Interview With Bruce Cohen
SBS: Bruce! My man! It has almost been FIVE YEARS since we last connected – can you believe that? Four and a half years to be truthful, I’m rounding up – but that’s one heck of a long time! From the looks of things, you’ve been plenty busy, as expected of course; we were checking out your record Three BC back then, and here we are now, you’ve put out Six BC this year and you continue to thrive out there in the scene. Fill us in a bit on what we’ve missed out on my friend – how have ya been? Where did the music of Four BC and Five BC end up taking you, and in comparison to your new record Six BC, what are the differences between?
Bruce: Yes, it’s been a long time, Jeremy, and I’m doing fine in these crazy times. I’ve recorded three albums since we last chatted. Four BC was a personal challenge I gave myself by giving a four minute time frame for each track. That was a lot of fun to do. So when it came time for Five BC I just went wild and let the tracks determine where things would go with no time limits. And Six BC was a no brainer. I just acquired two new boards, the Yamaha Reface YC Organ and the Reface CS Synth, which were a great inspiration. They were the only two keyboards I used for the entire album. All my albums are interrelated with each other, with each album expanding from the last.
SBS: When we originally crossed paths back in our 2015 interview, you had mentioned that when you started this solo adventure, you “never really had any kind of anthology in mind when I started recording One BC.” While that was certainly true then & still is now – obviously things have changed as you’ve continued on, now you have built several chapters of your numerical BC series and have a chance to look at it from an even greater distance and appreciate new things about what you’ve created, just like we would as listeners in many ways. How often do you end up revisiting the past records personally just to have a listen – and if/when you do, what is it that you find you get most out of the experience? When looking at the entire body of work in this series of albums you’ve put out, what stands out to you now?
Bruce: Jeremy, believe it or not, I rarely go back and listen to my previous albums, except for the last one before Six as a reference point. When I do it’s mostly to make sure I don’t repeat a title of a song or myself composition wise. It’s true I had no intention making an anthology of my works, but when I started recording Two BC, then Three BC, etc. it just made sense for me to keep the albums numbered. Each album was a continuation of each one. It’s funny I think in cinematic terms for song titles, so like Godfather One became Godfather Two, so have my albums with numbers instead of individual titles. What stands out to me is how much I’ve grown artistically from each album and how much listeners like the music. But also like challenging the listener and taking them on a journey that maybe they haven’t taken before.
SBS: This might actually be a silly question, but I’m curious as to whether or not it’s something you’ve considered along the way – I know I have. My friend, we live in a very click-bait world, lots of dramatic headlines and attention grabbing details to generate that spark of interest, none of us are strangers to the reality of this, we’re bombarded with it daily. That being said, we don’t all have to actively take part in that, personally, I choose not to; I never have if it can possibly be avoided. For example, when this interview gets published, it’s not going to read BRUCE COHEN TAKES OVER THE ENTIRE WORLD WITH SPECTACULAR NEW RECORD, despite the fact that this could be true. No, it’ll go up on our site with the meat and potatoes of the matter – it’ll read: Bruce Cohen – that’s it, that’s all. No window dressing. And I do that, because I fully believe that anyone out there clicking on the stuff at our pages knows full well that my words are arbitrary to begin with – it’s your words, and your music, that matter – full-stop. So perhaps you get where this meandering question is eventually heading to, do you ever wonder if the potential response to your music could be greater based on something as trivial as diversity in a title? Like, suppose you had a fully unique, long album name for each record as opposed to keeping it linear with the numerical order – would that possibly make any difference at all in drawing people in? I guess the real question is in a world filled with HEY LOOK AT THIS and HEY LOOK AT ME – do you feel like there is enough out there on a visual level to entice folks into listening, or does any of this even really matter? I remember you quoting Miles Davis as saying “the music speaks for itself” in our last interview, and I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly, but is there also a point in today’s day and age where you have to step in, whether through title, artwork, or video, to give it all a better chance of reaching the audience the music you make and the effort you put in potentially deserve, or a compromise there?
