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Getting To Know: Stacey Cohen

UK's own Stacey Cohen, a trailblazing experimental music artist and producer, is shattering genre boundaries with her spellbinding blend of soulful vocals, lush soundscapes, and robust rhythms. Garnering acclaim from BBC Introducing and fueled by The Arts Council, Cohen's 2021 nature-inspired concept album "Wild Service" is a masterful concoction of folk, electronica, and experimental vibes, acclaimed for its visionary compositions and immersive live experiences. Critics like Martyn Ware of The Human League and Adam Walton of BBC laud her for crafting uniquely engaging sounds that transport listeners to entirely new dimensions.

1. "War on Love" explores themes of cultural conditioning and the quest for authentic love-based realities. Can you share more about what inspired you to tackle these themes and how they resonate with your own experiences or observations?

For this album, Garden Of Your Heart I wanted to find fun and cheeky ways to reflect the influence of advertising and propaganda upon human action, psyche and self esteem. How we have the power to challenge these influences and to break from entrainment. The power to reflect and question. War On Love is about the war for our mind. It is a visceral rejection of embodied propaganda. 

It’s tempting to feel that at this point in human history, due to fake news & AI technologies etc, that some golden age of true authenticity is being eroded. But I think this process of being sucked in by advertising and propaganda messages started many generations before. You only need to ask most people to complete certain advertising jingles from their youth & the culture that they grew up within, whatever their generation, and most people can, regardless of the medium of original delivery. 

We all like to think that propaganda doesn't affect us & that we are immune to advertising, but it simply isn’t true. And at this time when advertising agencies are finding ever more effective ways to enmesh brands into people’s lives, it feels like a great moment to reflect, invite questioning, and to playfully push back on blindly accepting a little. 

In terms of my experiences - one particular incident really sticks in my mind and directly influenced my writing of the song War On Love and the album title track, Garden of Your Heart even more so. A couple of years back I was working at a corporate event, just as a member of a technical staff. Not something I usually do, it was a one off gig. It was a conference about marketing. As I was there, I ended up listening to the talks. 

During one talk, the speaker got a giant brag on about how a couple had felt so connected to the major brand that he managed an AR experience for, that one of them had used the platform to propose to their other half within this branded world. I think he also said that they had then themed their wedding around the brand or got married in the branded world or something equally daft. I can’t remember the exact details. What I do remember is the enormous applause and accolade that he received for this. And that at no point did he question the morality of what is historically a truly personal, authentic and beautiful moment becoming a marketing event. 

This left me feeling so uncomfortable.I’m not anti advertising per se. But there is a problem when it becomes manipulative. This went too far for me. Hence writing these lyrics for the song Garden of Your Heart about the hijacking of romantic love - one of our most primal urges: “Most intimate moment, we’re stealing, revealing. Human emotion, intention is ours. It starts with a promise, the skin and the velvet, by the time that you’re grown, what is love without us?”. It is written from the voice of an imagined cute but sinister advertising gremlin that lives in our hearts. It's a tongue-in-cheek bit of social commentary upon the influence of advertising and cultural memes upon human action, versus authentic feeling and action, which is a loose theme throughout the 11 songs. 

2. The track features a diverse range of vocal talents, from children to seniors. What motivated you to include such a wide age range in the choral arrangements, and how do you think it enhances the message of the song?

I wanted this to be a song for everyone, by everyone, not a marketing event for a particular section of the population, ethnicity, generation or class. Certain age groups are so often excluded, especially in music marketing, and I guess I see this as part of the War On Love. Love is an expression of oneness, and when we are all one, nobody is excluded. I wanted a sense of a group of people united in power by the common theme for fighting for a better world.  

It was a lot of fun recording the chorus, the youngest person was 2 and the oldest 73.  I think it supports the message of the song yeah - ageism is afterall so often a form of cultural gaslighting. Marketeers promote fear around ageing to sell things for sure, whereas in some cultures the wisdom of age is celebrated and valued. 

