Adam Cohen, touring behind his most recent record, Like a Man, will open for fellow singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright at the Iroquois Amphitheater on August 5. In a recent interview, Cohen discussed the significance of his new record both personally and professionally.
While Cohen has been making music since his solo debut in 1998 and has achieved success as the front man of indie band Low Millions (Ex-Girlfriends, 2004), he consciously never traded on his father's grand legacy and, in fact, it wasn't until a 2007 tribute concert in Barcelona that he first sang one of his father's songs in public. Sometime after that, Adam Cohen seems to have had something of an epiphany -- a feeling that it was time to embrace the influence of his father in his own music.
No doubt, when you are the son of someone as revered as the legendary singer and songwriter, Leonard Cohen, charting your own course as a musician is an endeavor fraught with many complexities. For better or worse, people know who you are before you've ever strummed a chord; they've formed expectations before you've ever uttered the first line of your own song. How do you find your own voice? Your true voice? In Adam Cohen's case, he admits that he's taken a few detours along the way.
“For me it's a coming of age record. It's long overdue. I spent my so-called career chasing other targets -- commercial mostly -- and this one was just for the books. It was to exonerate myself from a responsibility that I had not assumed.” In this case, the one “for the books” is his newest record, Like a Man. If you think that title sounds strangely like a certain other Cohen’s, you’re right -- and it’s no accident.
“I chose the title with the help of my old man. When I finished the record, I hadn't played it for anyone, and I waltzed up my father's stairwell, hoping to leave the CD at his doorstep. And I'm quite certain that he had no idea that I was making a record that so embraced the family tradition. I asked him to not listen to it in my company when he ambushed me and had me come in. I got a really stellar review the next day...where he said that there were world-class love songs on the record, and that the record should be called Like a Man.”
Papa Cohen’s review may well be colored by a proud father’s natural bias, but many music critics seemed to agree with him when the record was released last April. The Sunday Times of London found the songs “truly fit to bear the family name.” And indeed, the songs are sensuous, candid, personal, and romantic -- hallmarks of the elder Cohen certainly, but with the stamp, after all, of a different perspective and a distinct voice. The title song, “Like a Man” is the gentle assurance of someone who doesn't want to be like other men -- at least not in any of the ways that would drive his lover away:
I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna be like them
those other men
Whatever came before me, well that was then
I’ll be better than those other men.
Heard as a man to a woman, it is something of a lover’s manifesto, but you can also hear in it, perhaps, an indication of Cohen’s own determination not to be typical -- “commercial” -- but to claim a higher artistic aim -- to be authentic, to be true to his own voice and to his father’s influence.
“I know that the creative process is mysterious, and I don't really know what the right next record is going to be or if I'm going to do a band record or record in French again --.none of that really matters to me. My interest and my goal is to be good, and to do what I should have been doing for the last 20 years.”
In speaking to Cohen, there is an obvious earnestness about the significant turn his career has taken with the new record, but this attitude isn’t shaped so much by external factors -- like the reviews of critics or the blathering of the blogosphere -- it is internal, a realization that it is appropriate for a son to take up the mantle of his father, no matter what anybody else thinks or if anyone even notices that it’s happening.
“My real interest is in having people discover and then, like, my music, the way I discover and like music. I'm not quite certain that I'm employing the right recipe, or if the strategy of how I'm being marketed is right -- or if the music itself is going to provide me with that.”
Cohen may not have all the answers, but he sounds like a man who has finally found his path, comfortable with the idea that people will come to his music on their own and not because of what his last name might be or what anyone writes about him. He admits there is an essential mysteriousness to how it all plays out. “There is this inexplicable sticky quality that some things have and some things don't,” he declares. And that is what all of us will discover on our own.
Here is one of my favorite songs from the new album, "What Other Guy:"
Adam Cohen and Rufus Wainwright will perform at the Iroquois Amphitheater on Sunday, August 5 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are priced at $29.00 and $36.00 and can be purchased at the venue box office or online at Ticketfly.com.