Catching Up With :: Phil Cook

Wherever he ends up musically, from his work with Hiss Golden Messenger to sitting down with gospel legends the  Blind Boys of Alabama, guitarist Phil Cook seems to be smiling. But it's on his solo albums, including 2011's Hungry Mother Blues and 2015's Southland Mission, that he seems most jubilant. That's doubly true of his latest recording, People Are My Drug. If our present moment feels like a strange one for rollicking party music, well, that's the point. On the lp, Cook doesn't avoid reality –the standout cut, "Another Mother's Son," centers its gaze on police brutality against black people –but the Durham-based singer/songwriter clearly views his mission as a celebratory one, recognizing that the work required right now is good work to do. He's here to share the kind of joy that transforms, to bask in it, and he invites the listener in.

Cook's sound draws freely from America's vast musical traditions, incorporating country, soul, folk, gospel, and the blues, but it's his personal spirit always shines through. Singing songs like Randy Newman's "He Gives Us All His Love" or the Allen Toussaint-via-James Booker jam "Life," Cook inhabits the grooves. He's chiefly an enthusiast, and on People Are My Drug, he indulges in messy, abundant humanity. We caught up with Cook while on tour with Hiss and dove into the heady space the album occupies.

People Are My Drug by Phil Cook

Aquarium Drunkard: I think just about everyone I know considers the times we live in precarious. But People Are My Drug just radiates joy. How do you tap into that feeling in a time when it's difficult for a lot of people to get to that place? Is it a struggle for you to get there yourself?

Phil Cook: I think it should be a struggle for anyone to clarify where they stand...We're living in times when you really need to sort out how you feel about certain things.  [You have to pay] attention to your gut; pay attention to the news; pay attention to your body and how it's receiving all these things. A natural response to all of the last year has been anxiety. Fear, depression, despair. Generations go through these cycles, [times] where power threatens to destroy the things you hold dear. To destroy your perception of reality, your understanding of how society works.

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