Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interview: The Jon Cohen Experimental

Jon Cohen, first became a musician of international standing as part of Montreal’s The Dears. Once hailed by NME as “the best new band in the world”.  A heavy moniker for any band to carry and though the flame burned bright for several years, it fizzled, just like the acclaim. Cohen, moved onto more critical acclaim with The Social Register, and several other bands. His latest undertaking The Jon Cohen Experimental, has spawned 2 albums 2007′s self titled debut and 2011′s Behold. 

Jon Cohen, brings his one-man orchestra to The Grand Social this Friday (20th) in what promises to be an eye-opening evening. We caught up with him mid-transit, dreaming of a pint of “the black stuff”.

How the devil are you?

Damn good, feeling great, on top of my game. I’ve been putting this beast of a tour together. It’s called the passenger tour and it will see me on a two-month non-stop road trip across all of Europe, Uk and Scandinavia. I’m at the airport lounge now waiting for my late flight and finally breathing a sigh of relief that it’s actually underway. I cant believe it! This is gonna be sweet.

Your musical past and present is quite varied and there seems to be a simultaneous personal and musical development. How did the latest chapter evolve and how would you describe your current output?

My current output is at about 120 volts AC and 1700 Ma DC…ok just kidding, Well I’ve always considered the music I make to be an amalgamation of influences that are so jumbled together none of them want to show their true identity. That being said, I have always been a true believer in the power of tender love and care. The same way you would treat a gently child, or a flower or a beautiful woman, I would with a song. Especially when it is first being conceived. In the past I would write and write and write to my hearts content but I wasn’t developing anything I wrote. I was only into the instant pleasure of creation. Now I’m trying out a different set of gloves. With the songs on Behold, it was all about care, all about working and re-working them with the band. It was about letting the music grow and develop over time, like fine wine, letting it ferment and take its own shape as opposed to recording them right away. This has been the last chapter of my life, fatherhood but not of children, rather songs which are my children. I am now putting them through the growing pains of adulthood by transforming them into solo one-man band songs. I’m impressed with how well they turned out.

Having been in many bands over the years is it liberating to be the ringmaster at last?

Yeah, it’s more liberating to be touring and playing as a one man orchestra on top of writing and performing my own music.  In many ways it has its own challenges. But I like meeting them and I love being involved and growing something, seeing it manifest,  becoming something beautiful. Music has a special way of reminding us of our own humility. It’s so grandiose in itself, so deep and so powerful. When you are in that studio and its all coming together, it’s like you are no longer in control of it. You kick started the process but that’s all it took. after that it’s out of your hands if you are wise. Because then it takes on a life of its own. I was in the studio for the record all the time listening to the mixing thinking “did I really create this?” That’s why I say I didn’t record this album. Rather this record recorded me.  In the same way, when I was playing in other projects, I wasn’t so much involved in the process but rather I was used as a tool to achieve it. It’s not a bad thing at all, it’s a wonderful thing to be a tool. You become the instrument, the scalpel, the drill with which the artist can create. I enjoyed that a great deal too and still do it (albeit I do it a lot less now than before) but I hope to be utilized again.

Will this be your debut Irish performance? If so what are your expectations? if not how did you find the previous experience?

I have no expectations; I chose to play in Ireland because I feel a certain Kinship to the Irish. Not many indie performers from Canada do Ireland when they do a UK tour for some reason, must be the straight (maybe they can’t swim as well as me!)  I spent some time in Dublin about ten years ago and fell in love with the place, the people and the Guinness (still remember the taste of that original pint in the underground bar at the Guinness Brewery). That’s really why I’m coming back!!!

No but seriously I think it’s going to be a kickass show and I’ve heard great things about the Grand Social. Whatever happens in Dublin this Friday night, expect two hundred and fifty percent from me on that stage.

Are you aware that Dublin is currently a hotbed for experimental and post rock music, with highly passionate and well-versed fans? Whit that in mind, what can people expect from a Jon Cohen Experimental show, and why should they attend?

