In conversation with Joy Crookes

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By Emma Pope, Co-Deputy Music Editor

Joined by Joy Crookes and her manager Charli in the quiet top room of the Trinity Centre, we chatted before her second tour show later that evening. Coconut water in hand, Joy was incredibly chilled, friendly, and down to earth from the get-go. Open to discussion about the highs and lows of life, Joy and I chatted about the whirlwind since the release of her critically acclaimed album Skin, motherly conversations in nail salons, and the hints of new music on the horizon.

Firstly, I wanted to congratulate you on the release of Skin, it’s incredible. How has it been since the release?

It’s been really complicated. It’s a little bit like post-natal depression. You work for something for so long, and then you release it and there’s no textbook on how that will make you feel. You would think that every artist has this firework moment, but I think for me the fireworks were in the process of making it as opposed to when releasing it.

Obviously, it was super-duper emotional for me to have done so well, but at the end of the day I’ve just worked basically my whole life to achieve a moment, the moment happens, and no one ever told me what that moment afterwards is like. It’s a mixture of feeling like it’s a dream, being so proud, but at the same time trying to navigate those massively overwhelming emotions. It’s almost as if you’ve just given birth and you’ve got post-natal depression.

Credit: Sony Music

Wow, I can imagine especially since many of the songs are so intimate it must feel incredibly emotional. How have you felt since releasing such personal songs to the world?

It’s beautiful to see how people react to things, especially live – I had a girl absolutely bawling her eyes out at Skin a couple weeks ago which was kind of insane. It made me feel so happy to know my music was doing that for a listener.

Personally, I think there’s a huge advantage with sharing your own personal experiences with mental health and trauma, do you think that’s going to be a continuing theme with your new music?

I think it’s always been in my nature to write my own music and to be very personal, it’s just how I am as a person. So yeah, naturally I think that it’s always going to be in my music, it just depends how it takes form, and only time will tell how that takes form.

Credit: Joe Magowan

And you’ve had conversations about mental health in other forms, like the YouTube series ‘Anyone but me’ (started in March 2020) where you discuss mental health with your mates.  How have the conversations as well as the reception of the series impacted you?

The conversations impacted me more than the reaction really – having human conversations with people who are sometimes dehumanised. A lot of those people are famous people or people in the public light, and it’s very interesting to know what they go through on a day-to-day basis. I can relate to a lot of that. The actual conversations were really empowering. In terms of the reaction, I think everyone will take it as they will, and I don’t worry about that.

I definitely think the reaction was hugely positive, it came at such a crucial time to talk about mental health. It’s such a great thing to be so vulnerable in front of so many people and talk about that sort of thing. Some people have described your album as very autobiographical, and obviously throughout your music, London has been a central theme. Could you see yourself living elsewhere at all?

Probably if I had to, but I’m pretty set in stone with London because it is just my home. Just the streets and the people are what I associate with home. My job involves me being away from home so much that it’s nice to return back and get that grounding that I think I need as a human being. Some people are narcissists, and they don’t need that, they’re fine being anywhere, but that’s definitely not me.

Credit: Sony Music

So, when you’re touring do you find you really miss London, or do you get caught up in the whirlwind of the tour?

A bit of both, because tour is so all consuming, but when I do have little moments to myself, I definitely miss home and my family, but at the same time I know that tour only lasts a certain period of time so I try not to miss it too much.

How have you found the past two years, from many musicians there has been radio silence, but you’ve really used your platform – through YouTube, live sessions, and then more recently the secret gigs around the UK. How has it felt going from the relatively quiet online bits back into touring?

It’s been so refreshing, I got pretty sick of the whole behind the screen, lack of intimacy thing, so I’m really happy the intimacy is back. I’m so grateful that that I can connect with people in real life again now.

I was going to ask also about your family – you included quite a few recordings of their voices in the album – what did they think of that? Did they know beforehand?

My dad was like “is that me?? what??” And I was like yeah!! They were just a bit baffled, I think. But also, they know that I’m the type of person who would do something like that, so I don’t think they were that surprised.

My dad didn’t know I was recording him, Uncle T was a voicemail, the interlude before to lose someone was my mum talking to me in a nail shop. I just clicked record and I accidentally recorded a voice note for half an hour. I forgot I was recording so we got into quite a deep chat. It was the day after my ex had moved out of mine, so like only 3 days after we had broken up. I was getting my nails done to try and feel better, and my mum came with me, and she was just giving me all this advice so I thought I’d record it.

