Tuesday 10 January 2012

The Exception To The Rule #5 - The Jon Cohen Experimental

The Jon Cohen Experimental's very own Jon Cohen!
It's been a while, but I've dusted off the ol' 'Exception' tag to bring you another artist from far afield, one of Canada's finest solo artists no less...  The Jon Cohen Experimental.  And with imminent tour dates this side of The Atlantic, three in our very own central belt, what better time, eh?!  I can safely say, as interviews go on Kowalskiy, this is perhaps one of the most insightful ones.  Jon's clearly a guy with a lot of refreshing things to say about his music, and the artform in general.   So, here's his thoughts on his latest album Behold, his upcoming Scottish gigs, and his involvement with a little-known Canadian outfit called The Dears.  Nope, I've never heard of them either...

Before all that though, here's the title track from his album.  Behold...

Kowalskiy: Hey Jon, how's tricks? How'd you fancy telling the Kowalskiy readers who The Jon Cohen Experimental are? 
Jon:  The JCEX, is my band plain and simple. It takes on many forms. It was a three piece, it was a full band, it is a meeting amongst friends to make music, It is a solo project, one unifying theme is that I am in it though! Otherwise it would be The (insert name) Experimental. The band started out as a natural result of mass outflow of music coming out of my brain. When we started to awaken these songs into a live context everything changed. I realized that I had some skill at performance and also that the music gave me a stage to express my feelings, my thoughts and to maybe help people and entertain them in the process. in 2007 I recorded my first record (self titled) in an analog studio in Montreal called The Treatment Room which is where bands like Plants and Animals, Katie Moore and many others recorded their seminal records.) I loved the vibe, the analog stuff you know? The record didn't really go anywhere in terms of promotion or sales as it was my first go but with it, I had something tangible, some proof of my legitimacy as an artist. So I kept going, I realized it was too late to turn back. Two records, several tours later, here I am, still chugging away, but this time, I’ve dropped the band and am experimenting with being a one man band, which is so beautiful in many ways because it is really pushing my full potential as an artist, I feel like there are literally no limits to the kinds of sounds and songs I can write, I have become a victim of my own ambition in a way because I can no longer see myself doing much else than this for a living. Its simply too rewarding spiritually. Today, I'm embarking on the ultimate spiritual and musical adventure, this tour which is called The Passenger Tour, is throughout all of Europe and spans 2 full months on the road, all by bus, train and ferry, I want to see the land, I want to discover the people, the music, the cultures and scenes, the foods, architecture and myself in all of it, I want to bring this music on the other side of the pond. The Passenger Tour is the ultimate experiment for me.

Kowalskiy:  How'd you describe 'your sound'
Jon:  Sound is one thing, music is another. If you're asking about the sound, I'd say its polished, clear, concise and very well groomed. Much like the way I live my life. Order was everything in the making of this record. It was a process to learn to let go and let the chaos do its job. I'm still learning how to do that, I think its very important and there will be more of that in the future. I was influenced very much by the studio sound for these record, things like music production on records by Alan Parsons, Beach Boys, Elliot Smith, Brian Eno. As for music, I would describe it as a kind of unique but accessible pop sound, it has traces of so many of my influences (which come in the hundreds) that its impossible to pinpoint any defining characteristics, and I think that is its bigger strength, its biggest strength is in the songwriting, in the lyrical content that speaks to so much that troubles the young undisciplined minds of everyone, the monkey mind that swings recklessly from branch to branch. Then there's the production, the catchy melodies, the amazing guests that play on it and the fantastic musicianship as well as the energy it exudes. It’s a big record, a tall order, and lots to chew on. A musical buffet! I still listen to it every once in a while and think, wow, I didn't record this album… this album recorded me!

Kowalskiy:  That's deep Jon!  So, you're over in Glasgow and Edinburgh in a few weeks to tour your album Behold. Is there a story behind the album? 
Jon:  There’s always a story behind every album, the story of my experimental life, the life that I shape not according to what is expected. I never expected to make this album and have it see this kind of success. I saw it as an opportunity to wrap up the last few years of my life into a kind of personal musical document. There were many changes going on, there was lots of transition, and with that came an immense push to give up everything, to drop everything else, and to focus heat soul, money, energy and time into this record. You see "Behold" is my little secular sermon to the world, its my dent in life, its my musical osmosis to the world. It simply had to be made, and I had to make it well! Not half fast. So I decided to record it outside the city, with an amazing record producer named Dave Draves (Little Bullhorn Studios) he recorded bands like Julie Doiron, Kathleen Edwards, Snailhouse, Gentlemen Reg, Octoberman etc etc. Dave is like a hidden secret, a master producer who has incredible pop sensibilities. I quickly realized he was the one man who could turn my vision into reality. He had a keen understanding of how to sculpt music, how to crystallize sound, how to electrify frequencies. I quickly became more his friend than client and moved into his house for the recording, had many friends come by to record their bits (I have a whole cats of characters form the Montreal music scene on the record which I'm really proud to have had a part of this album).  Everyone became excited about the record and joined in to do their bit. It was a thing of beauty. Six months later I was holding the physical copy in my hand with a sigh of relief.  Behold was done, it was a long undertaking, almost a C-section to have this album made but I was happy to turn the page and looked forward to playing it live.

