Jon Cohen (of The Jon Cohen Experimental) Answers The Call Tonight at Elbo Room

Categories: Q&A
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Their flower power is no match for my glower power
After a decade or so ensconced in Montreal's honor-festooned indie rock scene, including stints with The Dears and The Social Register, Jonathan Cohen started his own eponymous collective. Not that "The Jon Cohen Experimental" should conjure images of three dudes frowning around a creatively amplified circular saw covered with mustard -- as Cohen explains below, it's really more like The Jon Cohen Experiential. For its part, the 'sperimental plays a woozy, sun-dappled brand of rock that sounds decidedly "classic," though you'd be hard pressed to pinpoint an exact era. (Pink Floyd? Steely Dan? Beulah?) On the group's second album, Behold, the proggy coexists with the hedonistic, the grandiose with the paranoid, in a lush, leafy haze. Check out some samples here.

Cohen hit the road last week to embark on an ambitious, 55-city solo tour, which conveniently enough brings him to the Elbo Room this evening along with The Bang and Teenage Sweater. You can read extensive accounts of his adventures so far on his on his blog, or you can get an abridged Q&A version below. It's your internet. Go nuts.

Make it across the border safely?
Yup. I was a bit nervous about the crossover but I took the train instead of the bus to get across, as they treat people with a little more decency on the border at the train station. But our train actually died 10 minutes outside of Portland, and we had to get literally "dragged" by another train that happened to be passing by. It was actually kinda fun!

What's the idea behind your "pilgrim tour"? What's the plan?
The pilgrim tour came about one night when I was making some serious life-changing decisions about where I was heading in life. I knew I was feeling the pull to get out on the road and knew I had to do it by myself. It's like when you feel a pull, you simply have to answer it, no matter how strange or unfeasible that inner request may be. Since this is a solo tour it almost became something of a religious or spiritual experience for me to be put into completely new situations and to live a completely new reality that will take me to as many place as possible and bring my music, personality, and positivity to as many people and places that call out to me as possible. So I took out a map and I booked about 55 shows in 55 cities based solely on instinct and on whether they called out to me, some obvious, some completely not. I was essentially responding to the call. I feel like a pilgrim who is trying to connect the dots and make sense of the larger landscape and see where my musical output belongs within that landscape. A pilgrim goes to a site and also offers something to the place, whereas a tourist is merely an observer.

If you had to describe your U.S. tour experience so far with one song, what would it be?
"Long May You Run," by Neil Young, because it has a positive message of not just letting life happen to you but rather asking you to happen to life, to get out and truly experience for yourself to what is out there. I really only feel truly present when I'm playing music, when I'm on the road. I'm not running from something but running to something. Like Joni Mitchell says, I'm a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway.

What's experimental about the Jon Cohen Experimental?
Everything about our experiences is experimental; this is how growth takes place. I have been told the title of the band is somewhat misleading because the music itself is not "experimental" in the traditional sense of, say, how John Cage or Laurie Anderson is experimental. In my music, I'm always talking more about how we experience our surroundings, how we express ourselves to ourselves and to others around us and how we grow inwardly through this experimentation. I'm not talking about drugs or mind-altering substances either. I'm referring to the method in which we interact with our surroundings. We are basically making it up as we go along, trying new things and finding new ways to relate to the world around us. We are "creating content," so to speak. Music is just one form of that content and this is how I approach making music. So the approach is experimental, the process is experimentation, the experience is experimental. The message/music/output is inherently always the same and has always been the same.

What can we expect from your show at the Elbo Room?
Grungy bass, double dribbling drum machines, ethereal astral keys, astral projections, the bard's weave of beautiful lyrical lines, and harmonies even The Jordanaires could be proud of. It is dance-driven, pop-infused, spiritual, meditative, and just plain heavy. Expect everything and receive nothing, expect nothing and receive everything.

If you had to dedicate one song to American commuter transit, what would it be?
"Chocolate Town," by Ween: "Makin' time, breakin ground, Greyhound bus to chocolate town." That's the song that's been spinning in my head on the road lately.

What year were you born and in what year, in your opinion, did popular music peak?
I am a child of the late seventies, when popular music was going through an interesting transition, moving onto the next phase from a more traditional electric background into what we call "modern music" now. Punk and prog were picking up, and synths and keyboards were beginning to be used more, and the eighties were just around the corner. Somehow, even though I was just a child, I was able to encapsulate that in my music. I think you can really hear that when you listen to it and it's no wonder I get a lot of older people who are really appreciative of the music I make.

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Elbo Room

647 Valencia, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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