Ellery Cohen is an alt-pop singer from Melbourne, Australia who has a trio of tunes – Us, Read Your Mind and the latest Change Like That.
On the back of their latest tune they spoke openly to radionotes about their music and life…
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Mental health and related issues are discussed in this conversation. There are resources available and also understand if prefer not to listen to this episode.
SHOW NOTES: Ellery Cohen
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In The Box:
- Be honest (EP) – Nick J Music (LinksTo)
- Italian Ice (Album) – Nicole Atkins (LinksTo)
- So Will I – Ben Platt (LinksTo)
- UR So F**king Cool – Tones and I (LinksTo) ****Language Warning****
Feature Guest: Ellery Cohen on back of Change Like That
- Change Like That on Spotify – Apple Music and buy it here on iTunes
- Facebook – Instagram – Soundcloud
- beyondblue (Official Site) – Lifeline (Official Site)
- Us (Official Music Video) – Over You (Official Music Video)
- Who Gives A Crap (Official Site)
- Kids Under cover (Official Site)
- Molly Meldrum presents 21 years of Kids Under Cover (YouTube)
- Live Jam Session with Ellery Cohen – Local Roots (Joy FM)
- Songs I Wrote, Tears I Cried – EP (Spotify) Patronise (Soundcloud)
- Change Like That (Official Music Video)
Next Episode: Yanto Browning on the life and music of Tara Simmons
- Show Me Spirit ‘Til The End (Bandcamp)
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First version provided by REV team member Elmary S – check to audio before quoting wider
John Murch: Ellery Cohen, welcome to radionotes.
Ellery Cohen: How are you going?
John Murch: Great to have you on board. We will answer that question throughout our conversation, but the latest single is Change Like That. And at the top of it, we should say it relates to some mental health issues. So if some people are going to be triggered about those conversations, then LifeLine 13 11 14, that’s 13 11 14 or resources at beyondblue.org.au. Interesting times we are in and I genuinely would like to ask, how are you?
Ellery Cohen: I’m doing very well. It’s a wild time to be living in at the moment, isn’t it? It’s an unprecedented time. I don’t think anything like this has ever happened before, has it?
John Murch: The first couple of month or so into this COVID-19 situation that we’ve found ourselves in. Now you’re on the East coast, which is a bit more of a lockdown situation than here in the South.
Ellery Cohen: Yeah. Melbourne, I think we’re at the moment, we’re on stage four, I think it’s called. So it’s pretty strict stuff. Apparently people are getting pulled over for leaving the house and most of businesses are closed down. It’s a pretty wild time to be out.
John Murch: One of the things that grabbed me was the Premier of Victoria, is a guy called Daniel Andrews and he tweeted that, “Now is not the time to be buying guns and ammunition. So I’m going to lock that down.” I’m like, “Okay, Dan, you’ve got some issues in Melbourne.”
Ellery Cohen: Well, I don’t think we have many guns here in Melbourne anyways, but it definitely wasn’t my first option to go out and to buy guns. I think lots of people are still buying lots of toilet paper. Maybe that’s the main buyer for most people I think still.
John Murch: It’s a safe space Ellery, I’ll be open. I bought some tissues yesterday as my just-in-case box.
Ellery Cohen: Tissues are definitely the last resort. I got given the spare roll, there’s a brand called, Who Gives a Crap. Someone gave me their emergency roll, which was very nice. But I think it was only single ply and I’m normally a three ply kind of guy. So that was a bit of a change.
John Murch: Let’s talk about music. The clarinet was the first instrument, is that true?
Ellery Cohen: Violin was the very first instrument I ever played. I actually grew up in the church. My parents used to take us to this really tiny Anglican church with the robes and the candles and everything. And there was this girl that used to play violin and I remember, I was maybe three years old or something. I remember telling my parents, “I want to learn the violin like that girl.” But I knew that I wasn’t very coordinated. So I’ve tried it, tried to stick it out, but I just was not very good at all.
John Murch: Did note the clarinet?
Ellery Cohen: It’s a pretty funny story. My parents, I think they had a family friend who had a clarinet and then mum and dad were just like, “You know what? You should learn how to play the clarinet.” And I remember I was so bad at it. I was learning it in school and I would always forget to bring it to school. So I didn’t have to do my lesson, my parents were paying for. But every Wednesday I’d have to go to my teacher and say, “Oh, I guess I can’t come to practice today. I left it at home.”
John Murch: Did she just give you a recorder, just to get you through?
Ellery Cohen: She wasn’t happy. I remember getting called, mum and dad were not happy with me, so that I kept forgetting it. So it didn’t last long, that’s for sure. I really wanted to play music, but I had no idea what I was going to choose.
John Murch: What was the family life like growing up?