Credit: Sony Music

I feel like the conversation with your mum might have helped a little more than the new nails!

Yeah, definitely more than the nails. It was quite difficult to edit as well, because obviously there’s all this nail sound in the background, like if you listen closely, you can hear the RRRRRRR.

Do you get recognised a lot or can you go to the nail shop without worrying about that?

No, not at the nail shop! I get recognised here and there, but in familiar places to me not so much, no. I wouldn’t like it. I still go to my pub and people recognise me in the pub sometimes. When an average person logs out at work, they’re not at work anymore, except I can’t log out. But when I’m at the pub I’m Joy, I’m not Joy Crookes. And not to say that they’re completely different people but I’m still just a human being that likes to go for a pint. Then again, when they recognise me and get me a Baileys, I’m like you know what I can’t complain, I’ll take it!

Have you found it easy to stay in contact with your fans now that you’ve blown up?

I feel like we (Joy and her team) are really good at maintaining relationships with fans. That’s the crux of everything. As much as you can have label backing, this that and the other, if you’ve got no fans, it doesn’t really mean anything. They’re so important, they’re the reason why I’m here and I want to honour that. I give back as much as I can with meet and greets, with secret shows.

So, tell me about the secret gigs. Would you say you enjoy them more than the standard tour show?

I f*cking love secret shows. I love them because they’re so unapologetic, and they’re so forgiving. Like we can basically get away with doing whatever!

Here Charli interjects, laughing, “They’re risky as well though in the way that a normal show is not..”

Yeah, you never know if it’s going to get shut down, you don’t know if someone’s going to get hurt, you don’t know what the f*ck is going to happen, but that oblivion makes it so exciting. Knowing that anyone can turn up is kind of cool.

Where do you think you’ll be concentrating most of your time in the future after this tour?

Probably just writing and going on the European tour next year and then we’ve got all the festivals, we’ll probably keep doing secret shows. My focus will be on writing because I really enjoy making music. I’ve already started writing again, actually.

So, do you think there’ll be new music again soon?

I think I can take my time; I’m not going to take the p*ss, but I think I can take my time. Other people might think I can’t take my time, but I think because of the nature of Skin, it’s not a record that goes away. Obviously, I’m not basing that on any factual information because it’s only been out for four weeks, but I think the nature of the music is it’s not music that comes and goes, it’s there to stay. I think when you make music that longs for longevity, you buy yourself more time to make your next record. If it all falls in the right body of work and it feels consistent, then that’s what matters.

With the promise of new music coming, we made our way downstairs ready for the show. Joy was supported by Ego Ella May, a fellow South Londoner with a jazzy, neo-soul feel and a smooth honey voice. Starting us off with ‘Breathe’, the first track off her EP FIELDNOTES, rising star Ego provided a gorgeous warm up and got us all feeling the beat.

Following the beautiful performance, the crowd was hushed in anticipation for Joy Crookes to appear. As the distinctive intro of ‘I don’t mind’ began to fill the room, Joy was met with a roar of applause as she walked out in a chic suit dress – a bit of a different vibe from the zen coconut-water-drinking Joy I had encountered earlier.

Joy Crookes live at the Trinity Centre / Emma Pope

After bringing us all together with the lyrics ‘Birds of feather fly together’, Joy announced that Bristol was her ‘Favourite city to perform’, some of the highest praise a crowd could ask for. Crookes then played a few of her more gentle (though still exceptionally powerful) songs – ‘Unlearn you’ and ‘Poison’, before picking up a guitar for the iconic strum of the breakup song ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. The atmosphere in the room was incredible, and overwhelming even to Joy Crookes herself, who mid-song, laughing, said that it was like performing to a group of her mates, and asked the audience to sing along with her.

A few songs later, the energy and love in the room was electric, the crowd dancing shoulder to shoulder to the spicy Kendrick Lamar cover/medley of ‘Yah’ and ‘Element’, and to my personal favourite track, ‘Kingdom’, which was written the day after the December 2019 vote. Suddenly it was the last track, and Crookes, almost as sad as the crowd was, decided to give us a special extra song, moving over to the piano to fill the room with her gorgeous velvet voice singing ‘Theek Ache’.

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Unable to leave the crowd without another dance, the band returned for an encore and the trombone-filled sound of ‘When you were mine’, before the evening drew to a close.

Joy Crookes is incredibly talented and will undoubtedly go far, and I for one am definitely excited about what new things she will be doing.

Featured image: Sony Music


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