Interview: Joy Crookes

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Joy Crookes is an artist who takes pride in her roots in a very visible way: native Bangladeshi dress and hair styling are featured heavily in her colorful music videos. Although people have been quick to compare the singer to Amy Winehouse, Crookes explained to The Glossary Magazine that she’d rather the credit go to the artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone. Her voice is capable of both soaring on tracks like 19th Floor—which tackles the gentrification of South London and general displacement of immigrant neighborhoods—and tiptoeing around soft piano and strings on title track “Skin.” 

In advance of her April 5th performance at the Sinclair, we discussed her unique merch items, the secret to her music video wheelies, and the importance of family.

KB: There are a couple of samples throughout the album (for example, the opening of “19th Floor”, the voice call at the end of “I Don’t Mind”, the end of “Kingdom”). Can you tell me more about where they came from, and the decision to include them?

Joy Crookes: The opening of 19th Floor is my grandma saying goodbye to me as she usually does when I leave her flat on the 19th floor of her block in south London. The voice call in Kingdom is my dad talking about the importance of punk music. I included these to contextualize my life at the time and where those songs were born from. I am a super family-orientated person and it felt like an important part of my narrative to include them on the album.

KB: I know you’ve talked with Vogue about wanting to be “a brown Audrey Hepburn” and how fashion is important to you. You’ve got some really interesting merch, including what looks like a version of the earrings you wore in the video for “When You Were Mine”. Can you please tell me more about the earrings, as well as the story behind the apparatus pouch and how that came to be?

JC: I worked with the incredible Sophia Tassew who is the designer for those exact white earrings to make a limited amount of the same earrings for merch. I love them so much and they’re so reminiscent of the 60s but also look a bit like my initials so I thought fans would love them. The palmer pouch by apparatus was something I’ve also worn for years so when the opportunity to have my own custom pouch came up for merch, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Lewis is super talented and collaborative and we came up with the design together.

KB: Related, the “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” poster design looks like it might be inspired by old Bangladeshi posters. Who created the design?

JC: Ezra Lloyd Jackson came up with the design and he took influence from old Bollywood posters amongst other things.

KB: Can you describe your music without using genre names?

JC: My music is lyrical, frank, and struggles to fit in one box.

KB: There are a lot of really incredible shots in the “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” video. I know Complex talks about how you took inspiration from your Bangladeshi roots for the fashion and hair styling, but I’d love to hear more. Where did you film it? How did you film the part where you’re doing a wheelie on the motorcycle? How did you decide to film or include some of those shots?

JC: We filmed it all in London at two locations—one run-down building in Bethnal Green and another day at a run-down hotel in Lancaster gate. I did the wheelie by having the front attached to a crane to lift it up while I safely fake-wheelied. I spent hours and hours with Taz Tron prior to the video coming up with these dramatic, surreal shots because I think the most important ingredient to a good music video is for it to be memorable.

KB: You spoke with Vogue about how there aren’t many South Asian artists in the music industry. Are there ones you love listening to that you would like to share with us?

JC: Raveena, Jai Paul, Anik Khan and Nayana IZ.

KB: If your music was a room, what would it look like, and how would it be decorated?

JC: It would look like a trinket shop with things from around the world. Colorful, bright, lots of images of family. A bit like Frida Kahlo’s blue house

KB: I love the tracks you did with KarimThaPeasant and Jafaris. Any other collaborations planned for the future? Who would be your dream collaborators?

JC: I’d love to collaborate with Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Solange amongst a few. God knows when that’ll happen!

Catch Joy Crookes live at The Sinclair on April 5th, and listen to her latest album Skin now.

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