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Published: 2013/08/30
by Ron Hart

Sam Cohen and Yellowbirds Explore the Vanished Frontier

Songs from the Vanished Frontier, the second album from Brooklyn’s Yellowbirds, is one of the most arresting rock LPs you are bound to hear in 2013. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of his former band, 00s psych-pop mavericks Apollo Sunshine, chief Bird Sam Cohen turns out some of the best songs of his career on this nine-track follow-up to their beguiling 2011 debut The Color with a more focused sense of lyrical and melodic intimacy seemingly influenced by Miracle Legion, Harry Nilsson and solo Eddie Hazel with equal aplomb and buoyed by his strongest Yellowbirds lineup to date, rounded out by drummer Brian Kantor, singer/bassist Annie Nero and her husband, multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman.

Jambands.com caught up with Mr. Cohen via e-mail to discuss the ins and outs of Songs from the Vanished Frontier, his ventures into film scoring and the growth he’s experienced as a songwriter and performer since the Apollo Sunshine days.

Please tell me how you came into providing the soundtrack to the film Across the Whipplewash and the inspirations behind the tone of your score.

I met Josh and Caitlin Drake, who made Whipplewash, at a show we played in Harrisburg, PA at this little gallery called Moviate. It’s a cool community of film enthusiasts, and the booker there had first heard about Yellowbirds through the animated videos that I make. We started talking that night about the film they were working on. A few months later they sent it to me, and I offered to score it.

The film is created in a style reminiscent of the 1920’s but set in the late 1800’s, and then there’s some pretty psychedelic editing that invokes a 1960’s modern feel. I sort of ran with all the possibilities, throwing in some laid back pedal steel country, butted up against noisy grooves, butted up against Mariachi-spaghetti-western type melodies. It was kind of a free for all to do everything I love and anything I could imagine.

Did working on Whipplewash inspire you to remain open to future scoring projects?

Absolutely. I really look forward to the next chance I get to do that kind of work!

Who are some of your favorite film composers?

Ennio Morricone. His arranging is pure genius. The chords and melody are unforgettable. His pallet of sounds is the best, and he even drops a funky groove in once in awhile. He’s just the best. Also, Curtis Mayfield. Superfly the album exists because of Superfly the movie. He took the gig and just ran with it. He held himself to his own high standards rather than just matching the bar set by the film.

You mentioned in the press that you had a clearer idea of what you wanted for Songs from the Vanished Frontier than you did on 2011’s The Color. Can you expound on that?

The Color was the culmination of a long evolution. I was establishing the Yellowbirds vernacular. The process began before Yellowbirds was even an idea. It was just songs without a home. What should it sound like? What do I want to sing about? Starting out on Songs from The Vanished Frontier, I was building on a foundation. It wasn’t really a conscious thing. I just went about my business, but Yellowbirds had more of a language that I’d learned to speak.

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