My absolute love of music came in part from dancing around like a wild loony and singing to music with my Grandma Olive. This was one of my most exciting experiences of music. As was raving which is also multigenerational when it’s good. I don’t understand why music just needs to be associated with youth culture, or this culture or that, or ‘coolness’. I never have. I love it when it is a multigenerational experience, when we drop all that nonsense toxicity and let go. So yes it was a very important part of the song and message within it. 

3. Incorporating unique sound designs, like snare sounds from field recordings at a pirate-themed crazy golf course, is quite inventive. Can you discuss your process for selecting and creating these unique elements, and how they contribute to the overall sound of "War on Love"?

Sure, so I like to make or find beats & sound sets, or plugins/spatial considerations etc that support the story and meaning of the lyrics in most of  the tracks that I make. I'm fascinated by foley & sound design and technology.  Sometimes it’s more hidden and sometimes obvious. Or it might be beats that support the overall theme of the wider project/album/film or whatever it is. I kind of approach electronic, or sample based music as a form of modern day folk music & storytelling. So I chose that sound because it was the sound of being caught in the crossfire of a pretend pirate’s cannonball battle. 

I actually went to record sounds for a bass line for a different track that I’d planned to layer up with synths. But the sound behaved differently to how I’d heard it from a distance when I got onto the pirate themed crazy golf course. So I captured different things instead. 

I heard the battle sequence of the experience that they had designed with model boats and water, and got really excited as I could hear a brilliant snare sound buried inside of  the sound of the model cannons firing and making the water splash. I was working on War On Love at the time, and struggling with the drums a bit as they were feeling a bit standard. I instantly got excited by the feeling of this idea, of being emotionally at sea and under fire from these toxic cultural messages, but somehow keeping afloat, and weathering the storm. I love moments like that. They make me feel really alive. I’m synaesthetic and songs are kind of like cartoons or films in my head  - so it makes the song cartoon feel more alive somehow.

4. Your upcoming album "Garden of Your Heart" is mentioned as loosely themed around the effects of advertising, propaganda, and cultural gaslighting. How did you approach songwriting and production to reflect these complex themes?

Well it's a tricky thing sometimes, approaching serious themes in music, when it’s what people use to switch off and to escape when they want to have fun. But at the same time art needs to reflect what's happening in society, even when that means exploring uncomfortable themes. 

One way I have approached this with a couple of the songs is to keep the feel quite  bouncy and tongue-in-cheek, with catchy little pop melodies and fun visual ideas. So the feel is light in contrast to a heavy & serious subject. People can go as far as they feel to in terms of engaging with the subject matter. It's quite a fun and upbeat album on the whole. 

War on Love is probably one of the more serious moments. But I felt that embracing those moments for some of the time was okay. Heavier moments can be cathartic, they can help to get the sadness out to feel lighter. I also tried to make it feel quite solution driven, not just critical. 

5. Transitioning from an acoustic folk background to incorporating cinematic trip-hop and electronic bass music into your style, dubbed "Bass Folk," seems like a significant evolution. Can you talk about this journey and how your diverse influences have shaped your music?

In the past I often heard the songs that I wrote as a hybrid of the songs that I was writing, and electronic music /bass music or half time, trip-hop that kind of thing. But I didn't know how to make that happen yet. I didn’t possess the language or confidence to describe the audio and visual worlds that I wanted to create. I was confident as a singer, as I’d get ‘lost’ and fronted a few bands etc. But otherwise I can be quite shy at times.

I didn't imagine that production and the kinda sound that I wanted was available to me somehow as a woman to begin with. And when I finally released what it was, and plucked up the courage, I was at that time the ONLY girl on the music production course or in certain environments, for a long time actually. It was quite intimidating.  Then one of only 4 on the next and so on. It was a journey of giving myself permission to become a production led artist as much as anything else. Some of the guys were amazing, most actually - but let’s just say not all of them made it easy or had helpful attitudes. It's a lot better today, but there is still a way to go. 

