Montreal-born Adam Cohen has always had a lot to live up to. You don’t have to be of the same generation of his father, Leonard Cohen, to know that he is one of music’s big dogs. His raspy, baritone voice has won him dozens of international awards and his poetry and art have also been highly critically acclaimed. Apart from sometimes being fun to have a famous dad, what is it really like to follow in the footsteps of a megastar? Perhaps, for Adam Cohen, it would have been alright had he wanted to be a doctor or an actor. But like his father, music was his calling; it just hasn’t always been clear how he should respond. With such a successful predecessor, the pressure to carve out a new niche was a heavy burden for Adam. When I got the chance to interview him for El Periódico, prior to the release of his new album and his tour date in Barcelona, I expected to speak to a self-assured star. In fact, he was extremely humble, honest and self-aware. He told me that there is only one prerogative with his music now – to be good.
Hi Adam, Like A Man is your 4th album, after 2 solo albums and 1 album with Low Millions How has your music career has evolved over the years?
It’s a central question to what I’m doing, because I was so disenchanted with my career. Actually I was very much on the cusp of abandoning it once and for all, and I didn’t think I was going to make this record at all. Basically I feel like I had a wonderful opportunities and I don’t feel I made the best of them. I feel like I fell prey to lack of courage and being led by the dreams of an adolescent, rather than a man.
Hence the name of the album. It’s been 6 years since your last album, what inspired you to make another one?
There were 3 main reasons. The first was a kind of disillusionment like I said, wanting to take a chance now to correct my past. The second was the wonderful and triumphant return of my father to the stage and the public. It was most inspiring to me, to watch him as a 76-year-old. And the third was a moment I had at home sitting at the dinner table with my son and my father on each side of me, and feeling a sense of connectedness and responsibility to my father and my son; to uphold the responsibility to the tradition of my family, which I hadn’t successfully done before.
What was essentially wrong with what you were doing before? You sound ashamed of it.
I´m not ashamed of it, I´m now fully aware of what needs to change. I was wholly un-preoccupied with art. I really thought that art was going to catch up to me. I was propelled by the idea of participating in the music business, of chasing a kind of adolescent dream that I was seduced by at a very early age. Now my preoccupation is with being good. That’s the pivotal difference.
Like A Man is about love and relationships, who do the songs in the album revolve around?
I can’t tell you who, but I can tell you that there were some central characters and that I remained more faithful to those people and circumstances than I ever have before. Most people respond to truth in songs, it’s a luxury to be able to take such a faithful photograph in a song.
What Other Man – Adam Cohen
But in Overrated you say that love is overrated and complicated. Have you become cynical about love?
I think I come by my cynicism honestly. Something new can be said about love everyday and people will be writing about it forever. It’s natural for songwriters to try to tickle the shores of love or crash on them.
What message do you wish to convey with this album?
For me this record is a celebration of my father and my identity. I see it as my debut, in that I finally have the courage to honour my family. I’ve always been in the music business, but now I’m in the family business, and I’m occupying a dignified post. This record is the emblem and the inauguration of that.
How is it different to what you were doing before?
What links all the songs on the record is that they are songs that I categorically abandoned over the years. They were all songs that I had categorically hidden away because they bore too much resemblance to my father’s style,(Adam sighs) which I’ve always been drawn to but I’ve never had the courage to show myself as doing. I felt I had to carve a path for myself and unfortunately I carved that path too far from the domestic farm, so to speak.
You have spoken before about how useful your father’s influence has been on your own music. Was it intimidating having to follow in his footsteps?
Intimidating for sure, and inspiring and instructive. I’m not certain to what extent I’ve purely inherited characteristics or to what extent I might be imitating characteristics that I’ve seen my whole life. To me it makes no great difference, I’m in possession of them one way or another and I feel better demonstrating these qualities than I do hiding them.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice your father has given you?
He’s communicated a kind of work ethic and honesty to me that I find invaluable, inspiring and beautiful, that I’m trying very much to uphold.
It’s been a while since you’ve been on tour, you must be excited to get back on the road!
I am, I’m also filled with a dash of anxiety. It’s a tremendous opportunity to go on a tour – it’s a rare privilege, especially for someone who has already had the chance to do it. I want to make the most of it; I want to dignify the opportunity. Because frankly I do feel that there’s some course correction that I’m going to be responsible for taking on this run.
What is your goal with your music now?
I want to make sure not to be preoccupied by the place that the music has in the market. So I have to be careful to proceed with dignity with this project, to uphold on stage and the way I conduct myself the lessons that I’m trying to put in place – which is to be faithful to the songs and faithful to a legacy that I’m following. My message and my mandate are pretty clear; I just want to be good!
How would you describe Like A Man?
Poetic, lyrically driven, romantic and distinctly Cohen-esque.
Thank you Adam! I wish you every success with your new album.