Cohn's 2nd CD, The Laughing Universe was recorded in 1997, at Acoustic Eden, a benefit concert for First Place (a school for homeless children in Seattle). The following quote from her liner notes, describes the spirit behind this critically acclaimed CD. "I discovered this lovely upright piano at the First Methodist Chapel when my piano was in storage and I needed a place to practice. It quickly became one of my favorite places to play in the city. I had often dreamt of doing a concert there, and when I heard about First Place, I decided to put together a benefit. My first benefit was supported by my family, friends & local businesses."
The Laughing Universe was recorded and produced by David Eaton from Los Angeles, CA.
interview by Michael Lubrano
The first time I heard Jill Cohn play I was walking down Broadway, in Seattles's artistic Capitol Hill District, when I was drawn to the soulful electric sounds pouring out of a local coffee house. I watched through the crowd, that had formed on the sidewalk, and stopped to listen. There she stood eyes shut behind her piano, jet black curls framing her face, as she sang sweetly into the microphone while riding a musical wave provided by the electric undercurrent of her band. The street echoed with applause as more and more Gen-xers, and couples out for the evening decide to step inside for the show, standing room only. I thought who does she sound like? She sounds like a lot of people,some will make comparisons to Tori Amos. I say more of a Sarah McLachlan because this girls got some heavy duty lyrical content along with the vocal and musical chops to back it up.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jill Cohn between her busy touring schedules, perpetually touring on a three to six week turnaround, she is one of the hardest working artists on the west coast.Already with two self produced albums to her credit, "13September6" and "The Laughing Universe", she is already making plans for albums three and four. I asked her about her musical direction and she seems content for now to proceed in more of an acoustical/ folk direction, playing with acoustic band members Dennis Stukauski and Tim Miller, but spoke of plans for experimenting with new sounds for upcoming albums. Fortunate for the bevy of female artists out there because if this girl ever decided to go rock /alternative there would be no stopping her. I get the feeling that she realizes this but isn't concerned with that right now. Her priority, as she says, is "making her music the way she feels it right now, her way.
"At thirty three she finds herself still paying her dues as a musician and artist. After six long years of admitted self destructive behavior, Jill Cohn has found the strength and grace to "pull herself up from the depths of despair". Translating her experiences into music that is at the same time compelling and intimate, yet thought provoking and spiritually inspiring and full of social conscience. For Jill walking the tightrope of transition" is something she performs " on a daily basis, living a simpler life, being happy with less and even living out of her bus on the road. She admits that while she loves playing with both her bands it has been difficult to balance the finance and logistics of touring with a band. So she goes it alone for now, touring solo and financing her career on "credit cards and faith".
While early influences include Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Kate Bush and Coltrane, her first album "13September6" is very eclectic. The use of dissonant chords on cuts like "Girl Named Kate" give the song a very dark moody melancholy. While Chris Hawkins fuzzy mellow guitar leads lend an alternative flavor to the upbeat "The Time Is Now". The album is spiced and flavored throughout with contributions from premier L.A. percussionist Casio Duarte.
In asking about songwriting habits she remarked that "songs are like love affairs and children, you never know when they're gonna happen".The spontaneous spirit of these words are evident in the second album ." The Laughing Universe", a live 8-track recording produced by engineer David Eaton, was recorded during a December benefit for "First Place", a homeless children's program in Seattle. The cuts from the album are all Jill and what she can do with her piano. I attended the show, staged in a chapel in downtown Seattle. Appropriately billed as "Acoustic Eden" the name captures the emotional and passionate spirit of Jill Cohn's exchange with her small but loyal following. Both albums are worthy and Jill Cohn seems poised to take her rightful place among the legion of contemporary female singer/ songwriters. She is singing about things in a way few musicians are today.
By Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Jill Cohn is on the move again, but it seems to be the way the singer/songwriter prefers life.
Her constant travels are, after all, the reason she was able to reintroduce herself to the guitar.
"I mainly concentrated on piano when I was growing up. My first and second CDs are all about piano," Cohn said. "After my second CD came out, I started touring and needed another instrument. I really wanted to have a musical outlet for writing."
Her father's old guitar became that outlet. Armed only with the memory of a few chords she learned in her childhood, Cohn used the old Gibson to map out the ideas that come with a near-constant tour schedule.
"Most of my songs I wrote while I was traveling and, because of that, it keeps the songs really close to my heart," she said. "It's almost as if the songs are taking on their own energy, and they give me a lot when I play them for other people. The songs just keep unfolding to me."
The schedule will bring Cohn to Colorado this weekend for her first trip to the area since October, when the singer/songwriter played Glenwood Springs with her former trio.
Cohn's solo show will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at the Market at Summit Canyon in Glenwood Springs. Tickets for the show are $5 each.
