Tim Cohen: Psych-Pop Prophet
The Fresh & Onlys frontman marks his place in the present on ‘You Are Still Here’
When Madrid, Spain pop label Bobo Integral Records reached out to musician Tim Cohen and asked if he had any new music to release, it had no idea how much of it was already in the can.
Cohen had recorded a record with the newest incarnation of his most well-known project, San Francisco psych-pop band The Fresh & Onlys, well before the pandemic hit. He’d also recorded his first ever solo album in a studio, You Are Still Here, but had no plans to release either after Brooklyn-based Sinderland Records, the label that had released the past few Fresh & Onlys albums along with Tim Cohen solo records, dropped Cohen altogether.
“I sent [Bobo Integral] The Fresh & Onlys record, and as an afterthought I sent them the Tim Cohen record.Then the label got back to me and was like, ‘We really love this Tim Cohen record.’ And they didn’t say anything about The Fresh & Onlys.”
Lucky us. For though the future of The Fresh & Onlys remains uncertain, You Are Still Here arrived on March 26 as a smirkingly cynical, blissed-out pop masterwork that asks big questions about being present amid a time when all notions of personal stability are up in the air.
“I like this record better than The Fresh & Onlys record,” Cohen tells me by phone. “Obviously, it’s just more of a solo endeavor. But the collaboration around that solo endeavor was much more natural, organic, and fruitful than Fresh & Onlys had become in the studio.”
During their last time as a unit, Cohen remembered The Fresh & Onlys being pretty much piecemealed together. “We had guys that were in our fold, but they weren’t the original members,” he said. “And we were kind of doing it because it was a chance to go to Europe and get paid. Those are my brothers and everything, but we went through so many iterations of that band and quitting, and wondering are we done or coming back. To have it turn into what it did, it felt like kind of a joke.”
You Are Still Here’s title comes from the standout track “Homeless” when Cohen sings, “You might be homeless and you might be feared/ But you are beautiful/ Your mind is hopeless and your time is near/ But you are still here.” The title evokes of those old directional location markers on the map at a large mall, placing the reader in the larger context of the space.
VIDEO: Back To The Future mall scene
“It’s like the Twin Pines Mall in Back to the Future,” Cohen says. “When [Marty] revisits it, in the future it’s Lone Pine Mall, because he runs over the tree, and it’s exactly like your mall analogy.
“‘You are still here’… throwing the ‘still’ in there is like you haven’t gone anywhere. The main suggestion could be you haven’t moved, or [that] you could do something about this. You’re still here, unlike the many that are not. And that was the most telling thing – the record was already named before the pandemic as well, which is crazy because knowing what we know now, we are still here, we can do something about all of this.”
Elsewhere beneath the catchy veneer of these tracks, the air of violence is palpable. While the western lead guitar swells of “Violent Man” pay direct homage to the classic Fresh & Onlys sound, Cohen wrote “Somebody Bout to Get Shot,” a high-vibe groover wherein Cohen works in lyrical nods to The Grateful Dead’s “Fire On the Mountain” and “Franklin’s Tower,” to tell the story of watching critters scurry across the landscape of an Arizona horse ranch that he lived on shortly after the birth of his son.
“It’s sort of a fable, that was a song I had years ago that I tried to play with The Fresh and Onlys and that got shut down, says Cohen. “ I read this book about this Indian chief called Quanah, an Indian warrior. And I can’t remember his tribe, but he’s mentioned in the song: ‘My brother Quanah.’”
“We had coyotes and all kinds of creatures around us – eagle, claw, foxes, rabbits. The idea’s that someone’s going to get shot because everyone around us had guns. What if I killed one of these animals? And how would I tell God that I did that?”
In other interviews about You Are Still Here, Cohen’s said that he finished the lyrics to several songs on this album in the airport, waiting for flights. “Shot” is one such number, as is “Bottom Feeders,” which Cohen wrote one night while flying out to Denver during a six-hour delay.
“I had an edible already in me,” he remembered. “So I was sitting there, tripping out in the airport lobby. And I was surrounded by fucking fake Deadheads who were going to see… what do they call it now? Dead & Company, at Red Rocks that next night. So the plane was full of these dusty trustafarians. I kept the name of that song ‘Bottom Feeders’ because the whole song was just so vitriolic.”
It’s been over a year since Cohen has collaborated with others, and he has instead been holed up at home, cultivating a creative practice on his own terms.
“I think how many kids you have determines whether you’re unemployed,” he jokes. “Part of not having to support my family by being a touring musician gives me a lot of avenues regarding where I want my creative input, time and energy to go, versus what any label or booking agent or bandmates expect of me. I’ve been working hard and being prolific, mostly on visual art and stuff.At this point, no one could tell me anything.”
After the album climaxes with “Homeless,” Cohen hits us with one more banger, “Dadaist Friend,” a nod to the Dadist art movement’s absurdity and his past few years releasing art as a commercial exercise.
“It’s my perfect example of Dadaist art because it’s an absurdist response to capitalism,” Cohen says. “I’m not doing this as a job now – this is my statement. And this is all I have, so there it is.”
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