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Interview: Adam Cohen

[ 12 January 2015 | Print This Post ]
12 January 2015

THERE has long been a perception that the children of famous parents have it easier than most, but when your father is little short of a living legend, the towering comparative comes with a unique curse.

As the son of Leonard Cohen, Adam Cohen has always faced a battle to be taken seriously as a singer-songwriter and not just one that’s in the industry off his father’s legacy.

In 1998, aged 26, he released his first, eponymously titled solo album which made little impact. Six years later, he resurfaced as the frontman of a rock band, ‘Low Millions’, that never quite made it, and in 2007 he released an underperforming French-language album, ‘Melancolista’. He wrote songs for other artists who turned them down and produced a record that never saw the light of day.

Three years ago, Adam decided that he and the music business should call it quits. Talked into giving it one last go, he released his best and biggest album to date. ‘Like A Man’ was an elegant, intimate beauty performed on a nylon-string guitar highlighting the deep connection with his father instead of avoiding the familial connection. A critical and commercial success, it brought Adam a gold album, a long world tour and great anticipation for the follow-up.

‘We Go Home’, Cohen’s fifth follow up, is by all definitions homemade. He recorded his songs in rooms as familiar to him as his name. Since the band was playing in Europe, Adam decided to set up shop in the little white house on the Greek island of Hydra where he had spent much of his childhood.

Some of the themes on ‘We Go Home’ continue the conversation that ‘Like A Man’ began. What’s different is the tone—richer and fuller this time, more diverse, making the most of the three-piece band and three-piece string section from his tour. The nylon-string guitar is still there, but there are also piano songs – the title track’s tenderness and self-mocking humour recalling one of Cohen’s other great musical influences Randy Newman.

Currently touring the album in Europe, Adam Cohen catches up with Gemma Brosnan on his early inspirations, musical progression and why he would never encourage his son to make a living from music.

Gemma: You’re currently touring your new album, ‘We Go Home,’ your fifth solo offering. How would you describe your sound to those who haven’t heard it?

Adam: I think I fall into a folk tradition. Its modern folk, but it harks back to an era of folk that I certainly feel I belong to.

Gemma: Do you feel your sound was always rooted in this genre?

Adam: Regrettably my so-called career was marked by fits and starts and a failure to honour the tradition I come from. The last few records have been celebrated and sold well and in the past five or six years, I’ve found my voice.

Gemma: What do you mean by not honouring the tradition?

Adam: I think I was seduced by the lifestyle as many people are and it took me an embarrassingly long time to find my voice. On the last record in 2011, I fixed my wagon to the right tracks and was deliciously rewarded and encouraged for it which accumulates in this record.

Gemma: Does the album’s title, ‘We Go Home’, cement this idea of you finding yourself musically and being completely at home with your sound as well as home being your muse?

Adam: I think you got it totally, the record was recorded in the living rooms of homes I grew up in and this song, ‘We Go Home’, was fitting for the album title.

Gemma: Did this include writing at homes in Greece and Montreal?

Adam: The writing I did elsewhere, but the recording was done there to keep it really honest in the same way the family dinner forces you to be honest removing any ridiculous airs. My family home saw me as a kid, saw me growing up figuring out who I wanted to be and thankfully have finally become.

Gemma: Did you approach this album any differently other than the setting?

Adam: I think it’s a combination of inspiration, tenacity, high hopes and grit all accumulating in a desperate dream to occupy the highest ranks in my humble field.

Gemma: In terms of occupying the highest ranks, your father, Leonard Cohen, held this crown long before you came into the world. How has this affected you both positively and negatively?

Adam: I think the popular misconception is that there is this tyrannical shadow blocking me from accomplishing something. The truth of the matter is, there are high expectations and I am often severely judged, but he has already provided me with great guidance, good genes, love and support and beautiful inspiration via his work and I’m continually inspired and motivated by his accomplishments.

Gemma: Was there a pivotal moment in terms of your musical direction?

Adam: My last record was the first time I had the courage to embrace the musical tradition. I had no commercial hopes whatsoever and lo and behold it’s turned out to be my first and only gold record so the cliché of knowing thyself and having the courage to do something with no commercial ambition I’ve finally been rewarded for so I’m just embracing that path and staying focused on my ideals.

Gemma: The album is streaked with familial references from ‘Hallelujah’ to ‘First We Take Manhattan’. Do you think this conscious decision to embrace your father’s work makes things slightly easier when it comes to the enviable comparison?

