PHOTOGRAPHY Victor Gutierrez
WORDS Laurie Trueman
Thomas Cohen is known for his undaunted style in both music and fashion. Cohen first emerged as the frontman of band S.C.U.M. in 2008, an art rock group in which Cohen was commended for his beautiful voice, as well as his exhilarating stage presence.
In early 2016 Cohen released his debut solo record ‘Bloom Forever’, a beautiful and heartfelt album but one that was not without hints of eccentricity and an unapologetically seventies undercurrent. The album is a wonderful listen and feels a considered piece of work in the sense that Cohen is letting us into a world further away than the one that we inhabit. A world with depth, sadness but above all hopefulness. It is a bold album, created masterfully and with solid sensibility.
It is perhaps Cohen’s sensibility combined with his progressive attitude and confident sense of self that informs his authentic style, both on record and in the way he dresses. In terms of personal style Cohen is a self-confessed vintage aficionado, regularly sharing his best finds via his Instagram page. He has a revered knowledge of vintage clothes from certain eras. But whether in a vintage piece or an Alessandro Michele floral Gucci suit Cohen looks perfectly at home, his sense of style is dashing and he is a truly unique artist.
I speak to Cohen as he is in Iceland recording his second solo record - to discuss his new direction in both sound and style.
Laurie Trueman: Hi Tom! I hear you’re in Iceland, how is it over there?
Thomas Cohen: Iceland is really beautiful. It’s been quite overcast but you can constantly see the mountains.
Laurie: Why did you choose to record in Iceland with your first record and again now for your second?
Tom: My producer and engineer Sveinn’s brother has a studio here. At the time of the first record, London was a bit claustrophobic. If I have to I can work there, it’s not out of the question and sometimes it’s actually quite nice, it’s just there are so many distractions.
Laurie: It is really busy all of the time. I find that you want to get out out every now and then, especially to be inspired and free of the claustrophobia.
Tom: Absolutely and you know with most studios in London you’re lucky if you have a window.
Laurie: Whereas in Iceland you have the free air and the space!
Thomas: Yes, where the studio is located you’re a five-minute walk from the ocean and a five-minute walk from the harbour so it’s brilliant. You just kind of wake up, start working and then go to bed and stop.
Laurie: It sounds restful! With your first album what did you want to achieve in stepping out as a solo musician?
Tom: I don’t really take into consideration any kind of expectations. I was really determined to make something really unfashionable. I am doing the same thing with this record.
Laurie: I absolutely loved the first record! I thought it was beautiful.
Tom: Thank you!
Laurie: Does the second album have a different direction to the first one?
Tom: Distinctly different.
Laurie: How so?
Tom: I think it is less rock and roll. It sounds slightly circus like to me. Lots of the melodies are quite fairground like. It’s kind of somewhere between a circus and being understated.
Laurie: How was was life on the road? I saw you toured the UK earlier this year, how was it?
Tom: Underwhelming. I mean I understand the process of playing to an empty room. It’s what you do as a musician and I guess you’re meant to go and play an empty room four or five times and be amazing and then you go back and there’s a crowd, it’s just like god, really?
Laurie: You sort of have to go through a process.
Tom: Yes, which I’m happy to do but you become kind of apathetic because there’s this whole plan for you to play this empty room.
Laurie: And then you step up the next level of the bigger room and it goes on…
Tom: Sure, yeah. I’m not kind of being a brat there.
Laurie: I get it!
Tom: It’s kind of nice playing to empty rooms. You see the one or two people who have this little sparkle in their eye. You know, you’re looking at them, obviously you’re looking at them because they’re the only people there.
Laurie: It is nice if someone connects with it and really enjoys it.
Tom: Yes, I’m not lashing out at the people there or the people that aren’t there. It’s just the process is irritating.
Laurie: How were the shows in New York? Were they any better?
Tom: They were cool and surprising. I had a different band and it was a little bit looser and I wasn’t used to that. My live band that I’ve performed with in the UK are note perfect every single time and with the guys in NY we only rehearsed twice, but it kind of worked and it felt good to play there!
Laurie: In terms of your music videos, I really enjoyed the video for Hazy Shades and you have just premiered the video for New Morning Comes…
Tom: Yes, I made the video for New Morning Comes in Porto. It has got more of a narrative.
Laurie: Can you tell us about the narrative behind it?
Tom: We broke into an abandoned house which was insanely beautiful. The thing about Porto, I’d been there a year ago and I really loved it. It’s all kind of decrepit and abandoned buildings. It’s like a pigeon living the equivalent of Buckingham Palace in Porto. But it’s changing obviously - I was surprised, I was very surprised it had changed.
Laurie: In what ways has it changed?
Tom: There’s a Costa, there’s a shopping area and there just wasn’t a year ago. There wasn’t a sign of any of that. I wasn’t so much upset but shocked. I was still able to make the video that we wanted to make. Although, my favourite scene got cut! I was miming and eating grated carrot.
Laurie: Ha! Moving on to your personal style, how do you feel it has changed - is it with the progression of your music or do you think it’s changed because of you as a person and growing up?
