About Gabriella CohenArtist Enquiry
Talking about Gabriella Cohen requires a new adjective: when she tells you about a guitar tone she likes, an organ sound she’s looking for, or the opening bars of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Found a Reason’, she might tell you these things sound ‘pink’. She’s not describing a synesthetic or aesthetic connection with the colour — instead, it’s an adjective she’s coined, all her own. Luckily, after a spin through Cohen’s debut album Full Closure and No Details, we’ll all know what ‘pink’ sounds like: it sounds like this. It sounds like heartbreak and reckless abandon, like quiet reflection and raucous teamwork.
Cohen’s first solo full-length is the product of ten days and two microphones. Co-produced alongside close friend, bandmate, and engineer Kate ‘Babyshakes’ Dillon, the record is the result of what Cohen describes as the “ceremony” of reflecting on a relationship. The album’s raw, personal side could be traced back to its place of birth at Dillon’s parents’ place in the country, or to the Brisbane streets the songs were composed in. The songs are soaked in the kind of aching nostalgia that is tinged with equal measures of sadness and triumph. On “I Don’t Feel So Alive”, Cohen warns: “This could be the last time we get together”, and on one hand it’s melancholy, but it’s in the spirit of endings that are also beginnings. After finishing the record, Cohen and Dillon hit the road down Australia’s East Coast, from Brisbane to Melbourne, a truck full of instruments and gear following in their wake.
There are two sides to Cohen’s coin though — for every moment of raw, cutting emotion, there’s one of otherworldly ethereality. It’s what makes the record feel timeless, which doesn’t mean old-fashioned — it means that the vocoder on “Feelin’ Fine” and the fuzzy, frenzied drums of “Alien Anthem” don’t feel at odds with the dreamy, ambling melodies and old-school ethos at the heart of Cohen’s songwriting.
Full Closure is a definitional labour of love: when Cohen talks about her collaborators she sounds like she’s talking about her family — her bass player and backing singers, ring-ins that recorded after Cohen and Dillon finished up in the country, are “dear friends”; and Dillon is her “sister”. The songs were written on Cohen’s grandpa’s nylon string guitar, and “Piano Song” was recorded on Dillon’s parents’ old, out-of-tune upright, the same piano she learned on as a child.
Although the songs were recorded initially by two people, a sense of shared experience and en-masse emotion is at the forefront of Full Closure. Known to turn up to live shows with a choir in tow, Cohen talks about her desire to use music to reach a “heightened state of feeling”, one that it seems can only be achieved through the true sharing of emotions. The album’s title is a mirror held up to both the relationship it details, and to the songs themselves: they feel confessional while remaining opaque, full of story-telling but never detail-heavy. Instead, the song exist in a kind of vacuum, personal to every listener, like a dream that’s hard to recall after waking.
Cohen and Dillon recall their ten days recording the album with a kind of laissez-faire that seemingly belies the intensity that the endeavour required. They mention lengthy discussions about themes and structure, then add “we were like, crying as we said all this.” Dillon recalls the characters, complete with physical descriptions and complex backstories, that Cohen would ascribe her as she recorded backing vocals: “You’re French! You’re a French Wench in the war!’ While these characters helped Cohen to shape Dillon’s singing to match her vision, Cohen remained herself — “I wasn’t a character. I was just me.”