Marc Cohn: "I've Had a Very Specific and Odd Path"
It must have been really rewarding to do those demos for your songwriting heroes. What kind of impact did that have on your songwriting trajectory?
Listen, Jimmy Webb and Leiber and Stoller were in my pantheon of all-time great songwriters anyway, so I had studied their music and their lyrics a long, long time at that point. To be able to work with them and watch how they operated in the studio -- they're all amazing musicians and producers too -- just deepened my appreciation and expanded my knowledge of what it takes to turn a song into a record. I'd already studied the songwriting, so this was the beginning of learning what it took to make a record. They happen to be among the few out there that write great songs and make great records. Sometimes it's hard to get both, but that's what I learned from them.
What made you want to pursue music and make it a career?
I didn't have any other choice. I just didn't have a choice. This is was what connected with me from the time I was 7 or 8 years old, when I first heard the Beatles and the Stones, and Van Morrison and the Band... It wasn't just that I liked it. I was obsessed with it. And I had an older brother who played piano and had a band that practiced in our basement, so I got to hear what Motown sounded like and what Burt Bacharach sounded like three feet away. My brother had a great ear, and he got most of the chords right, and it was just an obsession from the very beginning. And it was also an escape. And I had some ability. I could always sing, and I found I could write some words too. It was just to be, I guess. I wouldn't know what the hell else I'd do.
Well, it was clearly enough to get you where you are today.
I've had a very specific and odd path. When "Walking in Memphis" first came out, there were some reviewers who called me the new piano man. I shuddered because I don't consider myself a piano man like Elton John or Billy Joel. I consider myself more like Jackson Browne, who's a fantastic musician, but he's not a piano man either. He can write on piano or guitar. That's how I see myself too.