Interview: Joss Cope

February 7, 2020

Interview Special
Words: Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea





Sibling to arch druid polymath of the ‘head’ community, Julian, brother Joss Cope shares an equally colourful CV; serving and rubbing shoulders during his formative years with a number of famous and cult figures from the Liverpool music scene, including Echo & The Bunnymen’s Les Pattinson, Wah! Heat’s Peter Wylie and Spiritualized’s Mike Mooney. Not before fleetingly spearheading Bam Caruso label favorites Freight Train – releasing the modestly pivotal album Man’s Laughter in 1985 – before splitting and joining ‘rivals’ the Mighty Lemon Drops, Joss left Liverpool to be absorbed into the Creation Records mayhem of London. During his spell in the capital he played with Crash, The Weather Reports and Rose McDowell before carving out a solo career, releasing two albums under the Something Pretty Beautiful banner.

Inevitably Joss would at some point cross paths with his elder brother, contributing famously to the Fried and St. Julian solo albums; co-writing with both Julian and his former Freight Train band mate Donald Ross Skinner the album tracks ‘Pulsar’ and ‘Christmas Morning’.

Joss would go on to form and play with many more bands during the 90s and noughties – The United States of Mind, Dexter Bentley and Sergeant Buzfuz among them -, balancing music with a careers as a video director for MTV, narrator for a children’s BBC animation series and as an online producer/activist for Greenpeace.

The most recent chapter in a checkered backstory of affiliations sprung from Joss’ regular sleepovers in Finland, home to his current partner, the cartoonist Virpi Oinonen. In 2016 he began collaborating with the guitarist Veli- Pekka Oinonen, bassist Esa Lehporturo and percussionist Ville Raasakka trio of Helsinki talent, and the (what must be the most Irish of Irish sounding names in history) keyboardist O’Reilly O’Rourke on what would become the Unrequited Lullabies album; his first release for Ian Button’s estuary romantics label Gare du Nord.

Ahead of his upcoming album of soft bulletin psych for the same label, Indefinite Particles (released on the 28th February 2020), our very own one-man cult Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea puts forward some questions.



Brian Shea: What was the first record you ever bought? 

Joss Cope: ‘Ride A White Swan’ by T Rex after seeing Bolan on telly. He definitely had something.

 

When did you realise that you wanted to be in a band, or did you just fall into it and it just happened?

I’ve been in bands in some form since I was 14, but long before we could play instruments my brother and I would spend hours making up imaginary bands, complete with all their members and song titles. Eventually we graduated to writing and later recording the stuff we made up – it was generally on the surreal/absurdist side.

I tend to think of ‘the band’ as a default human unit – and not just for music. A small group of people with disparate but overlapping skill sets who come together enthusiastically to focus on making something which each individually could not achieve. When it works, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Once I figured that out I always wanted to be in a band – who wouldn’t?

 

You have been in and around the alternative underground indie (whatever you want to call it) music scene and music business for quite a long time now, and I feel it is currently struggling due to a lack of a figure head – be that John Peel – or there being no music weeklies. Do you agree? And can you see a way of it once again rising into prominence, or will it shift still further underground becoming a minority art? 

Someone with the (eventual) cultural clout of John Peel was only possible because media options were so limited in the 70s and 80s. Everyone was listening to the same shows and there was more of a shared conversation.

That has been fragmented by new online media, and at the same time the digital revolution has given access to almost anyone to record and prove themselves online. This is a very positive development in terms of the sheer numbers of people fulfilling themselves through their own music, but the explosion of production means in practice an ever more fractured audience for genuinely indie music.

Genuine indie music has always been a minority art, but the best examples will always have an appeal precisely because it’s ultimately more human and personal than anything the mainstream hit factory commercial complex is capable of producing, Outsider art is unfettered commentary with no bottom line considerations to temper its visions. The power lies in people telling their own truths in their own ways, always has done.

 

Your debut solo LP, 2017’s Unrequited Lullabies, was a sparkling psych tinged pop LP (one of my faves that year). Is your latest album more of the same?

 Yes I hope so. There’s definitely a continuity of sound, the backing tacks were recorded live in the same way with same musicians (Veli-Peka Oinonen on guitar, Esa Lehtopuro on bass and Ville Raasaka on drums). I was very pleased with the process the last time around and happy to repeat it. And hopefully there’s more mixing of the sublime with the ridiculous, at least that’s the intention.

 

I understand that you will be touring with the lovely but crazy [in the best possible way] Rose McDowall this year. Will you be performing any of your songs or will it be as part of her band?

Rose recently asked my to play guitar with her for a few gigs, but there are no plans to play any of my tracks at this stage. She and I were in a sort of proto-band together back in Creation days; Alan McGee put us together. But then she got loads of solo work in Japan which she couldn’t really turn down, so nothing came of it. But I’ve always thought she had a great voice, and coincidentally my old mate Dave Morgan is drumming for her, so it’s been a lot of fun for me.

 

And to finish, what was the last record you bought?

Happy Endings by Crayola Lectern. Pastoral British psychedelia of the highest order, for my money. Well worthy of a listen! (MC: We agree Joss, as you can see from our review, here…)





Further Reading From The Archives:

Unrequited Lullabies LP Review From 2017


Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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