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David Cook on New Music, His Current Tour, Staying 'Brand Loyal' to 'American Idol' (Q&A)

"I have not put down the guitar," the season seven winner promises THR.

David Cook Idol season 12 performance L
Frank Micelotta / FOX

American Idol season seven winner David Cook may have debuted the song “Laying Me Low” on the Fox show last May, but he's doing the opposite this month as he hits the road to try out new songs.

“Our fans have been historically very patient and very loyal,” Cook tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We are writing a new record and have a lot of new material, and I wanted to try something different and have it out in a live setting first to let the fan base see the direction we are heading in.”

Since parting ways with RCA Records, Cook has refocused his direction with a move to Nashville, which he said isn’t necessarily influencing his sound directly.

“A common misconception about Nashville is that it’s all country, and I don’t know that country has really influenced what we do,” he said. “For this tour, we are actually playing keyboards live for the first time, which is quite an experiment. But it’s a lot of fun, and the new songs kind of represent that. It’s going to get back to basics, really doubling down and enjoying the creative process.”

Read on for an inside look at Cook’s current tour, which includes stops in Los Angeles at the Troubadour on Nov. 3 and in Bruce Springsteen’s hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, at iPlay America’s Encore stage on Nov. 10.

You've playing smaller venues on this tour, like the Troubadour in Los Angeles. How do you adjust your set for a club-like space versus a theater? 

My favorite shows have always been the ones where there is not a lot of pomp and circumstance and the crowd is just as engaged. What we try to do is make it as conversational as possible. We interact with the audience and a lot of the fans. And so I think clearly smaller rooms we are able to do that a little bit better than arenas to try to connect with the audience on a one-to one basis. So far the response seems to be good. The audience is getting more than what they paid for, which has always been our goal.

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One or two covers always seem to make their way onto every tour -- what's in store this time?

For this tour, we reworked “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak -- so that’s the one we're doing right now. We’ve been playing up on the East Coast primarily, and we have a show in New Jersey in Freehold where Springsteen is from, so we’re toying around with covers. 

You've said that This Loud Morning was a record you needed to get out of your system. How are you approaching things differently for your next album?

My brother passed away during the first tour, and I didn’t really take a break. I think we only missed one show. I stayed busy with work and I used the record to process everything. It was a deeply personal record and one I really do feel like I needed to make. And now that I’m on the other side of it -- numbers are numbers, but I think what I got out of that record can’t be quantified. With the new stuff now, I’m trying to get back to music being fun again.

What can you tell us about the new material?

The songs are all very different. They have their own vibe. It’s going to be interesting to see what the end result is as far as a record, but I think each one of these songs stands alone. Aside from the programming and keyboards, I think they’re all still inherently me. I have not put down the guitar. I enjoy it too much.

What are you listening to that has had some influence?

The new Nine Inch Nails is incredible. I think I listened to the whole NIN catalog a lot through this process, and other bands that seem to create moods from song to song. That’s kind of the angle I’ve been attacking with this new stuff. Every song having its own mood.

Can you tell us some titles?

There is an eerie ballad called “I’m Gonna Love You.” There is also the closest thing I’ve ever written to a dance song called “Eyes on You”  and a rock song, “Kiss and Tell.”

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How is the search for a label going?

We’re talking to a couple of labels right now. I think finding the right home for this record and finding a partner for these songs is what I’m really excited about.

As an Idol alum, what do you think of all of the changes to the judging panel?

I love the show and I am completely brand loyal. I don’t watch The Voice and I don’t watch The  X Factor. I can tell you the judges on both of those shows, but I can name hardly any contestants. I think if you make it about the judges it becomes a dying format very quickly. When Idol was pulling in its biggest numbers it was about the contestants, and if you give the American public the opportunity…they are going to gravitate toward someone and they are going to make sure that person has success, and when that person has success, the show has success. I hope they can get some continuity on the judges' panel and get back to what was the bread and butter of the show: the contestants.

When you went back in the spring, did you get to catch up with anyone?

I heard stories of Keith Urban all around town back home, and then I was able to finally meet the guy. When I was buying the house [in Nashville], the realtor kept telling us which restaurants Keith and Nicole [Kidman] go to!

Where do they go?

I don’t know if I want to blow up their spot. I may have to plead the Fifth.

Being in Nashville, have you been in touch with other Idols? Did you score an invite to Kelly Clarkson’s wedding?

[Laughs] The only time I met Kelly was at the grand opening of the American Idol Experience in Disney. She’s super cool, and I think her getting married is awesome, I’m very happy for her.

Nashville has many Idols living and recording there now -- Carrie Underwood, of course, but also Taylor Hicks, Kree Harrison, Melinda Doolittle, Phil Stacey -- we could go on and on.

It is becoming quite the hub for former Idols. I’ll be the city comptroller or something.

One last curiosity: As a self-described “word nerd,” do you play Words With Friends?

I used to. Honestly, the last time I played I got destroyed. It was by a writer. She did a story for an airline magazine, and she challenged me for charity and I got destroyed. It wasn’t pretty.

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile