Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper on “Island of Noise” and Processing the World Around Him | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, August 16th, 2022  

Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper on “Island of Noise” and Processing the World Around Him

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Jan 06, 2022 Photography by James Sharp Web Exclusive
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Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper has an over decade long musical resume going back to earlier projects Mazes and Ultimate Painting. But Cooper considers his latest project, Modern Nature, his true musical calling. First debuting in 2019, Cooper has recently released Modern Nature’s second full length album, Island of Noise (Bella Union), with an evolved sound and vastly changed lineup from the first album, How to Live. There has been an array of other releases under the Modern Nature name, including 2020’s mini-album, Annual, but Cooper reaches his project’s peak on the latest release. The album was released in early December as a vinyl only box set edition, which included an instrumental version of the album and a companion book of writings and illustrations by other artists and writers (author Merlin Sheldrake and underground musician Eugene Chadbourne among them). The album will now release digitally on January 28 on all platforms.

Immediately prior to Modern Nature, as part of the duo Ultimate Painting, Cooper didn’t feel he was giving his musical muscle appropriate room to flex. “When I was in Ultimate Painting, we did an album a year for the time we were a group,” Cooper shares. “That really wasn’t a huge amount of work for me because we split the songwriting down the middle. So I would only have to contribute five songs a year for that project.” His realization that music was his full-time path has given way to a more serious focus on composing, arranging, and presenting his work. It also led to the Modern Nature framework as a loose blueprint within which to operate. “I’d done this solo album [Sandgrown] before Modern Nature and I’d hit on this idea of using a framework for my music. It was sort of centered around my hometown of Blackpool and my early life at first,” Cooper says.

Recently, Cooper and his wife, Tsouni, moved out of London to a small village closer to Cambridge. The move out of the city has restored Cooper’s faith in community and led to a more hopeful vision on Island of Noise. The album is inspired by and draped loosely around Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which Cooper has read multiple times. He explains: “I was looking for a way to write an album about processing everything that surrounds us, but to write a record about everything is completely overwhelming. So I reread The Tempest and it’s interesting as it’s Shakespeare’s final play. One reading of it is that it’s summing up all the work that he has done. He writes about these huge, grand themes, but it’s all centered on this island.”

With songs titled “Tempest,” “Ariel,” and “Masque,” the path to Shakespeare’s final play is apparent, but the songs are infused with a hopefulness that wasn’t necessarily apparent on Cooper’s prior recordings. On one of the album’s key songs, “Brigade,” there are references to 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests as well as a focus on the natural environment that surrounds the island that makes for The Tempest’s setting.

“One of the aspects of the modern world I find most harmful is how politically polarizing everything is,” Cooper explains. “I think that the things we have in common far outweigh the differences that we have. And I think there is a hopefulness in that and it has become more apparent when we moved out of London. The people where we are now may have different values, but they are also very locally-minded, community-minded people.” And drawing a comparison to the displaced central character in the play, Prospero, Island of Noise serves as a microcosm for today’s planet and a hope for its rightful restoration.

With its jazz based underpinnings and classically designed compositions, the album walks the line between improvisation and carefully constructed boundaries. Cooper points to Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way as inspiration (“not the songs or the way it’s played, but the feel of that record,” Cooper shares). He further explains: “I’ve become a lot more interested in free improvisation and non-idiomatic music. I particularly like [saxophonist] Evan Parker and [guitarist] Derek Bailey.” Parker appears on Island of Noise

From the beginning, Modern Nature has benefitted from Cooper’s selection of what instruments would appear on which tracks, leading the ear to clamor for a repeat of passages that came a few tracks before. In Island of Noise’s case, Jim Wallis’ drum work is particularly intoxicating and sets the pace for album highlights such as “Performance” and “Masque.” To take the island concept further, Cooper, Wallis, and bassist John Edwards form the earthly bounds on which the other artists on the album collaborate. Saxophonist Jeff Tobias (who alongside Cooper is Modern Nature’s longest standing member), violinist Alison Cotton, and pianist Alexander Hawkins make for a few of the musicians that are given room to roam over the underlying schematic.

Cooper and his wife were expecting their first child at the time of our interview, with a Christmas Eve due date on the horizon. Though not the inspiration for the album, there is an innate sense of hopefulness that comes with the arrival of a child and Cooper is taking a more expansive worldview as a result. Given the ongoing pandemic and near term prospect of parenthood, the ability and willingness to tour in the year ahead is left a bit cloudy. But the one thing that is an absolute certainty for Cooper is his dedication to a project solely his own and the belief that his best work is still ahead of him. “The music I’m putting out there is more true to myself than anything I’ve done before,” Cooper concludes. From that, our shared island stands to benefit immeasurably.

www.modernnature.band

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