Bruce: Taking over the entire world? I like that. Titles don’t mean anything to me, they’re just names you have to give for a project. I do instrumentals so obviously I can’t draw from lyrics from a track to give an album. There are liner notes that help people with some reference to the music but to make an album title to explain the music would be too much. Most of the songs are recorded first and then I give them a name. I don’t like using one of the songs as an album title. Plus, when people see the name of the album is Six BC that will put in their minds that, “hey there must be five other albums.” There’s method to my madness. Also, most of my albums have an accompanying video of one of the tracks.
SBS: I’ve heard all kinds of experiences out there in the music-scene, both good & bad, throughout this entire pandemic, as I’m sure you have likely as well. Mostly stories on the downside mind you, I think it’s been a tough go for the artists and bands out there, and what little optimism to be found beyond that of an upcoming live-stream has been harder and harder to find as the days wear on. Shows cancelled, venues closing, studios impossible to book, and on & on, there are many valid concerns for the music-industry on all its levels right now and justifiably so. I’d love your take on all this Bruce, from your perspective, what has the whole pandemic experience been like, how has it affected both you and your music, and ultimately, what do you see happening in the near future and how do we rebound strong?
Bruce: I’m not a performing live musician, I don’t play out, so the pandemic hasn’t really affected me in that way. But I do know a lot of musician friends who are suffering from not being able to play out. I actually thought about doing a live stream, but that lasted about two seconds. Ha! Maybe if I was jamming with other musicians, but that isn’t feasible at this time. Better off just putting on your headphones, take a hit of something, close your eyes, and stream my music. I did start a musical diary I called, Two Weeks In Another Room, where each day during the quarantine I recorded a short ambient type piece. But of course the quarantine lasted much longer than two weeks so I just scrapped the whole thing. It’s been over three months now and it looks like a second shutdown could happen because of the idiotic decisions to open up the economy earlier than it should have. I can’t see anything improving until sometime next year where you already have some live venues closed down permanently. Who knows if and when tours will start up again, so live streaming will probably be around for a long while. Though that really doesn’t help musicians financially. It’s a very sad situation for the music world, but it has started a rethinking of how to present one’s music.
SBS: I’ve also ended up discussing mental health with quite a few people during this time of Covid-19, for obvious reasons. I’m curious about a couple of things here, one being, I think I’ve seen a release date of April 20th for Six BC, so did the pandemic end up affecting the recording of the new record or the material on it in any way? Secondly, after having a listen myself, of course you’ve got your cuts that have you right into the groove and supplying danceable vibes for us all to enjoy, but you’ve also got a range of mellower tracks that are quite soul-soothing and relaxing as well. I suppose the question here is, do you feel like there’s an aspect of your music that can contribute positively to someone’s mental health or state of mind by listening? Clearly it doesn’t just have to be limited to the more subtle songs and chilled-out cuts – the up-tempo neon vibes can play just as much of a role, but ultimately, is this something you ever end up considering when you’re making your music, or appreciating when it’s done?
Bruce: Six BC was finished long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. So it really had no affect music wise. I always wanted my music as a journey that takes the listener to another place and help forget what is going on outside in the world, at least for a couple of hours. I’ve had people tell me how much my music has helped them relax from the chaos whether at home by themselves due to the virus, or having to drive in some crazy traffic. The music decides how I should go with it. I make each album as a whole and not individual songs. So dance to the grooves or relax to the ambient stuff. I want people to get lost in the music and forget about the world at least for a little while. I think I have accomplished that, hopefully.
SBS: You have continued on with your relationship with the fantastic people at Tarock Music as far as I’m aware, tell us a bit about that! If I recall correctly, that was how we initially connected, and if that was nearly five years ago now, then presumably there’s a thriving connection that still exists between you all. How has Tarock Music played a role in your career along the way, and how has the relationship benefitted the music you’ve made, or yourself on a personal level, throughout your solo career? What’s the secret? What makes things work between you and what has kept you together year after year?
Bruce: Let’s see Jeremy, I’ve been with Tarock since I was, and still am, a member of The Reds in the 1980’s. So when Rick Shaffer and I decided to give The Reds a rest for a while and start recording solo projects it made sense staying with Tarock which has been a great partnership. They give me total freedom on my projects and that is all I ask from them. By the way The Reds did put out a single last year, “High Point,” so we do return to them once in a while. But for now the solo projects keep us both very busy and Tarock gives us the best platform in doing that. It’s been a great partnership and will continue to be one.
