David Cook

Over the last few years, David Cook's life has been punctuated by extraordinary highs and devastating lows. In short order, the 28-year-old singer, songwriter, and musician won the seventh season of America's most popular television show, American Idol, rewrote chart history with a record-breaking 14 debuts on Billboard's Digital Songs chart, released his self-titled major-label debut album in November 2008, watched it debut at No. 3 on the Billboard album chart, spawn two Top 20 singles (the platinum "Light On" and "Come Back To Me"), and sell more than a million copies, reaching platinum status. He immediately hit the road for his year-long "Declaration Tour" to support it. In May of that year, Cook's older brother, Adam, who had been fighting a battle with brain cancer, died of the disease. In December 2009, one day after the tour ended, Cook traveled to New York City to begin writing the songs that would become his second album, This Loud Morning.

"I got off the road and all the things that happened that I hadn't been dealing with while I was on the road reared their head," Cook says. "So as I began writing these songs that would eventually make up This Loud Morning, the act of using these songs as therapeutic outlets became a major release for me, and I think the end result is a bit of up, a bit of down, and a lot of honesty."

The result is a batch of deeply honest, emotional songs that "allow whomever's listening to look through a window at the past two years of my life," the Texas-born, Missouri-raised Cook says. "It's probably the most therapeutic album I've ever written." As Cook was writing the songs, a theme began to emerge. "There were mornings where I woke up and all I wanted to do was pull the blanket back over my head and try again tomorrow," Cook says. That feeling inspired the album's opening track, "Circadian," as well as its closing track, "Rapid Eye Movement," which includes a line from which the album's title is taken: "Give me one more quiet night before this loud morning gets it right and does me in." "I think everyone's been at that point where they just feel, 'Man, the world is loud,' Cook says. "The only reprieve you get is when you're asleep. I wanted to blend that feeling with the romantic idea that you can live your entire life during the hours you're asleep — that there's this pause button you can use to make sense of the world around you."

To that end, the album kicks off with the sleep-as-reprieve-themed "Circadian" before telling a story of a relationship from start to finish, launching into several songs about strong relationship bonds, like "Right Here With You," "Fade Into Me," and "Take Me As I Am," before things begin to deteriorate on "Goodbye To The Girl" and first single "The Last Goodbye," which Cook co-wrote with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and which is the most musically upbeat song on the album. "I've always loved songs that melodically put a smile on your face, but when you tune in to the lyrics, it's like, 'What the hell?'" Cook says. "Like 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police; that song is so catchy, but the lyrics kinda give off this dark vibe. I like the idea of taking something that throws people off and writing about it in a way that makes them want to embrace it."

Which is to say that just because This Loud Morning deals with some heavy themes doesn't mean the album is a downer. "It's actually more musically up-tempo than any of my previous albums," Cook says. "I felt like we created a decent base with the last record (2008's David Cook) about where my heart was at musically. I've always enjoyed big sweeping choruses, stuff that kind of kicks you in the chest and knocks the wind out of you a bit. So with this album, I wanted to take that ideal and expand upon it — make the bigs a bit bigger and the smalls a bit smaller. I wanted it to be more intimate, but also more grandiose, and really stretch the boundaries of those two ideals."

A showcase for Cook's rich, unfettered rock belt and passionately intense performances, This Loud Morning was produced by Matt Serletic, who has worked with Aerosmith, Rob Thomas, and Willie Nelson, among others. "Matt pulled things out of me that I certainly wouldn't have gone for on my own," Cook says. "He is all about the right sounds at the right time for the right reasons, and I think what I learned from him is that it's not always an easy road to get the right thing. His ability to expand upon the ideas that I brought to the table really made this record what it is."

Cook's growth as a singer, songwriter, and musician can be heard in every facet of This Loud Morning. "I feel that we were able to find the perfect landscape for these songs," Cook says. "Each one is its own living, breathing thing. I've always approached making records the same way I've approached putting a band together: I'm not concerned with the best songs or the best musicians. I'm concerned with the right songs and the right musicians. My focus is to make great records and having something real and truthful to write about really helped. I feel like the growth in this record is musical, it's lyrical, it's emotional, and that what I've hit on is something that a lot of people can relate to."

Having been a musician and performer since he was a teenager, Cook (who first picked up a guitar at age 12 and formed his first band at 15) is eager to hit the road to support This Loud Morning. "The last record took four and a half months from first day of writing to finished product," Cook says. "So to go from that to taking a year and a half? I'm ready to play this record for people. I can't wait to get on a stage, look people in the eye, and see their reaction, whatever it may be. Hopefully it'll be hands in the air and singing all the words."

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