Tom: Yeah, I look back at that little sweet goth and I’m like you got old, man. Time’s going to come fucking slap you in the face in a couple of years and you’re going to write different music.
Laurie: You have an archive of vintage clothes, all with stories behind them…
Tom: Yes! I have started working with a few fashion brands. Using I guess, ‘my vintage archive’ to advise with styling and designing.
Laurie: You’re definitely the right person for it.
Tom: I’m really excited to be working with Grace Wales Bonner. Her brand is amazing!
Laurie: It is! I am very glad she won the LVMH prize. So you will be consulting for brands?
Tom: I will be vintage archiving so I will have had an example of a piece and be like, “this is what it’s meant to look like”.
Laurie: How did your relationship with vintage begin?
Tom: Personally, I got into vintage because I worked in a shop and it was the first job I was able to get.
Laurie: Where was that?
Tom: It was in Greenwich. It was a shop called The Observatory and I would just go in there because it was the nearest source of life in my suburban upbringing.
Laurie: And that is where it all began?
Tom: I started there and you’re spending the whole day in a shop full of old clothing and you start to look at it. You go around, you tidy the rails and I came to notice the older stuff had a more interesting design or the fabric was more attractive, more appealing, more kind of grotesque, stiffer. Then as it went on I got into 1950s stuff, I was then into Victorian stuff for a really long time, I got into American wear too. For the past couple of years, when you collect something you get kind of bored and then you get fascinated by something you’re just not allowed to have because it doesn’t exist. So I started collecting brands like “Granny Takes a Trip”. They made clothes for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones… A lot of the stuff in the Rolling Stones Exhibitionism was “Granny Takes a Trip”. I was also into a lot of 1980s Westwood stuff.
Laurie: I also read that you have worked with The Vintage Show Room, what’s your relationship to them?
Tom: I did work there for years. The vintage shop in Greenwich shut down and I met co-founder Douglas Gunn on Portobello. I was just like “woah!” His stuff blew my mind and he said, “Ah you know, I’ve got a shop, come down” and I started working in the shop. That’s where I really learned everything you could possibly know. My work mate Simon, I think he got a bit exasperated with me - teaching me everything. I didn’t know that you can’t button up your bottom button on a blazer and stuff like that, there are all of these rules…
Laurie: And that’s where you learned about that kind of relationship with vintage, clothes and styling…
Tom: Absolutely. I guess it was where I kind of became like ritualized, so to speak, rather than just being like a kid and being like, “Ok, I want to wear this.”
Laurie: I see that you wear a lot of jewellery and I have seen you wearing a designer called James Tanner?
Tom: Yes, I love James’ art, I have one of his rings. He’s one of my best friends.
Laurie: That’s really sweet. In terms of your jewellery, are there any other jewellery designers you really like or do you wear vintage jewellery?
Tom: All of my other jewellery is vintage. I like Native American stuff from the 1940s. I don’t really like costume jewellery very much, actually costume jewellery kind of really upsets me. I don’t know why.
Laurie: Provokes some sort of emotion in you?
Tom: Yeah, something about it, I don’t know, it kind of disgusts me.
Laurie: So what will be next in terms of this clothing and styling part of you?
Tom: I think I’m going to start designing as well as consulting.
Tom: With one of my really close friends. We have the same vision….
Laurie: Is it a man or woman you will be doing it with?
Tom: A woman. Which gives it kind of - we want it to be more genderless…
Laurie: The fluidity of clothes now is great. A lot of brands are switching to a more gender neutral approach.
Tom: Yeah, I think men’s clothing is tailoring for, well… it’s work wear really. Any sort of flamboyancy comes from a sense of femininity and if you can work with that then it’s just liberating and it’s exciting and looks good. I think gender, I spoke to my friend about it and he just said it’s so personal and that he respects anything that anyone wants. I think that’s such a good outlook.
Tom: You can say or think a lot about gender and I kind of had some ideas about it but that kind of changed it.
Laurie: What is a style icon?
Tom: What you are doing with clothing is covering your naked body. When someone is wearing something that’s amazing but it’s got this huge hole in it and it doesn’t fit or perhaps it’s too big, I guess they would be a style icon. Being somebody who wears shoes that are broken - but they’re so amazing that they’re still wearing them.
Laurie: Defies the rules and wears an item to death.
Laurie: And in terms of designers, do you like wearing designer items?
Thomas: Sometimes I wear Gucci but most of the time I think I would rather wear my own clothing. There are a pair of shoes by Gucci that I really want though.
Laurie: Their shoes are amazing - I think we all want them. I got a pair of their loafers but they were so uncomfortable.
Tom: Oh really? The foggy ones?
Laurie: No, they were from a few years back. I was unimpressed when I’d paid that amount.
Tom: I’ll make you a comfortable pair of shoes.
Laurie: Thank you. I’ll be confiding in you with your new designs. So when will that be coming together, is that at the end of this year?
Tom: Yeah. We’re planning on just making one off pieces to begin with, and then next year maybe having a range. Hopefully by the end of the year though.
Laurie: Thank you for your time Tom! Lastly, what is something you believe in? Anything in the world?
Tom: I think the only thing to believe in in the world is love, there’s absolutely nothing else to believe in.