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The Digital Den

When work is play and play is work The Digital Den

An Interview with Tanlines percussionist Jesse Cohen

Photo credit: Shawn Brackbill

Earlier this year at Mess With Texas during SXSW, SeagateCreative had the pleasure of meeting Brooklyn’s electro pop duo, Tanlines.

The group formed in 2008 by percussionist Jesse Cohen and guitarist and vocalist Eric Emm and earlier this year, released their new album Mixed Emotions on label, True Panther Sounds. In fact, SeagateCreative partner, photographer Shawn Brackbill shot the band’s portraits for the album release.

Tanlines draw their inspiration from various music genres including indie, dance and pop, which can be heard on the single “All of Me”. The band is now set to play Seagate sponsored FYF Festival in Los Angeles this Labor Day weekend and we caught up with Jesse Cohen to talk about music, inspiration and what drives them creatively.

SeagateCreative: What’s the most interesting idea you recently had? (While writing a song, finding or recording a new sound, arrangements, etc.) What inspired the idea?

Jesse Cohen: At the risk of sounding cheesy, when it comes to ideas, creativity, and writing music, I think the best things generally come from a really mysterious place and are inspired by the moment. The best thing I can compare it to is a dream, which is another creative product of the mind. If you sat down and tried to make up a dream, it would never compare to the real thing. With music, all you can do is create a creative environment where you feel really free to see where things take you and keep coming back to it until you’ve generated a lot of spontaneous good ideas. Obviously, you need to capture those ideas, which is where you guys come in, right?

SeagateCreative: How did you decide if the idea is worth pursuing? What was your process for taking it to a finished form?

Jesse Cohen: Good question. I think we just trust our tastes and instincts and the good ideas are the ones that we keep going back to.  We wrote about 50 pieces of music for our last album, most of which we never finished. Sometimes we wrote them and threw them away immediately. Sometimes we went back to them a bunch of times and decided they weren’t going anywhere. Other times, we totally rearranged them or broke them down to just an acoustic guitar and vocal, before deciding they weren’t going anywhere. The things that we kept going back to and kept believing in where the ones that we finished and put on the album.

SeagateCreative: What specific technique, muse or ritual do you use to inspire you?

Jesse Cohen: Repetition is really important I think, for the reasons I mentioned already. Also, when it’s time to take a break, we usually eat some pretzels.

SeagateCreative: Name a piece of gear or equipment that helped inspire a breakthrough in your art — describe what happened. How did the gear affect your process?

Jesse Cohen: Lets see. A friend gave me the e-mu Orbit “Dance Planet” rack synth. It’s a pretty cheap synth from the 90s. We used it on the song Brothers.  Sometimes it’s really good to work with a piece of gear that has limitations. It’s in those limitations that you can sometimes find a source of creativity.

SeagateCreative: Describe the last time you struggled to overcome a block to your creative process?  What did you do to overcome it?

Jesse Cohen: One thing that we do when we have been working on a song for a while that we like but are a bit stuck is to strip it down to it bare essentials – just a vocal and a piano or acoustic guitar. It’s good to hear something in its raw state to hear what works or what doesn’t work.

SeagateCreative: What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring artist to help them be creative, find ideas, or develop their ideas into art?

Jesse Cohen: I would say, broadly, that fear is the enemy of creativity. For at least the initial burst of creativity, you have to push out whatever part of your mind doubts yourself or raises questions about your worth. If you can’t do that, at least fake it. Also, have a few people who you trust to play things to. It is an amazing and strange thing, but music sounds different depending on who you are listening to it with. I really believe that you can hear music through other people’s ears. Play what you are working on for other people, and you will hear new things. It can be really amazing and helpful and occasionally confusing and discouraging, but definitely worth it.

SeagateCreative: What can we look forward to next from you?

Jesse Cohen: We are doing a lot of traveling and playing out for the next month or two, and then we’ll probably start focusing on writing new music.

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