Joy Crookes comes across as a genuine artist, and there are a number of reasons why. For one, she called out the BRIT Awards of 2020 — an event that saw her nominated for the Rising Star Award — for their lack of female representation. Two, she wore traditional attire on the red carpet for young girls to see someone that looked like ‘their mum, their auntie, their gran’. And three (but perhaps not as grand-scale) she appears in comfy looking clothes, sprawled in a sunlit room on the couch, unphased, when our zoom call connects, ‘I’ve been awake for about 43 minutes,’ she says.
We’re here to talk about her upcoming album named, simply, Skin. A straightforward title, but like Crooke’s general approach to music, with a duality to its meaning. “Your skin is meant to be the largest organ in your body,” she told i-D, “Biologically that’s what it means, but I guess externally and socially, it can be a point of weakness or discrimination”.
With powerful observation, the release delves into the complexity of Crooke’s own identity, with each song delivering a nuanced aspect of the artist’s life growing up as a 22-year-old South Londoner; both its hardships and its triumphs. It’s well-crafted, intelligent and devoid of any unneeded silver bells, and in its simplicity makes room for potent and emotional pop-ballads scouring issues of generational trauma, love, heartbreak and family.
To learn more about both artist and release we sat down with the rising songstress to talk promptly on her upcoming album, process, industry and family.
I’ve seen interviews of you back in 2019 when you were talking about the album. So obviously it’s been a while in the making. When did you start thinking about writing this album? And how did you finally know it was ready for release?
I think you’re always writing your first album until it’s done, and I knew it was done because of deadlines, and I was really happy when it was done, I felt like it was done. It’s kind of an instinctual thing. You kind of just know.
Your song ‘Power’, a single off of your first EP is on the album. Why did you decide to pull it off that EP, and put it on to this album?
Cause I didn’t ever think I did it right. And I felt like the narrative of that song was so important in my narrative that it only made sense. I always knew in my head that that would always be on my first album and not because of commercial value at all, I just think that the narrative was so important in telling my own story and that’s why.
My favourite song off of the album is ‘Poison’, I interpreted it as a toxic relationship with one person trying to blame the origin of their toxicity on someone else, when really it’s just them. I guess I wanted to know what your favourite song was, and why?
I don’t have a favourite song, which is the annoying answer, but genuinely I think that every song is so different and from such a different place, that it really depends on the day, what I wanted to listen to. But today probably ‘Poison’ and probably the sadder songs.
You’ve said before about Kendrick Lamar, that he played different characters in his work but essentially everything he did was a reflection of himself. Do you think you can relate that mentality to your own work?
I think so yeah, definitely. Naturally because of how much I bend around genres etc. I definitely have lots of different characters in my work and to write from different angles is important for me to tell stories. I mean not the same as Kendrick Lamar cause he’s Kendrick Lamar, but yeah I think I play with that too.
Do you think music is something you use to help simplify your own thoughts?
Yeah, but it’s hard because condensing situations and conversations and arguments and all sorts, and moments in my life, to 3-minute compressed pieces, can be really difficult. So it means that I really have to look it in the eye and take the most important parts of those situations to make those songs, and that process can be healing.
Do you feel like healing is the most important thing you get out of making music?
Sometimes, yeah, I think that’s why I started music because it’s super healing and experienced.
When your mum left the house as a kid, you used to play guitar and write songs. What do you think originally pushed you to pick up that guitar when your mum was out?
Curiosity, I think, and boredom. There wasn’t much thought behind it. It was just like here’s another thing I could do. Let me just give it a go.
How did your career start building, did you start posting on Soundcloud?
It was Youtube, I did covers and then I did my own songs here and there between the covers, and then one of the covers did semi-well and I got management through that, and then I would be posting on Soundcloud and stuff and then yeah, it was just a really slow-burning process from there.
Do you remember the first songs you wrote or do you try and forget?
No, I remember a lot of them. I wrote one when I was 12 about clouds being a metaphor for depression and when the clouds cleared up so did my brain.
Your family seems to play a huge role in your music. What did they think when you started pursuing it?
I guess they were like me, they didn’t understand how it was a job, which is understandable cause I don’t come from a background, in the sense, that none of my family were in particularly creative roles so, you know, it was like, “but how does 1 + 1 equal 2?” kind of mentality. Which I understand, cause if I had a child I’d be the exact same. So it wasn’t that they weren’t supportive but I think they were just quite sceptical.
How did they feel about you using their voice recordings in your new album? I read that your parents, even though they low-key love it, cussed you out for singing about them.
Yeah, I mean I have a tendency to overshare and I think they were like ‘argh’, but I guess they just try to be proud I think.
You portray your heritage either subtly or very explicitly within your music and your videos. I’m Islander, and Australian so I feel like I know what it’s like to be pigeonholed. When a publication or a platform describes you by your heritage, say Bangladeshi-Irish Londoner, how do you feel about those labels? Are there pros and cons to that?
I think it depends on the context, I mean like, I think naturally, it’s more “exotic” and “weird”, a weird mix or a country you’ve never heard of, or this and that and the other, and in that it’s annoying cause it’s like, “well actually as much as we’re called ethnic minorities we are just a global majority”, so all of you just need to have some geography lessons, even myself included clearly, but I think that the thing that pisses me off the most probably is when people ask me “How my heritage has influenced my music?” cause it’s a bit like asking me how my breakfast on the morning of writing ‘Poison’ influenced writing ‘Poison’. How the fuck am I meant to make that link, I have no idea. I’ve been this person, I can’t step back from my body. And also that question, when was Eric Clapton ever asked how has your Englishness influenced your music apart from being slightly problematic at times. I just think it’s a really non-specific question and I think that happens to me because I am someone who is of heritage – it just feels like a massive jump, it feels like I’d need six hours to answer a question like that.
It’s almost a cop-out question.
It is and it’s just boring, I start to answer it by saying “Oh, I ate so much turmeric that I love the colour orange, and that’s why my guitar is orange”. You know what I mean? It’s not the only thing that influences me, you know I’m made up of so many parts, I just don’t know why it’s always heritage that people run back to. And they always ask more about my Bangladeshi heritage than my Irish heritage and they were both in my life an equal measure, and that’s saying so much as well. That the ethnic, the brown is questioned so much more than the white side of me.
So my last question—after the release of your album Skin, what do you have planned for the future?
Writing a second album, but I’ll continue living and experiencing and then pouring that into the second album.
Joy Crookes debut album Skin is due out October 15, pre-order it here.