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?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Video: Lisa Hannigan - What'll I Do

The undisputed queen of Irish music returns with the second single from her second album Passenger. "What'll I Do" showcases her unique talent to create and deliver a melody. The video sees Hannigan enjoying a fairground ride, and its great to see her having so much fun.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Video: The Aftermath - In Loneliness Lives Love

There's a distinct Van The Man/Motown vibe running through The Aftermath's new single "In Loneliness Lives Love".  A host of Irish and international talent make guest appearances on the track, including Karl Odlum (The Frames), Tosh Flood (Pugwash), Steve Wickham (The Waterboys), and Helen Turner (Paul Weller). Mullingar's finest band release the track on the 20th of January. Untill then check out the video below.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: About Group - Start and Complete

In 2008 Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip fame created muso super-group About Group and released debut album "Rubbed Out" to critical acclaim. The premise for the project was to capture the experimentalism of a group in its infancy. 2011's follow up "Start and Complete" maintains this trajectory. Taylor uses the same approach Bruce Springsteen used in the recording of "Darkness on the Edge of Town". The band are only given the chords to the songs in suitable time, for them not to now the material at the time of recording. Inevitably with such an approach there are some interesting notes scattered throughout the songs, as the band create their parts live in the studio.

The album, for the most part is a collection of rather slow burning alt-country numbers and repeated listening is required to get past the initial inertia.  The songs were recorded in Abbey Road in one day with bass overdubs added later. The spectre of The Beatles, must have been in the studio because the album has their signature, latter day blues feel to it, on tracks such as "Lay Me Down" Even more so on the swirly Billy Preston- esque organ parts on songs such as "Rough And Smooth". However, many of the songs seem unfinished rather than experimental, with 46 second track "There Is A Way To End This Run Of Doubt" being a case in point.

The album is bookended by the downbeat noodle "Married To The Sea" parts (a) and (b) both tracks are unfortunately over before they ever had the chance to truly begin. "Don't Worry", the first song proper on the album, is a merry mid-tempo track which shows off Alexis Taylor's voice to a degree, rarely seen in Hot Chip material. Standout track "You're No Good" is a wonderful 11 minute bitter boogie, laden with George Harrison-esque blues riffs and swirling organ parts. It is the best example of capturing a band in the creative process on the album

Sadly, despite the standard of musicianship on the album being first rate, the compositions themselves, are far to hit and miss to achieve any long term listening pleasure.The fact that six of the songs are less than 3 minutes long does not help the band to draw the listener in. Tracks such as "Repair Man" and "Nothing But Words" however, are worthy of note. This album will appeal primarily to organ and keyboard enthusiasts and Hot Chip diehards.

Review: Young The Giant

Orange County quintet Young The Giant have crafted a debut album of anthemic, potentially stadium filling, rock songs. It's hard not to fall in love with their polished brand of highly melodic and uplifting jangly guitar pop, on songs such as 'Apartment'. However results are mixed with several rather boring songs weighing the album down. The standard of musicianship is excellent throughout, and although the music has a very stadium rock feel to it, it is also intricate and nuanced.

"My body tells me no, but I won't quit, cause I want more", belts lead singer Sameer Ghandhi in the first of several hands in the air moments on 'My Body'. It's the kind of rock song that Kings of Leon built their success upon. 'I Got' is a radio friendly bass and drums led mid-tempo disco meets barbershop outing. Once again the guitar work by Jacob Tiley is accomplished and weighted perfectly for the track which also features some notable organ swirls. The controversial 'Cough Syrup' the bands biggest hit to date, is the least rewarding of the tracks so far, as an over familiar melody with echoes of Jimmy Eat World and several one hit wonders is hammered home. 'God Made Man' continues the sudden drop in quality with only the chorus worthwhile.

The KOL light stylings of '12 Fingers' puts the album back on firmer ground. 'Strings' see standards raised furthermore. However, 'Your Side' really sees the quintet back in their stride with another radio friendly pop rock song. Once again it is the three pronged attack of interweaving bass grooves, choppy disco riffs which make this track standout. Similarly, the same approach makes 'St. Walker' another disco rock highlight. If Young The Giant continue to produce material like this they may find themselves constantly compared to Maroon 5 and though elements of that sound are present, the playing is certainly superior.

'Islands' is perhaps the bravest track on the album. It sees Young The Giant cast away the safety of their Californian rock roots and create a silky middle-eastern inspired track which sees Sameer Ghandhi prove himself capable of being more Jeff Buckley -think 'Everybody Here Wants You'- than modern crooner.

Overall it’s an enjoyable listen and I dare say you can expect to hear many of the songs appearing in feature films over the next eighteen months or so. However, I can't guarantee this album will hold your attention long term. This one is very much a case of try before you buy.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Video: Therapy? - Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing

Therapy? return with their 14th studio album "A Brief Crack Of Light" on the 6th of February. An Amazing achievement by the Northern Irish outfit formed in 1989. "Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing" is the first single to be taken from the album and is set for release on the 23rd of January.

Therapy? play Vicar St. on March 10th before heading out on a European tour. Be sure to bring your earplugs it's gonna be loud.