David Cook

Sitting outside a Nashville coffee shop soaking up the sunshine on a
golden Indian summer afternoon, David Cook wears the contented smile of
an artist in the midst of a creative renaissance. Much has happened since he
won the seventh season of American Idol in 2008 and subsequently made
chart history with a record-breaking 14 debuts on Billboard’s Digital Songs
chart from his eponymous platinum-selling RCA Records debut.

These days the talented rocker with the fiery vocals and searing
songwriting skills has entered an exciting new chapter marked by a
newfound creative freedom and the maturity that comes with having a lot of
life thrown at you. In the wake of Idol, Cook endured an emotional
rollercoaster marked by career highs mixed with the devastating personal
tragedy of losing his beloved brother Adam to brain cancer. He toured
relentlessly and released his second RCA Records album, This Loud
Morning, but when the dust settled, he found himself craving a major
change. He discovered what he was looking for in Nashville’s songwriting
community and relocated to Music City in June 2012.

“One of the things I love about songwriting here is that it’s more story
telling based and there’s a little bit more of an emphasis on the lyrics,” says
Cook, who was born in Texas and raised in Missouri. “When you listen to a
lot of popular music right now, it almost seems like that’s becoming a lost
art. I’ve always loved those songs that tell a great story and that’s something
I’ve really tapped into here. I like writing in a way where I know I’m telling
a story, and it’s obvious that there is a story there, but it’s big enough to
where people can find what they want in it. That’s where a song like ‘I’m
Going To Love You’ comes from. My favorite thing about that song is that it
makes me think of not only people that I have loved, but places and things
and moments, even down to the sensory stuff like smells and touches.”

Cook is currently working on music for a new album. Having exited RCA
after This Loud Morning, he’s reveling in the creative freedom he
enjoyed for years as a successful indie artist long before he ever hit the Idol
stage. “It’s nice to work on the record and take time to write and take some
off and play shows,” Cook says. “I like to be busy. The last year has been
spent getting acclimated to Nashville, getting into writing circles here,
writing for other artists and trying to find time to work on my project.”

The result is an impressive new collection of tunes teeming with a restless


creative spirit yet anchored by an emotional gravitas that is compelling.
“Where Do We Go” showcases the power and range in Cook’s voice as well
as his insightful songwriting. “A lot of my favorite love songs are usagainst-
the-world love songs, almost post-apocalyptic and this kind of falls
into that. We started with this dub step thing that kind of cycles throughout
the song, so I really just wanted the lyrics to have that same pulse,” he says
of the tune he co-wrote with Andy Waldeck and Andy Skib. “The song talks
about this couple and it’s posing the question: ‘Where do we go when we hit
bottom?’ I’ve always found an inherit romanticism when you’ve got this
person and no matter what, you’re together, but it’s also okay to be unsure
sometimes and to be vulnerable.”

“Eyes on You” is an ear-grabbing up tempo that Cook wrote with Waldeck
and Chris Reardon. The incendiary guitar provides a blazing accent to
Cook’s vocals. “It’s weird in the sense that so many elements are outside of
what I think people would perceive me to be as a writer, musician and a
performer,” he admits, “but it has been pretty consistently a crowd favorite
every night. It’s out of our comfort zone, but the crowd really responds to
it.”

Cook even recorded his own distinctive take on Chris Isaak’s “Wicked
Game” that is among the fan favorites at his live shows. “We put this very
quick demo together of this song and ended up loving the vibe of it so
much,” Cook says, “and it matched what we were doing with the new songs,
so we were like, ‘Let’s just hold onto it.’ I would want to put it on the
record, which is rare for me because I’m usually not one of those people
who likes to put covers on records. We work so hard on originals, I don’t
want to take space from an original, but with this song, there is something
special about it for us.”

Cook has been self-producing the new material and enjoying every minute.
“I’m loving wearing that hat. It goes back to being a control freak I’m sure,”
Cook says with a laugh. “When someone else produces, it’s the equivalent
of painting this great painting, getting half way done and then giving it to
somebody else to finish. I love kind of being able to see the whole thing
through and be a part of that process. I love that because you are that much
more invested in the end result, and as a performer to be able to go out and
play the song and have that belief in the song because I was there from start
to finish, it just makes it that much more gratifying when the audience
replies in kind.”

Music has long been Cook’s passion. Growing up, he absorbed a variety of


influences from Kenny Rogers and Dire Straits to Kris Kross and Boyz II
Men. After college, he could have thrown all his energy into his career as a
graphic designer or join a band. He moved to Tulsa and music won out as he
began touring and recording indie projects. When his brother Andrew
decided to try out for American Idol in Omaha, he enlisted David to come
along. In an interesting twist of fate, Andrew didn’t make the cut, but David
did.

“It’s still weird to me how the whole thing worked out,” he admits. “I get
asked all the time: ‘What would I be doing if I hadn’t auditioned?’ Well I’d
probably be working in Tulsa, still making records, still touring, still trying
to do all those things, but probably having to do other things to pay my rent
or mortgage. The parameters would certainly be different, but I don’t know
if a lot of the day to day would necessarily change except maybe I’d have a
day job.”

