Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Spotlight - Alan Cohen Experience

Earlier this year (back here in March), I wrote about The Alan Cohen Experience's album Revolutions. Well, Alan and crew are back with a brand new self-titled six track EP that came out a few weeks ago. While lacking any big name historical figures like the last album's Nelson Mandella, Che Guevara, or Fidel Castro, the EP carries on in the same musical vein, appropriating historical events and presenting them in offbeat ways.

Alan was kind enough to take the time to tell me about the first track of the EP, Elephant. As always, text in red is his and questions in black are mine.

Alan Cohen Experience - Elephant : Alan Cohen Experience


by the Alan Cohen Experience

On a day in January, I awoke in a friends bed with images of the African wilderness in my head.
There was a soundtrack with a thumping beat, all to the rhythm of the Elephants' feet.
“All's quiet on the waterfront, it's just me and my elephant.”

Immediately I wrote down the verse, and found a piano. I plunked my way through the song once or twice, and went to get breakfast. I stored it in my head as a picture, a thin horizon ending a flat plain, the nighttime stars and moon above. A traveler with his companion. A village celebrating a harvest festival. A song about wandering.

The townspeople dance under the moon
They dance to the sound of the pouring rain
They celebrate the harvest of their fields of grain
They honor all their fathers by proclaiming their names
They feast and then they sleep

I waited months to record the first draft of the song, making a short loop of the music. An attempt a year later led to a full version. The song was not born properly until Roger Greenawalt sprinkled his magic fairy dust onto the recording.

It is built on one chord, a guitar drone. The movement and soul of the song comes from the bass and keyboards, the middle section, and the piano solo, played by Jon Solo. It is meant to mesmerize, to exercise, and to funk-a-cize. It is Duke Ellington conducting Stevie Wonder. It is a Salvidor Dali painting turned into a musical. It is the sensation of standing on your head and unapologetically passing gas.

And three questions for Alan:

1.) On the last album you sang about historical figures that virtually all readers would be able to identify. On this album, you go with the much more recent Judge Roy Moore. Why the big shift, and how did you come to him as the subject of a song?

The main difference between these albums is that the last one, “Revolutions”, was conceived with a purpose, to explore various popular revolutionary figures and events, while this one is just a collection of songs that don't fit into any particular subject. About half of the lyrics were written by my longtime friend, Seth Kroll, including the one about Judge Roy Moore. I have no idea what his inspiration was, except to say that he is the sort of guy that will wax poetic about whatever catches his fancy. One of his prime moments was when he discovered the meaning of life while looking for cream cheese in the fridge.

I like to write concept albums, although in between I record and release one-off songs I have written over the years. There are some themes, however, that I tend to stray towards, one of them being history, another being space and the universe. I also have two songs about elephants and two songs about cookies.

2.) You mentioned that the impetus for the song Elephant were dreams involving African images. As I sit here writing these questions I coincidentally happen to be listening to the new Femi Kuti album. Do you happen to listen to any African music?

I don't really, and I should! When I wrote “Elephant”, I had just been to Africa 4 months prior with my family. I remember getting off the plane in Botswana, and taking picture after picture of the first elephant we saw, eventually realizing that they are everywhere! This song evokes a very specific image to me, which Seth Kroll and I tried to capture in the video. Just a lone wanderer with his companion elephant. I think maybe deep down in my psyche, I was thinking about how if I was to go on an open-ended adventure, an elephant would come in very handy. They really do seem like very thoughtful animals, and they seem to have a good sense of humour. I once read in National Geographic that there are elephants in Gabon that eat mushrooms they find in the jungle and trip out.

3.) I hear that you're already working on your next album, one inspired by Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Anything that you can share with us about it now?

Sure! It's a chapter-by-chapter musical interpretation of the book. Stephen Hawking gets pretty poetic in some chapters, and the songs reflect that. Some of his whimsical thought-exercises about various features of the universe are simply gorgeous! I am recording it in a studio north of Boston with a friend of mine, who is a very talented and successful musician and engineer.


Enjoy the song as well as its video, along with the closing track Space Watch, below.

Visit his website, his label Famjam Records, and become his friend on MySpace.

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