I kind of just found my actual sound that perhaps I want to have, at least for the moment.”
Louis will be performing at the Real Songwriters of Melbourne Live Show, taking place on October 13 at Wick Studios, Brunswick. You can purchase tickets here.
Written by Jordyn Hoekstra.