Jack Cooper (Modern Nature) and A. Savage Are in an International Music Scene

The friends and collaborators catch up.

A. Savage — aka, Andrew Savage — is a Texas-born, formerly New York- and now Paris-based musician, and the frontman of Parquet Courts; Jack Cooper is a Cambridge, UK-based musician who leads the band Modern Nature and is a touring player in Andrew’s band. Both have new records coming: Modern Nature’s  No Fixed Point In Space is out tomorrow on Bella Union, and Andrew’s Several Songs About Fire is out October 6 on Rough Trade. Modern Nature is also hosting a sold-out festival, Murmuration, this Saturday in Essex, which Andrew will be performing at. Earlier this summer, the two friends got on a Zoom call to catch up about the fest, Europe, their new records, and more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music 

Andrew Savage: What’s up, man? How’s the fest planning going?

Jack Cooper: It’s sort of on the back burner at the moment. It’s one of those things that, when I initially had the idea to do something like that — putting on a festival where we live — it’s obviously quite remote, comparatively, so I was like, “Oh, it’ll be really easy.” And then I had a little bit of a panic when Tsouni got home from work, and she’d mentioned it to a few people, and she was like, “Everyone seems to think it’s a load of work…” I’m like, Oh, no, maybe it is. And then I had a couple of weeks where I was running around panicking, trying to get it all together. It’s actually been pretty straightforward, really. And the whole idea with the festival is that everything’s going to be unamplified, which if you think about it, really simplifies things. 

Andrew: Sure, you don’t have any backline to deal with. So actually, as a performer, I’m not sure if I knew that. So it’s just going to be acoustic instruments?

Jack: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew: OK. What about microphones?

Jack: No, nothing! 

Andrew: Oh, OK, did not realize that.

Jack: [Laughs.] Yeah, sorry. My idea was — I think a lot of it actually came from when you were over and we were running through the songs that became your album. It’d been quite a long time since I’ve sat in a room with someone and they played me songs, or I played them songs, kind of workshopping ideas like that. I guess it’s something you do more when you’re younger and you first start a band, or your friend will show you something he’s written or a guitar part that he’s learned. When you were here and you’d play me those songs in my basement, I got thinking about it. I was like, It’s so nice to hear how someone’s voice sounds without a amplification. And the same with guitar. Because as soon as you plug in a guitar and start singing through a microphone, you’re putting yourselves in the hands of a sound engineer. And also, you know, the limitations of most PA systems, I suppose.

Andrew: Yeah, sure. And something always can and will like go wrong too. 

Jack: Yeah. So that was really the idea behind it. And when Modern Nature rehearse, we usually rehearse in our dining room and there’s no mics or anything… I think there’s probably going to be a resurgence of people doing things like this, putting on their own things. 

Andrew: Why do you think that?

Jack: It’s just sort of a feeling I have. Especially in England, we’ve sort of been forced into not being able to tour in the same way, so I think people will start kind of trying to harbor their own communities of musicians in perhaps more rural areas. 

Andrew: Yeah, It’s tough. It’s so expensive. And especially if you’re talking festivals — for your average music fan, festivals and ticket prices in general have just become so expensive. But you’ve managed. I guess not renting a sound system is a huge expense-saver as well, so you keep the ticket price down.

Jack: Yeah. But how are you? I saw our mutual friend James Oldham, and he was saying you’re back in the US?

Andrew: I am, because I have to apply for my visa here. I have to do it through an embassy or consulate in my home country. So that’s what I’m in the business of doing right now. Also, preparing for our upcoming tour.

Jack: You’ve been in Europe for two or three months? 

Andrew: Yeah.

Jack: How are you acclimating to being a resident in Europe?

Andrew: Pretty good. It’s definitely a bit of an inconvenience having to be back, because I had started to build a little rhythm of life and had a routine going. My language skills are improving every day, with a few — many, I should say — embarrassing episodes. But that’s just part of it. So I’m into it. 

Jack: It’s interesting, because I was thinking today about how the last time I was in Europe was on a tour that sort of fell through because of the COVID pandemic. You know, we were down in Barcelona the night when the promoter said, “Oh, this is going to be the last show, they’ve stopped everything from midnight.” I haven’t been back since then. Over the last few years since the Brexit referendum, and then Brexit actually happening… You know, for most of my life, I considered myself European as well as being English, but that’s been taken away from us. It’s interesting that you’re kind of becoming European, even if it’s just in a legal sense. So I was thinking today about how a lot of the times I’ve been in Europe has been on tour, obviously, and you the same. But how does it feel living in Europe, compared to living in America?

