One of today's most influential music makers on the consistent relevance of Koyaanisqatsi, its various affiliations and his attitude toward nostalgia
Over the last decade he’s performed with high-profile acts including Haunted Graffiti, Deerhoof and Cass McCombs, but 2012 was the year he finally went at it alone.
Interview by Basje Boer, photos shot by Bobby Doherty in Brooklyn, USA
You just released your first solo album, Overgrown Path, right?
What’s the difference between being part of a band and going solo?
I played in Deerhoof, Cryptacize, Park Details Band, et cetera. Each one was completely different – some more or less collaborative at different times. I like doing things with other people and doing things alone. I guess certain types of material I like to do alone. This material was like that.
So it was the material that made you decide to go solo?
Sort of. The material was developed a lot while recording. Nobody else has that kind of time unless it’s their project.
Did you miss the camaraderie of a band?
Yes, very much at times. But the grass is always greener, as they say. Working alone is very familiar.
I learned music on a 4-track.
That makes me think you were a nerdy kid.
Ha! Well, I was kinda shy, yes.
How is it doing a solo tour?
It’s awesome. I missed playing live a lot. I’m playing with a band, though – three other people.
But now it’s just your name on the bill.
I guess maybe it’s a little more responsibility. Like, I have to do all the logistical parts.
How’s that working out?
No major disasters yet.
Your solo music has a hint of nostalgia to it. Do you consider yourself a romantic?
Nostalgic, yes. Time is very interesting to me. But I don’t think things were better in the past or something. If we could see into the future, I’d be a futurist too.
Do you like living in this era?
I don’t ask myself that. Any era is fine. It’s so hard to understand the time you’re in.
Yeah, for sure. Why do you find time so interesting?
It’s like space. But you can only move one way.
So tell me about living in this age. What does an average day look like for you? Start with breakfast.
My breakfast looks pretty sad these days. I can barely eat right now since I have stomach flu.
That does sound sad.
These past couple days have just been practicing, then sleeping. Like, for 16 hours at a time.
Now that the year of your first solo album is coming to an end, do you feel like 2012 was a good year for music?
I’m probably not the person to ask: for the first half of it I was a total hermit. I live out in the country.
Do you think it’s important that your music fits in with other music?
I think if everybody makes music which really comes from them, we would live in a more beautiful world. When you say ‘fit’, I imagine people complementing each other by doing what is most unique to them.
Can you tell me more about the atmosphere in which you write and record?
It’s different all the time. I like to write songs over many months, I just keep coming back and trying to hear with new ears.
What does it look like where you live?
Rolling lush hills, many kinds of trees. It’s an area known for when the leaves change colour. It’s beautiful, people travel from New York City to see it. I moved here a year ago from Los Angeles. I needed a change.
Did it feel like starting over?
I feel like I’m starting over all the time! It makes me rethink choices and assumptions I may have made. It was like this in Los Angeles too, but maybe a little different because that’s where I’m from, so there it takes more work. I guess you could say this is a feeling I cultivate.
You mean starting over is a feeling you cultivate?
I cultivate it to stay alert and be ready to respond to whatever happens, like staying flexible or resilient. And then when I’m working on music, I put it through lots of sometimes random changes to let it evolve and see what the ideas really are.
So, one last question.
Be warned: it’s going to be a cheesy one.
Bring it on.
Any holiday plans yet?
Ha! I want to go to Greece after the European tour ends.
With my girl!
And then… a second album?
Yeah, I’d think so. Mac DeMarco and Matt Mondanile from Real Estate and Ducktails are doing something…
Any details on that yet?
Chris Cohen plays this Thursday, November 29th, at Le Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht. You can also catch him on the 15th of December at De Nieuwe Anita in Amsterdam, which is free for Subbacultcha! members.