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David Cook: From Idol to Real Life

Talking life after Idol, life as a Nashville musician, and his darker, riskier EP.

It goes without saying that when David Cook won the seventh season of American Idol in 2008, his world turned upside down.

“I was raised to live my life in a secure set of parameters for 25 years,” he says. “And then I had this once in a lifetime opportunity and was able to take advantage of it, and I had to rewire everything. I went from playing bar gigs for 10 years to all of a sudden traveling the world playing music. It was a pretty severe shift.”

But in the nine years since his Idol victory, Cook continues to evolve as an artist: He’s worked toward “finding new influences, finding new inspirations, and finding new ways to tell the stories that I want to tell.” Describing his last album, Digital Vein, as “the end of a chapter,” Cook is ready to make music with larger creative risks than ever before. To use his own It goes without saying that when David Cook won the seventh season of American Idol in 2008, his world turned upside down.

“I was raised to live my life in a secure set of parameters for 25 years,” he says. “And then I had this once in a lifetime opportunity and was able to take advantage of it, and I had to rewire everything. I went from playing bar gigs for 10 years to all of a sudden traveling the world playing music. It was a pretty severe shift.”

But in the nine years since his Idol victory, Cook continues to evolve as an artist: He’s worked toward “finding new influences, finding new inspirations, and finding new ways to tell the stories that I want to tell.” Describing his last album, Digital Vein, as “the end of a chapter,” Cook is ready to make music with larger creative risks than ever before. To use his own simile, “Making music is kind of like pushing a boulder up a mountain.” So he hopes to “progress the boulder up the mountain” with his upcoming release.

“With this new EP, it definitely feels different,” Cook explains. “I think that’s evidenced with the first single, ‘Gimme Heartbreak.’ I wanted this new EP to feel edgier and more mysterious.”

A major part of pushing his sound into darker territory is drawing inspirations from different artists. Though Cook mentions that he “always leans on old standbys and bands I’ve been into for a while, like Massive Attack and Nine Inch Nails,” his EP has cinematic pop elements that are a direct result from listening to musicians he’s less familiar with, such as Halsey and Aurora. Emphasizing his appreciation of Halsey’s Badlands record and “Running With The Wolves” by Aurora, he says, “It was taking stuff like that, and finding production elements and vibes I felt I could incorporate into my own music.”

Other influences came not from musical artists, but a change in location. Five years ago, Cook moved from Los Angeles to Nashville. And with this transition, he became privy to the unique music culture of Tennessee’s capital, gaining a fresh outlook that reinvigorated his own music interests.

“One of the things that actually surprised me, being here, is that the rock scene is awesome, and the hip hop scene is awesome,” he says. “I get a lot of, ‘Oh you moved to Nashville, are you doing country now?’ and, well, no. There’s so many awesome underground music scenes here that don’t get talked about in regard to Nashville. It’s easy to walk out your front door and find a show somewhere and get inspired and go home and write music.”

Ultimately, Cook refuses to get caught up in flashy aspects of the music industry that don’t feel true to him.

“The first person I make music for is myself. If I can get excited about it then hopefully I can go out and get other people excited about it,” Cook says, adding that “my fan base for the last nine, almost 10 years, has been incredibly supportive, so of course I want the music I put out to get them excited too.”

Another, more indirect, influence Cook takes into account is cancer research fundraising organization ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure), a nonprofit he collaborates with in memory of his older brother. When asked how his philanthropic efforts with ABC2  affect him as an artist, he says, “I don’t think it’s affected my music in conscious ways, but I’d be hard-pressed to say that it hasn’t affected my music much in subconscious ways. I think it’s easy to get really hung up and live or die by the peripherals of this career path, with things like album reviews and crowd numbers and all that stuff.

“But at the root of it, I’m getting to do something I love to do, and I’m making a living doing it which is great,” he adds. “I think that perspective gets reinforced because I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in ABC2 and a few other charities. At the end of the day, if the stuff that I put out can positively affect anybody, then I’ve done my job. Anything past that is cake.”

David Cook performs at Cornerstone in Berkeley Aug. 25, and his upcoming EP is available for pre-order at pledgemusic.com