Eddie Cohn is helping us navigate the strange times following the emergence of the pandemic with his fourth album Dystopian Days. Written over 2020 and 2021, this COVID album looks much further than the pandemic while touching on experiences and emotions we have all felt. Teaming up with a bunch of other talented musicians, he takes the emotions and situations we have all been in and crafted tracks that really bring them to sonic life. We had the chance to chat with Eddie Cohn about the album, his creative process, album comparisons and much more!
OSR: Was there a moment when you first realised that you wanted to make music?
Cohn: It continues to happen organically. I don’t like to force the process but I do have this sense where I feel called to sing and write music. I first started playing music when I was three years old. I sat down at the piano and began creating melodies. I had no idea how to read music but clearly, there was something about the sounds and melodies, even from a young age, that calmed me and resonated with me. To this day, music is this life force that relaxes me and helps me try and make sense of the world.
OSR: You have recently released your fourth album Dystopian Days, is there a theme or backstory to the album?
Cohn: By looking at the title, I think it could potentially be pretty obvious to conclude that this record is a “covid record.” It certainly feels like we’re living through a science fiction movie. It may not look like Bladerunner or a Hollywood blockbuster, it may be more pernicious and psychological in nature, but it’s very difficult for me not to think we are living through a bizarre science fiction film. 2020 was filled with dread and chaos and immense anxiety so I used the lockdown to try and create a record that really embodies the complex emotions and struggles of 2020.
OSR: While the album was recorded during Covid times, there is a feeling to the tracks that surpasses this. Is that something you actively tried to achieve or did it come through organically?
Cohn: I felt deeply inspired to sing and write about this chaotic, confusing and even historical time period. The problem is we live in a world now where if you say the wrong thing, your life could be upended. So, knowing that, I tried to walk that fine line of using allegory and symbolism to share my perspective on what I see going on. I also wanted to make a record, while thematically dark and dreary, that also rocks, is percussive and moves and is overwhelmingly thought-provoking and beautiful at the same time. I wanted it to feel like a story, like the listener is living through a Cormac McCarthy novel where you put on the record and you’re sort of transported to a strange dystopian world.
OSR: The album was written and produced through 2020 and 2021, but what was your creative process?
Cohn: As always it’s extremely chaotic, a lot of guesswork and there’s an overabundance of trial and error. This is my fourth record so I definitely feel like I have better instincts and a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t work. I typically would start with a drum loop that I make, add some synth lines and then the vocal melodies would evolve and develop. I’d reach out to the drummer, Jake Reed, who would add the drums and then from there I would keep building the track at my home studio. Bruce Watson played the guitars and Phil Peterson played the strings on the songs. Dan Lutz, who is also a well known LA-based musician, played the bass. It’s not easy to create a song that has so many elements but I think we came up with a record that sounds really beautiful and is topical and it has this cinematic feel which I always love in music.
OSR: The tracks of the album draw on various genres from pop to folktronica, how did you find the right blend for the album?
Cohn: That’s probably the most challenging part for me as an artist. I am constantly hearing new melodies and sounds in my head but it gets to a point where there can be just too much going on. Since I love rock music and electronic and very dark and cinematic music, it’s not an easy task to somehow get all these sounds and melodies to make sense. But it’s really just part of the scientific process of music and figuring out which sounds and melodies work well together. I love artists like Beck who really stretch the boundaries of what a song could sound like. Much of finding the right blend in a mix is trial and error and just having a good ear and a sense that something ‘works’.
OSR: How do you feel this album compares to your previous releases?
Cohn: I think this record is just a natural progression for me as an artist. I think the lyrics are probably the strongest I’ve ever written and I think if you have listened to my other records, the songs sound more mature. It sounds like I’m growing up and getting better at my craft. One of my friends told me after listening to the record, it sounds like I’ve listened to a lot of music. This record sounds like it was made by someone who has been inspired by many genres. I think this record really embodies my love for music.
OSR: You worked with a few musicians to create this album. How did you connect with them?
Cohn: Bruce Watson is someone I’ve known for close to 20 years. He’s played on all my albums and we produced my first two records together. He’s been on the road touring with Foreigner the last five years but with the lockdown, he was forced off the road. It was wonderful to have him on the project. He is such a gifted musician and has this uncanny way of creating sounds that I could never imagine coming up with. Jake Reed is an LA-based drummer who I met a couple of years ago and he really has an amazing gift in stretching the boundaries of what a good rhythm track should “sound” like in a song. I was a drummer for over ten years so I really try to make sure the beat and percussive elements are an essential part of the song. Dan Lutz plays the bass on four of the tracks and he’s also an incredible LA-based musician I met on my first record. Phil Peterson is a musician and producer based in Seattle and adds the strings you hear on the record. He’s also a musical powerhouse. Everyone did an impeccable job in helping me bring these songs to life.
OSR: What was the biggest challenge you faced when creating this album?
Cohn: I think I felt very alone while recording this album. Sure, there were those days where I’d be on the phone with Bruce or Jake trying to come up with parts but this was truly a daunting process at times. Trying to trust my instincts and my ear and making more decisions on my own was a challenge. I think also knowing what was going on outside in the world, there was this sort of grey haze happening around me. Balancing the emotions was not easy. I also think one of the more challenging parts is getting people to listen. We live in such an uber distracted world so I often wonder, what does it take to get someone to truly immerse themselves in a 30-minute record.
OSR: You have stated that the album was cathartic to create, would you like people to feel the same catharsis through their listening experience?
Cohn: The band and I really put a lot of thought into the sounds and the mix and we tried to create a 360-degree sonic experience where you truly feel like you’re living inside the music or in a science fiction movie. I hope listeners think about how the world has shifted so dramatically in just two years. I hope this record asks some of the more difficult questions about the people who are in charge and I hope this record inspires people to ask themselves if they like the direction we’re headed or maybe it’s time to make some changes. I see a world that looks as though more people are passive, sitting at home staring at screens, numbing out and isolating themselves and I hope this record inspires the opposite sort of behaviour. It may not be easy to sit through this record since it touches on some pretty dark themes but I think it’s incredibly valuable to ask some of the deeper questions and hopefully come up with answers to these complex issues that I’m singing about.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the next 12 months?
Cohn: Not sure yet (laughs). I’d love to play shows and tour but that’s sort of on hold for now. I’m hoping to keep writing some new music, get back to DJing. I have a book I’m writing that I hope to release early next year and I’ll just keep promoting this record and do whatever I can to get people to put on some headphones and submerge themselves into the world of Dystopian Days.