Interview: Hannah Cohen

As a former model and part-time photographer, Hannah Cohen has already packed more adventures into her life than most young singer-songwriters. Her musical journey begins with Child Bride, the record she worked on with Thomas Bartlett, session keyboardist for The National and Antony and the Johnsons.

Fresh from a stint of jury service, Cohen caught up with us about her move from modelling to music, her debut album and why she hopes we'll see her in a silver catsuit very soon... Intrigued? Read the full interview below!

Preview and download Child Bride »

Hey Hannah, how are you?

I’m good thank you! I’m at my friend’s house because I’m not grown up enough to have a phone of my own (laughs).

We heard you were on jury service last week?

Yeah... It was really bad timing, what with my album coming out so soon after! They gave us so many opportunities to say why we couldn’t take part – why you weren’t a reliable judge of character or whatever – but I didn’t dare lie!

So, your father is a jazz drummer: did music play a big part in your upbringing?

Yeah, I grew up around music. We used to listen to a lot of vinyl – from blues to James Brown to Thelonious Monk – and we’d go to a lot of gigs together. I would say I’ve inherited his taste.

You left home at a young age to travel the world modelling. What was the highlight of that time, and why did you give it up?

I guess moving to New York at 17 and being able to take care of myself, that was pretty cool. Travelling to Malaysia, and doing shoots at really fancy places. (Laughs)

[I gave it up because] It wasn’t really good for me anymore, I kinda got worn out. I knew that wasn’t really my calling: I didn’t want to be just good at taking pretty photos, y’know?! (Laughs) I didn’t want to be 28 and still doing catalogue jobs, like, not having something that I was proud of. But to correct that, I do have a lot of respect for models, it’s just that I wasn’t making a huge career out of it: I wasn’t some huge supermodel or something.

And were you always singing throughout that time?

No, I didn’t start singing until about four years ago. My boyfriend at the time was a musician and I just kinda wanted to be a part of it as well, so I picked up the guitar and started playing and then singing.

So what was it that made you decide to take up music professionally?

Um, I guess the support of my friends! I have a lot of friends that are musicians and I started to show them what I was playing and they told me, “You should book some shows and see what happens!” So I guess it was really nice friends of mine being supportive and pushing me!

A lot of people might be attracted to a career in music for the adulation and opportunities to travel the world, but you had already experienced that during your time modelling. What role does music fulfil in your life?

It’s just how I breathe! I feel most at home and happy when I’m singing and playing for people, or listening to music.

The album’s called Child Bride. Can you explain the meaning behind the title please?

Well, when I was doing the record I was kinda in a place where I wasn’t in control and felt kinda powerless in a relationship and in my life. I mean, like a lot of musicians, the record is a whole secret code to myself. I mean, some [musicians] are obviously more blatant about things but I try to write in a more vague way. I was just fascinated with the phrase “child bride” – in essence a child bride is powerless and I just felt really connected to that.

It’s quite a melancholy record thematically...

...Yeah it is! A lot of people have been saying to me, “You don’t really seem like a “down” person. What is this all about?!” (Laughs) I think it’s harder to write happy songs! But they are sad songs, and listening to them now they seem even sadder. (Laughs)

What were your key musical reference points when you were writing the album?

Hmmm, well that’s another thing: I don’t really listen to music from right now. I listen to a lot of Brazilian music from the 60s and 70s. At that time I was listening to Gal Costa, Jorge Ben, Caetano Veloso, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Antonio Carlos Jocafi... So we didn’t really say, “We want our record to sound like Beach House,” or something. I do love Beach House though! I kinda let Thomas [Bartlett, the producer] do what he wanted. He wanted to keep the songs as close to the original versions as possible, but brought in his amazing friends who were great musicians. So we kinda just made this – I don’t know – moody thing!

If you had to pick your favourite track on the record, which would it be and why?

It changes all the time, y’know. At the moment I really like ‘Carry You Under’. Lyrically, it’s really important to me. But I like all of them! ‘Sorry’ is another one of my favourites because it’s so deeply sad.

California’ is great too...

...Yeah, I grew up in California and I’m a total fairy child: I love rolling around on the grass outside! (Laughs) So I really, really, really miss being at home in California. I feel like the quality of life is better there for me: better food, more rest, more quiet. And I think that was my letter to California from New York.

Y'know, you get all pale and tired and exhausted in New York, and in a magical world I would be able to be bi-coastal. But that’s, like, my number one goal: to be able to spend three to four months of the year in San Francisco and the rest in New York or Europe.

Do you feel part of the musical community in New York? And are there any good new bands there you can recommend?

I don’t know... I would like to be a part of it! I have a lot of friends who are musicians and are doing really cool stuff right now. For bands, you guys probably know about Gang Gang Dance... Actually, I went to go see Ssion the other night, which was amazing. He’s, like, electro-pop: really funny. And he has these amazing music videos that are totally mental.

Active Child did a remix of your song ‘The Crying Game’. How did that come about? And is there anyone else you’d like to remix your songs?

Simon Raymonde from the label [Bella Union] set it up. He thought that Pat would be really good and it worked! It’s always interesting to see what people hear and what they’re drawn to. He picked up on breaths and things... I don’t know what he did; I’m so technologically challenged and I was just really impressed! I would love it if M83 would do something with me but he’s probably pretty busy!

How are you feeling about the album release?

I’m excited. I remember back in November it seeming so far away, and being comforted by that! But now it’s coming out... The thing is, what happens after your record comes out? I feel like records kinda die after that... (Laughs) I’m just happy if people listen and I’m not pushing for anything else really. This is all really new to me, so I’m excited and all I can do is show up.

And are you going to write another record?

Absolutely. Thomas and I have a lot of things that we wanna do together. I really like upbeat music, so maybe it’ll be a disco/funk/electro/pop record or something, we’ll see. (Laughs) I keep envisaging myself in a silver jumpsuit with really big hair so I really want to do that. So after my sad, folky songs I’ll freak everybody out! (Laughs)

What are your plans for the rest of 2012?

Well, I’ll be coming out to London for my show on May 9th. My sister’s in London so I’ll stay out there for a little while. I’m coming out again for some shows in August. I would love to just be out in London or travelling round in Europe. Other than that I’m gonna be working on some photo projects and making more music with Thomas.

And what do you want to achieve ultimately with your music?

I’m just happy that I’ve been able to make music so I’m not really sure yet. There’s so much to do in music: it’s an endless, cascading landscape. So I hope to continue that and have people come see me.

Preview and download Child Bride