Chris Cohen: “It’s such a mysterious problem.” Interview by Ruth Bailey


Speaking from his LA home Chris Cohen’s voice is unassuming, as he greets Cyclic. At first, it’s a little unnerving to speak to him. He seems wary of the phone call he’s set to endure and one thinks a little ginger as to the direction it might take.

Cohen may not be a household name that will be recognised by all but he has played a part in several acts no doubt heard at some stage along many a journey of musical appreciation. Some of the bands making up Cohen’s musical tapestry include his own, Curtains, the psychedelic Ariel Pink, Cass McCombs and, perhaps that which looms largest, Deerhoof. Although, despite his exit from Deerhoof a decade ago, Cohen is himself nothing but consistent, having been composing music of some form or another for as long as he can remember.

“My parents bought me a drum set, they just took me seriously, they never encouraged me to do anything else it’s just come to be a part of my identity over time and I have learned that music is how I make friends and music is how… it’s just, there isn’t anything else that I get that from, that’s really giving me something back. It’s just sort of ingrained. It’s a habit, I guess.”

Yet, unbelievably, he doesn’t call himself a professional musician. Instead, he views music as something of a hobby. Working in what he describes as ‘menial jobs’ (art galleries, hospitality), those that allow him time and money to make the music he wants to make. This appears to be the secret to Cohen’s success.

“I do it because it feels like the best thing I can do – the most challenging and the most mysterious thing to me, is how to make music that is interesting, it’s such a mysterious problem. It’s not just that I love it, because sometimes I hate it, and it’s hard, and sometimes I would rather have chosen to do something else. It seems like the most complicated problem for me to tackle is how to make music that I like and I think that is why I keep doing it.”

The belief that everybody has the potential to be creative and yet most people in society aren’t able to explore this, belongs to Cohen. He also wonders whether people struggle to push themselves to be creative because they see that it’s not profitable to do so or they see certain other people do it and think that it is something ‘other people’ do, regardless though, for him his focus is on the solo side of his craft these days.

“It’s been a really long time since I played in other people’s bands. Ive not done so much of the side person stuff. I’ve probably been working on my own music since probably 2010,” Cohen muses.

In 2012 Cohen released the psychedelia infused work Overgrown Path and in 2016 he’s decided it’s time to do it all again. As if apart, released this week, came together during the course of three years. Initially tinkering around with sounds on piano and then later overlaying some drums, Cohen then waited another year to follow this up and work on production (another two years) in a friend’s garage in LA.

Cohen’s ability to weave together his songs with depth, hints of melancholy and a subtle wondrousness is refreshing for 2016.

“I don’t think I gained any wisdom about life while making this record. I learned how to make this record as I went. It’s kind of like you say, stuff is happening all the time. Things that were happening in my life, I don’t think I can relate to speak to exactly what they did. Hopefully the songs speak for themselves.”

With ten songs all having earned their spot on this record, he says he is as passionate about them all stating he wouldn’t put any song on there that he wasn’t passionate about.

“I kind of like that I never have any extras. Everything gets worked over and over until it ends up or goes on the album,” he says. “It’s sort of like each album is a scrapbook of this time period and this is another one, though it’s sort of like memories of what was going on that time, hopefully it conveys that, but I’m not sure that it’s that important for someone to understand what my life was like, just sort of talking about what was going on.”

Eager this time around to experiment with songs that were simpler in their structure Cohen admits to this intention not always being obvious while he was making it.

“There was an intention, but it’s hard for me to put that in words. I mean, I guess the intention I had was… I did what I intended to do, it’s just like I wanted it to be. But I didn’t know what I wanted it to be right in the beginning, I figured it out while I was doing it.”

Looking beyond the release of the album a summertime tour of the states will commence and Cohen has also been doing some recording work, laying down tracks in the studio (garage) for Weyes Blood (named after the Flannery O’connor story), a solo artist on the record label, Mexican Summer.

“So I do have some music work. Right now, I’m making music videos, rehearsing and playing shows, I’m going on the US tour in June. I’ll keep making records too for as long as I can.”

Chris Cohen’s LP As if Apart is out now. On Captured Tracks/ Remote Control.


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