Published: 23 February, 2012
by ROISIN GADELRAB
Do not ask Adam Cohen about his songs, at least not while he’s hungover and still in bed.
Adam – the son of the great Leonard Cohen – has just woken up in his Montreal home when he takes our call.
And, not having interviewed him before, it’s hard to tell if this guarded, philosophical person who’s acutely aware of his failings is the norm or if we’ve just caught him at a bad time.
Would he like to discuss single Dominique, taken from latest album Like a Man?: “No I cannot. I don’t. I can’t talk about a song, it’s a physical impossibility, I go into a deep state of revulsion if you make me talk about my own song. It’s for you to listen to and talk about if you care to or just listen to but no one should talk about the song.”
He later goes on to describe people who talk about their songs as “pompous twats”, likening them to people who enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror and tells me questions about songs are “inane”. End of subject then.
Adam, who plays the Union Chapel on February 29, has spent years distancing his past musical endeavours from those of his father. But then one night, at a tribute concert for Cohen senior, he had an epiphany: “I was invited to participate in a tribute concert to my father. I’d categorically declined prior to that. I went out there and had a cathartic experience, surrounded by people celebrating my father’s work. The whole evening was songs of my father’s I know intimately but never performed.”
This was a turning point for Adam who stopped fighting his natural origins and he appears much more comfortable with himself as a result.
Like a Man is far removed from previous projects, much closer musically and vocally to Leonard’s own songs, if lyrically more simple.
Adam said: “To take the opportunity to celebrate him, specially given the fact that this record could easily be seen as a kind of homage – at the very least, it’s deeply influenced by my father’s work – it would be foolish of me to balk at the comparisons.”
He has no qualms about asking his father’s opinion: “He’s always surgically accurate and helpful and encouraging and wise and funny and all the things that he is.”
Would he consider recording a duet with Leonard? “I suppose I would if the right moment song and time came up.”
Perhaps his initial reluctance to emulate his father has been somewhat of a saving grace as the album has been well received by critics.
He said: “From my perch I see far more career lows than highs. It’s been mired in false hope, unrewarded efforts and hard lessons learned and that’s what makes this campaign far more delicious. I’m experiencing my career high at the moment.”
Adam appears reluctant to accept praise: “There’s something about freeze-framing the operation, the venture, the campaign and rendering some sort of verdict that doesn’t feel quite right. But I’m trying to peddle this project with honesty and dignity and passion and I find myself having an easier time of it than ever because I’m so proud of my work.”
He added: “It’s hard to wrestle with one’s own hopes, after all any time you do something every day all day it becomes a job. You have to find a way to keep the beauty and the message fresh to you so you can make it as fresh and beautiful to others. It’s a terrain you have to negotiate as winningly and cunningly as you can.
“Sometimes it’s about having great patience with other people, sometimes it’s about mitigating your own mood, sometimes it’s about recovering from a diabolical hangover and disappointment. There are too many circumstances, there’s no one method. But the more conventional answer is to say I’m very lucky to do this record at a time when I thought it was wholly unlikely I was going to be given another chance to tour the world and to do it with this one feels like a wonderful validation.”
On playing the Union Chapel, he said: “I was told it was a brilliant venue that I was going to like. My first attempt is to bring the songs to life with a good level of fidelity to a record that I like and I’m trying to peddle with dignity. My second greatest order of business is to not be too attached to whatever ideas you think the show should or should not be on any given night because with members of the audience, temperature, the biometric pressure all the other variables, one should be able to change course and read the terrain.”
“It’s going to be a night of music and embracing the tradition I come from. It’s going to be folky but dynamic and will have songs from my repertoire all the way up to this record and some covers – quite certainly a cover of my father’s.”
• Adam Cohen plays the Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Upper Street, Islington N1 2UN, on February 29, 7pm, www.unionchapel.org.uk