Interview “I just wanted to make something I would be proud of” - Joy Crookes reflects on her debut ‘Skin’

Having recently closed her world tour in support of her debut, we spoke to the singer about being shortlisted for the 2022 Mercury Prize with FREE NOW.

From back when she released her debut single, aged just 17, South London’s Joy Crookes has been no stranger to hype; something that only heightened in the run up to releasing ‘Skin’, her eclectic, luxurious debut album, in October last year.

And while she certainly doesn’t take her accolades for granted – the 23-year-old already has two BRIT Award nominations and a spot on the BBC’s Sound Of poll to her name – she’s still taking things in her stride. “I don’t rely on external validation. It’s just not who I am,” she told us last year, around the release of the record. So it probably comes as little surprise that she seems remarkably chilled when DIY catches her to talk the latest addition to her musical CV: being shortlisted for the 2022 Mercury Prize with FREE NOW.

Your world tour for ‘Skin’ wrapped up recently with shows in Australia and New Zealand. How did it feel to bring this era to a close?

It was so happy and so sad at the same time. Even though we’ve still got festivals, [headlining] is my favourite. The reception that we had over there was absolutely nuts! It’s mad to go to the other side of the world, places you’ve never been before, and have that.

On paper, your career so far has gone about as well as it could have: support from the BBC, BRIT Award nods, ‘Skin’ charting at number five. What sort of mindset does that put you in as an artist?

It’s really easy from the outside to say it’s always been top form; it really hasn’t. There’s been a lot of f**king up as well, to work out what works or doesn’t. I might have hype now but I’ve 100% worked for it. I haven’t shagged any popular rockstars… Have I? No I haven’t [laughs]. I’m not trying to put all the BBC stuff down – it was really amazing when it happened – but other artists were getting a lot more hype at the time. For me, it’s always been very guerilla. I try to gauge my success from the people as opposed to the press.

So, putting that pressure aside, what was your intention when it came time to create a debut album?

I just wanted to make something I would be proud of. I didn’t think about what the reception would be; I really tried to stay in tune with my instincts. I’ve got really good music taste. I don’t mean that in an arsehole way, I mean I’m really open to listening to everything; I love all kinds of music from different time periods and across the world. I knew I needed my music to match the standard of what I think is great.

“I love all kinds of music from different time periods and across the world. I knew I needed my music to match the standard of what I think is great.”

Was ‘Skin’ influenced by any artists that people might not expect?

I’m a big indie-head. That was my shit when I was like 11 – I thought I was the coolest motherf**ker walking around with a Rough Trade bag! When I was recording ‘Poison’, my drummer walked in and said “this reminds me of Young Marble Giants”, which is exactly the reference; they’re like my favourite band. The sample on ‘Kingdom’ is from White Mice by the Mo-Dettes which has a really sick drum break. They’re probably all yummy mums in Dulwich now, [but in 1979] they were all crazy white chicks making post-punk songs. All their videos are of them with these awful perms at the London College of Printing. Some of my favourite indie stuff is that kind of angry chick music.

The breakthrough hit from ‘Skin’ has been your single ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’. What was the inspiration behind that song?

It’s social commentary. I was really interested in immortalising what I saw in 2020 – not only the pandemic but the Black Lives Matter movement. I was thinking a lot about armchair activism, performative activism, and how in some ways we are all guilty of it. It’s about this character who finds it easier to [blend into] a pack or a group and not have to think individually.

I was thinking about Priti Patel in the second verse. She’s a fantastic example of someone that will never stand on her own two feet. I tried to have some empathy about why she does things the way she does but that’s never gonna happen. She has to be a cog in the f**king Tory party ‘cuz that’s her way. There’s so much self-hatred in this country in people from ethnic backgrounds who feel they have to validate themselves in those spaces. It’s a really complex thing to try and write about – how I managed to do it in my ‘big pop song’ is hilarious to me!

Have you had any especially meaningful fan interactions since releasing the album?

People just be crying all the time! Also, people are nervous with me which I don’t understand. Obviously when you love music and you see your favourite artist you feel nervous [but when] people are acting like that to me I’m like ‘that doesn’t make any sense!’ Some beautiful stuff, like people losing loved ones and what not, then coming to a show [and telling me] “I promised them I would be here”. I love all of that. I love that I can be on someone’s bucket list.

You’ve made it as far as the shortlist. What would it mean to you to win the 2022 Mercury Prize with FREE NOW?

I’d love to have £25,000 in cash, that would be great. Just to hold that in your hands.

We’re not sure you get the prize money in actual bank notes…

What do you mean?! I thought Annie Mac or someone like that handed you cash in a briefcase. I’d do a George Sampson – singing ‘Skin’ while it’s raining pounds on me. That’s basically what I’m looking forward to. You know who George Sampson is, right? From Britain’s Got Talent? He’s a cultural idol we should never forget.

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