Interview Week: Tim Cohen's excessive trail of proliferation

Sjimon Gompers

Magic Trick shot by Matthew Dara Alavi

Tim Cohen is a man who needs little introduction, since he is the talent behind Magic Trick, The Fresh & Onlys, Feller Quentin, Amocoma, Black Fiction, The Forest Fires Collective 3 Leafs, Sonny & The Sunsets, Hattattak, The Latter, and not to mention currently recording a new band called Cool Ghouls in his house. We pressed further for the details about the new Magic Trick album, released last Tuesday by Hardly Art, but we got more than we asked for.

Who are you recording right now?

I’m recording a band at my house right now, they’re called Cool Ghouls, I tried to get make them change their name when I met them but, no go. Kind of selfish of me but, I don’t know.

Speaking of name changes, going from Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick, now it’s just Magic Trick, is it because Tim Cohen and Noelle Cahill and Alicia Vanden Heuvel’s Magic Trick would be too long a name?

I just decided with having my name attached to it I have an issue with it as myself. At first I struggled with using my own name so I went by Feller Quentin. Then I decided to use my own name for the last three albums, and then when it became more of a collaborative effort I just dropped my name. When I do solo shows I go back to using my own name, but something about it – not my name itself, but having my name attached to the solo stuff – takes credit away from the other people involved that are making that collaborative effort. I’m going on tour next week just solo so that also enables me to go back a few months later with Magic Trick jams. People were really worried about that but the bookers were basically just like, 'Don’t attach the name Magic Trick to it. It’s a totally different set in which it allows me to realize my options and do a lot more guises under which to perform, if nothing else.

Seems like you have a well spring of things to perform on. Much has been said of your prolific output and I was just wondering: how many songs a week are you currently writing?

Well, right now, I’m actually at a surplus, I have written about three songs, four songs in the last two weeks. Before that it had been maybe a month, a month and half, or two months. I just kind of gave myself a break from writing and recording. Because the way it happens for me, more often than not, is that I’ll wake up with the melody in my head and I’ll try to jot it down or like record it. It’s not quite a conscious thing or a process. I can’t sit down to write a song, I never have. It’ll just come to me or I’ll wake up and it’ll be in my head. It’s weird and it always happens like that and when one melody comes it’s usually followed by another one which is totally different. Maybe it’s like my brain's own way of processing itself, so to speak.

For everybody it’s a completely unique thing. It seems like a contingency for a lot of songwriters that it is an unconscious, happenstance type of thing.

Absolutely. That, to me, pertains to that entire idea of what music is, to define it. I know it has to do with the sound waves. John Cage's theory of disorganized noise still can’t explain to me what it actually is and how it is, where it comes from and how it affects your emotions. In my mind, it works like a spiritual entity that moves from where its owner originates, like songwriters, musicians, people who know how to to channel it. I wouldn’t want to put a finger on it, just let it be.

And your stuff has many moods, like the first Magic Trick album, style-wise, you run the gamut in breakneck, rapid motions. It's really neat. Ruler of the Night has a moodier nature, singles like “Invisible at Midnight”, and the cover with you in the pillory…

I think the Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick album you’re talking about is the one on Captured Tracks with the basketball players on the front cover. That was the first time I really had some stuff that pre-dated Fresh & Onlys stuff a little bit. That was the first solo album I did where I had a surplus of songs. I had about 40 different songs and was all about putting it together and picking the ones I liked the best. That was the first time, and Ruler of the Night was the second time that I actually had a plethora of songs to choose from, whereas now when I had like fifty or something and whittled it down to ten, fifteen songs [for the record]. Before, I would just keep every song I ever had, you know, just recording everything all the time. Fresh & Onlys kind of embraced that idea too. It took us a while to get around to it as well. Our first couple releases were recorded at home. We would just kind of throw it out on the tape and put it out. And for Play it Strange and our upcoming record Long Slow Dance, we have a plethora of songs to choose from and we would just put down the ones we really wanted. So I think to make a better album sound well-rounded and like you were saying, diverse, it has to be cohesive in a sense, and it helps if you have a lot of stuff to choose from. But if I knew exactly what the album was, I would just record it and that would be it. I’m just more of a hodgepodge type of dude, I record a lot and choose. With Ruler of the Night, I really like the mix of it because it is moody, but like that “Invisible at Midnight” pop single is very dark, but also very joyous. Especially at the chorus where it’s super uplifting, almost like a gospel feel but not trying to be too pretentious about it.

I described it as ‘ballads of the heartbroken and hung-over.’ I think the last time we talked you were saying that you were writing rap lyrics and I was wondering if you were still doing that?

Oh yeah! The buddy I do that with is out here right now visiting from Virginia, and I put together about eight beats for him to write, I guess later today we’ll start putting them down. I don’t really write lyrics anymore as much, but it’s a great opportunity whenever he comes out because I always end up sitting down and writing lyrics with him. It’s really been great because it’s like a mental exercise. Just like the body, when you exercise your mind, it always keeps you afloat because there’s a certain part of my brain that writes rap lyrics that really gets into the scheme. I don’t always tap into that. I often times see myself as falling into the same methods and traps in the style of the Fresh & Onlys but doing hip-hop opens another door in my mind.

