Lindsey Cohen – Saving Grace
by Ally Abramson
Lindsey Cohen is a seventeen year old high school senior with a big voice and a great attitude. Her debut EP Grace Under Pressure was released a few months ago, and already people are taking notice. Cohen is a triple threat – singer, songwriter, and she has brains. Cohen’s voice is deep and velvety, showing strength but also vulnerability in her songs like the current single “Daisies,” the upbeat title track and the adventurous cover of Black Keys’ “Little Black Submarines.” Grace Under Pressure is a strong first impression and reflects great things to come from Lindsey as she gets older.
Soon after Cohen’s debut show at Philly’s World Café Live and as the EP starts to spread, we sat down to chat with her about her music.
Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you get into the music business?
My dad plays the guitar. He loves music, so I grew up listening to a lot of the music that he played and listened to – bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, and Sheryl Crow. I started singing to accompany him while he played the guitar. It all stuck for me. I started taking voice lessons when I was eleven, and writing songs when I was fourteen. It really kept progressing from there. Last year I recorded an EP. It all started because music is something I’ve always been around.
What are you doing when you aren’t playing music?
I’m in school. I’m a senior in high school this year, which has been really fun. A lot of studying, hanging out with my friends, and I do school clubs and things like that.
Are you thinking about college at all?
Yeah, I’m going to college next year. I’m going to Columbia.
Oh cool, I visited there, it’s beautiful.
Yeah I’m really excited.
What’s one word you would use to describe your music?
I guess personal. That would be a good word because pretty much all of my songs are about personal experiences that I’ve had. I write about things that happen to me or feelings I’ve had, but things that I feel other people could relate to. I really like music as a form of expressing, especially because I’m a pretty shy person. I sometimes feel that I can say things in a song about things that happen or how I’m feeling that I couldn’t really say to a person’s face. At the same time, these are feelings that I think a lot of people also have.
I know on your website it says you wrote “Grace Under Pressure” about the stress of junior year, so has it gotten easier to balance everything?
Yeah, I did. I mean, I always have to really try to plan my time and be really efficient. I’m pretty much done with high school now so it’s kind of calmed down a bit and I can really focus on music which has just been really awesome but during the school year it’s a lot of balancing. I keep a planner and I like crossing things off it and really having to manage my time. I’ve gotten more used to balancing it.
What is some advice that you found was helpful that you could give to any high school kids, or really anyone trying to break into the music industry?
I would say to work really hard at it and practice a lot. For me it’s constantly writing and constantly practicing. Listening to music and putting a lot of time into, it which would probably be key if I were giving advice to someone.
What’s your favorite part of doing shows and touring?
I really like reaching other people. Something that is really exciting for me about performing is being able to share my music with other people. I like it because for me it’s a great way to communicate and express myself. Everyone is different, but we all have similar experiences and feelings. I really like being able to share my experiences with other people, so that they can relate to them and think about their own experiences. That’s something I always get really excited about when I perform.
If you had to say anything to your fans, what would it be?
They’re really great fans. I love getting great support. It’s been really fun to connect with people and see them at shows.
You’ve been doing a bunch of shows. Where’s the best place you’ve performed so far?
I really liked performing at World Café [in Philadelphia] last night. It was really awesome and a really, really nice venue. All the people that played last night were really awesome, so I had a great time. In New York, I really liked playing at Arlene’s Grocery. I play there a lot and I feel very comfortable there. That’s where I play the most of any venue. The sound guys are really great so I love playing there.
So you know everyone there and how it works?
Yeah, the guy who works at the door and the guy that works the sound. It’s very comfortable to play there.
You write a lot of your own songs. When do you do your best songwriting?
I usually write pretty late at night. Usually when I’m thinking over things that are happening in my day and when the things that are bothering me really start to bother me. I will usually write at least the first draft of songs pretty late and then keep revising them, which might happen at different times, but I really like writing at night.
What’s your favorite part about living in New York?
I love having all these things around to do and places to go. I feel like there’s always something happening in New York; like museums or going to the park and shows at night. When you go down to the lower East Side there are shows going on and people playing all over the place, which is always really exciting for me. I really like the constant rush of New York.
What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen there?
Well I have a couple favorites, but one of the most memorable as a musician was when I was five. My mom took me to my first concert. She took me to see Sheryl Crow at Radio City Music Hall, which I still remember. I stood on top of my chair and sang along the entire time. It was something, just the feeling of being there and seeing [the performance] was something that really inspired me to want to do music and perform. Last year, my dad and I went to see Fiona Apple play at Terminal 5, which was really awesome for me because she’s one of my favorite singers. I love her songs and it was amazing to get to see her play them live and see the emotion of her music. When you see a person live, it’s really awesome.
When you see a person perform live, do you take what you see there and put it into your own shows?
Yeah, a lot of the time I look at how people act on stage, or the way that they have the flow of their shows. You can learn a lot from watching other people play, which is really cool.
