Gabriella Cohen has a career aspiration – and it’s not the one you might think.
After a planned five years spent honing her songwriting and performing, Cohen says she’d like to retire to the forest and compose orchestral soundtracks.
“I want to live in a forest and compose music for film,” Cohen says. “In five years after all the touring is done, I’ll live through the recordings and play three times a year with a symphony orchestra. Really big, but very rare. Ideally I’d just get approached to write soundtracks. I’m really into orchestras at the moment.”
Composing orchestral soundtracks in a forest seems a long way from Cohen’s current status as leader of her own band and critical darling, a musician who has managed to court both a devoted fanbase and the interest of an armload of critics. Cohen started playing music at the age of seven, tinkering around on her father’s equipment and taking a stab at replicating the soul music in her parents’ collection. At the age of 15, Cohen took up guitar, with the opportunity to get onstage and perform proving a good enough surrogate for the teenager’s aspiration to join the dramatic arts. “I really wanted to be an actress,” Cohen says. “I think being on stage was a way I could act, or have that sense of acting.”
Within a few years, Cohen was fronting The Furrs, a blues-rock inspired band she formed in Brisbane. When Cohen decided to move to Melbourne, The Furrs disbanded, leaving Cohen to start her own band in her adopted city. “Starting a band under my own name just happened naturally, just like the way you’d change jobs,” she says.
Cohen agrees that a singer-songwriter’s music can be viewed as a prism into the songwriter’s state of mind and life. “Everything I write happens to be personal and it just happens to be recorded under my own name,” she says. “I think people can relate to that. I think that if Bob Dylan is writing a song about his personal life, everyone would want to be in on that.” But while writing a song is personal, Cohen tries not to labour the process. “I guess I don’t really analyse it that much because it comes straight from the heart to the head to the hand to the pen,” she says.
The creative process is all about finding the right creative space, and Cohen often writes alone in her room with just a guitar, a microphone and some recording equipment. “I write pretty organically – I don’t put boxes or timeframes on what I do,” she says. “I write when I write. And I’d like to keep it that way. If I’m somewhere else and a melody comes into my head, I’ll take it home and record it when I get a chance.”
The move from Brisbane to Melbourne was geographically and culturally important; artistically, leaving old friends behind and becoming immersed in a new community doesn’t appear to have been that significant. “I don’t really rely on friends for inspiration. [Songwriting] always comes from within. I think wherever I am, as long as I have a beautiful space, I can write.”
Cohen’s first album under her own name came with Full Closure And No Details, released earlier this year. The album was recorded over a 12-day period at Cohen’s friend and bandmate Kate ‘Babyshakes’ Dillon’s parents’ house. With its rich, atmospheric sound, the record conveys a wider sonic experience than Cohen’s live sound. “I’d like to be able to recreate the exact [live] sound, but I think that takes time and a head full of gear, and I don’t really have that yet,” she says.
Full Closure is a strange, beautiful album, a fluid work of art that calls to mind the discography of artists as disparate as Lou Reed, Cat Power and Arthur Russell, all while somehow never sounding like anything else than Cohen’s. No wonder it has received its fair share of rave reviews.
The album title itself is intriguing, suggesting the completion of a personal journey sans the blow-by-blow narration typically of the social media age. But Cohen says the title has only really made sense with distance. “I didn’t really think too much about it,” she says. “I was just sitting there trying to think of a semi-decent album title. But I think with all the songs, the meanings of the names… everything makes sense with distance. Now the album makes sense to me.”
Courtesy of Remote Control’s involvement, Full Closure will soon be released on vinyl in the United States on the Captured Tracks label. Cohen’s first sojourn overseas – as a tourist or as a performer – will follow later this year, with shows scheduled in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.
Before her departure for the US, Cohen will perform a string of shows in Australia, a tour undoubtedly scored with the orchestral genre with which she’s currently fascinated. “My parents listen to a lot of classical music, among a lot of other genres. I just love it. I’m obsessed with strings and I’m obsessed with opera. What you can’t say, strings can say.”
[Gabriella Cohen photo by Irie Langlois]