On April 1, "American Idol" winners David Cook and Kris Allen will join forces in Nashville to headline a concert benefiting Soles4Souls, an internationally recognized organization devoted to "fighting the devastating impact and perpetuation of poverty through the distribution of shoes and clothing." Billed as "A Sole-ful Evening" with the two talented artists and sponsored by Barefoot Wine, the festivities will begin at 6 p.m. at The Bridge Building, with Allen scheduled to hit the stage at 7 p.m. and Cook to follow. Although not required, attendees are encouraged to bring shoes to donate, and anyone can learn more about the cause by visiting the official Soles4Souls website.
The easygoing, quick-to-laugh Cook, who won the seventh season of "American Idol" over runner-up David Archuleta in 2008, spoke exclusively with Examiner on March 31, touching on everything from his involvement with Soles4Souls to his opinion of Harry Connick, Jr. to his very favorite kind of toothpaste.
How did you come to be involved with Soles4Souls?
Cook: I've actually lived in Nashville for a couple of years now and Soles4souls is a local charity. They were kind enough to reach out. I think that given the fact that I'm here makes it really easy, but I think on top of that, it is a great organization. Once they asked, I got a chance to actually kind of look a little bit and see what they're doing, helping those less fortunate through shoe donations and gifting, and it really just seemed like a great, great thing to be a part of. So they asked myself and Kris to play the show tomorrow night, and it was an easy thing to say yes to. And it doesn't hurt that I'm a wine fan, so Barefoot Wines being in conjunction with Soles4Souls, it was like okay, double-whammy, we'll go for it.
While we're on the topic, what's your favorite kind of wine?
Cook: I'm a reds guy. Pinots, merlots and cabernets, and all that good stuff.
I know you haven't spent a ton of time working with Kris, but since you're headlining a concert together, I figured I'd ask: What do you think is the best word to describe him?
Cook: I don't know if I've got one word to describe him, but I can say this about Kris: as far as post-"Idol" output, his music has been consistently some of my favorite. He is a really, really talented guy. It's a bummer that we haven't crossed paths more, but I'm excited that we're going to do this show together.
What's your favorite Kris Allen song?
Cook: I actually really liked his first one, "Live Like We're Dying."
I know you're in Nashville from the accent [Cook laughs] and that you're working on new music. So what do you have in store for fans with your new album? What's the tone of it?
Cook: The fans have heard some of the material; we went out and did a few months of touring late last year and kind of unveiled like five or six potential new songs. There's some variety, and that was really what I wanted this record to be. I went into the writing process just wanting to enjoy writing, and whatever came out, came out. And then these songs kind of all started to go in different directions, but I still think there's this cohesion to it. I think each song feels like me, maybe just all kind of different aspects of my personality. But it'll be different. I think the last two records were definitely maybe 60/40 rock versus pop, and on the new stuff, I'm playing more piano and really working with synths a lot more and just trying new things. I think the second you stop trying new things with music, you're behind the pack, so I'm really just trying to experiment a lot.
How have your musical influences changed and evolved since your "Idol" days?
Cook: There's usually like two or three artists that will kind of become the catalyst for any given record or chunk of writing. I know with this new record, I was listening to a lot of Mutemath and Nine Inch Nails and Civil Twilight, stuff like that. But then this morning I was going out to run errands and Our Lady Peace came on the radio and I definitely turned it up. So I still enjoy the same bands I've always enjoyed; there's just new ones that kind of pop up every now and again.
So this will definitely be a really interesting album with the Nine Inch Nails influence and the piano and the synth action. When is it supposed to come out?
Cook: We're tracking it right now, and we're getting ready to finish up guitars and move into synth and vocals and then hopefully we'll be done.... When I say it out loud, it sounds a little far-fetched. I definitely have a style and a way that I like to write both lyrically and musically and I don't think I've completely abandoned those by any stretch, but I think those influences, they accentuate [the style]... and hopefully [some of the Nine Inch Nails production qualities] will rub off on this record.
I have to go back to "Idol" because it's where you got your official start. Are you watching it this season?
Cook: I haven't had a chance to. Is Harry Connick, Jr. kind of the salty judge?
Yes, he is indeed like the new Simon. But he's nicer.
Cook: Okay. When we played "Laying Me Low" on "Idol" last year he was one of the other performers so I got a chance to meet him and he was the nicest dude. So when somebody told me he was kind of the, uh, more blunt of the three judges, I was kind of like oh wow, okay. But that's good. Honestly, I benefitted so much from having Simon be [harsh]. It's so easy to get comfortable if everybody tells you how great you are. He was honest at all times. It's a good thing. It's definitely a good thing.
Yeah, and you know, as a viewer, it gets boring to hear the judges say "that was awesome" and "that was wonderful" over and over again, especially when it wasn't.
Cook: Yeah. You want the audience to feel like there's honesty there. My biggest hope is that this judge panel [featuring Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban] sticks around for a while.
I'm changing gears a little here. You're writing songs for other artists. Who is benefiting from that talent of yours?
Cook: David Nail's current single "Kiss You Tonight," I was able to be one of the co-writers on that song. I've got a couple other ones in the pipeline that I'm not sure I can talk about yet. But go check out "Kiss You Tonight." I'm proud of that song. It's a good one.
If you could tour with anybody at all, who would you pick?
Cook: [A long pause] It would be the weirdest tour ever. A buddy of mine is actually doing lights for the Nine Inch Nails tour and doing an incredible job. I would love to be a part of that show just so I could watch it every night. Springsteen is a pretty easy answer, too. That's a good three band bill, isn't it?
Which of your songs is most meaningful to you?
Cook, without a moment of hesitation: "Permanent." [The song was co-written by Cook and dedicated to the memory of his brother Adam, who died of brain cancer in 2009.] We don't play it much. I like people to come to our show and have a good time. I love this song, it's just a very heavy song and it's kind of hard to get an audience back on track after we play it. But as far as the songs that I've recorded, that's the special one for sure.
And to close things out here, I have a Fast Five for you. Ready? Let's go.
Cook: Close Up.
Cook: Big Red.
First track of music player right now?
Cook: Take Cover, "Acceptance."
Beverage of choice?
Favorite place to watch the sunset?
Cook: At home.