Ellery Cohen: My mum was a drug addict, growing up. My mum has a mental illness called borderline personality disorder. But growing up it was pretty wild, mum’s behavior was pretty erratic, she was pretty into alcohol. So having a mum who was an alcoholic and a drug addict in and out of rehab. So a lot of my childhood, my dad kind of raised us and mum kind of bounced in and out of different facilities. It was a hard childhood, because I guess back in those days, mental illness wasn’t really spoken about, no one really knew. Not only did people not know what it was, but no one really spoke about it. Depression and anxiety and suicide is really common to talk about now. 10, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, no one spoke about it.
John Murch: I’m going to get back to that. But the cherry on top of that story, if you can say there is one, is that you got mentored by Molly Meldrum through the Kids Under Cover, he’s a patron of this particular organisation.
Ellery Cohen: Having my family upbringing and stuff like that. I’ve got a lot of cool opportunities and I think in Australia we’re so blessed with the organizations that we have access too. Kids Under Cover kind of took me under their wing and I got to perform music. And through that, one of their patrons was Molly Meldrum who really took an interest into some of the music. Unfortunately, which was great. When stuff started to kind of get flushed out, this was when Molly had his big accident, fell off his ladder. That kind of took two or three years and then from that time stuff kind of, life happened. I feel so lucky to the opportunities that I got to have in that area. It’s such an awesome organization, for people who don’t know much about it, Kids Under Cover, it’s really cool.
John Murch: Some of the times that you had growing up may have enformed who you became as a singer-songwriter and of course, correct me if I’m wrong, in terms of that. But sounds like the father was the leader of the house at the time, but you’ve got brothers and sisters as well?
Ellery Cohen: Yeah. I’m one of five, I’ve got three sisters and one brother. One of my sister’s special needs, my sister has Down’s syndrome, she’s autistic. Growing up, was not only with my mum being unwell, but a sister who has special needs, really enformed me as a person I think. Life is kind of what it is sometimes and people probably hear my story and go, “Aw, how did he do that?” But I actually have no frame of reference to reference it to anyone else’s life. This is the life that I’ve kind of had to experience for myself.
John Murch: When you do look at other lives, I guess, for a bit of inspiration in the songs?
Ellery Cohen: For me, I really love to write about life experiences and I just don’t see the point in just releasing music about kissing the girl in the club and making money. It’s just not for me, that’s not what I relate to. I want to create music that relates to people. The idea for that kind of came about with, that was kind of, it hit rock bottom for my sister and I went like, “What can I do? I want to express these feelings that I have.” The idea came from, let’s write a song, but instead of it being my perspective, what would she write? If she was writing a letter to my niece’s dad, what would she say to him?
John Murch: How much of a voice did you get being one of five growing up?
Ellery Cohen: Oh, well I’m second youngest. So I definitely didn’t get a voice very much, to be honest. It’s a very loud household, that’s for sure. Anytime we hang out, not very much lately, because of the virus, but it’s a very, very loud household. Everyone in my family doesn’t really have a volume button to be honest.
John Murch: Bedded this conversation, I guess, in the fact that I’ve been told that the trio of songs is, Us, Read Your Mind and Change Like That. I raised the question at the start about, are they about the same relationship, are they?
Ellery Cohen: No, they’re not. Change Like That is about me, myself. Us was, no, a different girl. I actually had a single last year called Over You, is about the same girl actually. It’s about one girl, the same girl in Read Your Mind. So Read Your Mind was like a two part. I wrote it before I broke up and then after, and then Over You kind of six months later.
John Murch: On my paperwork, I actually have that as well. Us doesn’t fit in for me and I have, Over You, Read Your Mind and then the idea, that Change Like That is in a solo mode. You being in a situation, looking at where you’re at and as well, the mental health issues that were occurring around the same time or after it.
Ellery Cohen: Yeah. That’s exactly what it is. If you look at my songs, it’s kind of the highlight of my life and what exactly is happening. And try to be really honest and sometimes it’s pretty awkward, so you have to kind of wear your heart on your sleeve. And I’m super lucky to do music, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.
John Murch: I was listening to a chat with Joy FM, Roots program, Joy Roots I think it was called. Talking about Holly, the dog walker, after 10 or 15 years, are you back together with her?
Ellery Cohen: That is so funny that everyone I know who listened to that interview brings it up. And what’s even funnier is, that I had people calling her up.
John Murch: It’d be such a great story.
Ellery Cohen: You guys have done your research. What’s even funnier is, I actually think that she walks my brother’s dog now too. So glad that she does keep in contact with any of my music, because it would be pretty awkward if she heard all of these interviews about her, to be honest.
John Murch: Because the music’s not about her, she was way before the music was released?
