The Intake Form: Hear the Existential Grooves of Sam Cohen


The Intake Form is Flavorwire’s questionnaire feature spotlighting emerging musicians worth your time, paired with a premiere. Here, we debut Sam Cohen’s song “Last Dream,” off the Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist’s gorgeous new album Cool It, out April 28 on Easy Sound Recording Co.

Sam Cohen has done a lot in his short life: he got started with soft stars Apollo Sunshine, made several albums with psych dudes Yellowbirds, played guitar for The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, and — as we learn here — played the streets while manning a whole band’s worth of instruments on his own. This variety and ceaseless work ethic pays off, as Cohen reaches new heights on Cool It, his first proper solo album.

Cool It plays, at times, like a masterclass in art-as-commerce, with Cohen taking undeniable harmonies and smashing them into rollicking psych grooves with such ease that it makes you wish every songwriter could just learn to master the bass as well as this guy has. “Last Dream” is an especially apt example of that: it’s danceable and brainy and has most everything you’d want from a pop song.

Are you a Paul, a John, a George, or a Ringo? Definitely George.

Whose career would you most like to have? It’d have to be Neil Young. He’s awesome solo acoustic and gets to bring several pianos and a gaggle of guitars that are inspiring to him. He rules the electric, jams out hard with his band; he gets weird as hell, but he’s a classic rock radio star, so the fans will never stop coming and neither will the royalties. He owns 350 instances of his favorite amplifier. He makes weird movies that only he considers good, and that’s fine. He scored Dead Man — it’s so simple, sounds like he did it all in a day, and it’s great! He pours huge amounts of money and energy into an electric-run Lincoln from the 1950s. I’ve run two tour vans (into the ground) on vegetable oil — it was a sick obsession — so his car thing really fascinates me.

What’s the best thing a critic could write about your music? “It’s like Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye rolled into one… only much, much better.”

What’s the worst thing a critic could write about your music? “Clearly inspired by Jack White.” Fuck him.

Do you have an enemy? If so, tell us one thing about him or her. Well, I sort of had a nemesis, yes. I used to do this one-man-band thing in the subways. It was called I Am The Bison, and I played drums with my feet using a little contraption I built with a mannequin hand while playing guitar and harmonica and singing. I’d do a few originals, Leonard Cohen, Karen Dalton, Led Zeppelin, and even a Dinah Washington tune. It was fun to connect with strangers and people who were unlikely to ever be at my shows, and the tips actually helped pay my rent.

One day, I’d tried all my usual spots and each one was already staked out by buskers. I ended up at the Delancey stop on the F. After I’d been playing for about 30 minutes, this dude walked up to me with a crazy voice — really gravely, like his vocal chords were bleeding. He was dressed in all black with a leather cowboy hat pulled low over his eyes. A guitar hung from his back. Everything about him was hateful, and when he spoke, it was like he was born from my own insecurity: “White boy, if you got a song, you don’t need all the accoutrement.” He then clipped an amp to his belt and persuaded an Israeli saxophonist who happened to be nearby to accompany him in an effort to drown me out. I guess this was his spot. I told the Israeli he was in some bad business, and we all took off, disgusted. I saw him around for awhile and always felt tense. Then it turned out we were neighbors. He was nice to my dog and I let it go.

Something you have an irrational hatred for: I have only rational hate, but my lady has a great one: hashtags.

Has technology helped or hurt music culture? How so? I’d have to say it’s hurt it from my viewpoint, unfortunately. I think the enjoyment of music, or art, or life, for that matter, comes from the ability to slow down and be present, either in the world around you or the contextual world of the work you’re trying to appreciate.

Technology has made so much available so much faster, but it puts everything, even colossal artistic achievements, in the context of the bright computer screen. It’s a representation rather than an object. The object is the technology, so we want to interact with that, rather than sit back and let our minds interact with the music. The temptation is always there to just skip to the next song, or YouTube video, or text, or email. Music exists in a medium where it’s not just competing with other music for your attention. So much of our lives exist online now, and I think that detachment from more human interaction has maybe desensitized us to music in general. To many things. Music is about flesh and matter. It’s the sound of things touching. It wants to be physical.

Something that makes you laugh without fail: “Too Much Tuna” on Kroll Show

Decorative item in your house you’re most unsure about: There’s a beautiful blanket hanging on our wall, but I think looks really sloppy and bad hanging that way. Actually, I’m sure about that.