This week we’re pleased to present our first guest, Ben Cohen, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and student at Yale University. We stumbled upon Ben’s music, through Couch, a band we previously interviewed. Couch had featured some of Ben’s guitar work so we decided to check him out. What we found was his jazz-infused debut EP, Self-Conscious, showcasing himself as a romantic through deep lyrics, clean guitar, killer vocal harmonies, and a range of emotions. His knowledge of music theory intertwines with his major musical influences(found below) to create a diverse EP that brings pop, jazz, and rock together. The EP accurately presents the wave of emotions Ben felt through his romantic endeavors. We wanted to get to know Ben a little better and see what experiences Ben will bring to us next. Here’s what we found out:
First off, tell me about yourself … Where are you from? What do you like to do other than music?
I grew up in West Roxbury and Needham, Massachusetts, both outside of Boston. I’m a big Boston sports fan, especially of the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox, so I follow them a lot. I’m a huge baseball history nerd and memorabilia collector. I’m also a nerd in general, a big reader. I love to read plays and poetry.
How did you get started in the music industry? How was your journey to where you are today?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was nine, and I’ve been writing songs for almost as long. My parents always played tons of classic rock when I was growing up, so I would learn all of those guitar solos, join rock bands over the summer, etc. I also got really into jazz when I was young—the style of play and the complex harmony is fascinating to me, I’m a huge music theory junkie—and I’ve been playing in big bands and combos for years, gigging in the Boston area. Recently, I’ve been focusing more on cultivating my own style as a songwriter as well as an arranger of pop covers. I released an EP last year and am hoping to release more in the coming year.
Did you have other career paths, or passions that maybe clashed with music?
Totally. I love studying and discussing philosophy and literature. I get really into all of my classes at college, and a lot of them are very reading and writing-heavy. I’m not sure how far I want to pursue these interests, but I really hope that they influence my career path. It has been hard splitting myself between music and these other interests because I feel like I’m not always committing 100% of myself to either.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a musician for you?
Sharing the love of music, really in any capacity, feels so beautiful to me. Whether I’m playing some originals at a small show for my friends, jamming with people on a song we both love, or even just showing a friend new music during a car ride. That shared love is so powerful. Music only works as a community venture, a partnership. It’s meant to be celebrated.
Who or what are your biggest musical influences?
Ooh, that’s a tough one because when I think about how I relate to music, I have several categories, like “jazz,” songwriting,” “random stuff I just love to listen to.” For jazz playing, guitarists like Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and Julian Lage are so inspiring. They all absolutely shred. I’ve learned so much from transcribing them. For songwriting, I think that my knowledge of 60s and 70s pop really shapes my melodies. I’m a melody person. I have trouble writing lyrics because I always write melodies first and then have to go back and fashion lyrics that fit within the melody. I think that all of those catchy classic pop tunes have given me an ear for that. Recently, people like Madison Cunningham have inspired me as a guitarist and songwriter. She’s a killer finger-picker and writes complicated lyrics, and I need to work on both of those. She’s just incredible, all around.
Who would be your dream to collaborate with?
There are so many awesome young pop/rock artists out there now, I feel like it would be really cool to join this new wave of artists, groups like Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy.
As an artist, what are some of your major goals in the next five years?
I’m working on performing more in the New Haven area, and I’m planning on reaching out to more venues when I’m back in Boston. This year, I’m hoping to work with more of my friends who are also artists—I accompany a lot of them and gig with them, too. But also to focus on my own music, to assemble a band. I’m excited to have some drums behind me. To turn up a bit. To buy a strat or a tele, or something. Long-term, I’d love to record more and to learn more about the mixing process. I expect to keep music as one of the core things I do, and I’d love some more clarity over these next few years as to how I’m going to do that. We’ll see!
What can the DropSpot readers expect from you in the near future? Do you have any new music or live shows coming soon?
I’ve been writing new stuff this semester, and I’m playing a few gigs in New Haven over the next two semesters. Hopefully I’ll put some new covers out on my music Instagram (@bencohen.music), and I’ve got some music video ideas bouncing around. I’m excited for these next few months.
Anything you’d like your listeners to look out for when listening to your music?
I try to inject humor into my songs, both lyrically and musically. I find that playing and writing music that is fun makes it a joy to share. I hope others feel the same way listening!