Ellery Cohen: Well, that’s the thing. They asked who was your first kiss? And this was like, “I haven’t seen this girl prep.” They just latched on to it on this interview like, “Oh, who’s this girl that you kissed? I think it was maybe when I was five years old or something. This was probably in prep, my very first kiss in prep.
John Murch: I’m sorry, Ellery. It’s on the record, I thought I’d just check in where we’re at.
Ellery Cohen: You’ve definitely done your research, that’s for sure.
John Murch: Something else I’ve done my research, is when I was a radio broadcaster back in the day. Which was only a few years ago, but in 2014, October, they’re all around my birthday. Songs I Wrote, Tears I Cried, I paid Patronise on the wireless. Thank you for that.
Ellery Cohen: Wow, that’s bringing me back.
John Murch: That was the first EP, that was the first taste. I’m not sure if people can still get it online. Maybe you went through a new phase and it’s not available and that’s fine as well. Now into your 20s, what was happening around the Songs I Write, Tears I Cried era?
Ellery Cohen: That was when I just kind of got into music. I just started, I did a music degree and I just started my music degree at uni. So I just hit 18 and I just kind of broken up with a girl. And then from that I started uni and that was kind of the crazy thing. A fresh start and then I just ended a relationship. So I really wanted to kind of, I had kind of mid-20s crises and I was like, “I’m going to do music. That’s it, I’m going to do music.” I had all these songs, but it was kind of awkward, because I had five tracks and they were all about her. And this is when I just started out. So the only people that were really listening to my music was my friends and my family. So everyone knew who the songs were about and that’s why it was just so awkward. Anytime we’d run into each other, it’s like we both kind of knew that the songs were about her.
John Murch: You as a singer-songwriter then, who is drawing from that particular well. A well that sounds like it’s been dug a few times and filled with tears many times as well. How do you keep that spark in your writing, that doesn’t become just an open diary of wounds?
Ellery Cohen: I’m just a super honest person in general. People tell me that I have absolutely no filter at all, which I definitely don’t. I don’t have a filter. I just feel as though I just tell life how it is, I don’t see the point in lying about stuff. I think if that’s the reality, just say what it is and I’m kind of the same in my music to be honest. I want to tell it how it is and just be real. I don’t think you need to lie about stuff. And to me it’s, I’ve got such a good opportunity to share stuff and once you kind of break down those walls of like, “Oh, this is what I’m experiencing.” You kind of see the other people kind of have the same stuff going on too. It’s not just me battling with breakup or just life in general, but everyone kind of has that stuff going on.
John Murch: Last year was a bit of a tough one and I guess being open about how you were feeling at that time, meant a lot of people giving you some pretty, well frankly, insane advice. Based upon maybe not knowing what you were actually going through at the time. How did you get through that particular process? I guess I’m not asking for a 10 step plan, but I’m more asking as someone who’s now released to song about those times. How did you click yourself into getting back to where your heart was, which was in the songwriting?
Ellery Cohen: Yeah, that’s the thing. When I first hit the songs with my pain and my publicists and stuff. We had a massive phone conversation, she said like, “How far are we going to push this? Do you really want to get into deep details about it?” She said, “If you’re going to run this song, you’re going to be doing interviews and you’re going to have to talk about this.” And I said, “I really want to be honest and share with kind of where I’m at. I’m not ashamed of…” And that’s even in the thing, I’m not scared to talk about it. I really want to be on honest. The story kind of was that last, kind of just hit rock bottom and I kind of got to the point where I was like, “I don’t know if life is kind of what I wanted to do anymore.”
Ellery Cohen: I wouldn’t say that I wanted to be dead as such, I definitely didn’t want to be alive anymore. But it wasn’t so much that I wanted to be dead, it was more that I just didn’t want to feel the way I did anymore. And for me in my mind, suicide kind of was the best way to stop the way that I was feeling. Someone asked me this the other day in an interview, they said like, “What do you suggest to people that feel the way, like that?” Because so many people do. I mean, the number one killer for men is suicide. And I think we just have so many resources in Australia for people who actually are struggling. At the start of the show you said LifeLine, we’ve got Kids Helpline for people who are a bit younger, beyondblue. We’ve got so many organizations that are there for people.
Ellery Cohen: I think the number one thing that we can do, is to actually just ask people, “How they’re going?” Just be there for people, be a friend for someone that is struggling, ask people how they’re going every day. I’ve got friends and family who every single day, ask me how I’m going. I get a message from them everyday, “Hey, how you feeling today? Hey, what are you doing?” And I do the same thing for other people too. I message people every day, “Hey, how you going? What’s happening? How you feeling today?” I think that’s kind of where it starts, we actually need to be there for people.
John Murch: What I’m hearing Ellery, it’s more that than the actual writing as a singer-songwriter? That might’ve got you through that particular aspect, that you could actually see, cliche, it’s the light. But a sense of community that you could actually hook into at that particular time.
