Wisconsin native Phil Cook headed south for a new home in North Carolina 10 years ago. Since then, he has been in a band with Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, formed Megafaun with his brother Brad Cook and drummer Joe Westerlund, and has played on or produced records by everybody from Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls to Hiss Golden Messenger.
Along the way, Phil got married, had a son and settled himself deep in North Carolina's red clay. Now he's releasing his first solo record called Southland Mission. Fans of Megafaun will find Cook’s new music to be groovier with a more rootsy vibe than some of that band's work, but there are hints of the past in some of the vocal harmonies and instrumentation. On the whole, the album reflects a passion for southern music that’s been growing in Cook for decades.
"I had the title of the record before I had the songs written. I liked the idea that a title for a record is a theme for your life, a theme for your music, and seems to be the title of the chapter for wherever you’re at," Cook said. "To me, Southland Mission seemed like a great way to sum up being in the South for 10 years now, and longed to be in the South 10 years before that. I had built up quite a mission in my mind about, 'What was I coming down here for?' Well, it was the music."
From blues to soul to zydecho, Cook embraces all the southern styles and plants them throughout Southland Mission. In the song “Ain't It Sweet,” Cook lets his New Orleans influences drive the song’s stomping rhythm.
"There is so much Louisiana on this record because I think ultimately it is my spiritual home," he said.
“Ain’t It Sweet” is one of the songs Cook’s says is best listened to in the car with the windows rolled down. He said one of the “missions” of the album was to make it a road trip record.
"I’ve been on the road so much, and the first record you put on when you leave on tour kind of sets the pace in this weird way," Cook said. "I needed to make a record that was a road trip record that people get in the car with their friends. It’s 6 a.m. They are about to go. They push play. I want that to be the soundtrack. I want people to be like, 'Yeah, we are going somewhere right now.'"
Southland Mission is out Friday, September 11. Cook will play Saturday, September 12 at the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh at 1:25 p.m. as a part of the Hopscotch Music Festival.