Once the American public got a taste of Cook’s talent, it was obvious he
wouldn’t be needing a day job. His self-titled RCA debut bowed at No. 3 on
the Billboard album chart, spawning two Top 20 singles, the platinum “Light
On” and “Come Back To Me.” The album sold more than a million copies
and made Cook an in demand touring artist. Cook followed up with his
sophomore album, This Loud Morning, produced by Matt Serletic
(Rob Thomas, matchbox twenty, Collective Soul), which debuted in the top
ten. Cook’s stats are impressive. Collectively his songs have sold over two
million tracks and ringtones. He has two platinum and one gold-certified
single, but the numbers that mean the most to Cook are his charitable
endeavors. He has raised over three million dollars for brain tumor research
and funding, and traveled thousands of miles to perform on USO Tours for
soldiers in both Kuwait and Iraq.

Cook’s latest project is Cook’s 11th album and he’s enjoying this new
season. “If every record is a tight rope walk, this one doesn’t have a safety
net,” he says with a grin. “I’m excited about it because if you’re not willing
to take the bumps and bruises that come along with maybe falling on your
ass every once in a while, then you don’t really deserve the rewards that
come along with it on the other end. I’m enjoying the gamble. This is what
it is. I’m throwing it out there. Hopefully people will love it and want to
come along for the ride and have as much fun as we’re having.”

Jillette Johnson

For Jillette Johnson the journey has been as integral to her musical experience as the destination. Jillette, who began taking music lessons and penning songs as a child, has been performing live since she was 12, captivating audiences with her sultry, thoughtful piano-driven tunes. The musician, now 23, has spent the last decade cultivating her sound and defining her unique perspective. When she moved to New York City from her small town of Pound Ridge, NY at 18, Jillette was already familiar with the city and its clubs, from Sidewalk Cafe to The Bitter End to Rockwood Music Hall.

In early 2012, Jillette inked a deal with Wind-Up Records, who were drawn in by her standout track "Cameron," an inspirational number that explores the struggle of a transgendered person. The song appeared on the singer's five-track EP, Whiskey & Frosting, which came out in August 2012, a prelude to her debut album Water In A Whale, out June 25, 2013. Culled from six months worth of recording sessions at Wind-Up's New York studio, the album traces Jillette's experiences and ideas about living in the city and being young in today's society. She finished the album fall 2012, just before going out on tour, and as it turned out those weeks on the road shifted the musician's sensibilities.

"There's this funny thing that happens when you go on the road," Jillette says. "Because you're not around the people that you're normally around and you're in a different environment and you're constantly being creative and putting out things. Your voice starts to change, both literally and figuratively. I just started growing really rapidly and my perspective started changing a lot. I got back two weeks before Christmas and I knew that we had to have everything done by the first of the year. So I had six months to make the record and two weeks to change everything. A lot of artists don't get that opportunity, to be able to have the album that they made and come back and make tweaks. That's pretty rare and I got to do it."

The final album, which features the five tracks found on Whiskey & Frosting, centers on Jillette's soaring vocals and the sparse, haunting piano lines she wrote to accompany them. Produced by Peter Zizzo (Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne) and Michael Mangini (Joss Stone, David Byrne), the album reveals Jillette's pensive reflections on the world around her, all of which lead to a deeper understand of self-identity. "Cameron," the disc's lead single, was written both from personal experience with someone the musician knows and from the idea of what it means to grapple with who you are. The glowing number focuses on what it means to be authentic to one's self, a universal theme.

"I do have someone in my life that's transgendered and I've learned a lot from this person," Jillette says. "But I think I actually wrote 'Cameron' more about myself and about that feeling of being alien in your own skin. It's been really awesome to play that song around the country and meet people who share stories that may have to do with being transgendered or may have to do with feeling a little bit different."

The real power comes from those songs about the musician herself, however and the rest of the album follows in tone. "When the Ship Goes Down," a hushed ballad, plays with the idea of the immortality you feel when you're young while the sultry "Bassett Hound" offers an unbalanced account of unrequited love, based on, as Jillette says, "every time I showed too many of my cards and wanted someone too much." The ethereal "Pauvre Coeur" treads similar ground, excising the anger the singer felt about a relationship that started to "devour" her. "True North," a soaring and epic number written in that urgent two-week period last winter, touches on what it means to return home, a fulcrum for the musician's ideas about her identity. "It's about coming home and accepting the failures that you endure along the way," Jillette says. "And realizing that you're gonna have a place to come home to, and that's the home inside your own head when all the other voices go away. Because they're not you so they don't care enough to stay that long. You're still going to have your own voice and that's what coming home means to me."

Jillette, who's toured with Delta Rae among others, brings her impassioned live aesthetic onto the album, infusing each number with a sense of intimacy and fervor. The songs shift from light-hearted buoyancy of "Bassett Hound" to the heavy urgency of "Cameron," showcasing a viable array of musical – and lyrical – inspiration. For Jillette, whose years of experience and practice have set her up for what's to come, the goal is to bring these songs to life for as many people as possible.

"The next year or two I think are wide open, in terms of what amazing things could happen," the singer says. "And I think it's just up to me to work hard every day and have a lot of luck. I hope to really build my live show. I can't get to hung up on what exactly will happen. It's really just about every day playing my heart out and connecting with fans over human experiences."

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David Cook with Jillette Johnson

Sunday, November 3 · 7:00 PM at Troubadour