You put out your EP a little while ago, what’s your favorite song on it?
That’s a hard question for me, because it changes a lot for me based on my mood. I can’t really say that one is my favorite over another one, probably because they’re all very personal to me. They’re all experiences that I’ve had, so it’s hard for me to pick one song. I usually like “Persistent Boy” because I think it’s a fun song and it’s fun to play. I also like performing “Grace [Under Pressure],” because that’s a song that was really present when I was producing the record. It’s how I still get sometimes when I’m balancing school and all that. It really changes a lot though.
You covered The Black Keys on the EP with “Little Black Submarines.” Why did you choose to put that song on the EP?
My dad was playing it on the guitar one night and it was one of the first times I heard this song and I thought it was really cool. I started looking up the chords and playing it on the piano. When I started listening to the song off the Black Keys album, I really loved it because of how bluesy and raw the emotion was. My producers and I thought that it was something that would be really cool, we could really make it different when we recorded it. I just really love the song. It’s one of those songs where when [you] listen to it, you really wish that you would have written it, because it’s such a great song.
So this was the next best thing, since you couldn’t write it.
Yeah. It was really cool to record, because of all the music and sounds. I learned a lot about how those kinds of sounds work. I got to see the way it was produced, which was really awesome for me.
What type of audience do you feel you cater to as a singer and songwriter?
I guess younger adults or college age, people around my age and a little older. A lot of my friends come to my shows, It’s hard for them to get in because a lot of the venues that I play at are 21 and over. I can go and play there but I could never see a show there. It’s hard for people my age to get in, but maybe people that are around my age or in college or a little bit older would be my audience.
Does it make it more nerve wracking when your friends come to shows?
Yeah a little bit. It’s funny, sometimes it’s easier playing with people you don’t know. At one of my more recent shows, my friends were there and it was really fun because they were there supporting me. They hadn’t really heard the songs before because the EP wasn’t out yet and they hadn’t been able to come to any of my shows before that. It is more nerve wracking, but it’s also really exciting for me when my friends can come.
If you had pick one artist or group that you could perform with, who would it be?
Probably for me, Fiona Apple. I really love her music. I listen to it all the time. I just love how powerful and emotional her songs are. How it comes through in the way she sings on every song. You really feel how she’s feeling. I also love how every time you listen to her music, you notice something new in the words or music or in the production. It’s really exciting to listen to her music. To meet her and get to perform with her would be really awesome.
Well hey, maybe someday, right? So where do you hope to go in your music career in the next few years?
I haven’t really thought about where I want to go. I definitely want to keep reaching people with my music and introducing more people to it. I want to keep writing songs and making EPs and records and hopefully keep up with it.
Who would you say inspires you as an artist to make your music and your sound?
I’ve always been inspired by the things around me. I write about things that happen in daily life that bother me and I feel like other people can relate to. My experiences really inspire me to write or want to sing. All the different music I listen to always inspires me to want to write and perform.
Are there specific bands that you take note of and try to implement things that they do in your performances?
Right now I’m a big fan of the Broken Bells. I saw them in concert a little while ago, which was really cool. They have a cool sound that they put in their music. That’s something that I really want to try doing, using different sounds and putting a little of this and that here and there throughout my music. I’ve been playing around with my keyboard. I’ve always loved the emotion and lyrics of singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Sara Barielles. I always liked the creativeness and the quirkiness of Regina Spektor’s lyrics, which I also think are really beautiful. Whenever I’m writing songs, I like to think about my favorite songs by them.
What’s been the best place you’ve traveled to?
My parents, my sister and I went on this really cool trip a couple of years ago to Peru. We went and visited the Amazon River, which I loved. It was so different from being in New York, what with all the animals and vegetation. Going on hikes and stuff there was amazing, and the nature was so pretty. That’s probably the coolest trip I’ve been on.
I’ve been there, it’s gorgeous. I know you’re involved in a charity, why don’t you tell me what it’s about and how you got involved in it.
It’s called Malaika For Life (http://malaikaforlife.org/). These women in Africa make these beaded bracelets that are like bangles. They come in all different colors. They sell them to raise money for malaria medicine for their communities. What I think is really cool about it is that this gives these women the ability to fight against the disease that is such a big problem in their communities. I’m really interested in it because I am interested in global health, it’s something I really want to study. It really bothers me that people die from preventable and treatable diseases like malaria, so I really love the cause because it gives people access to the materials that can save them from the disease.
If you could choose any word to describe yourself what would it be?
I can’t think of an exact word but I guess I could do a description. I’m a pretty quiet person, but I found out that I actually have a lot to say. It’s like the song “Speechless” on the EP, that kinds of sums up who I am as a person. I can come across as quiet to people who don’t really know me, but I really feel like I have a lot to say. It just takes me a while to get to know somebody before I feel comfortable saying it. That’s one of my favorite things about writing, that I can feel comfortable saying those things. It’s a way for me to reach out and express myself.
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