Adam Cohen is Leonard Cohen's son and rest assured; he's well aware of the fact. For the longest time the 39-year-old wanted to carve his own path as a musician: trying his hand at writing songs for others, fronting the pop-oriented band Low Millions, releasing an album of french language tunes, but on 2011's Like a Man, the junior Cohen realized the music he always wanted to make -- and had long denied himself the pleasure of doing -- was inspired a great deal by his father's work.
The Los Angeles resident recently talked to Spinner from his old man's place, across the street from Parc du Portugal in Montreal's Mile-End neighborhood, where two [presumed] drug dealers were loudly arguing. He talked about the liberating feeling of finally making a personal record, Like a Man's intimate recording techniques, his favorite record of his father's, and maintaining the "family business."
Before Like a Man, it had been a while since you had released any music. What happened?
It had been a while since I had released something despite my best efforts. I was recording a lot, I was very busy, but nothing I did felt right or good enough. The explanation might be that taking that time was what I had to do to clear the path for myself.
When did you turn the corner?
It was a confluence of events that allowed for this to happen. The first was the sufficient disillusionment with my own career, where I was just ready to do something completely different. Second was this triumphant return to the stage of my father. And the third was becoming a father myself, and it was just a perfect storm of circumstance where some of the courage and maturity I had been missing was finally available to me.
How did Leonard's comeback inspire your own work?
Admiration can always be renewed, and seeing him on stage in his 70s at the pinnacle of his career and at the height of his powers was nothing short of awesome.
I guess I'm a little surprised that his comeback would have such an effect on you, given that you know him better than anyone else?
It's more about the triumph of his unlikely comeback, and the fact that he hadn't been on stage or made music in so long. When he took to the stage on this last tour, he was 74 years old, he hadn't played a show since he was 60. In your later years those are giant gaps in terms of your body clock and your relation to an audience, and so to see him coming back at the height of his powers instead of anywhere beneath that was inspiring and proof of a lifelong dedication of his and that of his dedicated audience. Bottom line is he caught everyone by surprise with how powerful an entity he was as a performer and how he came back at the apogee instead of having to trace his steps back upwards.
Did you similarly want to take people by surprise with Like a Man?
No, I just wanted to do good work. My main preoccupation was to make a record that bore a reflection to a part of me I'd never shown anybody, which is that I belong to a family business and that I come from a tradition that I had never endeavored to share to anybody, but that was dear to me.
Is Like a Man entirely your own then, or are you injecting your own touches into an existing template?
I feel it's entirely my own. I don't feel I have to quantify that. Despite the fact that it lives in a tradition, I think it's clearly mine in that these are songs, some as old as when I was 18 years old. This record belongs more to me than any other record I've made; it bears a reflection to a place I come from but at the same time it's a modern incarnation on a blueprint that anybody who knows my father's work is familiar with.
Specifically, you were inspired by New Skin for the Old Ceremony. Why that album?
That's always been one of my favorites of my father's. I love the sparseness of the arrangements, the naked presence of the vocals, the minimalist arrangements, the nylon strings being up loud and proud, some flourishes of emotional strings -- a lot of the blueprint of what I think is my father's work in the mind's eye.
And you kept Like a Man's recording process very minimal?
I think it was the symptom of the rules that my producer [Patrick Leonard] gave me, which was I had to play and sing in the room with my musicians and we had three takes to get the song right, and if we didn't get it right we would move to the next song. The process was designed to have honest recordings that didn't rely on production, the goal being to capture performances that show vulnerability and unfamiliarity with your own material, so nothing's too comfortable, everything has a bit of an edge.
Is your son at the age where he's curious about your music?
He's five. He asks me about it and watches me and I think he's being informed on many levels the same way I would imagine I was with my father.
Has Leonard listened to Like a Man? What does he think?
He's definitely listened to it. I gave him a copy when it was finished and he lavished the kind of praise on it that far goes beyond filial devotion. He refers to a couple of songs on it as "world-class" love songs. He's come to shows, he's demonstrated a kind of hope for me and the record I haven't seen before. He's incredibly supportive and encouraging.
Have you returned the favor with his new record, Old Ideas?
Of course, I love his record. I think what separates him from a lot of people in his generation is that I think he still makes records that have a kind of pertinence and beauty. He's definitely not a nostalgia act in my opinion.