Gabriella Cohen and music as a prism into her state of mind

Gabriella Cohen and music as a prism into her state of mind

Gabriella Cohen has a career aspiration, and it’s not what you might assume for the Brisbane-via-Melbourne singer/songwriter. After honing her songwriting and performing craft for another five years, Cohen thinks she’d like to retire to the forest and compose orchestral soundtracks. “I want to live in a forest and compose music for film,” Cohen says.

“In five years after all the touring’s done, I’ll live through the recordings and play three times a year with a symphony orchestra. Really big, but very rare. Ideally I’d just get approached and write the soundtrack. I’m really into orchestral at the moment.”

Composing orchestral soundtracks in a forest seems a long way from Cohen’s current status as titular leader of her own band. Cohen started playing music at the age of seven, tinkering around on her father’s equipment and taking a stab at replicating the soul music in her parents’ music collection. At the age of 15 Cohen took up guitar; the opportunity to get on stage to perform was a good enough surrogate for the teenager’s aspiration to join the dramatic arts. “I really wanted to be an actress,” Cohen says. “I think being on stage was a way I could act, or have that sense.”

Within a few years, Cohen was fronting The Furrs, a blues rock inspired band she formed in Brisbane. When Cohen decided to move to Melbourne, The Furrs disbanded, leaving Cohen to start her own band in her adopted city. “Starting a band under my own name just happened naturally, just like you’d change jobs,” she says.

Cohen agrees that a singer/songwriter’s music can be viewed as a prism into the songwriter’s state of mind and life more broadly. “Everything I write happens to be personal, but it just happens to be under my own name,” Cohen says. “I think people can relate to that. I think that if Bob Dylan is writing a song about his personal life, everyone would want to be in on that.” But while writing a song is personal, Cohen tries not to labour the process. “I guess I don’t really analyse it that much because it comes straight from the heart to the head to the hand to the pen,” she says.

The creative process is all about finding the right creative space. Cohen’s place, finds her alone in her room, with just a guitar, a microphone and some recording equipment. “I write pretty organically – I don’t put boxes or time frames on what I do,” Cohen says. “I write when I write. And I’d like to keep it that way. If I’m somewhere else and a melody comes into my head, I’ll take it home and record it when I get a chance.” The move from Brisbane to Melbourne was geographically and culturally important; artistically, leaving old friends and immersing in a new community doesn’t appear to have been that significant. “I don’t really rely on friends for inspiration. [Songwriting] always comes from within. I think wherever I am, as long as I have a beautiful space I can write,” Cohen says.

Cohen’s first album under her own name came with Full Closure, No Details, released earlier this year. The album was recorded over a 12-day period at Cohen’s friend and band mate Kate ‘Babyshakes’ Dillon’s parents’ house. With its rich, atmospheric sound, Full Closure, No Details conveys a wider sonic experience than Cohen’s live sound. “I’d like to be able to recreate the exact [live] sound but I think that takes time and a head full of gear, and I don’t really have that yet,” Cohen says.

The album title itself is intriguing, suggesting the completion of a personal journey sans the blow-by-blow narration typically of the social media age. But Cohen says the title has only really made sense with distance. “I didn’t really think too much about it,” she says. “I was just sitting there trying to think of a semi-decent album title. But I think with all the songs, the meanings of the names, everything makes sense with distance. Now the album makes sense to me.”

Courtesy of Remote Control’s involvement in the Beggar’s group of independent record labels, Full Closure, No Details will soon be released on vinyl in the United States on the Captured Tracks label. Cohen’s first sojourn overseas – as either a tourist or performer – will follow later this year, with shows scheduled in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.

Before her departure for the US, Cohen will perform a string of shows in Australia. But before then Cohen will continue to immerse herself in the orchestral genre with which she’s currently fascinated. “My parents listen to a lot of classical music, among a lot of other genres. I just love it – what you can’t say, strings can say,” Cohen says. “I’m obsessed with strings and I’m obsessed with opera,” Cohen laughs.

Written by Patrick Emery
Photo by Daniel Ogilvie

When & Where: Paradise Music Festival, Lake Mountain Alpine Resort – November 25, 26 & 27 and Queenscliff Music Festival, Queenscliff – November 25, 26 & 27.