SBS: There are many tunes on Six BC that stand out brilliantly my brother, and I was pretty stoked to hear how “Mr. Harrison” came out in this lineup of new songs. I heard the music, then I went and had another read over the press release and notes I had that came with this record of yours, and discovered that my assumption was correct – this was indeed inspired by the legendary member of The Beatles. Much to your credit, I think the tie-ins between the inspiration, the title, and the way the song sounds, can’t be missed if listeners are paying attention. That being said…lo and behold, what DO we have HERE my friend, but a mention of the fact that George is actually your FAVORITE member of The Beatles! I think this is the perfect piece of trivia out there that fans need to know more about…let’s face facts, Sir Paul and John end up hogging most of the limelight when it comes to the Fab Four, even to this very day – it is RARE to meet someone who would name “Mr. Harrison” as their number-one favorite, truly. And while I am certainly not suggesting you’re wrong, I’m very much interested in what your connection to “Mr. Harrison” and his music is, and how you came to the conclusion that he’s your number-one Beatle.
Bruce: Thanks so much for the compliments, Jeremy. I guess George always stood out for me as being just a pure musician. Such a great tasteful guitarist. For me he brought out the musicality to The Beatles. Plus, he had a dry wicked sense of humor which I like. And I love the power of the drone when he introduced the sitar into their music. So while fooling around with the CS Synth I came up with this droning sitar like sound. So I thought why not do a tribute to one Mr. George Harrison. One of the rare times where the idea for a title came first before the recording.
SBS: Let’s see if I can pull a bit of information outta ya that isn’t all there on the page for me already, or as implied as “Mr. Harrison” might have been. Let’s talk about, man, part of me wants to dig right into the beginning, because Six BC starts with a freakin’ FANTASTIC cut called “Under The Nova,” but let’s go with a track that I don’t want anyone to miss out on, called “Which Is Which.” The ears attached to my face personally are never going to let a song, even as subtle as this, fly by without seriously absorbing the amount of immaculate sound you got goin’ on here, but in the context of a record that has an array of upbeat vibes as well, experience has shown through the court of public opinion that a slower tune generally takes more time to catch on with the masses by comparison. Help me make a case for “Which Is Which,” because I think it’s outright fascinating and deserves its share of the credit for making Six BC the solid record and experience that it genuinely is. Any insight you can give us into the making of, the inspiration behind, what it means to you personally, we’ll take any details you wanna share with us Bruce, what can you tell us about “Which Is Which” without pulling that Miles Davis quote up on me again? 😉
Bruce: Ok, ok no Miles quotes. “Which Is Which” is one of my fave tracks on the album. But don’t want to give away too many secrets. Ha! The Yamaha CS Synth has no pre-sets. Meaning there are no buttons that you can press to get an already sound set into the keyboard. There is no string sound, sound effects, bells or wind sounds pre built into the board. I have to produce each sound on my own. So I was messing around with CS moving sliders here and there making adjustments when I came up with this almost organ sound. Then I did the same thing with the Reface YC Organ that works the same way. No pre-sets. So, with that, I came up with a very cool synth sound. So essentially the synth became the organ and the organ became the synth. So hence the song name “Which Is Which.” The whole album of Six BC was recorded using just these two keyboards. It was the most fun I had recording with these two. Very, very challenging and rewarding. As much as I like producing the danceable beat tracks which are a lot of fun to do, it’s the ambient, slower tracks that are closest to my heart. I think people enjoy the slow ambient tracks because they’ve very cinematic and take you on a spacial journey.
SBS: From what I’ve read and experienced myself in listening to Six BC, you’ve also had quite the adventure in combining two keyboards in real-time action together to create these songs – am I getting that right? Layering and such, that kind of thing, you’ve got a lot happenin’ in these new songs of yours and it’s clear you had yourself quite the inspired session when creating the record, you’ve already had quite the career filled with music, but would it be fair to say that you feel like you really learned some new things this time around, new skills, or a new approach, as a result of the process? Was there anything that you wanted to do with the songs on Six BC that you could envision, but had to overcome some sort of obstacle in order to bring the full scope of your idea to fruition? I guess what I’m wondering is if you ever have an idea that’s beyond your capabilities at first, where you’d then have to go and theoretically teach yourself what you’d need to do, in order to be able to pull of your ambitions, does that make any sense? What was the most challenging part of making Six BC for you personally?
