Songwriter trades NYC for Catskills
Cohen brings her first headlining tour to Rail
Photo by Josh Goleman
January 9, 2020
Three days after Hannah Cohen graduated high school, she moved from the west coast to the east. What brought Cohen to New York City was modeling.
Now a respected singer-songwriter, Cohen doesn’t like to say too much about the modeling.
“When I hear the phrase ‘model-turned-musician,’ I just cringe,” she said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “People ask me how modeling shaped me as a person. My answer is that it didn’t shape me as a person.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about it,” Cohen said. “I feel like some people who hear you were a model have trouble taking you seriously as a musician.”
What modeling did was bring Cohen into a circle of encouraging New York City musicians.
Cohen will perform at the Brass Rail on January 18.
Moving to New York at the age of 17 is a gutsy thing to do. Cohen likens it to being tossed into a whirlwind.
“You just cope and you deal,” she said. “It’s not really about adjusting. That sounds too sedate. It’s more about throwing yourself in there and swimming.”
She is grateful for the experience, but she said she won’t let her future child do the same thing.
“Now I’m like, ‘If I had a child, there’s no (expletive) way I would deliver her into the hands of that city,’” she said.
In New York City, Cohen traded one cutthroat career for another. What eased the transition was a musical support system.
“I had friends encouraging me,” she said. “I had a community at my fingertips.”
Surrounded by consummate musicianship and unstinting artistic sustenance, Cohen started teaching herself guitar and dabbling in songwriting. Her debut album, Child Bride, was released in 2012. Her third album, Welcome Home, was released in April 2019.
Asked about her expectations for her music career, Cohen said she still hasn’t figured that out yet.
“’Making it’ means different things to different people,” she said. “There’s no right or wrong way. Everybody sets their own parameters. Makes of it what they will.”
“I think I am kind of winging it,” Cohen said. “I just want to make music. And if I am so lucky to be able to tour, that’s cool. The music industry is in such a bizarre place right now. I don’t have high hopes because I don’t have high hopes for the music industry. I love to write and sing and perform. If I can keep doing that and afford to record, then that’s all I need.”
Cohen said she has gained a lot of confidence since 2012.
“I enjoy performing live a lot more than I did,” she said. “But there still is something about the recording process that is so much safer. I kind of find myself wanting to be home instead of road dogging it.”
Touring means “you are always on the edge of being super ‘hangry’ or tired and burnt out,” Cohen said.
“If you are touring for three to five weeks and doing that routine every day, it sort of shaves some life out of you,” she said laughing.
On the other hand, there’s that gratifying point in the tour when the band becomes “a well-oiled machine.”
“You just kind of get into a cool routine,” she said. “It turns into that game Tetris. The gear all suddenly packs very nicely and neatly into the back of the minivan. The band is playing really great together and it all starts to feel effortless.”
First tme as a headliner
This tour marks a milestone in Cohen’s career. It’s the first time she has gone out as the headliner. Up to now, she always felt like she was borrowing other performers’ fans.
“They have really nice fans,” she said. “The people who come to their shows have been very welcoming. I am about to embark on my first headlining tour and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
It’ll turn out fine, probably.
And when it is all over, Cohen will return not to New York City, but to the Catskill Mountains.
Cohen lives outside of Woodstock, N.Y., with her partner in music and life, Sam Owens (who performs as Sam Evian).
“We’ve got a studio here,” she said. “And Sam has a lot of bands come up and stay with us and he produces them. I like to cook and host.”
Cohen said she had to get out of New York City to realize that she’s a country mouse at heart.
“I lived in the city for almost 15 years,” she said. “And, in a way, it was really formative for me. But at the root of it, I am not a city girl. I am a nature-based girl.
“It’s gone from one extreme to the next,” Cohen said. “Millions of neighbors and people living on top of each other to zero neighbors and living in the middle of the woods.”
Cohen has embraced the term “country bumpkin,” both as a lifestyle and as a way of describing herself.
“We really love it up here,” she said. “We never want to leave. It’s a nice place to land after touring. It’s so quiet and the pace of things is so different.
“I think moving from the city has definitely slowed me down and made me appreciate the things that really matter to me,” Cohen said, “which is friends and my health and my family.”