Jack Cooper, it transpires, is dangerously handy with a garden gnome. “I used to play guitar with Jim Noir,” the Mazes, Beep Seals and Ultimate Painting mainstay – now with Modern Nature – tells our own Tom Pinnock at the first of End Of The Road’s three Uncut Q&As on the Talking Heads stage. “We played [here] and he used to have gnomes on the stage. Someone in the audience at the end was like ‘throw me a gnome!’ I threw this guy a gnome, thought nothing of it, and then six months later [Noir’s] manager got a letter suing me for breaking this guy’s hand. It was a plastic gnome, but I guess he couldn’t catch.”
Hence, the age-old tradition of “picks’n’sticks’n’garden decor” takes on a life-threatening edge during a wide-ranging discussion taking in plenty of fittingly grubby adventure. When Cooper isn’t admitting to foraging around the site after blackberries (“except they were right by the toilets”), he’s reminiscing about long and “brutal” low-budget tours across the US, where he found himself with less appealing bedfellows than the rock’n’roll dream led him to expect. One particular crash-pad in New Orleans stands out, for its claggy canine. “We got to this place and there was no furniture,” he says. “James [Hoare] and I slept in a bed that was just a bare mattress that had terrible stains. A dog came into the room and James patted it and said ‘it’s greasy’. That was bad.”
Otherwise the chat delves into Cooper’s journey, from childhood Beach Boys acolyte to teenage Stone Roses obsessive to his current struggle with improvisational jazz imposter syndrome. Along the way he confesses to his failings in keeping his many acts together. He simply “lost interest” in Beep Seals, he confesses, while Ultimate Painting “weren’t really compatible as people… we started the band and it was really exciting at first and we made an album together really quickly. Within a few weeks we’d booked an American tour and we kinda got carried along by the momentum of it. [But] the first album had an artificial momentum to it. We probably should’ve just made that one record and that was it.”
The evolution of Modern Nature provides the most fascinating discussion. “It’s all composed,” Cooper says of his freeform-sounding compositions. “There’s improvised elements to it… but it comes out from creating systems on guitar rather than traditional chord patterns. Making different geometric patterns on the fretboard rather than traditional chords. From that things will emerge that feel the same to me as writing hooks or melodies. You see these patterns emerging and take it from there.”
Despite being held up by vinyl pressing delays, the future holds a new album that, Cooper claims “feels like the best thing I’ve been a part of” and a set of all-new tracks at today’s festival. If the stage looks like a garden centre, however, stand well back.