Thursday, October 23, 2008

David Cook Crafts Heaviest "American Idol" Album Yet

The reality-TV champ taps Green Day producer for disc of rock anthems

"During the show, I enjoyed messing with people's expectations," says David Cook. "The show," of course, is American Idol; in May, Cook was the winner of its seventh season. "I'm not trying to surprise people now: I'm putting out a rock record. I just want the songs to kick you in the teeth or make you want to cry — or do something drastic, like jump off a building. I want somebody to be exhausted when they're done listening."
Making an album like that is a tall order under any circumstances — but Cook also spent the summer on the grueling American Idol arena tour. With his record scheduled for release on November 18th, that gave him only one uninterrupted month in the studio. So while Green Day producer Rob Cavallo assembled tracks, Cook checked in from the road. "A lot of it was done via e-mail and telephone calls," says the genial Cook. "I was face to face with Rob maybe five times before I got off the tour, and I had to bare my soul to this guy. But you can't expect anybody else to invest themselves emotionally in a record if you can't do it yourself. It was really scary — the best analogy I can come up with is that it was like taking off your clothes in church."

Cook is slumped on a couch in Cavallo's home studio in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. There are at least seven Macintosh laptops in the room. On his computer, Cook is alternately playing Spore, looking up information on the Scottish band Mogwai and checking the Internet reaction to his single "Light On," which is already in the Top Five on the iTunes charts. (The power ballad was co-written by Chris Cornell and hard-rock hitmaker Brian Howes; Cook squeezes the tune for every possible ounce of drama.) But then it's time to listen to a mix of Cook's song "Breathe Right" — an epic guitar-driven rocker evocative of the Foo Fighters. Cook sits up straight, attentive to every detail.

"Is there a keyboard playing the chords under the verse?" Cook asks. "Will it sound thin if we take it out?"

"It'll sound thicker," Cavallo assures him. "We can make it dirty."

"Rub some dirt on it, walk it off," Cook jokes. "Let's take it out. It's a riff rocker. Sold."

Cook wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on the record, drawing on both recent collaborations with songwriting pros and tunes he wrote in his pre-Idol bartending days. (His old guitarist actually plays on the album.) A preview of eight tracks suggests that listeners can expect radio-ready anthems like the sweeping, U2-esque "Come Back to Me," some aggro rockers like "Bar Bi Sol" and plenty of the soaring voice that the AI judges loved. "There's a million different ways to write a song," says Cook. "This is a brand-new game for me: I'm 25 years old, going on infancy."

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