life, loss and love with thomas cohen
Thomas Cohen has emerged from the pain of loss to write 'Bloom Forever,' an album of languid and majestic beauty.
Thomas wears suit Gucci. Tank Neil Barrett. Belt and jewelry model's own.
Thomas Cohen finds himself in the unenviable position of being the only musician making leftfield six-minute-long country-tinged songs informed by the formative years he spent touring across Europe in an avant-garde darkwave band regularly popping up in the Daily Mail's celebrity gossip columns. Tom was just 17 in 2008 when his first band, SCUM, tore thorough London's post-punk art scene. They were beautiful, young, all doe eyes, sharp cheekbones, dressed in black and soundtracked by melodic walls of pulsing noise. They released one incredible album, Again Into Eyes, a majestic piece of experimental music, then split up.
In 2011, Thomas met Peaches Geldof. They fell in love, quickly got engaged, had their first child, Astala, and as SCUM decided to go their separate ways, he began working on solo material. He initially started trying to write electronic music, but instead "Honeymoon" came out. It was a song that, in style and tone, began to map out a new direction for his music to take. "Honeymoon" is a languid and cryptic tale of love spread over six minutes, which slopes around rolling mid tempo drums and waves of rhythmic acoustic guitar, trebly elaborate basslines and metallic shimmering piano melodies. There's an earth shattering guitar solo and an atonal melancholic saxophone break. 'Holding on to each other,' he sings. 'Paths sing to one another.' It's the first song he wrote for the album, and the one to open it. The second track, "Bloom Forever," was written the day Thomas and Peaches' second son, Phaedra, was born. The song's title, taken from Phaedra's middle name, also gives the album its title.
"SCUM had finished, I had these children, and I was thinking for a while that I could just do this for the next 18 years and come out the other side fine," he explains, of that time in his life. "Raising a child fulfills you in so many ways, but it also made me realize how important being a musician was to me. I realized I had to do this, and I had to do it exactly how I wanted to do it. It's funny, the metamorphosis that happens. It's really easy to give up doing something creative, but that feeling kind of spurred me on even more."
It's easy to read these songs, that, alongside "Morning Fall" and "Hazy Shades," make up the first half of the record, only in the context of what happened next. There's a dramatic foreshadowing in these languorous, summery songs, full of rich textures that owe a debt of inspiration to the outsider attitude of Townes Van Zandt and the psychedelic country arrangements of Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg's rogue sensuality. That foreshadowing, of course, is the death of Peaches. We all know the story. Two years ago, Thomas, aged just 23, suddenly found himself a single dad, raising two young children, grieving, and trying to piece a life back together. There were times when he wasn't sure if he would ever come back to music. But with the engineer he'd begun making the album with before Peaches' death, Thomas made his way to Iceland last year to finish writing and recording. Sequestered away from the world, he poured himself into Bloom Forever amongst Reykjavik's cold alien landscapes, recording the album's dramatic second side.
"When I went there I was very much shut off," Thomas explains. "I was coming out of a very intense period of not working, of not doing creative things, there's nothing necessarily creative about feeding two toddlers breakfast everyday. I was so focused there, and kind of liberated I guess. It was the first time I really gained some sense of myself after what happened."
Death, as you might imagine, is at the heart of record. The song "Country Home," deals most explicitly with it. He jokes that it's a song about living in Kent, but seriously he admits it's the song whose lyrics he's most proud of. A delicate, sombre verse gives way to lightning-like stabs on the guitar at the chorus. 'Was it the only way of making it through,' he sings. 'But you knew all along, you couldn't make it though.'
For an album scarred by death, and finished during grief, it is remarkably light and beautiful, it's optimistic in many places. Bloom Forever, like its title might suggest, is hopeful and resilient and strong. It's a personal album, shot through with the life of its creator, but Thomas tells his life through metaphor, through the emotional darkness the lyrics pick at blooms and blossoms, new mornings, new days, hazy shades and lazy days, love and loss.
"Losing someone is very individual, and I'm pretty sure that grief isn't all of one kind of thing," he suggests. "When you do lose someone, there is so much love involved, especially from people you know, it's overwhelming. It totally changes you as a person, or at least, it totally changed me as a person. At 23, it made me a lot more open, it made me more loving. When you're dealing with something as extreme as loss, as grief, as parenthood, it's quite difficult not to be universal. It wasn't my intention, it was something that naturally happened, but I'm happy about it, it would be terrible if you couldn't relate to it."
The album is arranged chronologically, telling the story of the last four years of his life. Listening to it is like going on an intense emotional journey through love, loss, mourning, grief... But Bloom Forever is also a story of reconstructing a life. Tom is still only 25, remarkably young for a man who's been through so much.
You could forgive his apprehension about playing these songs live, laying bare his emotions on stage every night. But speaking to him before his debut headline performance, he's more excited than nervous. "It just generally feels good," he suggests. "It's transforming something very negative into something that feels very positive. I'm very lucky to have that, in some ways it's kept me sane, focusing on this music."
As he takes the stage with the friends and family who helped get him through in the audience, it feels oddly celebratory. Thomas, on stage, dressed in floral Gucci suit and loafers, is reveling in the album he's made, a totally singular creation, which deals with the personal but also reaches towards something magnificent and universal.
Text Felix Petty
Photography Luc Coiffait
Styling Harry Lambert
Grooming James Molloy at D+V Management using Chanel s/s 2016 and No.5 Body Cream
Styling assistance Sam Thompson
Special thanks Moth Club