Alice Cohen is a Brooklyn-based musician, producer, and visual artist; Delia Gonzalez is a multidisciplinary artist based in New York and Greece, who has released several records on DFA. Alice’s new record Moonrising was just released via Styles Upon Styles, so to celebrate, the two friends hopped on the phone to catch up about it.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Alice Cohen: You’re in Naples at the moment?
Delia Gonzalez: Yeah, I’m in Naples.
Alice: You just had an art show there?
Delia: In Greece, actually.
Alice: Oh, how exciting! It must be nice to be out of the US now, where we have mass shootings every other day.
Delia: I know, which sounds very, very terrifying. What’s it like to be in New York in the midst of all of this, and Roe v. Wade? It’s like you’re going back in time.
Alice: It’s been pretty depressing, I have to admit. It’s a weird time to have all these things going on and then be writing pop songs in the midst of it. It’s been pretty strange, I have to say.
Delia: It’s really funny, yesterday I hung out at this recording studio in Naples, and everyone was listening to the music they’d been working on and having so much fun, and I felt like it’d been a really long time since I’ve been around people who are really, truly enjoying and being so giddy about making art, music, whatever. I was just thinking how, in this time that we’re having now, the most important thing is to just actually go out there and just do the funnest thing possible, make the best music, really get in there and enjoy yourself. Because it’s been pandemic, war, conspiracy theories, fear, guns, women have no right to their bodies — it’s all really, really horrible.
I mean, they’re obviously doing this on purpose to get a rise and to destroy that exact thing, creativity. So you’re going to continue making this amazing music that you’ve been making for years — I mean, this amazing music, which all these young people are totally ripping you off on.
But that’s a compliment, right? You’re an inspiration for so many people. But you just have to keep doing it, because we need to celebrate life right now. That’s number one.
Alice: I hear. I like that idea of creativity as kind of a weapon against all this stuff. I was going to ask, how you have been surviving in this new kind of dystopian reality where we’re in? You just had an art show — did that feel cathartic in a way?
Delia: Yeah. I did a show with sculptures and drawings and music, and at first I was just like, Oh, my god, I just want to make, like, this invisible show. I actually wound up making a sci-fi show, I called it. Which I guess makes sense in this day and age, because during the pandemic, all I was thinking about was sci-fi.
Alice: Yeah, totally. Everything has felt sci-fi the last few years for sure.
Delia: Yeah. But at first I was really struggling, being like, How am I going to come up with ideas for this show? And then everything kind of fell into place. Because more than the pandemia, sometimes maybe I look on social media a little bit too much. I’ve had to like really cut down a lot. For me, that was the most difficult thing working on the show, the fact that I’m looking at way too many images, there’s way too much screen, way too much information. I don’t know how you come up with ideas when you’ve been bombarded. Your personal brain’s inbox is infiltrated by — I’m not saying that what people are putting out there is trash — I mean, definitely not my friends. But there’s so much trash, and your brain gets oversaturated. How do you deal with that with your music?
Alice: I mean, I’ve been working on this album, Moonrising for years now. It’s taken so long to come out that I’ll probably do things a little differently next time — just the whole thing with making vinyl during the pandemic. It is hard to keep your focus or your inspiration going. I feel most inspired by that La Monte Young concert I just went to.
Alice: To just go sit in that space and hear a concert and be part of the music and was just such a different format, and that that felt very inspiring to me. I think we can always keep finding inspiration for ourselves, but yeah, it’s not going to be on social media where we’re constantly being bombarded — although that is a way to find out about things.
I’ve been thinking a lot about when I first met you in New York, in the ‘90s I guess it probably was, and just how different stuff was back then. The shows that I used to see you at, at Siberia or the Turkey’s Nest or all these crazy performances, you know what I mean? It was just a different time, and just trying to put that together with how things are now is very weird.
