Sunday Morning with Jem Cohen
We're back with another edition of our Sunday Morning interview series. This month, we chat with Jem Cohen of Fond Object Records on fashion, his musical influences, how Fond Object came to be and where it's heading, plus what he's working on now, and what he hopes to leave behind. It's a good one! Check out the interview below. All photos by Mick Leonardi, styled by us, and shot at the OG Fond Object Records in East Nashville, TN.
Coffee or Tea?
Oooh, good one. It’s goes back-and-forth. For me, the past four or five years it’s been straight coffee all the time. I drink so much coffee. I probably need to cut back on coffee.
Do you drink it black?
No. Well, I like americanos or espresso-based anything with cream and a little bit of sugar. We’ve been doing espressos out of [Fond Object]. I was doing them forever illegally—you need a grease trap to legally do espressos, which is completely insane because I wouldn’t be doing it with milk or anything, it’d just be black espresso. But yeah, we do them with no milk, and secretly. But I love tea as well, English black tea, Yorkshire—Yorkshire Red, to be specific, with milk.
There’s such a right way to make [tea].
There is, I recorded three albums in London and that’s why I got addicted to it. It’s a nice break. You have a tea break, and you can also drink fifteen cups of it in a day and you get to this cool level—an amazing, kind of, creative zone. If you’re trying to be creative, tea, if you’re trying to get work done, coffee is good.
So, what inspires you to create?
I think it’s just like a drive. I guess I’ve been creating, doing weird stuff, since I was in bands since high school and touring since college. I don’t even know why, it’s just apart of me. I just have to create. I can’t work a normal job just sitting at a desk, I’ve done that and it’s just impossible. If I don’t create, or do something in a creative realm, then I just get really angry. It’s like not exercising, or eating right, you need it for your body to function correctly. I think everyone is creative in a certain way, whether people have tapped into or not. Everyone needs to create, people who are negative and upset are people who have not found a creative outlet. I’ve always been musically creative, but [opening Fond Object] is creative—it’s made me realize I like being creative in designing performance spaces, making good places to hang.
Do you find that the business part of Fond Object is creative, in a way, too?Do you enjoy that part at all, or not the same?
It can be, it also can be a lot of normal business stuff that’s not very exciting. At the end of the day, it’s something that Jeff and I created, and the whole community behind it. When I get frustrated about doing accounting, or some really boring thing, I’m like, 'No, this is cool, we created this.' And also, it’s probably creative the way we’re doing the whole thing. [laughs].
Were you ever prepared for this, or you kind of just figure it out along the way?
I co-managed The Ettes, my band, for a long time and dealing with all the weird aspects of that business, so that kind of prepared me, but dealing with retail is a whole other realm. There’s definitely a learning curve.
When you started Fond Object, what did you have in mind for it? Was it this at all?
I think it was this. This was what I wanted, and what Jeff wanted it to be—this insane compound that’s supporting a lot of touring bands, people doing stuff with other art, clothing, anyone doing something interesting. Come on down, there’s something that you can do here. And we’re still expanding, still trying to find more ways to do that. It’s more than what I thought it would be. We got this building, not even knowing what we wanted to do with it—maybe it would be a record store, maybe it would be Poni’s clothing thing, just a compound of everybody in The Ette’s. It was just a ridiculous idea that all kind of worked out. All the pieces came together that way, and it just kept on growing. We didn’t realize the shows would be so crazy in the backyard, we didn’t know we could get bands to actually play out here, it just worked out really well.
Are you super bummed about the fate of this building?
I don’t even know what the fate is. It’s amazing, we have fought it as much as we can. We want to stay in the neighborhood, so we’ll move to whatever other space the guy wants us to move to, or we’ll just stay here. But, the neighborhood came out and was like, we want the shows, we want this, it’s amazing how it all became this grass roots thing. We would much rather stay here, whether we can, or not, is why we jumped on the downtown space. We definitely had no plans to have two locations. That was not something we were ready for, but I don’t know if anyone is ever ready for that. We did it just to protect ourselves, because it’s very touch-and-go with the situation here. We could have it for five years, or it could be gone in six months, or we could be here forever. It’s the state of things in Nashville.
In five years, where do you want Fond Object to be?
I definitely want it to be more insane. I want [the McGavock location] to stay, if it can, and continue to grow the way it’s growing, and the downtown one to develop into whatever it wants to develop into. I think that’s what we’ve been doing, you’ve got to let it develop into what it wants to be. I want to turn [the downtown location] into a bar/ coffee shop-slash-vintage store, that’s what we’re working towards. The far room would be even more of a venue. It could be a venue/ record store that’s a bar and a vintage store, or instead of a record store, it’s a venue, too. Everything has room to develop into what it wants, what the neighborhood wants it to develop into. We don’t have a fixed idea—you can’t, really. We put out what we have and everyone else tells us, and we kind of move and shift. We’ll see how it goes, it should be really interesting. We have that space for a long time.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from New Jersey, I was born in Philadelphia. I still have family in Philly, but I lived in South Jersey. Then I moved to North Jersey and was there until I was twelve, then moved to Florida. My Dad moved to LA, so I did LA-Florida-LA every summer and winter, then I moved back to New York, then I moved to LA, then [Nashville]. So I kinda grew up in Jersey, Florida, LA.
Did those places inspire you musically?
