In 2008, David Cook became the first rock-oriented performer to win “American Idol,” thanks in part to his energetic versions of Free’s “Alright Now,” Collective Soul’s “The World I Know,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Shop Around.”
Now, after a move to Nashville - where he established himself as a songwriter for hire with reasonable success - Cook is making an unexpected left turn from the power ballads and arena rockers he favored on his first three albums.
His new EP, which is due out in September and remains untitled, has a distinctly darker lyrical tone and edgier musical feel.
He attributes these qualities in large part to being inspired by the industrial-rock kings Nine Inch Nails, English trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack, moody Norwegian songstress Aurora and fast-rising American singer-songwriter Halsey.
Yet, while some performers will claim musical influences they have little familiarity with - in an attempt to gain indie credibility - Cook is happy to cite specific examples.
“As far as Nine Inch Nails goes, I really like their albums ‘Year Zero’ and ‘Ghosts I-IV’,” he said. “And I kind of got into Massive Attack through being a big fan of the TV show ‘House'; its theme song was a Massive Attack song called, I think, ‘Teardrop.’
“So I took those influences and leaned on them a little on this new EP, while trying to tune into more contemporary songs, like Halsey’s ‘Badlands,’ Aurora’s ‘Running with the Wolves’ and stuff like that, which I tried to bring into my head space.”
Does this mean that, rather than playing guitar while he sings, Cook will now twiddle knobs on sequencers and digital sampling units when he performs with his band Thursday night at the Belly Up?
“As I continue to look forward to my music career evolving, I am more intrigued by the programming aspects,” he replied, speaking from his home in Nashville. “But I don’t ever see myself putting down my guitar. I love rock, but to bring in other elements pushes my envelope a little.
David Cook, with Kathryn Dean
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Belly Up, 143 South Cedros Ave., Solana Beach
Tickets: $25 (general admission; must be 21 or older); $44 (reserved seating, $75 (meet-and-greet package)
“We’re still a four-piece band with two guitars, bass and drums. But we’ll incorporate some programmed drum pad stuff, as well as use a keyboard on stage and some backing tracks for sounds (produced by high tech equipment) that it doesn’t make sense to bring on the road. We try to make these (new) songs feel as close to the recorded versions as possible, while throwing in some extra bells and whistles.”
Cook now sports large tattoos that were not visible on his arms when he competed on “American Idol” in 2008. Will he perform at the Belly Up tonight in an all-leather outfit?
“It’s hard to keep the leather outfits clean on the road! So we’re more a jeans and t-shirts band,” Cook said, before elaborating on his new musical chapter.
“It feels natural to me. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, with more programming stuff. But, consciously, I didn’t want to just jump from lily pad to lily pad; I wanted there to be an arc. I feel like my last full-length record (2015’s ‘Digital Vein’) was a good conclusion to that part of my career, and a bookend for the next part. So it was a conscious effort to get here.”
Cook is hardly the first successful mainstream artist to change musical genres.
Some higher profile examples include: Taylor Swift (who turned from country to pop); Kid Rock (rock and hip-hop to country); Andrew W.K. (rock to EDM); and Snoop Dogg (who briefly switched from hip-hop to reggae).
Is Cook concerned his fans may not be comfortable with the edgier sound of his current single, “Gimme Heartbreak,” or his other new songs?
“I hope they don’t feel comfortable,” he said.
“If they’re feeling overly comfortable, I feel like maybe you’re not pushing the envelope as much as you should. I like challenging our audience. Our goal is to give the best show we can and for the audience to feel they got way more than they paid for. I don’t think you do that without challenging them and asking them to come on board.”