Gabriella Cohen’s new album is a harmonic travelogue
Two years on from her head-turning debut LP, Full Closure And No Details, Gabriella Cohen has resurfaced with a follow-up that doubles as a wry, sly travelogue. Initially recorded on a cattle farm in Seymour, Victoria, before being finished on far-flung stops in England, Portugal, Italy, Mexico and Venice Beach, Pink Is The Colour Of Unconditional Love mentions several of those places by name – in between some remarkably candid expressions of melancholy and longing.
“I feel so lonely all the time,” goes the surprisingly upbeat chorus of ‘I Feel So Lonely’, which also includes the quiet admission “I push people away.” And on the closing ‘Sky Rico’, she sings, “Cooking alone is depressing as hell.” Such moments make for an ideal fit with Cohen’s weepy, twangy indie pop, which relishes oldies-style reverb and vocal harmonies – but is it hard to share stuff that’s so close to home?
“Definitely not,” answers Cohen without hesitation, by phone from a beach on the Sunshine Coast. “That’s the only comfortable bit I have in songwriting, that I can share all of that. It doesn’t feel nerve-racking at all. It’s therapeutic. It all starts with a problem, and it’s solved by the time I finish writing.”
Gabriella Cohen originally hails from a permaculture village in southeast Queensland called Crystal Waters. “It’s a proper village. No one really knows about it, which is great,” she quips. After some time spent playing and singing in Brisbane bands, she took off for Melbourne and quickly established herself with that low-slung, wisecracking first album, which saw release in the U.S. via revered indie label Captured Tracks – home to Mac DeMarco, DIIV and Widowspeak. From there, her breakout single ‘Beaches’ only boosted her international presence.
Harmonies are the best. They’re the sugar you need.
Pink Is The Colour Of Unconditional Love builds on Cohen’s chilled-out delivery and throwback arrangements, chasing down a woozy psychedelic detour on ‘Hi Fidelity’ and dropping some witty commentary on the music industry on opener ‘Music Machine’. Lead single ‘Baby’ is the sharpest example yet of her quirky bubblegum stylings, while the track ‘Neil Young’ makes no secret of its inspiration – specifically, the last few tracks from 1974’s On The Beach. “I love Neil Young,” she confirms, “and it just sounded so much like him. I hope he hears it one day.”
Working closely with bandmate Kate Dillon, who engineered both albums, Cohen again self-produced the new record. “I wanted to be more expansive and colourful,” she says, “and work with more instrumentation. Just bigger as a whole.” At the same time, tracks like ‘Recognise My Fate’ have a cosy, pleading intimacy that most bands would kill for.
Besides Dillon, whom Cohen also accompanies in Dillon’s Full Flower Moon Band, Cohen’s backing ensemble includes bassist Arun Roberts, who got scouted by Gucci when they played together in Hollywood. “So I’m lucky if he still wants to play with me,” she laughs.
In fact, all of their time in the States has been fortuitous, from doing South by Southwest to supporting Foxygen on their full North American tour last year. “It’s been incredible,” beams Cohen. “America really, really loved us, and we loved them back. No one was really prepared for how overwhelming the response was, at concerts and after concerts. America was just going crazy.”
Part of Cohen’s overseas appeal could be her old-school airs of doo wop and bossa nova, right down to the spoken-word recitation on ‘Miserable Baby’ and the gospel-style exhalation at the start of ‘Morning Light’. “I discovered [oldies] in the past six years or so,” she says, singling out The Supremes and The Ronettes. “I’m just really into that. It makes people feel happy and nostalgic.”
She’s similarly effusive when it comes to harmonies, which she imagines as “a choir of angelic dolls that are very deadpan and sweet” when writing back-up vocal parts for herself. “Harmonies are the best. They’re the sugar you need.”
There definitely were deadlines that I didn’t meet. You just can’t rush it. Everyone cut me some slack, but it’s just a naturally late process.
After recording the first album in Gympie and the second in Seymour, Cohen feels ready to graduate to a proper city studio for her next LP. While she’s previously found studios to be “cold and steely,” she admits that recording in the country has its own pitfalls: “You have to stop because there are cows mooing and cockatoos screeching.” And in the case of her second album, it wasn’t finished by the time Cohen and her band jetted off for that Foxygen tour.
“There definitely were deadlines that I didn’t meet,” she says. “You just can’t rush it. Everyone cut me some slack, but it’s just a naturally late process.” Yet, in a rewarding outcome for the album’s unabashedly personal lyrics, Cohen found herself finishing the record partly in an apartment in Portugal – a destination she had inserted into multiple songs while writing away in Melbourne.
“I was desperately in love – I still am – and trying to get to Portugal to meet the person,” she explains. “So that’s all I could really write about. I kind of manifested it through song, because I ended up getting there after tour, thank god!” For an uncommonly relatable songwriter who makes inner doubts seem so accessible – and even necessary – it’s a lovely bonus to see her wish and will herself all the way across the world. Even if she does go the more traditional studio route next time, you can bet that her songs will take us far beyond those four walls.
The article was originally published on Brag Magazine