Would these ever be released amid the cloud rap wave that’s so big right now?

We already have released two vinyls, two EPs and two full length CDs. That was in the early 2000s, with the Forest Fire collective, but since then we haven’t really done anything. We have like hundreds of songs. If there was someone interested in putting it out I would definitely want to put it out. I think it’s very unique, it’s definitely based in the old school style we grew up listening to with that early '90s and '80s hip-hop. There has been a resurgence of that, like with SPACEGHOSTPURP, I’m really into that. His album comes out [the same day as Ruler of the Night]. It’s kind of cool, I really dig the ghostly elements that he has going on.

Just heard “People Like Us” off of In a Cloud II and I was wondering if there was more unreleased material coming out soon?

No, I doubt it. Hardly Art put on their label hat and they were like, ‘we don’t want you flooding the market.’ I have so much unreleased material it’s ridiculous. I totally understand their point and just being like keep it close to your studio until the time to put it out and there is enough of a following to where people are going to be interested in your material. But I totally understand about flooding the market. Wymond, my band mate, from the Fresh & Onlys has his album [Under the Pale Moon] coming out at the same time as Magic Trick and the Fresh & Onlys’ Mexican Summer 7” is coming out on June 19; already with the Fresh & Onlys I’m out there a little too much. Time to rein it in a little bit. I started a Bandcamp page and whatever. I don’t really know about Soundcloud or Bandcamp, but I started a Bandcamp page and I think that might be the way to go, I might throw a few tracks on there and stuff. But I don’t think that there is that much interest to put more out there than I am already doing. Mike Sniper of Captured Tracks wanted to put out an 8 cassette retrospective of my stuff, which unfortunately he’s not into the hip-hop shit I do, but I wanted him to do one of the straight up rap tapes. He was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it, 8 cassettes you know, the box set.’ I thought that would be pretty dope, but right now I’m under contract with Hardly Art so after that’s up we’ll see what happens. I definitely have tons of material.

With you and Wymond busy with solo works, does Shayde Sartin have any solo projects?

No, he doesn’t, he and Kyle are both doing the Fresh & Onlys right now.

I hear he shoots some mean hoops.

Kyle is pretty good, Shayde is alright. Kyle has a bad knee or something right now, but he’s tall, he’s a good baller, Shayde’s got a good three point shot, he played in high school.

I’m a good defense, but I got no hops whatsoever.

Yeah, I got no hops, I ‘m just clever with the ball I guess.

Love the Woodsist Fest that has been going down every year in Big Sur. What influence on your music does Big Sur bring? Do you feel inspired by that particular area?

Absolutely. I mean the first time I played down there was in 2005. The first time I played at Henry Miller's was like an otherworldly experience. It was really inspiring. You’re just surrounded by huge trees and these great vibes, not necessarily in the spiritual sense. We haven’t got that deep with it, not yet in the middle of the vortex, but just being outside. And I normally hate playing outside in festivals, with the sun beating down on me and stuff like, that but with Woodsist Festival it’s different. It’s like playing in kindergarten class, everyone is in awe of what is around us and there’s no ego there. And of course great bands play there. So yeah, of course I’m inspired by that spot. I don’t go down there enough!

Future plans for any more super groups formations like last year’s Fresh & Onlys/Woods?

I don’t know, we kind of wore out our welcome. We talked about doing a whole set of cover tunes but that would be really hard. Last year we were on tour together [with Woods] cross country so we were able to work some stuff out, but I really hope to record with Woods. We had planned to put out a super group but never followed through with it. There was a lot of talking on tour when you’re drunk, like 'Let’s do this, and let’s do this!' It was more fun that it was a one time thing, sort of magical and that we pulled it off to some degree, but we just didn’t know what we were doing. It was a good experience and real rock n’ roll in that sense.

Given the current collaborative atmosphere with White Fence, maybe a White Fence/Fresh & Onlys supergroup?

I would love to do that man. I’m sure Tim would be down with that, but he’s really busy. Everyone is all over the place now who is involved with them.

Any other underexposed Bay Area bands that you want give a shout out to?

Actually I really like the band I’m recording right now, the Cool Ghouls. They have good songs, they’re young, and they know how to play. Not a fan of their band name though. Big fan of Rachel Fannan from LA, she used to be up here.

What’s the state of record stores in 2012?

I worked at Amoeba for a while. Shayde still works there. I was in there the other day and they laid off like five people that day I was there, from the time I went in the store to the time I left, and that’s really bleak. And that’s one of the ones remaining, man! I think stores like Aquarius have a better chance. Amoeba is sort of in-between a chain store and a mom and pop store, but I think that is the worst place to be, because they have such a high overhead with all the electricity and all that. Other than the fact that people sell them their records. I think that little tiny little brick and mortars like Aquarius are due to be where it’s at. I don’t think people would have said that 10 years ago, it would have been 'Chains are where it’s at,' but God willing we will have a record store in every town. I just went to San Rafael with my girlfriend to go to a birthing class, she’s pregnant, and I went walking around and found a record store. God willing there will be a record store in every town. Other than that I don’t really know what to say.

Magic Trick’s Ruler of the Night is out now from Hardly Art.

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