Bruce: Jeremy, sometimes an instrument can be so inspiring it makes you feel like a kid in a toy store. When I acquired the two new keyboards it was like starting all over again. Felt like a mad scientist throwing chemicals together to see what happens. So instead of trying to find a certain sound, I just tooled around with both instruments until I heard a sound I liked. Sometimes the sound would be one of the keyboards by itself and sometimes the sound would be both instruments playing together at the same time. “Which Is Which” is a good example of the two boards playing as one sound. Also, “Fooled Who” and a few others. The fun for the listener is trying to guess what is going on. Sometimes I even forget what instruments were playing when I listen to the new tracks. The recording process has become really enjoyable with these two keyboards. The most challenging aspect was knowing when to stop playing, ha! On some tracks I probably could have gone on for ten, fifteen minutes. So editing myself was the big challenge.
SBS: What’s the key to the ultimate track-listing? Let’s use Six BC as the example, if you will sir. You know what I’m saying Bruce? You get all that material written, recorded, and gathered, and then, if you ask me, that’s when the real fun/debate/battle truly begins – you get to structure the ALBUM. Anyone my grey-bearded age or older understands the value in the flow of a good mix-tape or CD, and laying out a record’s worth of songs you’ve created yourself would clearly be of the utmost importance, I’d assume. You don’t have to give the full recipe to the secret sauce away if you don’t wanna of course, but I’d love to know about how you approached the entire process when it comes to the flow of your new record. Was it a matter of simply loading them all up on a playlist and continually shuffling them all around until you reached its maximum potential? Or was there a more specific design to Six BC that you had been developing from day one that led to the flow of the final lineup of songs on your new album? Or perhaps, is there something else altogether that I haven’t thought of here that dictates the order?
Bruce: First, for me the whole is more important than the single track. I presented Tarock with over twenty songs for Six BC that we agreed to whittle down to ten. As it has been since the first album, Theresa Marchione who runs Tarock and is Executive Producer, is that important third ear and has an uncanny ability in choosing what works or doesn’t work as far as song order. Rick will listen too and give me his musicians take on the tracks. Once in awhile I’ll ask Theresa about trying the order another way but we usually go back to the original line-up. Also there are times when I really want a certain track to be included just because I like it, so it gets included. Other than that, I compose, record, produce and mix the albums and then Theresa takes over putting the songs in an order that works, including creating the album artwork and design. She also works on the videos. A real powerhouse. She always presents everything to me for my approval and it has worked out just fine for everyone.
SBS: You knew it was coming at some point, because you know I gotta ask Bruce…Seven BC?
Bruce: My original plan, Jeremy, was not to even approach Seven BC until sometime later next year. But the pandemic has changed all that. With a lot of time on hand I have started working on Seven BC. Once again I’m using the YC and CS. Where it’s heading is anyone’s guess. My original concept of the musical diary during this pandemic has morphed into what will be Seven. Wherever the music takes me I will just be going along for the ride. Yes, there definitely will be a Seven BC.
SBS: I have gotta say Bruce, it was an incredible pleasure to listen to your latest record and I am 100% stoked to have you back on our pages my friend, let’s not let it be another five years before next time! It’s comforting to know you’re still out there on the front-lines of the music-scene doin’ what you love – I suspect some things will never change in that respect, partner. Here’s something else for ya that hasn’t changed since we last spoke, the SBS Open Floor! You remember, that final spot in these interviews of ours where you can say anything else at all that comes to mind or that you want the people to know. Brother-man, many thanks for your time, as always – cheers to you Bruce.
Bruce: Jeremy, it was great to get to talk to you after all these years, and let’s not make it another four years before we talk again. Thanks so much for your kind compliments. Greatly appreciate how much you enjoy my music. In these crazy times I hope everyone is holding up okay. I truly believe music can be healing both emotionally and mentally. And I hope what I do contributes to that. When Seven BC is released let’s chat again. Everyone stay well and safe out there where ever you are. And to you, Jeremy my friend, once again thanks for a very insightful, thoughtful interview. Be seeing you.
Find out more about Bruce Cohen through the Tarock Music official website at: http://www.TarockMusic.com
We’ve got questions, you’ve got answers – be our next interview guest at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!