Opposite me in a café in Covent Garden, some 3,000 miles away from his hometown of Montreal, Canada, sits a musician named Jon Cohen. Whilst he’s far from being a household name, he’s no stranger to music; Cohen has been playing as a guitarist in various Montreal music projects over the last ten years, the most successful of which was The Dears, the avant-garde Canadian indie collective who have opened for stadium acts such as Keane and Morrissey.
He’s in London right now, however, for a different reason. Tired of playing second fiddle in countless bands, and keen to forge his own musical identity, Jon Cohen launched his own solo project, The Jon Cohen Experimental (or The JC Ex) a few years ago. In 2010, Cohen released Behold, his second studio album as The JC Ex, and the one which brought him new levels of attention as a solo artist in Canada and the States. Sipping tea genteelly, he explains to me where the desire to branch out on his own came from.
“The JC Ex is my brainchild, my baby. I’ve been playing music in Montreal and across Canada for the last decade or so, and this is kinda like the equivalent of having worked for many different companies and then starting your own little thing… Say you’re a farmer, and instead of working for some mega-farm, you have like two little acres of land, but they’re yours, and you put so much love into it and you watch it grow, and you’re very protective of it, but at the same time you’re learning how to sow the seeds with the bigger company, that’s kind of how I see it.”
With his Moroccan heritage, and background in spiritual healing practices such as yoga and Thai massage, Cohen emits a sense of gentle mysticism, something which he claims is channelled into his music; he describes the “sound” of The JC Ex as “like if Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Gandhi got together and decided to shoot the shit and make something happen,” and talks with po-faced conviction about how his music is more for spiritual communication than for wealth or fame. “I’m not interested in my own payroll, or furthering my own career, as much as I’m interested in playing a show and conveying a message to people, which is a message of self-fulfilment and real happiness, and an examination of our relationship with our reality, and with ourselves.”
Listening to Behold, what really stands out is the polished quality of the song-writing. Cohen crafts his tunes with tightly-wound precision, sculpting intricately-built walls of sound that are lush and layered. Lyrically, although the content is a little on the spiritual side of things at times, it’s done in such an earnest and musically-inventive way that the listener doesn’t feel as though they’re being preached to. Rather, listening to The JC Ex is an experience of somewhat goofy yet warming positivity; this is as close as you can come to being given a hug by a pop song.
For all Cohen’s right-on vibes of tranquillity and harmony, he still takes his music incredibly seriously, and pushes himself to the limit to promote his message. A glance at his upcoming tour schedule sees him playing 36 dates in 10 countries, in just under eight weeks. He explains how for him, you either approach touring with unflinching enthusiasm, or you die trying. “I like to do these mega, three-month tours, I like to go completely heavy on it – it’s better to do it that way because you don’t have time to stop and think about it, your body doesn’t have time to relax, you keep a rhythm going, and as soon as you stop to relax, you lose momentum a little bit.”
Indeed, this full-throttle approach to gigging forms the basis of his next album, Passion Pilgrim; “The idea is to go back into the studio for that one in April, once I’m finished with this tour. The idea for this album is going to be to take a musician, who’s just finished an insane adventure, and try to extract whatever energies are there leftover from that tour, and put all that into the record.”
This is the first time Cohen’s brought his sound to the UK, and he has embraced the experience so far. It’s a unique challenge for him, taking on the solo performance routine rather than being one of three guitarists stood in the background, but he hopes that British audiences will be just as receptive to his unique “experimental” as the folks back home. When finally asked what fans can expect when they turn up to a JC Ex show, Cohen grins. “They can expect to be taken on a journey, where they are bombarded with positive messages, in a non-preachy way. They’re bombarded with an uplifting challenge, at the same time they’re propelled to move and to dance and to take part in the show, and to feel like it’s one unit altogether, and walk out and say that ‘I was part of this show.’ And they can expect to hear some frickin’ amazing music.”
For more information on Jon Cohen and his tour, click here.
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