"I'm excited to be coming back. It's such a beautiful place," she said. "I played with my trio last time at the Masonic Temple as a part of the Women's Voices concert series. There was such a great turnout, I thought I'd come back and do a solo show."
Fans of Cohn's last show will be treated to an entirely different experience when she takes the stage alone.
"It's completely different with the trio. When we came in October, we were more focused on 'absence,' " she said, referring to her fourth CD. "My solo shows, I pull out all types of songs from my repertoire. I play stuff from my first record, and some things I've just written."
Cohn's current tour is, in part, a promotion for her fourth recording effort, "the absence of Moving," a combination of her solo piano/guitar work and a full-band arrangement.
Cohn laughs whenever she's asked about the significance of the title's odd use of capital letters. An emphasis is placed on the word "Moving," she said, because it's the area in her life she feels is most important.
"'There was a time in my life when I was really stuck in every area of my life - mentally, physically and spiritually," she said. "There was a series of catastrophic events that got me unstuck, and ever since then, I've been in this perpetual motion; 'the absence of Moving' is really about the idea that you're standing still, but really in spiritual motion.
"I want to keep moving and unfolding and deepening in my life. There's a song called 'Not Afraid' that says 'the only thing I fear, I only fear the absence of moving.' It's the idea of getting stuck again. The whole record is based around that idea."
Cohn said she thinks of 'absence' as her best effort to date.
"It still feels extremely new, but the songs on there are my favorite collection of a record I've done," she said. "I'm still really enjoying playing the songs from the record - it's a really interesting thing that the CD keeps growing as a far as enthusiam."
Lyrically, "absence" is a bit of a departure from Cohn's third recording, "Stories from the Bluebus." Cohn described "Bluebus" as a result of a failed relationship, resulting in a collection that helped her work through the heartache that comes with the loss of someone she described as "my soulmate."
" 'Stories from the Bluebus' was really a relationship CD. I used it to work through a lengthy breakup I had," she said.
With "absence," Cohn has turned a musical about-face, focusing more on her spiritual travels rather than her romantic travails.
"There was a lot of hard work and opening myself up to the possibility that on the other side of a relationship failure there's also learning more about yourself, and a greater and richer experience ahead of you," Cohn said. "I don't think the transition with the subject matter was a conscious thing. I really turned toward a more spiritual life, trying to find out more about myself and how I'm connected with the universe. I guess it's a byproduct of a relationship not working out."
Subject matter is varied throughout a Cohn concert. Her music takes on anything from the clear-cutting that has devastated the forest of her native Washington state to domestic violence.
"I listen to a lot of NPR, but again, there's a lot of firsthand experience there," she said. "I've written several songs on domestic violence and done a lot of reading about it, but mainly I wrote them to heal a situation I was in.
"Pretty much, lyrics come from different situations and different things I experience. Lots of times I'll meet someone and it'll remind me about something that happened in my past, and I'll put it into a song," she said. "Other times, songs just appear, and I'm not sure why a song appears until I've performed it."
Cohn's lyrics and music combine to create a type of acoustical pop she describes as "storytelling, but with introspection - not the typical pop."
Cohn doesn't mind the pop label.
"I'm fine with that term. It's pretty much what I'm doing. It's not folk music, although I love folk music and it definitely had some elements in there," she said. "Folk is about observing life around you and writing about it. What makes my music different is that I put myself in the songs to look at life around me and write about it."
Cohn said a return trip to Colorado will have to wait for the release of a fifth album.
"I'm working with a brand-new trio, and we've started working on writing some songs together," she said. "I've never had those experiences with a trio.
"Maybe we'll try to do something in Colorado when we're finished."
Lunch with singer-songwriter Jill Cohn is an unexpectedly happy affair
By M.V. Moorhead Jill Cohn
Jill Cohn isn't what I expected, on the basis of several years of listening to her music on CD. Demonstrating the same sort of naiveté that leads housewives to believe that the guy on their soap opera really is a cad, or Charlton Heston to believe that Ice-T really kills cops, I half-expected lunch with Cohn -- whose lovely songs are, after all, very often ballads of romantic or familial loss and pain -- to be a meal full of dark emotional turmoil and wistful yearning.
Quite the opposite. The woman who has joined me for a nosh at Coronado Cafe is uncommonly friendly and upbeat. Indeed, she laughs more often, and harder, than anyone I've met in quite some time -- long, vigorous, full-throated, unabashed bursts of mirth. It's pleasant to note that the same voice that sings with such plangent beauty on albums such as Stories From the Blue Bus and The Absence of Moving is capable of happy sounds as well.
