Centennial Theatre in Lennoxville will once again host guitarist Jesse Cook tomorrow night. Out on the road with his most recent album, One World, Cook brings with him work that he sees as the culmination of a 20-year musical career of never trying to do the same thing twice.
“The kinds of artists I’ve always admired are the ones who keep redefining themselves. They get something really great and then they leave it,” Cook said, explaining that he has never been a person known for being the best at any one thing. “I learn the rules and then I want to break them. I always want to do something that hasn’t been done.”
Though this approach means sometimes swinging his fan base in very different directions from one album to the next, the guitarist said that he cannot see himself enjoying making music in any other way
“At the end of the day, I have to make music for me,” Cook said. “I can’t work by trying to guess what other people are going to want to hear.”
Fitting into the broad category of “world music” Cook has built his career on blending musical styles and techniques from around the world and across time into modern reinventions. That approach combined with the desire to constantly be working in new direction, according to the artist, means that a person has to be comfortable working at a particular level of uncertainty.
“My motto has always been, embrace the chaos,” Cook said. “If you throw yourself in, what you end up with is a situation where you don’t know all the rules and it becomes a learning process. Sure, you can lose your fans, but my feeling is that’s okay because if you don’t take those risks, then you’re not going to make any great discoveries.”
On the night of the 17th, Cook will come to Centennial’s stage for a what-you-see-is-what-you-get performance. The guitarist stressed that, in a world where it is increasingly popular to play a pre-recorded track alongside a live performance to help fill out the sound, he strongly believes in every aspect of a live show being honest sounds played on stage.
“There’s five of us, and we have the daunting task of trying to represent sometimes some very big complicated arrangements,” Cook shared. “We’ll have a Bollywood string section, and a Brazilian percussion ensemble, and rumba guitars, and weird computer loops all in the same song and we’ll go out the five of us and try to just do it live. There’s nothing pre-recorded; everything we do we do live, but we have to rely on tricks.”
The guitarist offered the example of “looping” live performance on stage as one of the tricks the band will use, recording sounds together in front of the audience and then running that recording in a background repeat to free up the musicians’ hands for other parts of the performance.
“A big part of what I have always tried to do is bringing together different kinds of music that have maybe never been played together,” Cook said. “When you’re adding all that stuff together sometimes it makes a bit of a mess.”
After a lifetime of making music and two decades of doing it as his job, the guitarist said that his perspective on the business of music making has changed. Whereas once he would have seen the individual albums and their rates of sale as the key part of his making a living, Cook said that with the way people consume music having changed so much in the last few years, the whole system works a little differently for him now.
“Nowadays I think of my job as being going out and playing music live, and the CD is something that I make to create the music that we’re going to play,” Cook explained. “I mean, it’s a labour of love, but it’s also that thing that people will connect with that will hopefully make them want to come out and see it live.”
For a career musician, more creative work is always on the horizon, and Cook said that his love of music is just as strong now as it ever was. Looking into the future, though, the artist said that he has also been developing an interest in amateur photography as a way of keeping himself engaged while on tour.
“The exciting part of touring is the show that you get to do every night, the not so exciting part is the other 22 hours of the day that you have to fill,” Cook said, sharing that photography a good way to see old spaces with new eyes when you’ve been to a city many times before. “Even if what you’re looking at is a strip mall, there’s beauty there somewhere.”
Jesse Cook takes to the stage at Centennial Theatre Tuesday night, November 17, at 8pm.