A. G. Cook on Creating His Own Form of ‘Britpop’ With Third Album, Producing Charli XCX’s ‘Brat’ and the Future of Pop Music: ‘Anything Could Happen’

For about a year during the COVID-19 pandemic, A. G. Cook found himself stuck in a rural Montana town.

The 33-year-old London-born producer and tastemaker — known for his longstanding collaboration with avant-garde pop star Charli XCX as well as credits on songs from Beyoncé, Troye Sivan and Caroline Polachek — had never felt so British.

Cook found the experience “quite shocking,” he tells Variety at a Hackney pub over English breakfast tea (it’s midday, so we opted out of a pint). Speaking of his hometown, Cook says, “There’s a lot of funny inventiveness, but it’s all closed on this small island and it has this conservatism. Even when you’re being experimental or crazy, there’s always this like, ‘Oh, but here’s where it ends.’ But being in Montana is kind of addictively vast, and obviously epic in that way.

Cook quarantined there with his girlfriend, singer-songwriter Alaska Reid, and her family — she’s the oldest of five siblings and Cook is an only child, which he says felt like “suddenly being in a sitcom.” Within that year, Cook went on lots of hikes, learned to ride a horse and felt his perspective shift, leading to the concept for his third album “Britpop,” out on Friday.

No, the record isn’t Cook channeling Oasis or Blur, but more so acts as a vehicle to explore the vague meanings of both Britishness and pop music, and where those two worlds meet.

“It’s something abstract and symbolic, but there’s some lineage of the British eccentric,” Cook says of “Britpop.” “I was kind of unsure because there’s a lot of things that I have my own negative connotations of with Britain, like Brexit and even when Queen Elizabeth died, just seeing all of that and the dialogue around it. I still think that’s why ‘Britpop’ itself is such a funny word, because it’s attached to pop but it’s not really pop music. People can’t agree what pop is, what Britpop is, what Britain is — it relates to the sort of paradoxes I have in my stuff.”

But of course, Cook did reflect on the genre of Britpop while constructing the album: the rarity of two of the genre’s biggest guitar bands — Oasis and Blur — battling it out at the top of the charts, their aversion to fame and their opposite methods of storytelling. “The commitment to visual narrative and telling the story on multiple levels is something that I really appreciate in Blur,” Cook says. “I don’t really get it so much from Oasis, but then they’re the other kind of storytellers, where they can only tell the same thing over and over again, to the point where it’s kind of perfect.”

However, Cook found himself coming back to the brash, no-fucks-given attitude of it all more than anything. “It’s very resistant to change, but also kind of cheeky about it. I think both of those bands are good at seeing both sides of the coin — it will go from being very literal, to then a bit of a piss-take, back to serious,” he says. “That’s the Britishness of it, really. Is it even pop music? What do they even consider themselves? I think that’s maybe what I share with a lot of those kinds of artists: I’m into it, but I’m also pretty cynical about all of it.”

Sinna Nasseri

Perhaps that’s why, this year, Cook decided to shutter PC Music, his cult record label that launched the likes of Hannah Diamond and Danny L Harle and revolutionized the hyperpop scene over the past decade. From now on, PC will only release archival projects and special reissues, and “Britpop” is dropping via Cook’s new imprint, aptly titled New Alias.

For Cook, the decision to end new music releases on PC was almost an act of self-preservation. “I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do it if I didn’t actually feel that it was, in a funny way, better for the entire subculture,” he says. “Also, at a moment when so many of the artists involved are still doing really strong work, it felt like a very PC Music combination of things happening and things being frozen in time, without being too nostalgic.”

Ironically, the “past” section sounds the most futuristic, though it harkens to days of old by relating to “the sort of idealistic dance music I was making at the beginning of PC,” he says. He encapsulates this in the album’s first two songs: the nearly 10-minute “Silver Thread Golden Needle” takes a choral-sounding vocal chop and flips it in countless directions, and the title track features Charli saying “Britpop” with her signature sass over a sparkling, spiraling synth.

The second disc, “present,” is the closest Cook gets to actual Britpop. It’s guitar-based (though synths are still involved) and, for Cook’s standards, relatively stripped back, reminiscent of the track “Being Harsh” that became one of the standouts of his 2020 49-song album “7G.” Fully-formed lyrics make themselves known here on songs like “Serenade” and “Nice to Meet You,” though Cook wanted them to feel like they had just tumbled out of him — which, in some cases, they did.

