Interview: Adam Cohen
Published on October 11th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Last week, Adam Cohen returned with Like A Man, his first album release of any kind since the 2004 double-whammy of Mélancolista, a French-language solo affair, and Ex-Girlfriends, the one and only LP by his band Low Millions and the primary subject matter of which is clearly evidenced by its title.
Now 39, Cohen’s music has taken on a sheen of quiet optimism to go with the battle scars it unashamedly sports from years of professional setbacks – and, the enthusiastic response with which Like A Man has been greeted suggests that he has hit upon a formula which neither outright imitates nor self-consciously veers away from the work of his father (namely Leonard…you might have heard of him).
Instead, Like A Man at once celebrates and embellishes upon the lineage of its creator, with polished yet affecting results.
Rocksucker fired Adam over some questions to find out, amongst other things, about the album’s making, what he’s been up to since his last musical output and why he’s lucky to be alive…
Congratulations on the release of Like A Man. From what I’ve seen and read, you’re not shying away from the inevitable comparisons with your father on this record. Has he always been in support of your musical ventures or were there times over the years, particularly when you were dropped by labels, when he advised you to go a different route? Has he given you much feedback for Like A Man?
My father has always been supportive and encouraging, offering advice and attention when needed but his feelings and hopes for Like A Man are higher than mine for my past projects. I think all those close to me realize the importance of this record to me – it’s been a long time coming. There are songs on this record that my father and close friends have been asking me to record for close to twenty years.
You said that Patrick Leonard made you record vocals and guitar at the same time, with just three takes for each song. Did this return a one hundred per cent success rate or, in retrospect, is there anything you’d like to have done a bit differently? How long did it take to record the album in total?
I’m enormously pleased with this record, more so than any album I’ve ever made. So yes, I believe it was successful. The way in which we recorded the songs and captured performances was crucial, and informed everything. There are indeed things about the record that I might do differently now, and certainly wanted to fix while we were recording, but I’m glad I wasn’t given the chance. There are poor decisions begging to be made when you are given too many choices in art.
Who or what would you count as your primary musical influences?
As a young man into my early twenties, I listened obsessively to Bob Marley, Prince, Serge Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman. I’d say those are my biggest influences. There are many others of course.
What happened to Low Millions? Did the Ex-Girlfriends album result in any old flames getting back in touch, perhaps with a few choice words?
It’s a luxury to have songs you’ve written reach others through the airwaves. Low Millions did that like I never had before. To see people in audiences sing along to lyrics you’ve written. I’ve had that pleasure increased by writing about people I know, and having it be them sometimes singing the lyrics and their own names in songs that I tried to keep faithful to them, or a moment with them. I remain in close touch with several people about whom I wrote songs and have not given up on the idea of making another Low Millions record, using some lessons I’ve learned while making my latest solo album.
Why did you decide to record an album in French? Do you know if it was received well in France?
I grew up in France, for twelve years, and I’m originally from French Canada, Montreal. I wanted to throw an anchor out off the shores of a language I love, know, speak and care about, but a mighty wind blew and the record was largely undiscovered and unheralded.
In your interview with The Sunday Times, you said that after Low Millions ended you were “doctoring lyrics for hopeless artists and writing raps for Adidas”. Can you tell us a bit more about these pursuits? They sound intriguing!
One takes on any work one can sometimes to hold on to the title of songwriter. I certainly did. Writing for commercials and pitching songs for artists whose merits were questionable (and some great ones too). I even scored a porno for $1500 and many doctoring of lyrics, starting with friends, moving my way up to having it be for bigger artists. It was terribly unglamorous but sometimes one has to play up one’s belonging to a business, especially when the connection feels tenuous. At least that was my experience.
How close to being fatal was the crash you were involved in when you were 17? That must have been a life-changing experience…
I broke nine ribs, punctured my lungs, had crushed abdominals, a broken neck, a shattered hip, a broken knee and ankle. I came dangerously close to never walking again. It was somewhat of a miracle to have survived as I have, and the time I spent in hospital with my father at my side was precious.
Are you looking forward to performing in the UK in November? Have you played many shows here before?
I’ve only ever played once in the UK, in 1999, and I relish the opportunity to do it again.
Earlier this year, your sister Lorca and Rufus Wainwright announced the birth of a baby girl. Are you and Rufus close?
We’ve always had a fondness for each other and it’s not in the least bit surprising that he is now family. He always was in a way.
Apparently you’re an excellent cook. What is your signature dish?
I’m not certain if I’m an excellent cook anymore. I haven’t cooked in ages. You’ll have to catch me between projects, or in a slumber, and I’ll answer this with details and enthusiasm.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Finally, if I asked you right now to name your top three albums of all time, just off the top of your head, which ones would you pick?
I really can’t, certainly not if I actually write them down. There are too many and the list alternates depending on mood or memory. Outside of Bob Marley’s Legend best of, I feel like I’m drowning babies by not mentioning them.
Adam Cohen, thank you.