Ellery Cohen: That’s for sure. And to me, music is just a way to express things and the community. And music is one of those things and people ask me, “Well, why music? Why do you do music?” And for me, music is one of those things that in every single culture around the world, there’s music. There’s nothing else that we see. There’s different languages, there’s different cultures. But in music, every single culture has music. It’s creating this thing that actually resonates with all types of people. You can have people from 50 different countries, they can listen to a song and still relate to it.
John Murch: What song can you listen to now, that you couldn’t listen to during those times?
Ellery Cohen: Ooh, I’m actually pretty bad with that kind of stuff, because I like to wallow in my sadness, which is really bad. I know lots of people do that and I’m really bad at it. If I’m in a really bad mood, I’ll often lean into it and I’ll just listen to sad stuff that will then make me more sad. So there isn’t anything that I really… When I was going through a breakup, I would just listen to old breakup songs. I’d go onto Spotify and I’d type in breakup playlist and I would only listen to these sad breakup songs, instead of happy stuff.
John Murch: I’ve got another existential question, I’m just going to throw it out to you. I did jot this down as I was sort of listening to those three songs. And when I say three songs, I mean Over You, Read Your Mind and the current single, Change Like That. And it was this, is it easier to respect someone’s decision than the circumstances their decision puts you?
Ellery Cohen: Yeah, that’s the thing with relationships and breakups. And I think relationships are one of those things that people get hurt and invested in and that’s in life, just in general. Stuff becomes difficult when we invest our time and our heart and our treasure into it. And when stuff doesn’t go our way, that’s when we get disappointed. And I think understanding that a relationship is actually like a two-way street. You want to love someone and you want their love in return. You can’t force someone to love you and if you love them back, you kind of need to respect their decision. And to me, it’s really important that I release music that’s honest, but also it’s kind of respectful. I don’t want to release songs that are like, “This is you and you’re the worst.” After I have a breakup, I kind of want to express it, but I don’t see the point in bad-mouthing people. I mean, they’ve got a life to live as well.
John Murch: The cover art of this particular current single, that being, Change Like That is, I would guess, the actual text message that you hold dear within your phone at the time that you were at the low. Is that the case and do you still have that message as a reminder? As a bit of internal faith that people are reaching out when you need them?
Ellery Cohen: Well, here’s the thing. A lot of people ask me about the cover and I’ve got about a thought, people on both sides, “Well, why would you post that?” The real thing was, that this is kind of in my lowest point. With when I really wanted to reach out to someone and I’ve reached out to someone who had reached out to me previously, and I kind of shared where I was at. And instead of kind of receiving a positive response, it was all kind of negative, “Oh, I’m glad you didn’t do that, because if you did do that you’d be going to hell.” And it was all very negative, it was all, “You shouldn’t do that.” And one of the messages I received from that guy was like, “You just need a man up, you just need to kind of get over it.”
Ellery Cohen: And I think that’s our culture sometimes and that’s what I really wanted to talk about in the song. In the chorus I talked about, they say that you’ll soon be feeling better, it’s just the weather. When we were writing this song in the studio, we wanted to kind of list the kind of reasons people say that mental illness exist. It’s just the weather, you just need to get some sun or you just need to not think about it. And I think mental health and mental illness isn’t just a saying for some people. I think mental illness is one of those things where it’s a change in what’s normally expected. If something bad happens, you would obviously feel bad. But I think when it pushes beyond that, that’s where it’s an issue that kind of needs to be sorted out.
John Murch: Thanks for sharing that. I was curious to get the sense of where that was coming from and interesting that other people have had that conversation with you. About the releasing of the text, more than if it’s a real text and all those kinds of things. Those numbers, again, LifeLine 13 11 14, beyondblue.org.au. I want to lighten the mood as we round out, if that’s okay? Not to trivialise, but just to lighten the mood.
Ellery Cohen: End in a good note, that’s what I like.
John Murch: Well, are you a cat guy?
Ellery Cohen: Here’s the thing, I’m actually both a dog and a cat guy. At my house at the moment we have a cat and a dog. We actually, at my parents house, we had a cat and a dog. Every house I’ve lived in, we’ve had cats and dogs.
John Murch: What’s your favorite dog?
Ellery Cohen: I would probably say, maybe a Lab. I kind of love Labradors. I had a Springer Spaniel growing up. We had a Springer Spaniel, since I was born to… It died a couple of years ago. So I kind of really would love to get a dog one day, for sure.
John Murch: Ellery Cohen, it has been a pleasure to speak with you and you’re kind of open and candidacy in songwriting is very important. Particularly in these times, but also where other people aren’t willing to speak about the issues. Thanks very much for joining radionotes.
Ellery Cohen: Thank you for having me.