As the winner of season seven of “American Idol” in 2008 David Cook became a household name with his good looks and mainstream rock tunes. Two solid albums followed, but then Mr. Cook sort of disappeared.
A move to Nashville in 2012 saw the singer pick up a side gig as a songwriter-for-hire to some of country’s brightest new stars. Mr. Cook is now back in the spotlight doing what he does best: touring and recording.
In advance of his show March 1 at Jammin Java in Vienna, Virginia, Mr. Cook sat down to discuss his new CD, “Digital Vein,” the time away and where you’ll most likely find him while he’s in D.C. (Hint, it rhymes with Cord’s Feater.)
Question: Why was there a four-year gap between your last album and the new CD, “Digital Vein”?
Answer: The last record was such a big undertaking on its own. I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver with that record. On top of that my brother had passed away during the tour for the first record. I took one show off for the funeral and just kind of kept going. It all kind of came to a head while making the second record.
After that I wanted to take a step back and reassess. I felt the process of the second record wasn’t as much fun as it could have been. I’ve always been a big proponent of enjoying what you do.
Q: During the four years away, was there a period when you weren’t working on music?
A: There were periods of time where I wasn’t writing for myself. I moved to Nashville in 2012 and started writing songs for other people. I got pretty lucky early and got a single cut on David Nail’s last country record. That sort of opened some doors as a songwriter. I’ve been wearing both hats a little bit. I really like that because it allows me to write for different avenues. I think when you are writing for one thing all the time, after a while it can get a little monotonous and “paint by numbers.” To be able to go do something else, then come back to my music, kind of makes both things fresh.
Q: When you sit down to write, do you say “This is for this specifically”?
A: At first I tried the whole, “Let’s write for this today.” And that never really worked for me. I kind of tuned into the idea that a great song is a great song. I’ve got an ego like every musician does. I can check it enough to know when a great song feels like it’s for me or feels like it is for somebody else.
Q: Why did you decide to cover Chris Isaak’s song “Wicked Game” on the new album?
A: I’m pretty anti putting covers on records historically. So it took a lot. I think that speaks to the song more than anything. My engineer and I were trying to put together that track as a pitch for TV. Like a “Vampire Diaries” or “True Blood” kind of thing. A dark version of that song.
We finished with it, and I thought, “I don’t know if I wanna let go of a song like that. I kinda dig it.” So I put it in the pile. Periodically what I’ll do when I’m going through a record cycle. I’ll got through the pile and say, “This song is making the cut, this one isn’t.” My engineer said, “I think we have to put this song on the record.” I love it. It is such a dark and moody take on an-already melancholy lyric.
Q: How has your life changed since leaving RCA and releasing an album independently?
A: The budgets are smaller without a label for sure. [laughs] “Digital Vein” is a complete creative vision. And that is what I wanted: to be able to write these songs, know how I heard them in my head and then to be able to produce this record. To be able to have my fingerprints over every aspect of this album was a big selling point for me. I’m hesitant to use the term “control freak,” but it’s probably applicable here. I love the process of seeing it through from an idea to finished product, and I got to do it with this album.
Q: How has the reaction been from the fans to the new music?
A: The crowd response has been great. To put out an independent record and have the success out of the gate that we’ve had is really promising. Now it’s just a matter of getting more ears wrapped around it and getting more people on board. I think this record is special and deserves to be heard. It’s our job to go out and play for anybody willing to listen.
Q: When you’re in D.C., how do you spend your downtime?
A: I’m a big history guy. I love going to D.C. for that reason alone. As many times as I been [there], I love it. I go there at least once a year for charity work with ABC Squared and play the 5K run around the Capitol. There is always something to do there. Always stuff that I haven’t seen.
My bass player and I are talking about going to see Ford’s Theater and the Holocaust Museum this time out. I love cities where you can walk — just leave the hotel, walk around with no plan and still see amazing things. D.C. has got that in spades.
Mr. Cook will appear at Jammin Java in Vienna, Virginia, March 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $40 by going to JamminJava.com.