It was back in 2013 that I first came across JP Cooper on YouTube. It was a black and white live video shot in his hometown of Manchester, just him on guitar. His soulful, gravelly voice blew me away, and later that year, I got the chance to see him live in London. A self-effacing, unassuming figure, JP’s talent seemed to take on a life of its own. It was his collaboration with Jonas Blue, which reached number two in the summer of 2016, that catapulted him into the mainstream, and soon he was appearing in front of thousands at festivals, playing Wembley Stadium and supporting Stevie Wonder in Hyde Park.
“I never really expected to be in the kind of world I found myself in, and it took me by surprise” he shares. “I was kind of treading water, trying to keep my head afloat. It was great, but it was such a shock. And in a strange way, I’ve never really fully celebrated it, because there’s almost a part of me that has this strange imposter syndrome.”
Cooper’s self-penned single “September Song”, which he admits he almost gave away to an X Factor winner in Australia, ended up reaching the Top Ten in the UK, further cementing his status as a fully-fledged musical star. His debut album “Raised Under Grey Skies” followed and was also a smash, and he has collaborated with the likes of Stormzy and Stefflon Don. Yet Cooper’s success hasn’t been easy for him to get his head around. “I like living a simple life, I like drinking at my local pub, so I sometimes find the love a bit too much to take. I’m not that good at taking compliments. I put a lot of pressure on myself.”
For his “Closer” video, JP teamed up with the charity C.A.L.M, to raise awareness of mental health issues, particularly in men. C.A.L.M is leading a movement against suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and the cause of 18 deaths every single day. A new report has just found that one in three young people in England are struggling when it comes to mental health. It is a social issue that is close to Cooper’s heart.
“When I first started working with C.A.L.M, I had friends who had struggled, but I never really had anything that I would put under the umbrella of mental health issues myself. But through the process of putting out that first album and doing all that kind of stuff, I had my first experience of anxiety and depression, and strangely enough, the music and touring was the trigger. I think it was the fear of not being good enough. I don’t know what it was, but it was the strangest feeling. To the point where I just wanted to run away from everything. From the outside it can look like everything’s great, but that’s not always the reality. Luckily, I was pointed in the right direction to get help and it was all good. So many artists are now talking about their struggles. I’m glad the stigma is lifting, as it’s not a sentence. People have crazy expectations of themselves, and it’s normal to struggle. I’m at peace with that now; I know I’ll be up and down sometimes. It’s one of those things where it doesn’t really matter how “strong” you think you are, it just pulls the rug out from under your feet, and it’s not as simple as saying, “pull yourself together mate.”
Cooper had a tough start in life. His mother passed away when he was just eleven months old, and his father was left to raise five kids alone; JP and his four sisters. “I was longing for this relationship with this missing person, and there was this massive hole in the family,” he shares. “But I was raised with this idea of, ‘your mum’s looking after you, she’s got you. It might seem hard now, but there’s a plan.’ It was always this kind of strange blind faith that, at some point, it’s going to work. So there have been a lot of leaps of faith that I’ve taken in my life as a result of that.”
Watching his dad go through hardship left a mark on JP. “He was from that generation where he never really reached out for help, he never went to the doctor or took any kind of medication, so it was very much his own kind of struggle. And seeing that showed me that everything on the surface is never really what it seems.”
The title of Cooper’s debut album, “Raised Under Grey Skies,” is a reminder of those beginnings. “I think there are a lot of people who can relate to that phrase, in many ways. Anyone who has ever grown up in a place where it rains a lot, or anyone who has been born into overcast situations.”
Having got married last summer and just back from his honeymoon in South East Asia, life is looking up for Cooper. With a headline tour of the UK and Europe set for Spring, he is also putting the finishing touches to his new album, out later this year.
“I want to go out there with an open heart and an open mind, and just try and give as much of myself as I possibly can. there’s going to be a lot more joy, and a lot more light, in this record. I think it’s where I’m at in my life. This year I want to take myself off the hook and say, ‘you know what, you’re only capable of what your capable of.’ I just want to really enjoy the process of everything I do from now on.”
Photographer: Doh Lee & Abeiku Arthur
Stylist: Camelia Marinescu
Groomer: Tom Fraser
Writer: Anna Nathanson