I think so. I mean, growing up in Florida has it’s downfall because things didn’t really come there. None of my friends listened to cool records, we dug as deep as we could, but in south Florida, we didn’t get the punk rock, we didn’t get a lot of stuff, ya know. I feel like I missed a lot of what was going on in the now in the 90s. I missed a lot of the cool American stuff because it just never came down there. Only huge bands would go down there, or a lot of grunge bands would come down there. I never really was into that whole thing, but I’d go to the shows. All my friends liked Dave Matthews Band and shit like that, and I was like, Oasis and Blur and The Beatles. All of it was British stuff. Los Angeles just totally put me into The Cramps and Gun Club, and all that awesome shit.
Where did you start playing music?
In New Jersey, I started when I was eight on the guitar. I was listening to Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and The Beatles. That was all I listened to growing up. I didn’t like the Stones—no Stones—but, now, I love the Stones. Still though, to this day, I love The Beatles.
What’s your favorite Beatles record?
That’s so hard, it changes. I always thought that Sgt. Pepper felt dated, but they just did this reissue, this remix, and it is unbelievable. It transforms the album. Now, it’s how it’s supposed to sound. I think if it was released this way then, it would just blow everyone’s minds. It’s loud, the drums are louder, the guitars are heavier, you can hear everything going on. You can really appreciate the production. The White Album is my favorite, but I love Let It Be, too. I don’t care what Paul McCartney says, Phil Spector did an amazing job, it sounds awesome. Now, I love listening to everything that was influenced by them, it goes so deep. When you go back to [The Beatles], this is why everyone—they’re just mind-blowingly good.
So, Beatle boots or Lou Reed’s turtleneck?
Oh, Beatle boots all the way. I have, like, fifty pairs of Beatle boots that are broken at my house. I’ll just find them on the road a lot, or just travelling around now, I’ll pick up any pair of Beatle boots that fit. It’s cheaper than getting them repaired, I find. But I definitely have a graveyard of Beatle boots and all sorts of cuban heel shoes.
You can’t get rid of them.
No! I still keep them, like a fucked up Robert’s rock and roll display. [Laughs].
What’s your favorite piece of clothing that you’ve ever owned?
Wow, I’ve held on to a lot of t-shirts. There’s this one shirt that I have that I bought when I was in high school. Me and my friends would go thrift shopping like crazy. There was this road, 441 in south Florida, it was a totally shitty road, but a million thrift stores and just whatever garbage shops were there, and we’d just troll it every weekend, just up and down. There’s one that I found that’s the fridge from the Chicago Bears. It’s awesome. It’s a really cool blue, I love blue, wear it all the time. I’ve had it forever, since I was like fifteen years old.
Do you like the Chicago Bears?
No. [Laughs] But this shirt, it’s amazing. Also, I found the perfect Beatle boots when I was in San Francisco at Wasteland in the Haight. I was on tour and just bought the shoes. [They were] this perfect dark brown, those ones that fit perfectly—they were really light, fit really well, and were nicely made Italian shoes, they were awesome. I had a really bad show in Los Angeles the next day and we go back to the hotel, everyone is really angry, and I end up throwing one of the shoes against the wall because I was just super pissed, it was a super intense time. I get up in the morning and that shoe had vanished. That one shoe was not there. I couldn’t find it at all, it was gone. I still have the one shoe waiting for the other to come back. I always joke, 'Did I throw it in some weird portal, did it go to a parallel universe?' I don’t know. Maybe one day it will find it’s way back.
Do you have any fashion influences that you’re really into?
I guess British in the 60s, and now, even. Just nice button-up shirts tucked in, nice-fitting pants, Beatle boots, velvet blazer. Someone said I was, or am, 'Light Goth,' because everything I wear is dark. I never considered that—Goth. We’d always call it ‘Graveyard Chic.’ Everything I’d wear had rips in it, I’d wear a vest, or an ascot—maybe it is kind of Goth, in a way, there's different kinds of Goths. I just love 60s, early 70s, clothing and try to find newer items that fit that way. Whatever I put on has to make me feel good.
What do you hope to leave behind?
I hope to leave behind a bunch of albums that people could have forever—just my stuff. And, even if I’m not here, if I’m living in France somewhere, doing something else, I’d love for [Fond Object] to be here and know that I helped start this. Just leaving behind a positive, and the best things that I could do. I don’t care about much else. Just leaving behind cool things that people can have, and go to, and listen to.
Do you have anything coming up that you’re looking forward to?
I’m playing in a band called Machete, and we have an album that we’re about to put out. I’d like to get my solo stuff worked on, a full album. I’m also working on a project with Tara, my girlfriend, who’s been doing an awesome electro-pop thing, that’s amazing stuff and something I’ve never done before. I’m starting another project that’s going to be on the vintage pop-punkier side—good punk rock. Just as many musical projects as I can, and doing more producing. And, [doing] more and more shows downtown, as many as we can have here, and actually finding people where I can just enjoy them, instead of working my ass off all the time. [Laughs].
And the eventual house in France…
Thank you Jem and Fond Object for letting us takeover for a few hours, and to Mick Leonardi for the real cool photos.
If you're in town, stop by Fond Object Records in Riverside Village at 1313 McGavock Pike and the new downtown location at 535 4th Ave S. Keep up with all their news, upcoming shows, and events at fondobjectrecords.com, and follow them on Facebook @fondobject and Instagram @fondobject for extra musings.
To get more info or purchase pieces from this shoot, visit our online shop.