Photo by Anise Lew
For Jackie Cohen, performing is something that is second nature. The LA native has toured as a backup singer with indie rock band Foxygen since college, and has been involved in theatre productions since her earliest years. She recently finished a European tour with Mac Demarco and is preparing to head out with the Lemon Twigs in January. Cohen has also taken a big step in making a name for herself as a singer-songwriter this year. Despite setbacks caused by serious mental health problems and feelings of self-doubt, she has bounced back and produced an emotionally intricate debut record, Tacoma Night Terror. This two-part EP marks her plunge into making music on her own, and is perfect for those wandering souls who feel lost within the world. With her nostalgia infused songs and heartachingly honest lyrics, Jackie Cohen is a rising star to keep an eye on. I was lucky enough to have the chance to catch up with her this past week to discuss her music, well being, and hopes for the future.
Could you start by introducing yourself and where you’re from?
My name is Jackie Cohen, and I’m from Agoura Hills, California, which is a suburb of Ventura County.
Awesome. So, let’s start at the beginning. I know that you’ve been a performer for a while, in high school and with other bands. What has your journey been like?
I did a lot of theatre and musicals in high school. That’s how I made friends with Sam and Rado of Foxygen - through the theatre program. Then I started doing shows with them around the time I was in college. We did a couple tours on the West Coast, and then I played CMJ with them in New York. After I graduated, I started touring with them pretty much full time.
One of the things that drew me into you as a musician was the fact that you didn’t start making music as early as some people. You started when you were in college. What was it like to begin writing when you were older? Would you say that starting later was more beneficial to you?
I think that it gives me a unique sound and perspective because I’m not trained. I never took any lessons or instruments or anything like that. It really started as something that I would do alone, killing time between writing papers. I really regret not taking piano lessons when I was a kid, though. I would have loved to have done that.
Was making music something that was kind of unexpected then?
Yeah. All through school, I had intended to be a professor. I wanted to be a poet and an English professor. Through college, it was sort of this split life. I’d be in school, and then I’d take off for a little while and play Coachella or something, and then fly back. It was this really weird time in my life where I couldn’t tell whether I was doing one thing, and then messing it up by doing something else, or if I was transitioning into a new thing.
Luckily, it sounds like you have a better idea now. Congratulations on the release of your EP, Tacoma Night Terror! It’s been on repeat since it came out. What was it like writing and recording that?
I wrote a lot of those songs really quickly and all at once when I moved back to the Valley after college. I wrote “Bold” my junior year, and the rest of the EP was written the summer after I graduated. We had just come off of a tour and it was going to be a couple of months until the next one. I couldn’t really get a job because I couldn’t commit to anything past a couple of months. My resume has always been a complete nightmare, because I’ve got an English degree and, like, no retail experience - nothing that lends itself to temporary jobs. I was just kind of cooped up in the house a lot. My husband Jonathan Rado was keeping pretty busy. He was recording the Lemon Twigs and working with other bands and working out of our garage, so a lot of my day was spent hanging out by myself and teaching myself piano, just for something to do.
I got a lot of different vibes when listening. Songs like “Maddy” sounded like Fleetwood Mac, and “It’s Rainin’ Again” reminded me of “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. I’m really curious as to who influenced you on this particular record.
At the time we were making the record, we were listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac. All my friends has just rediscovered Tusk, and so it was the summer of Tusk! Everyone was freaking out. We were all listening to Fleetwood Mac all day every day. I really love Neil Young, and I love Adam Green. He’s the gold standard of songwriting for me. I was also going through a really big Dolly Parton phase, so those are probably the big ones.
A lot of the songs on the record are extremely personal to you as well. You’ve talked openly about your struggles with depression and anxiety, and how it played into your music. Is it challenging sharing those parts of yourself so openly?
From the beginning, I was self-conscious about it because I didn’t want my parents to hear anything. I was having a really difficult time in school. I had a really extreme stress and anxiety disorder, and really bad untreated depression. When I was in school, I didn’t want any of my professors to know about anything that was going on, and when I got home, I didn’t want my parents to know. I wrote all those songs, and it was sort of embarrassing. I remember I played a show really early on, and my parents came. I played that song “I Hate My Body”, and afterwards, my dad just says, “I don’t know about that.” My parents are very supportive of my mental illness issues now, but it was sort of a rough adjustment. It was really important for me to talk about certain things like that because I was feeling like I was unable to communicate what was going on. I feel like at the time, part of me was writing those songs hoping that my professors would hear them and understand why I was freaking out in college. It’s become very important to me to be open and transparent about those things. It’s also been really eye opening, because a lot of people have approached me about their problems. It’s difficult because when you have problems like that, it makes you want to hide them away, which makes it worse because you don’t get the help you need. You also feel like the only person in the entire world who feels the way you do.
That was another thing that I loved about this album. I just finished my first semester at college as a writing student, and have felt so many of the same things. Hearing somebody put those feelings into words - like the difficulty of putting yourself into your art and being so vulnerable - was really comforting.
I’m really glad to hear that. English and literature programs - I feel like they’re the most isolating. So much of your time is spent internal and alone, you know?
Especially as a writer - everything you do is so solitary. I’m really introverted, so that’s been a good thing about it, but it’s also very isolating.