Maybe Cohn, who grew up in Washington state, is just glad to be back in the desert. She moved to L.A. in the early '80s, but later moved back to Seattle. "I missed my family, and it was time to leave California," she tells me as we wait for our lunches. "I just had some personal reasons why I needed to give myself some distance between me and someone else in L.A. But I miss L.A. a lot. I miss the desert. The desert is just such a more open place than the Pacific Northwest. People tend to be very shy and quiet and conservative there. I think it's the weather. . . . People tend to keep to themselves or their groups, while people in the desert communities are more open."
Though the singer-songwriter started touring, most often performing in Borders stores (where her CDs are sold), mainly as a way of financing visits to these desert climes she missed so much, it eventually grew into a full-fledged lifestyle. "Store managers who liked the music took an interest, and said, 'Oh, you should play this store, you should play this store,'" says Cohn.
Still Seattle-based, Cohn has drifted through the Valley, and thus often through the pages of New Times' Night & Day during the late '90s, as part of the long swings she makes through the Western U.S. in her van, usually accompanied only by her impressive teenage cat, Tosca. This weekend, she's slated to perform, with percussionist Michael Barsimanto, at the Borders on Camelback at 8 p.m. Friday, June 1, and at the Borders on Bell Road in Glendale at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 2.
What, I ask her, does such an itinerant lifestyle do to one's personal life? "I have no personal life," she says with a laugh. "I have a lot of friends I see on the road. I think I put a lot of emphasis on my personal life in my 20s, because everything I did didn't really work out. It made for really good songs . . ."
Suddenly Cohn stops herself, and offers a quick self-deprecation. "I shouldn't say 'made for really good songs' 'cause I don't know if my songs are really good, but it made for really good subject matter."
Her modest disclaimer done, she continues telling me how she came out of her muse-friendly dark days. "I think I made a switch when I realized I put all my energy into my personal life and couldn't effect any real change there, so I decided to put all my energy into my career, and see what kind of change I could effect there."
I assume what we're talking about, in terms of "personal life," is some endless, difficult, on-again-off-again relationship that lasted for years?
Pretty much, Cohn grants. "I think that was the biggest folly in my 20s was trying to find someone to connect my life with, instead of trying to connect with my own life, and then see who's around."
Our food arrives -- for Cohn, a large green salad; for me, a chicken caesar sandwich with fine, fresh white meat and a zingy, to-die-for dressing. As we dig in, Cohn grows reflective. "I think I was raised to believe that marriage and family was everything," she says. "And I think it is a huge part of the human experience. But my folks put a lot of emphasis on that, I think because they were married and divorced so many times, that I think they really wanted to impress upon us the importance of family. . . . So I spent all my 20s trying to make that a reality. And I tend now to have a different view, that you can do things to affect who you meet and when you meet them, but basically I think it's really up to fate. So my change in my 30s was to put all my effort into my career, and let the universe take care of the rest, and see what happens."
So, I ask this older-and-wiser Jill Cohn, what's her best survival tip for life on the road? She points to her salad. "Greens! Salad greens!" she says. "Going to the co-op rather than to McDonald's. That's survival number one when you're on the road -- eating really well." She says that Coronado Cafe's tasty fare falls well within this directive.
Just then, the server walks by, and discreetly sweeps away some sprouts that had fallen from Cohn's plate onto the table. Cohn thanks her, then leans close to my tape recorder and helpfully intones: "The waitress came and picked up some sprouts." I like this; a lunch guest who includes helpful third-person narration on the interview tape. "And Jill also salts her salad," Cohn continues into the recorder. "It's something she picked up from her older sister; it's really disgusting."
I've finished my sublime sandwich, and order a cherry cobbler for us to split for dessert. While we wait, Cohn picks at the remnants of her salad, and tells me about the road. Most people I know who must travel for their work claim they hate it, but Cohn insists that it's a source of delight. In branching out from Borders gigs, for instance, she's encountered startling generosity. "In San Luis Obispo," she recalls, "I was supposed to rent this community theater for 50 or 60 bucks, and these people refused to take my money! It was so sweet! I said, 'You guys, you're supposed to take it,' and they said, 'No, we're supposed to support the arts.'"
And the drive itself has its scenic joys. "I love the Four Corners, and I also love the Northern California coast. And there's this one expanse of drive, from Spanish Fork, Utah, where you can just see for miles, and I have this one tape that I always put on when I go through there. U2's Joshua Tree. That's my music for going into the canyonlands."
All at once Cohn leans close to her salad, and plucks something out -- she's found a hair. I point out that it's a long black hair, and in all likelihood one of hers. She nods, laughs, leans close to my recorder, and speaks once again for its benefit:
"We found a hair in the salad, but we think it's Jill's."
phoenixnewtimes.com | Originally published on 5/31/200