Andrew: It’s interesting because, in a lot of ways, city life — throughout most of the world, but especially in the Western world — is becoming a bit identical. But there are ways where it’s a lot different. One of the first things I noticed is that — I don’t know if it’s a French thing or a Paris thing, but it’s definitely not a New York thing, that people just come up and start talking to you. And that can be especially intimidating when you’re not familiar with the language. And on days when you don’t want to speak a foreign language to anybody, it becomes kind of like, OK, how do I go out and just avoid all contact with people? But you really can’t. 

For example, I was at the Metro exit, and there was a subway map and a street map and a bus map all next to each other. I was looking at the bus map because I was going to take a bus, and this lady just comes up to me and she’s like, “Monsieur, you’re looking at the bus map, don’t you know?” And I was like, “Yeah, ‘cus I’m gonna take a bus. That’s why.” That would just never happen in New York. Or I was locking my bike up and this guy let me know that I was doing it the wrong way… That would never happen in New York, because people people just have their heads up their asses so much that they just don’t really see anybody else. 

Jack: Obviously it’s the same in London and New York. You could you could easily go a full day of being in the city and commuting and visiting things without talking to anyone.

Andrew: And not opening your mouth at all, exactly. So that’s different. As an American, I’ve been more or less used to air conditioning my whole life, and that’s not a thing in Europe. 

Jack: Probably a good thing.

Andrew: That’s definitely for the better. That’s one of the many ways that we’re slowly destroying the world over here. And I do quite like that GMOs are illegal in Europe. That’s very reassuring, because they’re not even labeled here. But it’s not vastly different. I mean, a big thing for me is having access to health care, which you don’t have in the States.

Jack: Yeah. So I’ve been listening back to the songs [on Several Songs About Fire], and it’s interesting because when I’ve finished a record of my own, I don’t really listen to it again. I think a lot of musicians are like that, where once it’s complete, it’s sort of been put to bed. But with this, it’s been interesting going back and listening to the songs and trying to figure out what I’ve played, but also listening to them again with kind of fresh ears. I think it’s a really great record. I’m really looking forward to playing a lot of the songs. I think I naturally gravitate towards the ones that are… I sort of think of them as being Southwestern, or not necessarily country, but those ones of yours that feel like where you’re from, I suppose. “Thanksgiving Prayer” or “Hurtin’ or Healed,” those sorts of things. I find it really exciting to play on song like that because, you know, it feels quite foreign to me.

Andrew: That’s interesting.

Jack: I was thinking about that, and thinking about [how] you recorded in England. What was the decision there? Just based on wanting to work with John Parish?

Andrew: That was it, yeah. I mean, you saw — he’s a family man, he’s like a hard-out at 7 PM and doesn’t really travel far. And, I guess, nor should he have to at this point in his career. It’s cool that people come to him. That was that was part of it, but also you were there, so it made sense in that way too.

Jack: And how do you feel about it now?

Andrew: Great. I’ve actually listened to the record a lot. I usually do listen to things a lot after I’m done with them, because I’m just really excited about them. After I got the master, I listened to it a lot, and I listened to it when I was working on the album art and the merch and all of that stuff.

Where did you come up with the name Modern Nature, by the way? I’ve never asked you.

Jack: Oh, it’s a it’s a book by Derek Jarman. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Derek Jarman.

Andrew: No.

Jack: He’s a English filmmaker who was most active in the late-‘70s, ‘80s. He came from that sort of English art school background — I think he went to The Slade. So he was he was sort of trained as a fine artist, but then became a really fantastic filmmaker. But a very, very interesting person on many different levels — his whole life really was his art. It was completely intertwined to the point where, when he eventually moved out of London, he lived in a place called Dungeness, which is on the South coast and it’s very remote, in terms of England, anyway. He had a fisherman’s cottage and made this incredible garden there. And Modern Nature was an edition of his diaries. I think he wrote three editions of his diaries when he was getting to the end of his life. He died of AIDS related illness in, I think, 1992. Just a really fascinating person. But I think why I took “Modern Nature” from his book was, I’m really interested in people where their life is intertwined with their art, where everything that they do is is sort of inherent to their art, if you know what I mean.

