A testament to the healing power of art, and friendships
“I think I was just a little surprised. I was a legitimate step one, phase one beginner,” Jackie Cohen tells me when I ask her how she knew the songs she was writing for her first EP were any good. She’s sipping on an iced coffee, cross-legged on the floor of a rental apartment in Virginia. It’s early morning and Cohen is fighting off the last vestiges of a flu that won’t quite shift. Later, she’ll head to Montrose Studios, where she’s working with Spacebomb Records on her new material. This iteration of her life – a musician touring the country, recording tracks she has written herself – is something of an unexpected turn. She only began working on her own music as an experiment, seized by the need to make something in the midst of a creative and emotional lull after leaving college, where she minored in creative writing. Her college experience, she says, was “taxing”, and feeling reluctant to return to her job as a marketing consultant she decided to teach herself piano using laminated chord sheets, just to see if she could discover a new way to express herself.
“And so when I started writing songs and I was, like, plucking away and coming up with a way to be creative again, it felt really good. I was definitely self-conscious about it. I still don’t think of myself that way – I’m not a musician because I can’t really play anything very well. I was surprised that I was writing songs at all. I didn’t know I could do that. It wasn’t like I wrote my first song and was like, ‘Wow! This is brilliant! I’m a genius!’ It was more, like, ‘I can do this. And I like it.’”
Perhaps, though, this transformation into singer-songwriter isn’t quite as surprising as it seems. Cohen’s husband is Jonathan Rado, producer and one half of indie-rock duo Foxygen, and she has spent time touring with them, during and after college, working as a backing singer. In fact, she’s been singing with Rado since ninth grade, when he and Sam France, the other half of Foxygen, asked Cohen and her sister to join them at a set at Whisky a Go Go in their home city of LA. “We said yes, and at the last minute my sister bailed out, but I was like, ‘I wanna go!’ I was already a big fan of their music. They circulated CDs at school, just like burn CDs, and my sister and her boyfriend had them and I was already listening to them and I just thought they were the coolest thing ever. And so I went. I didn’t really know them that well, so I showed up for our five-minute rehearsal right before the show, and I’ve kind of been in the band since then.”
Since she started making her own music, being Rado’s partner has become more difficult. Not only because of the obvious pressure of writing your first ever songs with one half of Foxygen in the other room, but because of other people’s assumptions. “A lot of people ask me when they hear I’m making music, ‘do you write your songs or does Rado write them?’ And I’m like, ‘No. I write my songs.’” Although, of course, it helps when your husband is making an album with The Lemon Twigs (2016’s ‘Do Hollywood’) and he can invite them over to the house to record the instrumentals for your EP.