Delia: Right. There was just more space, more time. I feel like people were enjoying things more. I was reminded of this last night because it was like a different kind of energy, almost like it was more pure. It was more authentic, there was excitement, there was joy. It was an ecstatic time. Whereas we little by little get jaded, reprogrammed…
Alice: Well, it’s like advertising now. We have to be these advertisements and these products and all these things that were not about not why we made music or art in the first place.
Delia: Yeah, I’m not doing it. I just had a show — I didn’t even put it on my Instagram. I’m like, Oh, maybe I should. But I’m just so completely over it, you know? I mean, I’m probably hindering myself by not doing it, but at the same time, I’m not an advertising agency.
Alice: I think there’s something to that.
Delia: But, I just wanted to talk to you. For the last week, I’ve been listening to your new album, and I will just say that “Life in a Bag” is my favorite. And then my second favorite is “Inner Galaxies.”
Alice: Oh, awesome.
Alice: I love that you love those ones.
Delia: Can I talk about the first time I ever saw you?
Alice: Oh, my god, I was thinking about that.
Delia: So the first time I ever saw you was in 1986. I went to go see the Psychedelic Furs in concert in Miami, Florida, and there was this band who opened up for the Psychedelic Furs called The Vels, and you were the lead singer.
Alice: So funny.
Delia: Then I was living in Atlanta, Georgia — it was maybe around 2004, and I was talking to my old friend from high school, Lita. She was telling me, “Oh, my god, I met the coolest girl last night. Her name is Alice Cohen, and she’s in this band called Die Monster Die.” And she was telling me all about you, and she was like, “Yeah, she used to be in this band called the Vels.” And I was like, “Lita, do you not remember?” — because Lita was also at the Psychedelic Furs concert — I was like, “Do you not remember that we actually saw the Vels in concert in 1986?” So then a couple of months later, I went to New York and I went into…
Alice: Old Devil Moon
Delia: And you were baking.
Alice: Yeah, that was my baking job.
Delia: And we’re watching you bake, and we were chatting, and that’s the first time we ever met in person.
Alice: That’s so funny. Yeah, I was thinking about this, too, because I totally remember meeting you that day. You had your hair in these cute ringlets, these very distinct ringlets, and you had this kind of silvery glitter lipstick, and you were just so cute. And I was just like, I want to get to know this girl. I want to be friends with this girl. Isn’t that funny? And then we had so many adventures after that, you know?
Delia: I know! But wait — I left off that you were in Die Monster Die, and when Lita told me about you, which might have been ‘93 or ‘94, I was interning at Roadrunner [Records], and I was packing and shipping the Die Monster Die record. So it was this funny coincidence how our worlds kept in some way interjecting. But the question I wanted to ask you is: How has your songwriting changed since the days of the Vels and Die Monster Die? Do you feel like there’s a difference?
Alice: That’s a really good question. I never really thought about it because it’s always been such a natural process for me. I’ll start fooling around with some chords that sound good, I’ll get a phrase that sounds. Of course, the different styles change — you know, I’m in a synth pop band or I’m in a grunge band or whatever back then, and now I’m more solo. But I think now I still just kind of let the songs come out. It’s almost like I’m channeling them through me, channeling my emotions and they come out into the song. It’s hard to explain the process, but it does kind of feel the same as it always has. It’s just a very natural thing for me.
I think I’ve been kind of letting things be simpler. I used to make try to make things more complicated or interesting, and now I just kind of let the naturalness of the song evolve.
Delia: Because you’re a receptor. You’re working intuitively.
Alice: It’s very intuitive. And I feel like that’s true for you too, with how you work both on music and art. It’s not like you set out with an idea in mind. It’s coming through you and it’s processing as it’s coming out, you know?
Delia: Right. Do you feel do you feel maybe more comfortable or more secure in writing songs now than you did when you first started? Is there a certain sense of self-assurance that you have now that you didn’t have back then?
Alice: , I think that’s something I always struggle with. I have my own insecurities. I mean, I’ve been writing songs for so long, so I feel confident in being able to write songs. But I think what I feel insecure about is just pop music in general, and how I feel like so many people I know are more interested in experimental music or avant garde music. Pop has always been a hard thing for people to take seriously. But I do feel as I get older that there’s room for giving voice to an older person’s experience. And I don’t know if that comes out in my songs, but that’s something that I thought about a lot with the last album. Because pop music is such a youth oriented genre, as a musician getting older, it’s sort of like, can I still put my experiences and my feelings into these songs?