Andrew: Yeah, sure. Someone who lives the life of an artist and it’s all consuming.

Jack: Yeah, to the interiors of his house, to his clothes and. Just a fascinating person and. I suppose I wanted to capture some of that. I don’t know, why do people name bands? It’s kind of an intangible thing, to say, “This is why we’re called this.” I mean, Parquet Courts, is such an easily explained name in that it’s a way of paving a basketball court. But that really only touches the surface, right?

Andrew: I suppose. Yeah. I mean, ultimately it’s just like something that I thought sounded cool and something that was kind of a uniquely American reference. But the funny thing about that is, the French exclusively pronounce it “Par-ket Courts.” Which I find hilarious because that’s one of the many loanwords that we got from them, but they assume that we don’t know about the silent-t, even though we have ballets and buffets… But it literally means “small floor” in French.

So, when I saw Modern Nature play in December in London, you had a lot of different musicians with you. It was a really interesting group and I remember thinking to myself, you know, as you get older, the idea of a “scene” becomes a little bit more abstract, and people start going their own way. But it seems like from that performance and from the people that play on your record that you’ve kind of tapped into a bit of a scene that’s happening right now. How did that happen?

Jack: Well, I think with Modern Nature, maybe after the first record — I’m not sure why, but I really started thinking about music in a different way. I started thinking of music less as something to support a song or the melody or the message that you’re trying to get across, and I started thinking about it in… I don’t want to say a more artistic way, but something just switched in the sort of music that I wanted to create. I feel like the world that I come from, I’ve always been quite confident in writing melodies. That’s something that I feel that I’m pretty good at. I wanted to continue to make music that was sort of recognizably song based and tonal — you know, as opposed to atonal — but to incorporate some of the elements of free improvised music or jazz. When I started trying to contact musicians or people that I really admired or were playing on compositions that I really liked, I found that they were really open to working with me and really excited about doing something new. In the free improvised scene, which is sort of based around Cafe OTO in London, I found that those sorts of people are very open minded in a way that I was struggling to find with people within indie rock, for want of a better word.

Andrew: Yeah, sure.

Jack: There’s definitely a collective of musicians around Modern Nature, but I don’t really feel like it’s a scene as such. I feel like we’re very out on our own as far as what we do. But I have taken solace in the fact that the those kind of scenes that are out there are really open minded and accepting and excited to work on new stuff. Which makes sense, really, when you listen to the music that these people are involved with. When you get older, I think it’s less centered around scenes because I think so much of that is about hanging out or socializing, really.

Andrew: Well, it’s normally around a DIY venue or a bar or something. I still find myself in those environments, but not as much as I used to. And they often are sprung out of this kind of youthful energy and youthful obsession with music — I would still call myself a music obsessive, but there’s just a different direction to the energy. And the music that I make, it’s not so local as it used to be. When Parquet Courts started, we were definitely a band playing at all these different small venues in New York, and now at this point, I’m not living in New York anymore, but still doing Parquet Courts and still doing my music. So it’s not as regionally defined as it used to be. 

But even though that may be true, I’ve known you for 10 years now, and we came together through somewhat of an international music scene. Everybody that worked on my record, we’ve known each other, or known of each other, for a while. So there are still those connections and I do feel a sense of camaraderie. We’ve all kind of got a general shared idea of what music is how you’re supposed to do it. I guess that’s just something that’s different about about scenes now, or musical communities, is that they don’t necessarily have to be based on living in the same place. Although I wish they were more; I think it’s always really interesting when they are.

Jack: [Touring] with you in October, I’m really looking forward to. I was at Green Man Festival for a day last week and I ran into so many people that I knew. I had a really nice time chatting and it made me really look forward to going away and meeting like-minded people, because I haven’t done that for a while.

Andrew: Yeah. It’s the way that I know so many of my friends, including you. 

Jack: Yeah, completely. I’m looking forward to messaging a few people and telling them I’m coming.

(Photo Credit: right, Vince McClelland)

Andrew Savage lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn with his cat Frida.  He operates the record label Dull Tools and is a member of Parquet Courts.