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JP Cooper: The Forrest Gump Of Soul

L'Oréal Blackett gets to know the Middleton soul man as he signs to a major record label

Written by . Published on August 27th 2014.

JP Cooper: The Forrest Gump Of Soul

I’D BEEN searching for soul music again. Lusting after simplicity and an effortless soul voice that could reduce me to puddles of smeared mascara and salty tears.

I’d started with the big powerhouse R&B voices from the US, yet came to find a soul man much closer to home in Middleton.

"I turned round to my friends afterwards and said, 'I’m like the Forrest Gump of Soul. You know, that guy in the background that looks a little bit awkward.'"

This soul vessel would come in the shape of soul-meets-folk guitarist JP Cooper; an unassuming and dreadlocked blue-eyed boy wielding an acoustic guitar, and one of the most enchanting vocalists I've heard in a long while.

Championed by major American soul acts such as Angie Stone and Layla Hathaway, the Middleton ‘moonraker’ is hot soul property. After three EPs he’s just been signed to major record label, Island Records, a division of the Universal Music Group.

We meet just before his home-coming performance at Sound Control. Although he claims he's the 'Forrest Gump of soul', he shows he's far from awkward when it comes to projecting his heavenly voice.

JP CooperJP Cooper

How’s it feel to be back in Manchester?

It was amazing to the see the response from people back home when I got signed. They’ll be people attending this gig who came to the launch of my first EP back in Deaf Institute a few years back. To have got to this point is amazing.

You've just brought out a new EP, Keep The Quiet Out. It sounds different to your earlier stuff...

Definitely. It’s been over a year since my last studio release. The whole idea was to do three EPs then the album, but I thought if I was going to do another EP I wanted it to be different. The first three are almost a collection, but with the album coming I wanted to experiment. I just don’t want to be that JP guy with a guitar.

So what's different about it?

There’s a lot more synthetic sounds going on. We still use live strings but it’s more of a modern production and something I’ve never used before. Creatively I really enjoyed it.

How did you start out musically in Manchester?

It’s been a long journey for me. I started out playing in rock bands and obviously the scene was very different. There was a lot of healthy competition as we’d all play the same bars. The great thing about Manchester is the standard is so high.

I’ve gone through a lot of different phases. I always loved soul music but it was only in the last couple of years I really embraced it. I guess the soul and urban scene is just breaking through in the city.

Do you have favourite places to perform in Manchester?

When I was younger I'd play all the bars and clubs I could in Manchester. This was my stomping ground. I used to play Jilly’s RockWorld and the Music Box. Everywhere. I don’t think there’s a venue in Manchester that I’ve not played. These days I’m at a quieter stage of life, I can't handle the hangovers these days.

Did switching to soul come naturally?

I’ve always loved soul but the first music I fell in love with was grunge. Even though a lot of grunge singers like Chris Cornell have a lot of soul in their voice, there was always a fine line between me sounding like a pop singer. That was kind of a dirty word. As far as it being a natural thing it’s been a development but it’s not like I go home and practice vocal scales. 

So no JP grunge album?

(Laughs) No. I don’t think I’m naturally built for that sound. But I love the whole attitude. I think I approach songwriting in a similar way but nothing really heavy. I just like guitars. We’ll see.

You've been championed as a songwriter. Is it hard to write such personal songs?

I’m aiming to be more open. As with any art you’re dealing with human emotions. If you’re completely honest with your music you’re going to reach the real part of people. The more open you are the more people are going to relate. That’s the journey for me.

You've come from Middleton to performing with soul icons. How does that feel?

It’s a funny one because every time I was put on a soul bit I was confused because I came from a rock background. Promoters would see a white northerner with an acoustic guitar and they’d put me on the folk-indie bills.

The first real soul gig I did was when I supported Layla Hathaway and the response was amazing. The people who love soul just love the songs and are really willing to listen to the words.

Singing with Angie Stone is a pretty big deal though...

Angie Stone really wanted to support me and just put a microphone in front of me. I turned round to my friends afterwards and said, 'I’m like the Forrest Gump of Soul. You know, that guy in the background that looks a little bit awkward.'

Dsc_0082JP Cooper performing at Sound Control

Are there any other soul artists you'd like to collaborate with?

I’m a massive Donny Hathaway fan but obviously that can’t happen (Hathaway died in 1979), Bill Withers would be a dream. As far as current artists go, I don’t actually listen to that much current stuff. I still like to get out to the States. I don’t know if that’s a great thing to say as a British artist but I’d just like to meet some of the big artists over there. I think for me I want to learn from the people have been in the industry for years as I’ve got big aspirations.

The Only Reason is one of your more personal songs and a tearjerker. What's the story?

I wrote that for the mother of my son – it’s about the time we first met and the feeling at the time. I think that’s what songs are about - capturing those moments. In that moment that’s the way I was feeling and I’m amazed how people all over the world have connected to it. People have even used it for their wedding dance on Youtube.

One guy got in touch with me before a gig and said, 'I want to make sure you play The Only Reason as I want to propose to my girlfriend at the gig'. It’s amazing to be part of someone’s history.

So are you a romantic?

(Laughs) Not as much as my songs would suggest. I don’t mind if people want to think of me like that. It’s an emotion I just convey well.

What are your future aspirations?

Before the year’s out I want to start recording my album. I’ve got big aspirations and a lot of places I could reach. I’m hungry to see where I can take it and want to keep getting better and better.

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