Track by track: Office Culture

Office Culture sound like they hold a weekly residency at the coolest cocktail bar in town. The persona worn by frontman and figurehead, Winston Cook-Wilson is one of espresso martinis, stained velvet blazers and sunglasses indoors. You can imagine him reclining on top of a piano, head flung back, eyes looking at the ceiling as he delivers his wry, sardonic one-liners – “Seems like everybody’s a runner now”, he jokes on ‘Too Many’. 

The cocktail bar crowd made up of singles on the hunt, the permanently lonely in search of company and friends enjoying a rare break from the banalities of daily life relate entirely to their louche, troubled entertainer. His band are smooth and sophisticated; piano keys glide freely through the cosmos and warm horns lighten the bar’s seedy, dark corners. 

Not unlike the hotel-cum-casino Alex Turner transported us to on Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, Office Culture’s ‘A Life of Crime’ absorbs you in a fictional place of their own making. Grab a glass of red, apply the needle to the wax and transport yourself to a place of unfulfilled desires, dodgy dealings and a house-band whose sound perfectly resembles the life’s lived by those surrounding them 

Winston Cook-Wilson exclusively explains each track for us below:

A Sign

It was nice to have a song that felt like a clear opener. It also feels sort of like an overview of other things I talk about in other songs on the album. There is some stuff about upticks and ruts that happen in a relationship, and hating work, and a lot about impostor syndrome. 

In my experience of the music scene in Brooklyn, and other music scenes too, there are people who are very nice, open to meeting new people, and happy to engage with their music. It doesn’t matter how you present yourself and what kind of perceived social currency they gain by talking to you. Then there are people who create a much more insular world for themselves: you have to be almost recommended to them, exude a distinct quality that seems in line with their sensibilities, or provide some kind of clear absolute value. I had this image in my head of violin lessons from when I was a kid, and a picky and demanding teacher assessing me: “They say I played it with too much heart/Empty conviction, bow over the bridge, not looking the part/And they say ‘You aren’t willing to do what it takes for the art”/And I say “What? You mean dress up and frown?’”

This was also a big one for me in the context of my fairly recent campaign of trying to sing more in my real voice, instead of falsetto. It’s starting to feel a little undignified. I get worried that I sound too much like Ethel Merman crossed with Chris Martin—not that there’s not someone out there that could conceivably do a good job with that.

Hard Times in the City

This kind of starts like the end of a film noir, or Goodfellas, with a criminal fleeing town in sunglasses, trying to be discreet at gas stations and stuff. But here, no one is actually following them, and they are not actually in trouble with anyone. It’s more of a personal thing. So maybe it’s more like Shutter Island

It’s nice when you have a very simple, almost corny line that other people have used in the past—the titular line of this song—and then you find a way for it to do something new and interesting in your song. At least, it begins to feel vested with personal meaning instead of just being a pastiche element. 

Diamonds

I worked for a startup website for a while, and let me tell you: it wasn’t great! Through my experience doing that—and especially as I dealt with the lingering PTSD afterwards—I got perversely fascinated with real-life horror stories relating to Silicon Valley nightmare people. Come one, come all. To this day, I will read any book or news story about them. I don’t recommend doing that to yourself. But when you’re working for a weird venture-capital-funded company—particularly one of the ones (most of them) with no actual business model—and you start feeling like a second or third class citizen and wondering why it has to be that way, you might fantasize about the shadowy figures who are obliquely benefitting.

So this song is from the perspective of a run-of-the-mill young venture capitalist whose career is based on throwing money at one half-baked app or website idea after another, hoping he (definitely a he, in the most aggressive way) can make a little bit off of them, but not necessarily betting on them being a company for more than a year or two. This guy’s best hope is that someone might want to eventually buy the company, or at least one of its ideas; he has no investment in the well-being of anyone who is involved with it. So there’s a line about “pogo sticking round the Valley.” 

At the beginning of this song, the 28-year-old CEO of the company the narrator is thinking about investing in is pointed out to him across some catered event, and the CEO is this awkward, unconvincing-looking guy. So that’s the source of that weird opening line: “Who is this guy anyway?/The one who looks like Beetle Bailey/Munching on that crudite/Is this the guy who’s supposed to save me?” 

I Move in Shadows

This is the first song I wrote for the record: an R&B tune about not being sure how compromise actually works in a relationship, and not wanting to upset the other person. We’re so lucky that we got Cole and Alec from Cuddle Magic on this record playing horns.

Home on High

I don’t know what’s up with this one, quite. There’s a repeated line about jumping back into “the locomotion,” and I was thinking of a line of people doing that dance together. I was thinking about how much of life—my life at least, I won’t speak for anyone else—seems to revolve around thinking you’ve messed something up and floating around in an amniotic haze of self-doubt, not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other. But then there are certain points where we suddenly feel in sync with others again, and mysteriously, we are back to feeling sure of ourselves, if just for a day or an hour. We start doing the steps everyone else is doing, and we do them well, or at least don’t mess up so badly that we stick out. Sometimes it’s a good thing to feel like a part of that unit; sometimes it’s bad; sometimes it’s just nice to not have to think about yourself for a little while.

Too Many

I think that at the end of a relationship that has been gradually eroding, there is a final phase when things seem totally tender and okay one minute, out of a kind of mutual frailty and sadness, and then the next second, all the boogeymen pop out. Eventually, there are too many to keep track of—you have to keep elaborate mental lists to account for all the potential pitfalls—and you get whiplash from the back and forth between feeling safe and feeling endangered. It gets really hard to know who you are and what you want. Eventually, someone has to do something about it.

Parade

This starts out with being alone in a place that you spent a lot of time with another person, and about clinging to that place even after the person is gone. But then one day, you look around and know you don’t want to—or, more accurately, can’t—be there a second longer. There’s some hope in the chorus, but it’s kind of foolhardy, “who knows what the future will bring?” stuff.

Monkey Bone

We had a riff that I thought sounded a bit like Crazy Horse when Ian—our guitarist and keyboardist—played it. And I thought of what a great name for a song “Powderfinger” is, and then I wanted to think of a word like that. I thought of the name of this Brendan Fraser and Chris Kattan movie I’ve made jokes about and cautiously defended for many years, which is not really like that, and I’m very sorry to Neil. My titles are usually just the name of the main line or image in the chorus, as a kind of personal reaction against writing too many goofball titles when I was younger, but I felt the urge to do one goofball title for this record, also maybe because I felt a bit uncomfortable about how serious the song was. Without getting into it too much, it’s kind of about letting time take care of things you wish could just be resolved or understood right away.

A Life of Crime is out now on Whatever’s Clever

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