Joy Crookes features in the JD ‘Forever Forward’ campaign, which is a celebration of creativity, resilience, and passion, aimed to empower and inspire the next generation. We spoke to her for an exclusive interview where she reveals the crazy circumstances in which found out she was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize…
Your debut album Skin reached the top five in the UK, what was the best comment you heard about the project?
To this day, my favourite feedback is when people say that my music has saved their lives. It sounds really corny but because I try to write from a very personal place, whether that be funny or whether that be genuinely deeply personal. That comment always gets me because the people that say that are very genuine, and you can feel it in people’s eyes that they’re being honest. A lot of people have said, “That album really saved me” or “That really gave me a different perspective to life”. So that’s the one that really gets me and makes me feel emotional and just as nervous as whoever’s telling me.
Also, as a fan of music, does it mean more that people have that connection with your music?
100%! Beyond being a musician, I’ve always been a massive fan of music. I used to go to HMV and have debates with the boys that worked there. I remember when James Blake’s first album came out and they were like “I don’t like how he sings”, and I’d be almost physically fighting them; I was ready to scrap in HMV. Music is a great tool and a great language and I’m fortunate enough to speak it. Be it Laura Marling or J Hus, music has genuinely saved my life. In some of my most troubling times, it’s a language that I’ve needed to hear and know that other people speak.
With your song writing, is there ever a song or a moment that feels like too much to expose to the world?
It’s completely dependent on my mood, there are songs that have literally shifted my entire perspective or made me feel a solace that I’ve never been able to feel with friends or family. Recently, I listened to ‘New Romantic’ by Laura Marlin and honestly was on the floor of my kitchen; I don’t know how she wrote that at 19. I was 14 at the time and broken from the lyricism and the genuine personable nature of song writing. There are definitely songs that to this day have the capability of making me break down, or making me euphoric, or making me feel deeply understood.
You were nominated for a Mercury Music Prize for the album. How does it feel to achieve such an accolade?
I found out I was Mercury nominated whilst commando in an Australian hotel. I thought my manager was going to tell me we had to fly back early because of grief or a loss in the family or my friends. I was prepared to hear the potential worst and then she goes “You’re mercury nominated.” I behaved like a politician and said, “That’s very good”, because I was mentally prepared to hear the worst, which says a lot about me. Don’t find out news when you’re commando in white combat trousers, it’s crazy.
What do you do after news like that?
I’ve always felt nominations and awards are incredible but they’re just a bonus, it’s not why I do the music. If I focused on awards and nominations, it would put me in a really difficult mind frame. I think it’s a massive bonus and a huge thank you, but I really don’t take those things to heart. I actually try to maintain an arm’s length from those kinds of things because they create pressure and competitiveness that I don’t think I need anymore of. I’m competitive enough with myself that I don’t need that amongst the industry. It’s amazing and I’m grateful, it’s just something I kept myself extremely aware of because I don’t want to make music for awards or nominations. I certainly don’t want to make music under pressure because then why are you doing it? It’s never how I’ve made music; I’ve never thought I was gonna be nominated for a Mercury on a completely genuine level. I genuinely associated Mercury with indie bands that I loved. It was always indie bands that got Mercury noms. I’m hugely influenced by indie music but because of how shallow minded so many people are in the industry, they could never see a brown grown and think, “She’s influenced by indie music” unless I’m there chugging on a fucking shitty acoustic guitar from an ex-boyfriend. It’s just not how things go so I accepted that wasn’t going to be the case. Alas I was nominated, and it was a nice feeling and a commando feeling.
To achieve that with your debut is incredible, how did it close the chapter of making the album like that?
I think the closure was making the album and finishing it; I knew it was good and I was super proud of it. At that point I decided not to care about how it would be received. The most important accolade for me is feeling I achieved what I wanted to at that time, and I can promise you, I did. In hindsight, it’s been two years and there’s so many things that I think need to change. There are things that I’ve learned via mistake which I probably didn’t realise was a mistake back then. But my closure was when I mastered the album in Hastings and stayed in a room that was 100% infested with bed bugs. This is pre-Paris bed bugs by the way, this is Hasting’s bed bugs which are much worse and gruesome and probably voted Brexit.
You spoke about vulnerability with your song writing but how does that change when you then get up on stage and perform the song for the first time?
I approach a performance like sex and meditation. The common thread I have between the two is, you may have thoughts and you may have things that decide to pass through your mind, but the best form of meditation and sex is when you’re not thinking. I try to reach a not-thinking point in my performance every time I do it. That’s why I find TV so hard because you’re on for three minutes and that’s your moment to perform. When I do my own shows where I have 70 minutes, I find that I can find a flow where I’m allowing thoughts to pass through me, but I’m not actually thinking. You’re entirely in your body and that’s how I view meditation and sex. One of my best friends says, “With meditation it’s not about expelling thought, it’s about allowing it to flow through you.” I feel the same with sex and some of the best and meditative and most engaged intimacy is when you’re not thinking. I see a thread between the three and think about that a lot. I also do this thing with my eyes when I perform; when I’m really in it, it’s almost like my eyes are half open half closed because I’m in the performance. I’m not in anything else, I’m not in what people think. I’m not in my thoughts, I’m just adhering to the song and what the song is about. I’m putting on every single outfit of the song and reliving whatever that song is without actually thinking about it.
Does that affect your creation because you’re eventually going to take that song onto the stage?
I’ve just spoken about performance meditation and sex; the biggest and most powerful way of creating – be that journalism, be that music, be that art, be that fashion – is actually when you’re in a flow state. Flow state has no thought, it has no primal reason, you’re not hungry, you’re not thinking about food. There are so many scientific symptoms that adhere to flow and creative flow. When I’m in flow mode, be that meditation, sex, performance, or creativity, that is the purest form of creation. That’s a really hard thing to achieve but you can be in a happy state, sad state, I don’t give a f**k state; but if you can reach flow, that’s the gold spot for me.
Does that make collaboration hard?
You can flow in collaboration if you’re with the right person. I have a rule that I don’t work with anyone that I can’t imagine being friends with in secondary school. I hated most people in secondary school, I think teenagers are potentially the worst human beings in the world. They all mimic their parents. If you’re able to make friends as a teenager and genuinely connect with someone, you should never doubt that. I have a teenage brother and everything he says, I take as absolute gospel because I am the heightened emotions of being a teenager. The reason why rom-coms slap is because they’re usually set around secondary school drama, around that kind of really heightened heartbreak or heightened euphoria or heightened emotion that you’re feeling for the first time. I’m able to collaborate with people because it feels like I’m making a genuine connection with them and then we flow together. That’s why I have so few collaborators and features as well, I’ve only ever featured with friends or people I’ve had a genuine bond with.
You’ve spoken about mental health in your songs, what response have you had from your fanbase about the importance of you sharing these experiences?
There’s an emotion and a feeling, not to sound cheesy but an energy transfer when you’re performing with crowds. I’ve been fortunate enough to have so many situations where I felt a massive synergy with an entire group of people, up to thousands of people, that I don’t know. An even stronger synergy than sometimes with my friends or family; that has to say something about mental health. When we all strip bare and we’re vulnerable, I’m the leading example of that in terms of when I’m in that performance and I’m being vulnerable. When people decide to respond with their vulnerability, it shows there is definitely a connection with mental health, music and listenership. That can never be denied, that will always exist.
You’re very connected to your Irish and Bangladeshi roots, what do you like most about the musical influences from each country?
I’m fortunate enough to be from two extremely rich cultures, but I’m also fortunate enough to be from extremely emotionally rich parents. My parents are never void of personality or emotion, sometimes too much! Whether that’s down to their race or just who they are, I’m from two very strong personalities and I’ve adopted very strong traits from both parents. They’re both extremely driven, extremely funny, extremely scary in the best way. They know how to finesse people, not that finessing is the answer. But when you’re in an industry like music, you need those traits to be able to even stand up and get on with your day.
“Finesse” is “charm” in a way.
It is and I would love to replace the word finesse with charm. They are extremely charming people and I’m sure they could make a snake come out of the box and impress a bunch of tourists in Morocco. They’re very adaptable people and they know how to make others feel personal. Their personalities can completely camouflage around others and that’s something I’ve got from both of them. It’s funny to talk about them because they’re not together and they’re not friends, they haven’t spoken in a very long time. But standing in between them and being their only child, I see the similarities in them and their strengths; I really hope I’ve garnered that between them.
What is your earliest memory of the JD duffle?
I remember the sound of the crunch and anything extracurricular. When your school day ended and all the fit boys from the older years were coming near you, you could hear that crunch appearing. Also, I used to dance when I was younger so if you didn’t have a sports bag you would use a JD duffle. It was Reduce, Reuse, Recycle before it was fashionable; Greta could never. For our generation, it was sustainability before it was actually fashionable.
If you could pick one thing from adidas and JD under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?
Kano. I’d just like a little Kano under my tree.
What are you wearing for the campaign?
I’m wearing the adidas Originals Firebird black tracksuit, I chose this because it’s sophisticated, sleek, casual and smart. I’m obsessed with smart casual; I will not do anything other than smart casual.
