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Published: 2013/08/30
by Ron Hart

Sam Cohen and Yellowbirds Explore the Vanished Frontier

Were there any particular acts or albums you have been digging lately that had an affect on the outcome of Songs from the Vanished Frontier ?

I can’t remember specifically what I was listening to while making the record. There was a definite shift at one point where I’d originally thought I’d be doing a lot of strings and horns and making a very orchestral album. Sometimes I get really sick of the guitar. Then suddenly I start loving guitar again. If that ought to be attributed to any certain artist or band (which very well may be the case), I forgot to take note of who it was. I guess obscuring your influences is the goal anyway, right?

What is the story behind the title of the album? What do you consider to be the Vanished Frontier ?

I got the title from Kurt Vonnegut in a passage from Cat’s Cradle that I love. It struck me as poetic and perfect. My songs mostly touch on problems or issues of the modern world, which is cluttered with noise of all types. I try to find mantras within all that or maybe beyond it. The Vanished Frontier relates to physical space or crowding, but also room within our culture to progress, or room in our heads for thoughts and feelings to develop; time away from technology, billboards and their many equivalents. Before the West was settled, there was an innocence and sense of promise about what could be achieved. It’s that way at the beginning of every process. Now that the physical frontier is long gone with a dark history to show for it, we move into other frontiers and hopefully progress in a positive direction.

I love the album art. Please tell me how that concept came to be.

It shows the cliff house literally hanging over the edge. It’s the furthest possible Western settlement; so it’s a good symbol for all that stuff I was just talking about. The sky is abstract. It represents a fourth dimension, maybe another consciousness, where our mistakes as people and a civilization can be improved upon. There are kids and musicians on the beach. Kids can, and musicians try, to access that place of wonder where good ideas come from. It’s just a collage I put together, though. It came together aesthetically, and all those representations were pretty much subconscious.

What did you learn from your days in Apollo Sunshine that impacted the direction you are taking with Yellowbirds?

That’s hard to pinpoint. I learned everything in Apollo Sunshine: how to do things…how not to do things. I was a kid when we started and nearly thirty when it went into hibernation. It’s synonymous with my twenties.

Some have found an R&B element in your music. Do you see it and if so, where do you feel it comes from?

I’m glad people hear that. I listen to a lot of soul and R&B. Funkadelic is a pretty common reference for me. I play with some people coming more from that world here in Brooklyn. I’ve learned a lot from them. More and more, that’s where I feel like going with the groove. There’s a space in the music that lets you hear all the instruments from top to bottom. You can really hear the tones of everything there. That’s the part I can incorporate into Yellowbirds. My voice is my voice – I’m not gonna be making heavy funk records as Yellowbirds any time soon.

How do you feel the current lineup of Yellowbirds is taking its sound to the next level?

We’ve really had time to gel as people and players. That’s the most important part of going from sounding good to really hitting your cosmic stride, and I think we recently hit a new level in our chemistry. I’m really into Brian, Josh and Annie individually and as a team. I can imagine playing together years from now.

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