Sam Cohen to perform at Mass MoCA

Singer-songwriter shrugs off traditional labels to his music, cites eclectic influences

NORTH ADAMS — Singer-songwriter Sam Cohen recalled growing up in the '90s in Texas "listening to Nirvana, Guns N' Roses, all the basic people on the radio."

But, he said, when he got his first guitar at age 12, his interests expanded and some of the great guitarists of rock and roll's past began to appeal to him.

"I used to go to Blockbuster [video stores] and rent the Woodstock movie, and those concert documentary shows of Jimi Hendrix," he said. "Hendrix and Led Zeppelin were the first artists that really spoke to me."

Cohen and his band will perform at Mass MoCA on Saturday, Feb. 25. Although he has never performed there, Cohen said he has visited the museum several time.

"It's pretty impressive," he said. "I've been there a few times. I'm looking forward to playing there."

Cohen's music has been described, variously as "indie folk," "alternative rock" and "psychedelic." They are all labels he resists.

"Growing up in Texas, I was exposed to the blues, of course," he said. "And I listen to some jazz and folk. I think I have an eclectic group of influences. I'm just someone who enjoys music, regardless of what kind it is."

Cohen founded the pop/rock band Apollo Sunshine in the early 2000s. In 2009, with the dissolution of Apollo Sunshine, Cohen formed the Yellowbirds, which was essentially a solo project, although he used other musicians on various tracks.

In 2014, Cohen released "Cool It," his first "official" solo project under his own name. On "Cool It," Cohen composed the music, played all the instruments on most tracks and produced the record.

Cohen has also worked as a studio musician for a host of artists, including Norah Jones, Shakira, Kevin Morby, Pavo Pavo and the Bandana Splits.

The challenges of recording with a band and recording alone have different aspects, he said.

"I think I [record solo] when I have a specific aesthetic in my head that has to be done a certain way," he said. "When I have a melody or an arrangement in mind, and it's got to be exactly how I hear it.

"On the other hand, I've done a ton of albums now, and I don't feel as precious about the process as I used to," he continued. "And I've learned to listen to other performers' advice. I think doing solo records has helped me grow as a songwriter and a bandleader. I value other people's input more. Plus," he said laughing. "I can get it done a lot faster with other people helping out."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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