What’s the worst gift you’ve ever received at Christmas?
Divorce. It really makes you realise that Santa probably isn’t real. Any kind of break up is horrible around that time, it’s cuffing season after all; when people break up it doesn’t feel on trend.
Any Christmas traditions?
My Christmas tradition is, I go into Poundland on the first of December. There’s something about buying the cheapest advent calendar. The taste of those chocolates that taste like sugar. I buy them and I sit at home, as a 25-year-old and I open all 25 days and I eat them all before Christmas. I don’t give a f**k, they’re literally selling them at M&S now, did I look them up and down and go, “Is it time?” Yes. My tradition is that. Also, my tradition is some kind of deep sadness around the December period, making me realise every single year that I should probably not be in England for Christmas.
What plans do you have for 2024?
I’ll be releasing my second album in 2024 and I hope to f*****g God that it’s great.
What’s the process currently?
Pulling my hair out. One day feeling like the most confident person in the world and the next day feeling like I’m having an existential crisis in every cell of my body; so, the usual second album shit. Also realising that I’m a woman and I would like to have a baby someday. I’d like the second album and third album to come out and then I can go do an Adele and come back with some kind of ballad that makes the world like me.
What’s the content like for the second album?
I’ve got lots of subjects for the second album. I’ve pretty much written the second album, I’m excited about it.
What’s the biggest difference in your approach to this creation rather than your debut?
I’m more experienced, I’ve learnt more. Probably got better taste, better judgement, better ability to realise that I’m not right. So, experience is the biggest difference.
Have any lessons from your debut stuck with you?
Many things have stuck with me from the first album, the most meticulous things. I drag them into the next for sure, there’s no two-ways about it. Some are mistakes and some are lessons. There are things in my personal life as well because ultimately when you’re a musician, it’s very hard to separate lifestyle from your job. There’s a lot of things in my lifestyle that need to go. They are mistakes, but I guess mistakes are lessons, it just depends on how you look at them. If you’re willing to learn from them, they’re lessons. If you’re not willing to learn from them, they’re mistakes.
But if you ended up perfecting every aspect then would you feel like the same artist?
I don’t believe in perfectionism. I’m learning things for my third album in the process of making my second. I want to make my third album completely differently to how I made my second and I haven’t even started my third album.
Do you put pressure on yourself?
Yeah, there’s pressure but I think I’m also a self-aware person because I’m constantly striving for some reason. I can’t even tell you because I don’t know myself, but I’m constantly striving to be better at things. Not to prove that to others, but for my own sake, I’ve always been a very studious person. I love learning, I love going, “I didn’t know that” or like, “F**k I’m wrong.” That’s important, it gives me a kick and a thrill.
So, what does culture mean to you and how do you push the culture forwards?
For me, culture is community and realising that there are thousands of communities. I feel I have the ability to push culture forward, because I’m interested. It’s as simple as that. I don’t see myself as a pioneer. I’m a woman that’s interested in what people have to say, what people think, what people feel is right and what people feel is wrong. I’m interested in the arts, the fashion, the foods, the smells, the taste, and the opinions of the wider community.
What do you think makes community a powerful force for change?
Even when we look at things like elections, it’s the community that ends up making decisions; there’s a majority to minority. I’m not saying that the majority should always win, but there are voices and people that need to be heard. Voice is one of the biggest forces on this planet and it’s most important that we try to hear voices that can’t be heard on an everyday basis.
In the time that you’ve been making music, do you feel you’ve started to see a change in the right direction towards that?
Pop music has always existed, and I appreciate Pop. Bambi said in an interview, she loves Pop culture because it’s involuntary, you don’t even need to be engaging with Pop for it to reach you. That’s a wicked way of thinking about Pop. However, I think there’s something that’s going on in music now where there’s a lot of saturation. The idea of music becoming so incredibly saturated and agenda-driven is quite terrifying. Pop has always existed and there’s a beauty in its carelessness but over-caring.
But simultaneously you’ve got people who are really succeeding due to being their authentic selves.
Definitely but ultimately authenticity is subjective, it’s who feels it and who doesn’t. Sincerity is weirdly fashionable now and actually; I don’t know whether the things that are pretending to be sincere are truly sincere. There’s something going on in music where the lines are blurred, and we’re being sold something that feels authentic and, on the outside, appears authentic but isn’t. That terrifies me, back in the day it was much easier to decipher what was what.
Describe your style in three words.
Woman. Freaky. Chic.
What are your style essentials?
Shoes, shoes and shoes. I love shoes so much. I actually base outfits around a pair of shoes.
Interview by Lily Mercer