Right? And then take a bunch of introverted, depressed kids in their early twenties, and they’re like, “Hey, do you wanna read Nausea?” It’s awful.
It’s definitely not the best environment to be in sometimes.
Yeah. I’m really glad that I went to school and that I studied what I wanted to study, and for sticking it out in the Comm. Arts department, which is what I went into my freshman year. I’m really grateful for that time. It formed me as a person, but it was also a really dangerous situation for me. I was so isolated and deeply immersed in something that was so internally and emotionally frustrating. I think it’s good that people are becoming more accepting. I’ve been told to get evaluated a bunch of times for mental health, and I really didn't want to do it because it was so stigmatized. I didn’t want to be medicated, because, to me, that was like, “Game over. I failed.” And that’s just so not true.
I understand that completely. It’s like this stigma, almost, of admitting that something’s wrong with you. How did you push yourself to create art in such a dark period in your life? How did you push yourself to keep doing something?
I don’t know. I got out of school, and that was a really big blow to my identity. I remember being on the subway with my backpack after my last class of college, and just sitting there, looking around at people, and feeling like, “I look like a student to these people...but I’m not.” Like I had just become this other person somehow, and I was no longer myself. When I got back to the Valley, I had to pick something to get obsessed with. I had spent so many years working on projects, so it was sort of natural that I throw myself into another project, even if I had never worked in that medium before. It was a necessity for sure.
Do you have any advice for somebody who might be going through similar feelings of doubt or lack of creativity?
I can only speak from my own experiences, obviously. I don’t think I have come to understand any grand truths about surviving college, because I was stumbling the entire way. I wish I would have been more honest with the people who wanted to help. I think that if you’re in a creative community that it’s important not to try to trick anyone into thinking that everything’s going well. You’re not impressing anybody by getting through with ease, and you’re also really hurting yourself. Creativity is difficult.
Definitely. So, moving off of the darker questions. Do you have a particular place that you like to write or that inspires you?
I’ve always been a homebody. When I’m working on something that I’ve already started, I’m working on it at home. I’ve never really experimented with collaborating or writing in a studio or anything like that. I know some people are good at that, but I like working alone at home. A lot of my ideas for things I get when I’m driving with the radio off, or if I’m out walking somewhere. My voice notes on my phone are filled with the most insane stuff and weird, non-songs with cars in the background. It’s insane.
You also have a few very interesting music videos out for the songs you’ve released. Is there a particular one that was a favorite to film?
I like them all differently. The first one, “Darlin’”, I did with my friends Anise and Danny. They’re both incredible artists, so it was fun throwing myself into their hands and enjoying the fruits of their labor. The second one, for “Maddy”, I told the label, ‘I’m going to do it myself for zero dollars.” I love that one because it took forever. I was filming myself dancing in the backyard, but I have low fences, so I had to time it so none of my neighbors would see me. Also, behind my house, they demolished a home, so there were construction workers very high up above the fence all day. I would go out with my camera and someone would go up a ladder and look at me, and I’d run back inside with my tripod and wait for them to go on lunch break. It was also the middle of summer, so I could only get through two takes before I was sweating so badly and have to sit inside. It was a really laborious process, but I love it because I made it. And then the “Make U Sick” video, I did with my friend Sam Nulman, who is an actual music video professional. He rented a studio and had his crew. Every video was so different. I feel like I really got to experience the whole spectrum of video making.
That sounds like quite the experience! Do you have any other musical bucket list items you would like to accomplish?
Man, I don’t know! I feel like just getting my music out to anyone in the first place was kind of the bucket list. It took me a long time to be able to see myself as someone who was working on their own music. I was always in other people’s bands. I never had my own band, and I was always involved in other people’s things. Making that leap in how I saw myself and how I treated my own projects - that was the big thing for me. Everything else is just gravy.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’ve got a tour coming up! I also just finished recording a full length LP, which is going to come out on Spacebomb Records sometime late spring, early summer.
Lastly, Is there anything else you would like us to know?
That’s a tough question. I never really know what to say when people ask, “Do you have any last words?” I just hope people hear the record. I hope it gets to people, and I hope people like it.
Be sure to check out Jackie’s music here, and catch her on tour this winter!
1/12/19 - Theatre Corona - Montreal, QC*
1/14/19 - Paradise Rock Club - Boston, MA*
1/15/19 - Union Transfer - Philadelphia, PA*
1/17/19 - Gallery 5 - Richmond, VA
1/18/19 - Music Hall of Williamsburg - Brooklyn, NY*
1/19/19 - Music Hall of Williamsburg - Brooklyn, NY*
1/20/19 - Songbyrd Vinyl Cafe - Washington, D.C.
1/22/19 - Phoenix Concert Theatre - Toronto, ON*
1/23/19 - El Club - Detroit, MI*
1/24/19 - The Bishop - Bloomington, IN
1/25/19 - Metro - Chicago, IL*
1/26/19 - First Ave - Minneapolis, MN*
1/29/19 - Neptune Theatre - Seattle, WA*
1/30/19 - Venue - Vancouver, BC*
1/31/19 - Wonder Ballroom - Portland, OR*
2/02/19 - Slim's - San Francisco, CA*
2/05/19 - El Rey Theatre - Los Angeles, CA*
2/06/19 - El Rey Theatre - Los Angeles, CA*
* with the Lemon Twigs