Delia: I’m going to just backtrack. You’re saying that people are taking experimental music more seriously — I’m actually taking that less seriously, because all of a sudden everyone’s experimental now.
Delia: It’s a joke. I’m sorry. And maybe I fall into that trap, maybe I’m a joke, right? But I mean, how much more can we experiment? At some point you have to go back to creating a new formula. And I think you’ve always been really good at creating very original music. Like I said,, I’ve seen that there are all these new girl bands and they’re totally ripping you off.
Alice: I don’t think they even know who I am.
Delia: They’re definitely inspired by you. And for me, I really like the idea of originality and I think that you’re so good at coming up with these original pop songs. I mean, I can sit here with you for 10 minutes and come up with 100 pop songs on the spot, because I am a jingle writer and I think you’re a jingle writer.
Delia: But to actually come up with a really good pop song that’s distinct from everything else — not many people can do that. And I mean, this is your specialty.
Alice: Well, thank you. I mean, I did grow up listening to AM radio on my little transistor radio. I grew up with that kind of music. And growing up in Philly in the ‘60s, there were all the dance shows on TV that I would watch, Jerry Blavat. So I think it just kind of seeped in at an early age. Plus my parents were musicians. But yeah, I do think there is something to be said for the art of songwriting that I think has been a little bit lost in recent years. I just don’t think it’s as respected as it once was, at least in the indie scene. Maybe I’m wrong, but you know what I mean.
Delia: Right. I’m not sure, because I’m not really so much following pop music. I’ll follow what you’re doing, cause we’re friends, but when I’m reading my newspaper articles and some pop thing comes up, or some musician, I’m always like, OK, let me look this up. And from what I’m gathering, it’s just formula after formula after formula. Well, a lot of the stuff is made on the computer, so then there’s only so much that you can do with the computer. But I listened to some female young singer, and I’m like, Wait, this is like a computer Tori Amos kind of thing going on. And I’m like, Wait a second, do they know who that it? I mean, I’m just naming somebody that I realize people are kind of ripping off — or is it the producers are making them sound like this? I wish they were sounding more like Kate Bush or something, but Kate Bush was definitely an entity.
Alice: Well, she just had a big resurgence. I mean, yeah, there aren’t that many Kate Bushes around anymore, that’s for sure.
Delia: I mean, there was only one Kate Bush. Absolutely. She was definitely one exceptional person. But anyhow, it’s so weird… I feel like that just adds to the sadness of guns and war. I mean, there’s never not been war, but…
Alice: It feels like the end of the world sometimes! How do you keep your spirits up through all of this?
Delia: Well, I don’t know. Somehow I just keep it together. because life just goes on. But it is just incredibly difficult for me. The pandemic was incredibly, incredibly difficult.I couldn’t work for a year. I mean, I did do some work, but it was very difficult. For some people, it was a real fruitful time. Actually I’m kind of lying, because what I did was I wrote a lot during the pandemic. Which I do sporadically once in a while, if it comes to me. But during the pandemic, I was really writing a lot and I don’t think I really realized this till a couple of months ago.
I don’t know how I kept it together, because I was just completely freaked out about everything that was going on. It seems like people have been going into revolutionary times, back to some ‘60s ideals, and I just keep thinking like, Well, at least in the ‘60s you had this peace, love, and harmony movement, right? And the age that we live in is just really about hatred.Meditation has just become like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes — it’s been so commodified and packaged. It’s so ridiculous. I’m actually anti-meditation right now.
Alice: I like what you were saying earlier about the ecstatic and the joyful and sort of finding that again, which I’ve also noticed at some shows I’ve been to lately, where it was very boisterous and crazy and chaotic and costumes. I want more of that. That’s life affirming, you know what I’m saying?