And also I loved and I still love folk/blues music. Singer songwriters, traditional folk ballads, fingerstyle acoustic guitar, fireside jams etc. I started out playing and learning guitar on a protest site, the first song that I learnt was a one chord punk protest song about saving the forest. It was so much fun. And I loved being in a folky band. I still love that kind of music and still go to the occasional folk club. There’s a raw immediacy and honesty to acoustic performance that I still love. I moved onto electric guitars for a number of reasons about 6 years ago. 

Mainly because I love that Gibson Les Paul and SG tone, but also because I find the shape of electrics fit the female form a lot better, but I still love folk music and culture. I have little arms - electrics are so much easier to hold and play than dreadnoughts, you can dig in a bit more. I’m also quite a light player, so it just works. 

So I now play a beautiful red SG called “Ember” and I don’t play super heavy or fast as is expected on that kinda guitar. But who cares? It’s not about that -  I just love the tone. I also moved into making more electronic music as I wasn’t just a folky, I’m a raver for sure, and knew I wanted to do something different and new. I was really driven towards that, and to learn about how to integrate electronic music & technology into what I was doing. I am fascinated by recording and production and finding unusual ways to make crazy new sounds. 

I got the recording bug from my Dad.  We used to record our voices onto a tape machine, from when I  was around 3 years old. We’d make up silly skits, and interview each other just for a laugh. Somewhere I have tapes of us recording our voices and making stuff up with my sister. I used to beg him to do ‘cording’, which is what I called “recording”.


6. Given your commitment to immersive and transformative live performances, how do you plan to bring the themes and sounds of "War on Love" and "Garden of Your Heart" to life on stage? What can audiences expect from your shows in support of the new album?

I’m so excited about this. I can’t give too much away. But we’re planning hella exciting show for the launch. Tickets should be going on sale this September 2024 for the album release show & UK  tour in 2025. We will be launching a crowdfund where you will be able to buy tickets in advance, but it won't be an ordinary ticket.

For the actual show I’m working with some great musicians, performers and an amazing director whose background is in the space between theatre, circus and dance, as well as musical direction. It’s gonna be immersive, not in the ‘immersive theatre’ sense, more in how we will use the audio visual journey, & creative & playful ideas to explore the themes, to bring the music to life, and to have fun with, and hopefully inspire and uplift, audiences.  

For the last album release - Wild Service in 2021, we created an IRL experience based on nature based mythologies: Enter The Bridge Realm. At The Old Church and Gardens in Stoke Newington. The show started on the way to the gig, where the audience were invited to find their own leaf to present as their ticket at the church garden gate. They then embarked on an interactive journey around the gardens, beginning with their leaf becoming part of an evolving collaborative shadow art work illuminated onto the side of the church.  Followed by a series of playful activities; designed to bring the audience closer in connection to nature and one another.  They passed through a number of threshold moments, before “entering the bridge realm” -  the place between nature realms and the human world, in the church i.e. the show, which took them on an audio-visual journey around the wheel of the year.

I love to create experiences that gently invite story, connection and bridge the space between art, music & play. It doesn’t have to be anything flashy -  more creative and connecting.  Like I’ve said music comes to me as a cartoon or film. I want people to be able to walk around inside of that cartoon to a degree, and for the experiences to be expanding and inspirational. But also to leave room for the audience to manifest their own cartoons and stories. I.e. not spell it out. Rather to leave just the right amount of space for imagination.

It sounds like a VR world or computer game. But I see those things as fundamentally escapist in nature. And there’s nothing wrong with that, there is absolutely a time and place for it all. But this has a different quality.  What I’m aiming for is something that is fundamentally enlivening. If I can achieve that even for small moments, then I’m super happy. 

But that will be for 2025. For Summer 2024, I’m just really looking forward to getting back out and playing live again after a long break. I’m gonna be playing some more intimate shows while we are still finishing the new album. Such as at a brand new events space in Hastings on May 17th, at The Old Church in Stoke Newington in London on July 3rd, on The Treehouse Stage at Shambala Festival & a couple more to be confirmed, around making the album.

I’m gonna be bringing in some of the new songs, and I’m just super excited to start gigging again. Tickets link for these shows will be available on my website or I will be sending out details via my mailing list which you can also join at: 


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