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Last year, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Kayla Cohen released Open to Chance under her Itasca banner. In his review for Aquarium Drunkard, Tyler Wilcox admitted the temptation to call the album’s slow burning, psychedelically-tinged folk rock “the perfect autumn soundtrack,” noting the album would sound just as good in the spring or summer. And he’s been proven right. As the seasons have passed, Open to Chance has continued to reveal and offer new beauty.

On the occasion of her current tour with Dylan Golden Aycock and Lake Mary, we caught up with Cohen to discuss the dreamlike nature of her songs, and the current cultural moment that finds young artists synthesizing disparate influences into a cohesive, subtle new whole.

Itasca :: Buddy

Aquarium Drunkard: Open to Chance was one of my favorite albums of 2016. Have you started working on a new record?

Kayla Cohen: I’ll get totally into [the process] and get pretty far, and then take a couple of weeks off, and basically start over. That’s happened a few different times. It’s been slow, but I don’t think there’s any rush with anything.

AD: You worked with a full band on Open to Chance. Are you planning to do that again?

Kayla Cohen: I’ll record with a full band, but [for now] I’ve been working on it by myself.

AD: On Open to Chance, the word “dream” appears often. Is dream logic something you seek out in your own music?

Kayla Cohen: I think it’s part of music for me, just in general. The dream world is where you can access symbols that don’t necessarily make linear sense, but that can be really evocative. Lyrically, that’s perfect. That’s what you want. When I was working on that record, I feel like the dream world was more of a thing I was working with in a way that’s more hazy and mirage-like than I’ve been thinking about it now. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry centered on dreams. For example, this one poet, William Ferguson: the way he uses the dream vocabulary is more straightforward, serious, and concrete. That’s something I’m discovering now. But dreaming…that’s super fertile ground. And it’s easy too: you can just be like, “I have a night, now I’m going to drink some weird tea and go to sleep and see what happens.”

AD: I like that idea of dreams as a laboratory for songs. Do you have pretty vivid dreams?

Kayla Cohen: [Laughs] Yeah. I have phases where they are and they aren’t. But if the waking world isn’t providing you with the kind of inspiration you want, you can go to bed and see what happens, too.

AD: You mentioned the “concrete” nature of the poetry you’re reading. Do the new songs feel drawn more from experiences or situations than dreams?

Kayla Cohen: I’ve spent a lot time over the past six months traveling around the Southwest…Living in Los Angeles, the whole story of the Southwest is really interesting to me. It’s revealing something with songwriting I think is a niche that I could go far into. There’s British folk music and American folk music — the Segers, John Fahey, and stuff — but how do these relate to the Southwest? [What would] folk music look like through the lens of the Southwest? That’s a thing I’m trying to think about. It’s coming through in the songs, just the idea of a band playing in the middle of nowhere in a bar somewhere.

AD: Did you grow up in the Southwest?

Kayla Cohen: I grew up on the East Coast, in New York State. That’s where I was for the first 20 years of my life. I’m coming at it from an East Coast perspective, but at this point I’ve been in LA for six years…so this is what I know as a conscious adult. You can’t not talk about [your environment] if you’re a lyricist. I mean, you can, people do that. But I feel like you have to talk about the world around you.

AD: How did being out west change your music? Did it have an effect that’s discernible to you?

Kayla Cohen: Definitely, [as has] just getting older and getting more perspective on the whole thing. It definitely put more space in there. There’s a lot of space in L.A., that’s something I think I mention a lot.

AD: Open to Chance feels like it’s part of a certain lineage of West Coast music. Listening, there are elements of Judee Sill and Laurel Canyon kind of music. Have you always listened to that kind of stuff, ’70s folk-influenced music?

Kayla Cohen: Yes and no. I have a lot of thoughts about this. When I sing, I’m a woman, so I’m going to sound like that, it’ll remind people of Laurel Canyon sounds. I really like the restrictions of just playing guitar and singing…but I also listen to a ton of music from all over the world. I don’t even mostly listen to singer/songwriters.

AD: What have you been listening to?

Kayla Cohen: Well, he’s a singer/songwriter, so it’s going to contradict what I’m saying, but Chris Darrow’s Artist Proof. The songs are so good. That whole record feels like it’s completely in its own world. That’s my favorite thing, when people put out one record that’s amazing and this one thing is very self contained and just feels like it’s apart. I’ve been listening to a lot of Malian music. I’ve been listening to Les Filles de Illighada, these amazing women who are Tuareg guitarists.

AD: You first broke into people’s consciousness playing drone-based music. Does that still inform your approach?

Kayla Cohen: Richard Bishop was a big influence, and all the people who influenced him. Robbie Basho, obviously. I was drawn to Daniel Higgs’ solo records. So that’s what I’m thinking: how can you do this? I like to sing and write lyrics, but how can I look at it through that lens of weirder guitar stuff?

AD: It feels to me like there’s this whole universe of artists interested in that fusion now, marrying lyricism and songwriting while still being incorporating evocative, open music. A lot of it seems centered around your label, Paradise of Bachelors, which routinely puts out albums I love.

Kayla Cohen: I love pretty much all the records on the label, yeah.

AD: What role does mystery play in your songs? Is part of the goal to leave room for the listener to find their way into your songs?

Kayla Cohen: I totally feel that way. That’s what I love about private press records. You don’t know anything about the person who’s written it. You can just listen to the songs and apply them to your own life experience. That’s what I want to get out of music. I don’t want to listen to a huge personality and in my face. That’s just not my thing. People like that, and it’s cool if someone really develops a personality and takes it out there, but I take the other perspective.

AD: And there’s personality evident in that too. Your record’s personal but also far out; you’re mining a space between Joni Mitchell and Richard Bishop and it doesn’t feel unnatural at all. We’re in an interesting cultural moment. You have labels like Paradise of Bachelors, Three Lobed, No Quarter, or young guitarists who like Brian Eno as much as Steely Dan; I love that there’s a group of people like you tying those things together.

Kayla Cohen: It’s a weird mix of playing music and being creative, but also this deep research situation that I’ve always been really into. interview/j woodbury

2 Responses to “Itasca :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview”

  1. beautiful music ! Thank you…

  2. […] Aquarium Drunkard interviewed Itasca’s Kayla Cohen. […]

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