“The present disc is songs that were recorded very quickly — they have a snapshot, almost polaroid feel,” he says. “The chords and guitars and lyrics, if I could, were all done in one go. I really don’t mean to say that this is the music I’m making in the present, but it’s the songs that are most present.”

As for the “future,” Cook wanted to capture a “radio dial feeling,” showcasing the full breadth of his musical capabilities from hyperpop to singer-songwriter and back again. He also says that every track on the third disc made him “feel a little bit uncomfortable,” whether that was in terms of genre, perhaps like the wall-of-sound-meets-horror-movie qualities of “Butterfly Craft,” or tempo, like the speed-of-light final track “Out of Time.”

“Something might be some kind of dance track, and then it’ll feel like a soundtrack and then it’ll have some lyrics and it’ll just kind of keep shifting,” he says. “But I think for me, that’s the closest I can get to thinking about the future — like just anything could happen.”

The resulting “Britpop,” Cook says, is “actually much more personal than I thought it might be.” Part of that has been the album’s tributes to Sophie, a hyperpop savant, friend and collaborator of Cook’s before her death in January 2021. “Britpop” became Cook’s first chance to channel that loss into his music. One of the most blatant references is on the second disc track “Without,” in which Cook ponders the emptiness of living without someone you love, and a sample from Sophie’s “BIPP” plays in the song’s outro.

“I wrote a pretty lengthy piece in the immediate aftermath, but at the time it felt like a huge amount of time passed because I wasn’t really doing much other than reflecting on all of it, trying to process it,” Cook says. “It was the tail end of me being in Montana, and it was the dregs of winter. I think ‘Without’ is really about that time and that process, more than it is strictly about Sophie. I mean, it is, but it’s about that window of time when you’re trying to process something without being able to. The tension of letting go and not wanting to, and you’re always going to be stuck a bit in between.”

But nods to Sophie can be heard throughout “Britpop,” Cook says, including the metal snare on “Silver Thread Golden Needle” and the colloquial style of her lyrics. “I can’t see any of my stuff ever, especially my personal stuff, not being at least some kind of subtle tribute to Sophie just because of the level of impact,” he says.

At a live show at Camden’s Underworld in April, Cook successfully mixed in his new material with the addition of a guitarist to his typical one-man show, seamlessly going from club-ready bangers to the softer moments on “Britpop’s” second disc. After playing “Without,” Cook mixed in “BIPP” to get the energy in the room up again. The crowd recognized the track, singing along to its hook.

Though Cook plans to play more “Britpop” shows, ultimately he says he’s “never going to be one of those people that’s dedicated to touring. I’m simply too interested in studio work.”

Indeed, Cook is an integral part of Charli’s sixth album “Brat,” out June 7. His remix of her first single “Von Dutch,” featuring TikTok star turned avant-garde adjacent Addison Rae — and her instantly iconic scream — has already gone viral, and Charli’s Boiler Room set, which Cook also participated in, has only added to the hype. On another single, “Club Classics” (produced by Cook and Charli’s fiancé, the 1975 drummer George Daniel), Cook gets a shoutout when Charli proclaims, “I want to dance to me / I want to dance to A. G.”

“Charli, much more than me, was really going for a lyrical, meaningful approach and I think that’s what sets it apart from some of the other things we’ve done,” Cook says of “Brat,” which the two worked on for over a year. “For me, it was like, how maximalist and minimalist can I get everyone to work? So that was sort of my role, to make sure every track was intentional and all the production was as bratty and confident as it should be.”

As for working with Rae, Cook calls her a “real pop encyclopedia.”

“I think she could be one of those people who represents a universally pop attitude,” he says, adding that he’s been working with her more “in general.” “She’s a real student of all that and very genuine. It doesn’t feel contrived.”

Whatever “pop” really means, and whether it’s represented by Charli or Rae or himself, Cook ultimately hopes he can inspire others to “be idiosyncratic, to double down on personality, to not be worried about guilty pleasures, to enjoy whatever distinction of high culture or low culture.”

“I think a lot of the music that I like is music that makes me want to make music in a full circle way, or at least triggers some other kind of creative thoughts,” he adds. “So I hope I’m speaking quite directly to those kind of people.”

Scroll to Top