Adam: I think it’s probably drawing the target on my back in bolder lines, but I am who I am and I come by it honestly. Being a new father myself, I happen to be preoccupied with my role of father and son and the lesson I learnt on the last record was that I had to embrace who I was. I haven’t had success inventing a character for myself so I might as well be me.

Gemma: Your son is seven years. How would you feel about him going into the music business?

Adam: I would strongly and vigorously discourage it. It’s a rough, self-indulgent, pitiful business and it’s too hard to make a living. My career is only one example which is emblematic. You are constantly fighting with indifference and anonymity and the decline in the social value of music as reflected in sales, concert attendance, publishing, and the overall collapse of the music industry. Look at what we’re doing for a living, you included, we’re talking about music and no-one gives a shit. It’s very hard for people to care and they’ve grown increasingly cynical. The juice has flowed elsewhere. Now its top chefs, models, moguls and fashion designers so you have to have a real appetite for your own work or to be really intoxicated by the notion of seeking glamour, both of which are fine as long as you don’t make it your business. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to go into the business of music. If they want to make music, that’s beautiful and a separate matter, but if you were a close friend, my son or anyone I care about asking me for advice, I would humbly steer anyone away from trying to make money from art.

Gemma: Do you think some of your comments are more genre specific – for example, the glamour and bling associated with pop and hip-hop which has always been synonymous with cash – are a slightly different arena to folk where artists such as Gillian Welch managed to stay true and successful?

Adam: I understand the nature of your very intelligent point, but I think even Iggy Azalea, Drake or Mumford Sons would agree with me, that for every success in a certain genre, there are millions trying to accomplish the same level of success and visibility and are failing to do so. The public doesn’t know about those, but I do. I live in L.A. and everybody I know is either an actor or a musician and it’s a rough gig. I’m not complaining, it’s one I’ve chosen, but it’s not one I would sell the merits of to anybody. It’s grotesquely overinflated.

Gemma: What would your alternative career path be?

Adam: I wouldn’t do anything differently, that’s not to invalidate anything I’ve said. I got bitten really hard by this virus and that’s why I do what I do and will continue to do with or without pay.

Gemma: What is it about music you love?

Adam: I don’t know how much is genetics, but I am in love with music, I grew up with it and had this lifelong dream of doing for others what music did for me. I wish it had more social pertinence, I wish it was more highly valued, I wish the industry was more robust.

Gemma: Who would be your dream collaboration?

Adam: I think Adele could sing the shit out of one of my songs.

Gemma: Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever heard your music being played?

Adam: A strip club. There’s a rash of strip clubs in the Mid-West that have taken to a rock record I made called ‘Nicky’ which is wholly impertinent to what I’m doing now, but I had the pleasure of going to this place and watching girls competing with each other to it. There are a collection of other banalities from a taxi in Athens, an elevator in Singapore and a craps table in Vegas.

Gemma: Where’s the best city you’ve ever played?

Adam: Montreal or any major European capital always produces a sense of pride and gives you the encouragement to continue.

Gemma: Do you have a preference for smaller, more intimate venues?

Adam: Magic has happened in small clubs and big festivals and I’m not a baker. I can’t reproduce it, I can only bring my songs to life and hope there’s something between me and the audience. It’s about transporting yourself above the place and taking everyone with you. There’s been a collection of personal victories that has little to do with the venue or city I’m in, more to do with everything going right on the night. The worst gigs are like the worst dates, you’ve cleaned up, you’re prepared and for some reason there is no seduction, no magic, it’s mechanical and uninspired and it’s not because of a lack of preparation.

Gemma: How much do you care about the critics?

Adam: I’ve been humiliated in the past, but those earlier defeats make this latter part of my career more satisfying. I don’t think anyone has such thick skin that they don’t give a shit. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be on the carousel.

Gemma: What do you miss most when you’re on the road?

Adam: The domesticity, the simplicity, the complicity of family, the routine, the quiet, the privacy, the sleep, the comfort.

Gemma: What keeps you calm?

Adam: Other than alcohol, the ability to keep cool preserves me the most on the road. Don’t get too excited, don’t get too down, don’t get too hopeful, don’t get too greedy and don’t get too horny. Just keep it cool.

For tour dates and tickets, go to http://adamcohen.com/

 

 

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