I am aware that an amazing scene is brewing in Dublin town. I did lots of research in preparing these shows and was really blown away by this. It reminded me a lot of Montreal in the heyday (2005-07) I’m glad I made the decision to come. Really, I wont try to sell myself too much except to say that this is a once in a longtime opportunity for the fine indie /experimental/folk/post rock/pre rock and during rock denizens to come together as a live, organic, feeling, breathing dancing, loving and living audience. You will be blown away not by my show but what our show will bring out in you and what we as a unit are gonna create together. This is an outspoken act of creation and you are called forth. How could you not answer that call?

“The Passenger Tour” is a gigantic undertaking. Is this a labor of love or a financial necessity?

Finances have nothing to do with it. I’ve already put more time, effort money and hours into this thing than I expect will come back to me. I see this more as an expense, a trip, like if you were going to Cuba, or Thailand, except less hot. No, people have wondered if I didn’t get a lobotomy to embark on such an expensive journey. Perhaps they’re right, but I have to say that even though I may be lacking some brain cells, it will be so so worth it in the end to have the honor to meet and play for all the beautiful faces of Ireland, the UK, Scandinavia and then Europe. I love these mega tours, they make me feel like its 1970 and I’m on a mega world tour with Iron Maiden or something. Ok maybe not Iron Maiden, maybe Rush.

What five songs from your career are you most proud of and why?

I like this question. Hmm let’s see, I’m particularly proud of the Song “Brain Pollution”, written in Laos after having a deep realization about myself. “Don’t be the Cloud” is great because it came together so spontaneously. “Behold” because Angela Desveaux sings on it, and she has the voice of an angel. From My first record, “I Won’t Mind” because it’s so epic yet still very pop friendly. Finally, “This Wind of Mine”, I wrote it on a balcony in Casablanca, on a beautiful sunny afternoon when the entire city was shut down because everyone naps at 3pm (I wish we could do that too). So it was so quiet except for the sound of a family of birds chirping and floating at high speed from rooftop to rooftop in complete synchronicity and unison. I was watching one brain, one mind at work. That was a beautiful moment for me…. birds, wind and the sound of one lone classical guitar on a sunny roof top balcony.

With record sales at a low ebb where do you see the future of the record industry?

I don’t know, it’s changing for sure, live music is the new album, and even bands now are playing their famous albums as a live show. The live context is the future of music. It’s almost like we’ve come full circle, like we are back in the days of the travelling troubadours, gypsies, playing music for the love of it, and for money and survival. But it’s no longer only in the hands of the antiquated model of corporate musician slavery. Now the playing field is more level and its up to the ingenuity and creativity of the musicians themselves to make things happen. Mostly though, their desire to get out of their bedroom studios and see the world, play for the world, not only think about money fame whatever all these things are just fodder for the ego. Its time we put our music where our mouth is. That’s why I decided to do these tours, why I give it all up. After a certain time of being stagnant and waiting for something to happen (which it didn’t) I’m putting my own dents in the world, my faith in my own hands now and not hoping and waiting for some fantasy manager to swoop down from major label heaven to do it for me.

How is the current Canadian/Montreal music scene holding up post Arcade Fire and Dears hysteria?

Great, always growing always changing, always evolving, Montreal is a very transient place due to the French and the cold weather, but people are drawn here because it has so much energy. Bands form here and go on to do great things. I’ve lived here my whole life, and can tell you life doesn’t end at Arcade Fire. It’s only the beginning, and anyway, I know the media is always keen to put the spotlight somewhere but it’s outside the spotlight that the action is. Music scenes are like clothes; no city can wear them forever. I got my money on Dublin for my next outfit.

What’s next on the agenda for The Jon Cohen Experimental, juggernaut?

Definitely not a juggernaut, nor do I want it to be. I want to find out what my place is in the musical sphere is. I want to see how I can use music for good, that means for not back massaging my own sense of self. I want to connect with people, to feel something real with them. I want to accomplish what I need to accomplish and see where the chips fall after that. I want to be an open book, a live wire a conductor for genuine truth and beauty in music. I’m not there yet by any stretch but it’s the getting there that’s all the fun. Let’s go there together this friday night shall we Dublin?

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