Kowalskiy:  What are you looking forward to most about those three Scottish gigs, and what can we expect from your live show? 
Jon:  I'm most looking forward to connecting with the audience, to share with them a slice of this experimental life, to entertain, to enlighten possibly and of course to have a great time. I look forward to playing in places where I feel the people are kin, where I feel a connection sometimes for reasons I can't even explain. That’s the whole point of this "Passenger Tour” throughout All of the UK, Europe and Scandinavia. I want to let the music be the driver and be the passenger, just watch the scenery go by and live my life. The gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh are gonna be shows not to be missed!

Kowalskiy:  What'd be your ideal gig? 
Jon:  My ideal gig would involve playing an outdoor show overlooking a beautiful manifestation of Nature, like a lake, a mountain, beautiful ocean, any manifestation of Nature, my greatest influence and most devoted fan. I would be truly myself onstage and feel the electrifying force of connectiveness with my audience.

Kowalskiy:  The album itself has many impressive musical guests, none more impressive than your former bandmate, The Dears' Murray Lightburn. How'd you set about choosing who to guest on the album? 
Jon:  I basically decided to call on any and every musician whose music I loved and who was writhing my realm of contacts, and simply asked. This record was all about pushing boundaries and by approaching many of the people whom I looked up to and whose careers I admired I did just that. It was a lesson in reaching out; there is something beautiful about being in need of musical companionship, but not for selfish reasons. I think most of the guests on this record saw that and got involved precisely because of that kind of detachment from selfishness. It felt more like revisiting the past ten years of my musical life, dusting off the past, reconnecting and creating something new and fresh.

Kowalskiy:  If you had the choice, which artist, living or dead, would you love to collaborate with?  
Jon:  Lately I’ve been heavily in to Glenn Gould, he's a famous classical pianist, he was also a very eccentric and unique man, the true definition of pure genius, He is the only artist who did experiments with tape splicing, studio trickery, and effects on his classical music. He was a real pusher of boundaries, a master on the piano and he used the studio as an instrument which is rarely heard of in classical music whereas in pop and rock its almost become a given.

Kowalskiy:  OK, back to The Dears. It's no secret they're one of my favorite bands. You were in the band in the early days when they Released their debut, and one of my favorites albums End Of A Hollywood Bedtime Story. If it's not too nosy, how come you left the band as they were making their breakthrough? 
Jon:  Over my musical career I’ve played with many, many, many, other musicians, The Dears were just one of many. I understand many people fixate on it, due to their well deserved success but in doing so they miss a larger picture in the artist upbringing. Its like they are only reading one page off of their favorite book, what’s the point? In the same way, I see that band, as well as the Social Register, and all the other artists Ive worked with as just another notch on a belt, no bigger or more special than any of the others. I only leave a project when I've felt I've accomplished what I needed to and move on once my role has been well-played. That was the case with all the other projects I've been a part of as well as all future projects still to come. There are never any hard feelings with me, doors don't get shut, they revolve, bridges don't get burned, they're fireproof. You'd know that right away if you met me!

Kowalskiy:  Last one, what Scottish bands are the good folk of Canada listening to at the moment? 
Jon:  I can't speak for others of course.  Well as you must know there is Teenage Fanclub which has always been not so much an influence as much as a beacon of pop purity, something to strive for. I was a fan of The Jesus and Mary Chain when I was younger. I had Sound Of Speed on tape and I think I literally listened to it so much I wore the tape out, I "de-magnetized" the particles out of wear and tear. I litteraly sucked out the music from that cassette. Lets see ...who else, Glasvegas are great too. I'm most looking forward to seeing what the indie bands and local artists are up to in Glasgow and Edinburgh, so looking forward to these shows, we are gonna rock with the Lovely Scots!

Sook!  Well, you can listen to more of Behold over to SoundCloud, and if you like what you hear, then head over here to get your hands on it.  And if you fancy catching him live whilst he's over in Scotland, then his tour dates are below.  For the full list of European gigs, head over to his website.

Upcoming Gigs
Monday 23rd Jan - Pivo Pivo, Glasgow
Tuesday 31st Jan - Bloc, Glasgow
Wednesday 1st Feb - The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh

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